For most of my adult life, I’ve struggled with varying degrees of . It’s not something I talk about often because it’s not in my nature to make a big fuss over (what I perceive as) my flaws or weaknesses.
I’m also extremely fortunate that my tends to be cyclical and relatively moderate. And I’ve been through the cycles often enough that, even at my worst, even when I might not believe it in the moment—part of my mind always knew that at some point there would be light at the end of that dark and lonely tunnel.
Then I had a baby. And suddenly I found myself walking that tunnel not alone, head down and determined to power through to the end, but carrying precious cargo, unable to stop and address my own wounds because, well, I had more important things to focus on.
In some ways, it was good. I couldn’t wallow or exaggerate my problems in my own mind—to me, they just weren’t as important as whatever my baby needed. But, in other ways, it made things so much harder.
Postpartum depression (thankfully!) gets a lot of attention these days, but for millions of mamas, the dark days don't end after their baby's first (or third…or eighth...) birthday. So, to the mama whose depression struggles started long before that plus sign on the pregnancy test and will continue long after, I want you to know:
You are not alone.
You are not alone in those dark, disquieting thoughts. For me, depression brain is a voice whispering at the back of my mind as my husband and I watch a movie before bed: “He knows your flaws…how could he want to stay married to you?”
Depression brain is a voice whispering at the back of my mind when I see my friend’s post from a girls’ dinner on Instagram: “They didn’t invite you because you’re so boring now.”
Depression brain is a voice whispering at the back of my mind in the middle of one of my 2-year-old's famous bear hugs: "I wonder when she'll stop loving you?"
That voice is one we all hear, saying different things, but all with the same message: You are failing and unlovable. And it lies to all of us, mama.
You are not alone in the moments of pain. When your body feels so heavy you think your clothes might actually be made of lead. The physical implications of depression are so real. And for every time you curl up in bed thinking you just can’t do another day, I promise you another mom is feeling the exact same way.
But isolation is not your friend, so reach out to someone. Find a small circle of people you feel safe talking about your depression with, and give them the language you need to express when you are going through a low. (I.e. "I'm not feeling like myself lately..." or “Remember a few months ago when I was having a hard time…it’s happening again.”)
You are not alone in the loss. In the moments when you don't or can't answer "What's wrong?” because if you start to talk about it, you'll start crying and you may never stop. Talking about it will help, mama, so do your research and find a professional you can meet with. But there are also many things you can do for yourself to help take care of yourself.
Journal your feelings, book an exercise class, plan a relaxing evening at home, take a bath, prepare a nutritious meal, schedule a night out—whatever you know will help you feel cared for and strong.
You are not alone in the moments of anger. When you snap at your husband, resentful that he can't make you happy or that he seems so light while you squirm under this boulder of sadness, praying for rescue. Or maybe you snap at your mom. Or your friend. Or, perhaps worst of all, your child.
While you don’t want to get comfortable losing your temper on whoever is in front of you, carrying the burden of guilt for not being perfect isn’t helping you heal. Take a moment to breathe and try to come back to the conversation from a place of empathy. Try saying: “I’m sorry I said that. I’m feeling sad (or stressed) today, but I shouldn’t take it out on you.”
You are not alone in the moments of guilt. Guilt—heavy as an actual weight on your chest—that your child will remember her mom as sad. That she will remember her mom as sad all the time.
On my worst days, this thought guts me. I want to raise my daughter as positive and confident and happy, and every day that passes under a cloud of depression, I worry that I’ve already messed it all up. But I know it’s important to remember that, if I learn to deal with this (and my family deals with this) in a positive way, there’s a good chance she will learn to deal positively too.
And pretending that everything is great all the time wouldn’t be setting her up to deal with or depression or even just run-of-the-mill sadness she might/will experience in a healthy way. So I try to keep the dialogue honest: “Sometimes Mama feels sad or anxious without any clear reason, but we should always feel safe to talk about how we feel and try to find ways to help each other feel better.”
And I always remind her that she is so deeply loved no matter what.
Depression is often not visible. Especially as a mom, it’s often not days spent in a dark room or hours and hours of crying in the shower. We are pulled back into the world by our children, and so our suffering is usually much better hidden—or at least more easily missed.
Depression as a mother can mean days of weighted down hopelessness, extreme insecurity and feelings of being unloved or unlovable.
But remember, mama, you are neither of those things. And you are never, ever alone.
If you’re struggling with depression, know you can always get help. Call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 to talk to someone today.