rp_emoticon-1.jpgBefore I had kids?  I didn’t know I was suffering from debilitating anxiety.  You see, I thought everyone lived like I did, felt like I did, thought like I did.

I mean, doesn’t everybody cry in their car in the parking lot of the mall because they can’t find just the right shower curtain and therefore their entire marriage might be in jeopardy because oh my god what if the curtain doesn’t match the towels and our house is not a home and he realizes he married the wrong person?

Doesn’t everybody play back conversations from the day in their head when the sun sets, over and over again, looping back as their hair flattens against their pillow, each time coming up with a better thing they should have said?

Surely everyone has periods of their life where they hate all people and feel like a shell of themselves and just want to curl up in a ball with a bag of Doritos in an attempt to quell the numbness.

Don’t you fear flying to the point of nausea, severe panic, and a ride through the airport in a wheelchair?


Now, I know it seems ridiculous that I could not see how tortured I was – like those stories of women who don’t know they are pregnant until they are, in fact giving birth.  But how could I be anything but normal?  I was educated and sober.  Financially secure.  I had a healthy, normal childhood.  I wasn’t “one of THOSE people.”  You know…someone who needed a therapist.

And so I lived my life in oblivion.  And I suffered. And I hid it well.

And then… I had a baby.

It began as first trimester fear of miscarriage and became obsessive kick counts for 37 weeks.  I don’t think that poor baby got any sleep in utero.

After she was born, it manifested as rage.  Rage at my newborn for not sleeping.  Rage at that guy in the parking lot for walking catty-corner across the street.  And a hulk-like explosion at my husband for the smallest critique or the obviously heinous crime of failing to match the bottle top colors to the correct bottoms.  If I left the house, I scheduled outings such that I would return exactly in time for a feeding, diaper change, and nap.  And should said nap last longer than my baby book suggested, my newborn was snuggled back to sleep with a fierceness I now regret.

By the time the intrusive thoughts showed up, I had been joyless for months.  “What if she just slipped under the water,” was the last time I bathed my baby girl alone.  “What if she flips over while swaddled and suffocates in bed,” led to an immediate de-blanketing. “I should have never had a baby,” left me sobbing on the floor.

I can now name myriads of experts who will tell you I was suffering from postpartum depression with co-morbid anxiety, presenting as OCD.  And that my previously undiagnosed, untreated generalized anxiety disorder and agitated major depressive disorder were huge risk factors for my PPD.

I can name different classes of psychotropic drugs, their uses, typical side effects, and half-lives.  And I can name dozens and dozens of women just. like. me.

You see, 6 years after the birth of my first daughter brought me to my knees, I now work in mental health advocacy.  She… has a 3 year old sister, whose surprise addition to our family showed me what a healthy pregnancy and postpartum period could be, thanks to the help of a few doctors and the miracle of modern medicine.

And?  6 years after hitting rock bottom, I know now, not everybody lives like I do – because not everyone will depend on antidepressant medication to maintain a healthy brain chemistry, or see their therapist every week.  They won’t agonize over their child’s every struggle, fighting the guilt that sneaks in and whispers, “this is because you were sick.”   But?

Everyone doesn’t have my empathy, my life experience, my compassion for others.

Everyone doesn’t find their courage in everyday tasks and interactions.

Everyone hasn’t fought back from hell, tooth and nail, to find joy and meaning despite a life-long diagnosis.

Everyone doesn’t live like I do – I wouldn’t wish my experiences and pain on anyone…everyone…but I wouldn’t give them up for the world. Knowing that I struggle with mental illness hasn’t held me back – it’s empowered me.  And that’s a gift.
Susan is thrilled to be on staff at Postpartum Progress, directing the 2015 Warrior Mom Conference. At home, she has her hands in a bit of everything, from parenting to teaching private music lessons. In her spare time, she pimps her crocheted wares for yarn money at http://etsy.com/shop/learnedhappiness, and tweets @learndhappiness.

The 7th Annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health is presented by Postpartum Progress, a national nonprofit 501c3 that raises awareness & advocates for more and better services for women who have postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. Please consider making a donation today, on Mother’s Day, to help us continue to spread the word and support the mental health of new mothers.