I’ve been working on this post for a long time. Probably because recovering from a postpartum mood disorder (PPMD) is sort of an on-going thing. Or rather, life is an on-going thing. There’s always something new to learn.
But with the birth of my second baby approaching it suddenly feels really critical that I finish it. Before I lose this perspective. Of course I hope I don’t. But there’s something else that’s true about life. It’s not predictable. I didn’t know I would fall into such darkness after the birth of my first. And I certainly didn’t know I would ever walk away feeling oddly grateful for the experience.
1. Got me out of the house with the baby. I realize that a lot of people dealing with PPMD fear being social or lack the motivation to get out and do things. But for me it was the opposite. My home, alone with a baby, was a terrifying place. There was nothing there to keep me grounded and my anxiety often escalated to an irrational level.
Leaving my house felt a little bit like coming back down to earth, and interacting with other people was one of the only ways I was able to feel somewhat normal. A nice, little side effect of getting out was meeting other moms and making some really great friends.
2. Forced me to face my demons. My therapist liked to remind me of how my experience with PPMD would enable me to better relate to Ruby. You know, I was going to grow. Or something. I generally rolled my eyes and cracked some joke about how I had “grown enough already”! But in the end she was right.
During the first year postpartum all my “issues” jumped out from under the surface and slapped me in the face. As painful as that was, I know I’m better off for having dealt with them. Of course, this is still very much a work in progress and probably will be for the rest of my life. Dang it. But you know what I say – practice makes… better!
3. Gave me courage. Truth be told, I’m sort of a fearful person. Shocking, I know. And nothing’s going to significantly change that. But there is something to be said for going through something extra-specially scary. It makes everything else relatively, well, less scary. I distinctly remember thinking, while on a run in the early months, that if I could get through this I could do ANYTHING.
Now I haven’t fully utilized this new found courage yet. But I do have a lot of ideas. Things I want to do. Things I wouldn’t have done before. Like, for example, singing on the internet. And more. So we’ll see. If I do all these things, I’ll tell you about it.
4. Taught me acceptance. During my darkest days I felt like I was the worst kind of person that ever lived. I felt like serial killers and human traffickers were the kind of people who were “on my level”. I felt like the lowest of the low. I don’t feel this way anymore. But instead of climbing back up a ladder of moral hierarchy, I sort of realized there wasn’t one.
We all do things we aren’t proud of and there’s always a reason why. Even for the really terrible things. That doesn’t make them okay. I’m not giving rape and murder a thumbs up here. I’m just saying I no longer believe I’m better, or that I’m good and they’re evil. I don’t believe in evil. I believe in love and acceptance and compassion. For everyone. No stipulations. No boundaries.
Of course, I am also human. I feel angry and impatient and judgmental often… throughout the day. But at the core of me, I accept. And I love this about myself.
5. Strengthened my relationships. Dealing with mental illness is an incredibly humbling experience. I needed help to get better. I had to admit I needed help. And that meant opening up about all the things that make me messy and imperfect. At first I only really told my closest friends and family. When I did, a curious thing happened. They started telling me about their things. I think keeping these things to ourselves must build walls between even close friends, because all the sharing of secret things strengthened every single one of my relationships.
So I started sharing more with other people too. And not just about my PPMD experience. I’m also just a bit more honest about, well, everything. Even when my feelings are uncomfortable, or I feel like I shouldn’t feel those feelings. And you know what? It always works. It always creates connection. Especially if you throw in a little of the previously mentioned acceptance.
Now let’s all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.