On Being a Survivor

Dear Moms,

If a magic mirror had told me what was going to happen to my mental health after having kids, I probably would have thrown in the towel before I ever got started. You see, motherhood, in all its beauty and glory, kicked me *hard* in the rear end and sent me flying into the hell that no mother should ever have to experience.

But World, I am a survivor. And I am darn proud to still be here to raise my gorgeous daughters.

You want to know why? Because the mean, ugly boot that kicked me almost won, but it didn’t. I did.

A few months after my second chubby hairball popped out of me in that mind-boggling experience called “natural, drug-free birth,” I ended up in a mental health crisis center. I’d dealt with depression and anxiety after the birth of my first daughter, but this was to the point where I could hardly think straight.

I couldn’t feel anything other than anger. Sleep had become a stranger, and tears and other emotions that I knew I should be feeling were mythical creatures to which I had become immune. I was a zombie feeling nothing other than emptiness, irrational anger and a constant sense of undefinable panic.

I couldn’t stop the self-loathing thoughts that kept me up at night even when my baby was sleeping.

My diagnosis terrified me: severe postpartum depression, anxiety, and OCD. All of these combined, and the fact that I had become suicidal, left me bordering on postpartum psychosis.

I had two choices: Become willing to accept treatment, or understand that my husband had the power to petition to have me hospitalized against my will.

I chose the first option.

The second one conjured up images of straight-jackets and that movie Girl, Interrupted. Not something I had any desire to experience, even though I knew neither were accurate pictures of what I would go through should the worst-case scenario happen.

And this is where my story takes a turn for the (much) better.

While I had always been adamantly opposed to unnecessary medications (natural births for both my daughters, breastfeeding, and a lot of other “natural mama” stuff) and had never been through counseling, I found myself on a pretty good dose of an anti-depressant and in weekly talk therapy. In addition, I found online resources and other blogs that were willing to hold my hand while I relearned how to breathe and shower.

It was one step at a time, and a chunk of it was uphill, but finally I had the support I needed to reach the top of the postpartum mountain.

Life started to get better. Not easy, but better. With the combined help of the medication and the counseling, I started to feel like a human being again. The obsessive thoughts quieted. The panic dulled immensely. The unbearable mental agony I had been living with finally kicked its own butt.

Best of all, I finally felt like I was present for my family. My marriage was suddenly an important part of my life again. I could actually see my beautiful little girls. I started to enjoy watching them grow and learn, and began to have clear memories of them instead of the foggy images that I had been dealing with before.

How on earth did I survive the postpartum nightmare I’d been experiencing before getting the help I needed?

More than a year-and-a-half later, I have come to realize that seeking mental health treatment was one of the best things I have ever done for both myself and my family. Without it, I wouldn’t be here. The postpartum illnesses I was dealing with were too strong to fight alone.

At the time I reached out for help, I thought I was weak and pathetic. I mean, really, what kind of mother isn’t thrilled to have a new baby? What kind of parent has to seek some serious mental health treatment? I was afraid that my illnesses were some kind of flaw and something that made me a bad mom.

That wasn’t the case, though. In fact, I was a great mom and wife for seeking the help I needed so that I could be alive and present for my family.

I wish someone had told me long before my experience that having postpartum depression does not make one a bad parent or “crazy.” I have learned that so many other moms have dealt with these kinds of issues without ever seeking treatment for fear of what others would think of them. It breaks my heart hearing that sort of thing. No one should have to suffer like that.

And as for stigma regarding antidepressants and other medication, my psychiatrist said it best: “Postpartum depression is an illness, like diabetes. It’s not something you can help. You are not crazy for needing to seek treatment that can help you be healthy. However, you would be crazy if you refused to get the help you need, just like a diabetic who needs insulin to live would be crazy to refuse the insulin.”

When she put it like that, I had only one thing to say. “I don’t want to be crazy. Give me the meds.”

Mental health? Yeah, it will be a daily battle for me for the rest of my life. I was recently diagnosed with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder. It’s tough, but I am glad I know about it, and it is a comfort to know I’m not alone.

This time, I’m not afraid to do everything necessary to stay healthy. I’ve learned that the help available is far from the picture that the Hollywood movies painted, and that people don’t think any less of me for admitting that I need help.

I am a survivor, and that knowledge helps me keep on fighting. Life, my family, me—we are all worth it.

Tamra Hood is a writer, dancer, teacher and postpartum depression survivor. Most importantly, she’s the wife to an incredible cute, geeky husband and mom to two dark-haired, precious little girls.