My story with depression is a long one and a difficult one to put into words. I haven’t only struggled with postpartum depression. I’ve been battling one form of depression or another for my entire life. Because of this, the struggle with postpartum depression has been closely intertwined with a battle to overcome abuse from my past and has morphed into an overall attempt to pull myself once and for all out of the cesspool of damaging thoughts and personal beliefs about myself not only for my sake, but now for the sake of my children. For brevity’s sake, I’ll begin with a pathetic attempt to sum up my entire childhood with as few words as possible.
Suffice it to say, I spent almost my entire childhood being sent from the hands of one abuser to another. I recall a time when I was around seven or eight years old thinking that I was sick of it all: sick of the physical abuse, sick of the emotional trauma, sick of crying myself to sleep every single night, sick of helplessly watching my little brother being abused as well, sick of wondering if we’d live to see our teenage years, not to mention anything beyond that.
I remember vowing to myself that if I lived to see eighteen, I would devote my life to making sure that children never get hurt the way we were. After surviving an abusive step mom, being molested by people we knew, and, in later years, experiencing emotional abuse from a loving mother who had survived childhood abuse herself and who had thought she’d broken the cycle of abuse (but really hadn’t), I became an adult. An adult who thought that compared to others, I had a decent enough childhood. An adult who was sorely wrong about that. An adult who had no idea the severity of the abuse she’d endured or the way it had already changed her, nor the way it would impact her once she became a mother herself.
Fast forward a few years: I’m married. To a wonderful man. A man whose love and patience is incomparable and to which I still struggle to find the words to explain what he’s done for me. A man who’s helped me realize a lot of things. For starters, I had no idea what love was until I met him. In loving him and trying my very best to learn for the first time in my life how to allow another human being to tear down the very walls I had to build just to survive to see another day, I’ve realized that for the first time in my entire life, I can trust someone. Someone who won’t hurt me. Someone, unfortunately, who will never understand how much hurt I’ve already endured and how it now affects every aspect of my life. Little things, normal things, often times trigger memories of the past, and I go to a very dark place emotionally. He’s had to hold me close on many an occasion and help me remember how to breathe again, that he’s not going to hurt me, that I’m safe. I’m finally safe…I wonder at what point that’s actually going to sink in.
We had our first baby, the tiniest little angel. A baby girl who turned my world upside down. A child, a gift from God, placed in my care. So perfect, so innocent, so breakable. It was then that the gravity of the situation was more than I could handle. This little angel was placed in MY care. The care of a woman who’s had what kind of examples in her life? My parents are good people and did their best, just like any parents. Yet they both introduced people into my life that hurt me. And in later years, my mother ended up hurting me herself by refusing to get help in breaking the cycle of abuse. So here I am thinking that this little girl is bound to be hurt.
I don’t know how to be a mother. I don’t know how to really love. I’m still learning myself how to trust. How can I be asked to have her trust me? It’s only been since I got married that I’ve been safe, that I’ve been able to learn what love really is. I’m still learning…how can I teach this? Someone help me! I feel frantic. Oh no. I can’t breathe. Her well being is in MY hands…I think my heart stopped. The room is spinning…I can’t do this. I need help. Oh my goodness. I need help now! What is this feeling? I feel so sad…like I’ve already let her down.
I look into her eyes and smile at her.
She’s so perfect. She trusts me. That is the scariest feeling in the world. She shouldn’t trust me. I’m going to hurt her. I’m going to hurt her so bad, and there’s going to be no taking it back. I of all people know how irreversible the damage is. I can’t look at her. That trust in her eyes hurts too bad…I just can’t look at her…
These thoughts were present almost all the time. We had many normal, good moments. But the thoughts were ever present. A lot of the time, they were in the back of my mind, and I could manage.
Then there were moments they were all I could think, and it would choke the life out of me. Those moments were hard. It took everything I had to force myself to breathe, to stop hyperventilating, and to focus and be strong…for her. After the better part of three years, I looked back to realize how much time was spent not connecting with her the way I always wanted to because those thoughts were so damaging. They darkened every experience.
I had been in therapy for a couple years, trying to overcome the childhood trauma. Most days, I felt so broken that no one could ever fix me. I was unreachable, unfixable, as I told my husband on many occasions. I was too far gone, too broken. I felt hollow, empty. And so incredibly sad…all my life spent feeling this way.
What kind of life is that? What could I possibly offer my little girl and now this new baby on the way? What was I thinking getting pregnant again. I’ve already damaged the first one. Who am I to damage another? What right do I have creating a life when I can’t even figure out life for myself? You’re supposed to teach your children, shelter them, encourage them, strengthen them, love them. I’m still looking for the shelter myself. Courage? I know nothing about it. I’m a coward. I hide myself. No one knows about my past. I go to church and see normal women and think that they wouldn’t understand this pervasive sadness that’s always welling up, threatening my very breath. I know if I talk to anyone about how I feel, I’ll start crying. And if I start crying, I’ll never stop. I’ll cry for years at how unjust it all was. At the helplessness I still feel years later. At the worthlessness that was drilled into me at such a young age that never left. I still feel worthless. What can I really offer the world? Nothing. What can I really offer my sweet husband, my beautiful Tara, this baby growing inside me? Nothing. They’d be better off without me. I shouldn’t be here…
Then I feel Tara’s tiny little arms around my waist, and she’s saying, “Mommy, you’re my best friend.”
