After my two posts on Antenatal Depression (Part 1 Here and Part 2 Here), so much love came my way. That’s the beauty in being vulnerable – putting your truth out there and finding out that you are not less for it, but more. I had many friends comment online about how brave I am to share my story (there’s a whole post coming on that) and others call to just check in on me.
I also had a few folks mention casually, “You know, if you ever need anything I’m just a phone call away.” Not during a discussion of the blog posts or even the depression or pregnancy, but just as an aside to whatever conversation we were having. I realized that they must have been wondering. “She sure didn’t look depressed. Did I miss something? Why didn’t she tell me? Why didn’t I know?”
The first time around, nobody knew. I even had friends say things like, “Well, at least it’s not postpartum depression. You sound like you’re doing okay. Everybody has rough days.” Even my mom had no idea, and she saw more of the real me than anyone outside of my husband. I worked ferociously hard at appearing fine. I showered, dressed, straightened my hair, and went to playdates, the mall, and the grocery store. From the outside, I really did seem fine. And to a certain degree, I was. One of the misconceptions about PPD (or depression in general) is that you have to be miserable all the time – and usually people think of crying – to be diagnosed with depression. I logged many, many hours of tears in that year, but my PPD manifested itself as anxiety and rage more often than not. And some days, I would feel alright, especially those days I was able to get showered, dressed, and out the door. It is a complicated mood disorder, hard enough for medical professionals to diagnose, let alone friends and acquaintances.
This time? As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I called one of my besties. I shared my good news and my joy with her, and eventually my anxiety, too. I asked her that very first day to check on me throughout the pregnancy – to be honest with me – and to help me stay myself this time. The moment I felt numb, I took notice, told my husband, and made an appointment with my doctor. I let my mom know I was feeling overwhelmed and anxious and explained I was going back on some medications and would need help while dealing with the side effects. I rallied my online support army (love you, #ppdchat mamas!), called my old therapist, and started journaling. But I also allowed myself some peace and quiet.
I tend to hibernate when I’m feeling depressed – I withdraw and need space, and I know that now. So I didn’t broadcast my new antenatal depression diagnosis on Facebook, or start conversations about it with my casual friends or neighbors. In the last 5 months (I’m FIVE months pregnant, people! How did that happen?), when I’ve been asked how I’m doing by someone who really wants to know, I haven’t faked being fine. My answer is sometimes “I’m pregnant…so um… I’m excited, the baby’s doing great, but pregnancy is hard on me and I’m doing my best.” And yet if someone catches me at the right moment, I might honestly be able to say, “I’m doing really well and feeling pretty good.” It’s all a matter of timing.
There is freedom and value in having some of the people in my life not know. As much as I needed support to get through these last few months (and to where I am now), I also needed to feel normal. I needed to work – to teach and play music. I needed to be able to have casual conversations with my neighbors about their kids and the weather. I needed my extended family to just be excited about the pregnancy, without worrying about any mood disorders, because their joy was contagious. So if you didn’t know I was struggling, it’s not because I didn’t trust you, or that I felt ashamed. Your not knowing has helped me just as much as the emotional support of the folks who did…just in a different way.
If you want to know? Ask. Really. I’m over feeling ashamed about a mental disorder I did nothing to deserve and couldn’t have prevented. I’m more than happy to explain how I’m making progress and to shed light on a topic shadowed in stigma and misunderstanding.
Thankfully, these days, if you ask how I’m feeling, chances are I’ll be able to say I’m good. Really good. And I’ll be able to mean it. So thank you – thank you for being there for me, whether you knew I was hurting or thought I was fine. Either way, it was just what I needed.