This got to be too long of a post so I have broken it up into two parts. If you missed Part 1, it is here.
Medication put me in an uncomfortable fog, but quelled the voices. More importantly I started seeing a therapist weekly. Stephanie saved and changed my life. Our first session, I got to her windowless office waiting area and started crawling out of my skin. When she finally took me into her office, I told her that my ears were bleeding from the white noise and didn’t care about my privacy, but just wanted it to stop. God knows what we talked about for the next hour, but I walked out with blood shot eyes, a runny nose, and short of breath. In the following weeks, she started convincing me that I could do things I thought impossible: asking for help, building a support system, saying no, and practicing self-care.
Reaching out for assistance was in my estimation the ultimate admission of failure. Too anxiety-ridden to leave my own house, I was the shell of the woman who once kicked ass and took names for a living and came home to lovingly nurture my family. Stephanie convinced me it wouldn’t be that bad to ask everybody who had offered to bring a meal to actually do it. My family started to get fed again and my ego hadn’t taken the blow I imagined. It was a minor step forward as my medication moderated in my system and the initial haze lifted.
Building a support system proved much more challenging as it forced me to face the voices in my head that had reduced me to worthless sack of shit. It required me to share the dark place in which I lived, a windowless prison in my head that separated me from everything that I loved or brought joy. It came more easily to tell my friends, especially those who could see both the physical and emotional changes that had transformed me. I was convinced that telling my mother, the most unconditionally loving human to walk the Earth, would result in the greatest disappointment of her life. It did not. Once the boulder of my confession was lifted from my back, I recognized that the truth was relinquishing me of my shame.
On my good days, I could envision my team cheering for me in the stands of my high school soccer stadium as the song from “Rocky” blasted through the public address system. Each seat was occupied with someone who wanted what was best for me, was encouraging me, was helping in my recovery, or reminding me that they had been there and came out the other side. During a time where I felt mostly powerless to the thoughts in my head, this moment of meditation would bring me peace and awareness that I (with my army of supporters) was powerful beyond measure. The darkest days were filled with thoughts of gratitude and wonder that these people could standby someone so unworthy of their love and friendship.
At the epicenter of this battle between good and evil stood my husband, a man who has loved me with strength and gentleness for not quite half my life. He was head cheerleader and a natural motivator in my recovery. He also at times was my nemesis in that I hated him for making everything look so effortless. It wasn’t a gloating attitude, but the light-hearted easiness with which he approaches life, one of the first things about him that I fell in love with. I wanted him to hate me, as much as I hated myself for ruining our beautiful family and life. He never gave me the satisfaction of validating my self-loathing. Instead the look in his eyes from the ER would reappear begging me, “Please come back.”
In my sessions with Stephanie, the concept of saying no started coming more easily than it ever had in the past. I was such a disappointment to myself that surely I was to everybody around me. For the first time in my life, I had an awakening that people ask me to do things for many reasons beyond wanting me to do them. I was the first person they thought of or saw. They didn’t want to offend me by not asking or assuming. I learned that saying no built trust. Hell, I think a few people liked me even more for having clear boundaries.
Saying no, opened up time and space. I started choosing things that filled me up, instead of doing the most urgent task. In moving past the guilt of disappointing others, anxiety around the things left undone, and shame of failure, I began to see that I was choosing to be more important to myself.
The practice of self care is like being on a diet. Some days I reign victorious and others go down in flames. Regardless of the previous day’s outcome, I recommit again the following morning to the principles that would bring me back to health. The results are slow to accrue, but as they do, the benefits are apparent. To this day, as I feel my life slipping out of control (I usually freak out), but fall back on the most basic technique of putting my own care first.
Armed with my toolbox to manage through my postpartum depression, the most important thing had to come from within me. Hope. Hope that I could be the mother I once was. Hope that someday my husband would get his wife back. Hope that I could rejoin the life it seemed I was only living in an out of body experience. Hope that my shattered life could be cobbled back together. Hope that it would look remotely similar to what it once was.
As I move through the fourth anniversary of my late postpartum hemorrhage, I grieve the year I mostly don’t remember and feel gratitude for all that I have gained on my journey back to health. Today, I see so clearly that I’m not the woman I hoped would return. I am so much more.