Oh wow. She has no idea what she means to me. This little girl will never know what she’s done for me. SHE SAVED MY LIFE.
She rescues me with each hug, takes me down from a very dark ledge. She truly is my angel, and I know why she was sent. I’m worth something. She’s teaching me that. So is this little boy who’s been with us now for nine months. His smile is captivating. His giggles are the sweetest sounds in the world.
I know why I’m here now. I know why it’s important to stay here. And now I know what a mom is supposed to do. Because my beautiful children teach me every day. I’m everything to them. But more importantly, they’re everything to me. And they’re worth sticking around for. They’re worth learning for and striving for. And they accept me for me. All my failings, all that I don’t know, and all that I wish I could offer but can’t.
And it’s starting to get a little brighter. I feel hope and joy. And I feel like that day isn’t so far off now when I’ll be able to accept who I am also, the way they do. I’m not so foolish to think that I’m past it all now. It was only at the beginning of summer 2012 that I looked at a checklist online for postpartum depression, anxiety, psychosis. I took the test and afterwards it said if you scored a ten or higher to contact a medical professional immediately. I scored a 19. Only test in my entire life that I’ve passed with flying colors.
And also, it was only on October 23, 2012, that I had a breakdown in the shower and was so overwhelmed by the crushing sadness of depression that I went to a place I’d never been to before. I was standing in the shower hyperventilating. Having scary thoughts, crying out loud for help, someone to help lift me out of this depression. Someone to save me from myself. I was attempting to pray, but all I could get out in between sobs was, “Dear God, please help me. Oh God, help me. I can’t do this. I can’t do this anymore.”
All with alternating between dry heaves and sobbing. My mind went blank. I stared at the shampoo and actually thought, “I know I’m supposed to do something with this. I just don’t know what.”
Staring at my hands, not sure what to do with them. All I could feel was the hot water pouring down on me and trying to ignore scary thoughts that were just there all of a sudden. Wondering if something were to happen, how Sean (my husband) would find me. In what manner I would have chosen to give up on trying to make it in this world. The thoughts were so frightening I couldn’t remember how to breathe. I knew it would take all my energy to focus on just taking the next breath.
I finally regained control, finished my shower, and immediately called Sean and told him to come home. I said it was an emergency and that I was sorry, but I needed help. That was only a month ago. So I am not so deluded to erroneously believe I’m okay yet. I’m getting there though. It’s a struggle, but I’m learning. The hardest part has been not knowing anyone like me.
I’m aware that vast amounts of women worldwide as well as in my own community have struggled or are struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety. I feel so alone though (which funny enough is a symptom of depression), because I don’t know any other moms who are dealing with postpartum issues who are also trying to overcome childhood abuse.
Part of my struggle is deciphering each day where certain thoughts, emotions, automatic reactions, and habits are stemming from. Is it stuff from my past, or does it fall under the category of “normal” postpartum depression issues? I just need help. And a friend who’s been there.
I thought I’d share my story because what’s the worst that could happen? Someone says, “Hey, I understand.” That’s not exactly a bad thing! 🙂
Blog Author: Melissa Martindale. Melissa is a work-at-home mom. She and her husband Sean currently reside in Eugene, Oregon, raising their two children, Tara and Liam. She feels that being a mother is the most important job in the world as well as her greatest joy. Some of her favorite quotes to live by are from David O. McKay:
“Motherhood is the greatest potential influence either for good or ill in human life. The mother’s image is the first that stamps itself on the unwritten page of the young child’s mind. It is her caress that first awakens a sense of security; her kiss, the first realization of affection; her sympathy and tenderness, the first assurance that there is love in the world.”
“Children are more influenced by sermons you act than by sermons you preach.”
“If I were asked to name the world’s greatest need, I should say unhesitatingly wise mothers; and the second, exemplary fathers.”
“No other success can compensate for failure in the home. … The poorest shack…in which love prevails over a united family is of greater value to God and future humanity than [any other riches]. In such a home God can work miracles and will work miracles. … Pure hearts in a pure home are always in whispering distance of Heaven.”
Melissa feels that when it comes to rearing children in love and righteousness, there is no greater work to be had than work done in the home on a daily basis. She loves her family and friends and is grateful for support available for those times when it’s not so easy to do the work of being a mom. She hopes that her story will help others who might be having a similar experience and that they’ll take hope and never give up.