You don’t have to be thankful today.
I know. It’s Thanksgiving. We’re all supposed to sit around the table, hold hands, sing “Kumbaya,” and say what we’re most thankful for while our stomachs growl and we think, “I’d be more thankful if I wasn’t hungry.” Thanksgiving is a day of thanks, one of reflection when we think over all our many blessings.
But it’s hard to feel thankful when you’re carrying the weight of postpartum depression.
It’s hard to feel thankful for a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder that makes you doubt your every move, every action, every thought; one that makes you question every question. “Am I really a good enough mom? What kind of mom even wonders that? I’ll never be good enough.”
It’s hard to feel thankful when postpartum anxiety makes you wonder if the baby, asleep in the pack and play in the next room, is breathing or not. Or if your mom’s cat jumped in there with her. Or if an asteroid is going to hit that side of the house. “It could happen.”
It’s hard to feel thankful when postpartum OCD sends intrusive thoughts racing through your brain, ones you feel too scared to admit even to your therapist out of fear they’ll take your baby. “And why shouldn’t they? What kind of mother thinks these things?
It’s hard to feel thankful when you haven’t slept in days or weeks or months or since the baby arrived, and people just keep telling you to “sleep when she sleeps,” but you’ve tried. Oh, you’ve tried. This insomnia feels like it will never end, and it is your punishment for have a mood disorder in the first place. “I don’t deserve to sleep.”
It’s hard to feel thankful when you feel so angry. Angry at the baby for not sleeping. Angry at the doctors for your traumatic birth experience. Angry at society for the pressures they put upon mothers to be this SuperMom creature. Angry at your partner for not doing more, helping more, being more. Angry at yourself for not “doing” motherhood “right.” “I’m angry at everyone and everything.”
It’s hard to feel thankful when those who should be supporting you simply aren’t. When they tell you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps; when they tell you how mothers in “their day” didn’t get “sick” like this; when they tell you that if you just prayed more, exercised more, drank a shake, ate less meat, ate more meat, turned around twice, you’d feel better. “I’ve already tried all that. Why can’t they see that?”
It’s hard to feel thankful when you’re feeling desperate, alone, and hopeless. “I just want this feeling to end.”
I know, mama. I know.
It’s hard to feel anything more than the distinct awfulness that has taken over your life. It’s hard to feel anything more than simply present; feeling thankful feels like something in the far off distance, something you did in the past and something you hope to do again in the future. Just not right now. Not yet.
For now, just feel what you need to feel. Acknowledging your emotions will serve you better than ignoring them, bottling up, and pretending that everything is going splendidly. If you’re staying home today, perhaps take a little while to journal those feelings, to question what true thankfulness means to you in this moment, and to let it out instead of keeping it in. If you’re with extended family today, take a few minutes outside or even in the bathroom, take deep cleansing breaths, and acknowledge those emotions as they come, but know that they will also pass.
And then, mama, know this: We are thankful for you.
We are thankful you’re here. We are thankful that you’re fighting through the darkest days of postpartum depression. We are thankful that you’ve chosen to fight, to keep fighting, to do whatever it takes to find your way back to you. We are thankful for you baby, for making you a mother. We are not thankful for your perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, but we’re thankful you’ve found us. We will stand with you today, on back porches in the cold air and in bathrooms with little kids knocking, and take deep breaths with you. We will remember Thanksgivings past, ones in which we didn’t feel very thankful at all; we will think of you, of your baby, of all those feelings you are feeling, and we will cover you with love and light.
Then we’ll go back in to our families, the loud bustling ones and the quiet ones and the arguing ones and the trying ones and the loving ones, and we’ll say what we’re thankful for around the table. When it comes to you, when it’s your turn to say what you’re thankful for, you can pass. You can say, “I don’t know.” You can even tell the truth, that it’s hard to find something to be thankful for right now as your in the throes of PPD. You can say whatever you need to say to get through the moment.
Because you will get through the moment, mama. And the next, and the next.
And we’re so thankful for that; for you.
Truly, any mother any age can feel these feelings and anxiety. Holidays can exacerbate them and depression.