When I was 23 years old and my first son was born, I started having symptoms that we weren’t experienced enough to see as depression.
I continued on a downward spiral with each day and when we thought it could not get any worse, I started not being able to function or handle daily life. It looked like this:
I stopped eating. And understand that I love to eat! I can count on one hand the number of times that I didn’t feel like eating in my life. I have always had a healthy appetite (and sometimes wished it was smaller). Shortly after we moved, my husband Jim noticed my loss of interest in food, so he tried to get me to eat. As the flight school he was attending, Moody Aviation, was right next to our apartment building, I often walked over with Dawson to have lunch with Jim, and there were some days Jim would come home. For lunch one day, before Jim headed back to class, he made me a sandwich and left it sitting on the kitchen table. He told me he wanted it gone by the time he got home later that afternoon. After he left, I tried so hard to eat it, but it tasted gross to me and it took all my effort to choke down two bites. He came home shortly before dinner and the sandwich sat where he left it, only a few bites missing. Later, when he saw the uneaten sandwich, I saw him sigh in defeat. He didn’t know what else to do to help me. I later found out that you are supposed to eat around three thousand calories a day when you are breast-feeding. At that time, I was probably consuming only fifteen hundred! My milk supply suffered as a result but I blamed it on other circumstances, thinking that because I was drinking enough, there shouldn’t be a problem. Doctor checkups never indicated concern over Dawson’s weight, and as a first-time mom, I didn’t realize how not eating enough affected the child who relied on me for sustenance. Dawson screamed a lot as an infant; I can’t help but wonder if he was just hungry.
I couldn’t stop crying. On more than one occasion, Jim woke up at five or six in the morning to an empty bed and the sound of my sniffling or muffled sobs coming from the other room. One morning, he found me in the living room, surrounded by mounds of Kleenex as I nursed Dawson. He came in, plopped down on the sofa beside me and sighed, “What’s wrong?”
“It’s one horrible day after another,” I choked out between sobs, the morning light barely showing out the windows. Something simple had set off those feelings, like when Dawson spit up all over me or when a diaper leaked all over—typical baby things moms all over the world deal with. My days seemed full of tears, even from the time I woke up.
During a conversation with my mom one day, she mentioned she did not want me to live thinking life was always that hard. I began to believe I was going to be miserable until the day I died.
I started isolating myself from other people. I screened phone calls and did not return friends’ messages. I did not want to pick up the phone and let them catch me crying or hear in my voice that something was wrong. Overwhelmed by the simple act of calling them back, I didn’t even return phone messages. In small ways, I pushed away my mom and Jim’s mom, both of whom I am very close to. With my mom, I knew if she guessed I was depressed, she might mention taking an antidepressant. At the time, Jim and my mom differed in their opinions about taking medication. Jim did not believe medication was the place to start. Undecided on where I stood on the issue, I couldn’t tolerate the tension between Jim’s and my mom’s opinions. I was torn not only between two opinions, but between two people I loved very much. With others, I hid my true feelings. Mustering the strength to carry on normal conversations and the thought of talking on the phone exhausted me, so I avoided the phone at all costs.
I avoided going anywhere with my son. I feared not being able to handle things emotionally, like Dawson crying at a store or him screaming at the top of his lungs while I drove somewhere, so I stayed at home, which isolated me even more from normal interaction with people. In my heart, I started casting the blame on Dawson for my isolation. My thoughts consisted of things like, “If it wasn’t for him, then I could be at some job around people.”
One evening, one of Jim’s flight instructors and his wife invited us over for dinner at their home, along with some of Jim’s other classmates. Not having money to pay for a sitter, we brought Dawson along. He was just a couple of months old at the time. We were the only ones there that evening with a baby. Dawson ended up crying almost the entire time and we did not have a clue as to why. I tried to calm him down; Jim could not calm him down. Nothing helped. As I sat in the living room with my screaming child, while everyone else sat in the dining room, anger and nasty thoughts filled me. I heard them sitting around enjoying each other’s company, while I sat in a different room. Thoughts flew through my head like, “I hate my life” and “I hate this baby.” I did not like this little person who was causing me to miss out on social interaction, for which I felt starved. I misdirected my anger at my child; it was as if Dawson somehow sensed my frustration with him, and his crying grew even worse.
I felt tired most of the time. Daily tasks seemed too difficult. Getting showered and dressed didn’t happen until two or three in the afternoon. Figuring out what to cook, or wear, or whether to spend time with someone took the energy out of me. I wanted to stay in bed or sit on the couch. Even the physical act of dragging Dawson’s car seat and diaper bag in and out of the car or carrying groceries up and down the flight of stairs to our apartment left me physically drained, like I wanted to take a nap or just lie on the couch doing nothing. So I escaped life through sleep. The comfort of sleep made me long to sleep and never wake up, which eventually led to my longing for death.
I started thinking about suicide. I started planning out in my head what I would do to end my life. Although I considered different ways to do it, the experience with the Tylenol pills that I mentioned at the beginning of this book was the closest I ever got to it. Deep down I knew killing myself was wrong. But the thoughts that filled my mind drove me to think about it. Almost daily, I battled thoughts like, “Jim and Dawson would be better off without me.” At the time I pulled away from friends and family, which caused me to feel like I was failing so many people. Deceived, I thought I would be doing everyone a favor if I was gone.
One other time, Jim got home from class around four thirty in the afternoon. He walked in the door to the sound of crying—me and Dawson. While Dawson lay screaming in his crib, Jim found me lying on our bed, sobbing. “I want to die,” I said. At almost five in the evening, I hadn’t even showered yet, much less figured out what to make for dinner. He immediately got on the phone and called Joy, an older woman, friend, and mentor of mine. Joy was one of the only people we felt we could call if we needed something. He arranged for Joy to come take care of Dawson and told me to get in the shower. As I stood in the shower, still crying, with the hot water washing away my tears, Jim turned on the radio. Jeremy Camp’s song “I Still Believe” happened to be playing. Jim turned up the volume and the words blared into the bathroom, words that resonated with hope in a God whose presence sometimes can’t be felt:
Scattered words and empty thoughts seem to pour from my heart
I’ve never felt so torn before
Seems I don’t know where to start
But it’s now that I feel your grace fall like rain
From every fingertip, washing away my pain
I still believe in your faithfulness
I still believe in your truth
I still believe in your Holy Word
Even when I don’t see, I still believe
Though the questions still fog up my mind
Promises I still seem to bear
Even when answers slowly unwind, it’s my heart I see you prepare
But it’s now that I feel Your grace fall like rain,
From every fingertip, washing away my pain
Well, the only place I can go is into your arms
Where I throw to you my feeble prayers
Well, in brokenness I can see this was Your will for me
Help me know that you are near
The words of that song spoke to me in my darkness and reminded me there was a reason to keep going on.
As all of these things started happening, and when it got to the point where I no longer handled normal, daily activities, we needed an intervention.
Read more about my postpartum depression experience here.