Positive encouragement made my Post-Partum Depression worse

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. It hasn’t been a constant in my life, but has come and gone with various seasons. I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that nothing I’ve struggled with has been quite as severe as my experience with post-partum depression and anxiety. It very nearly broke me. Scratch that – it did break me, over and over again.

Because of my history, I truly believed I was prepared. My husband and I had talked about the possibility of PPD, and we had a plan to watch for signs or symptoms. My husband is  an amazing and supportive man, and he loves me with every fiber of his being. He also (I think) has an inflated view of me sometimes. In my husband’s eyes, there is no obstacle that I shouldn’t be able to overcome and overcome with ease. That’s why when I was diagnosed with PPD & PPA at 6 weeks post-partum, I think my husband subconsciously chose not to put much weight into the diagnosis, and I very consciously chose to not take the medication prescribed to me. I willingly went to one therapy appointment, but felt so much anxiety about leaving the house that I chose not to go back. That should have been a bright, neon-clear sign to me that something was very wrong.

I continued to struggle silently. I welcomed visitors and put on a happy, smiley face in their presence. I thought that forcing myself to be around others and hearing their positive attitudes would somehow heal what was so broken inside. I would listen as friends and family would tell me what a supermom I was for making, birthing, and raising twins…colicky twins. I would feign humble gratitude and try to change the subject. I would test the waters with light-hearted comments about how hard it was, and how I was struggling, but my comments were only met with more encouragement about how I made it look easy, how I was doing a superb job, and how I just needed to hang in there because, aren’t babies such a blessing?

It seems so obvious that such encouragement would be the very thing I needed. Combat darkness with light, negativity with positivity – right? Wrong. So. Very. Wrong! The problem with PPD and PPA is that there is a voice screaming within that says you are not worthy, that you are not enough, that you cannot cope. The positive voices of friends and family were not enough to squelch the ever-growing internal monologue that plagued me. In fact, I believe they fed the voice. The more I was told what a great job I was doing, the more the voice grew. It’s like there was a demon inside me feeding on that which should have been feeding my soul. It went a little like this:

Friend: “You’re doing such a great job. I don’t know how you do it with twins!”
PPD: “If they only saw what I see.”
Friend: “Seriously – I’m so impressed.”
PPD: “If she’s doing such a great job, why does she cry alone in the bathroom or scream in frustration?”
Friend: “You’re like some kind of supermom.”
PPD: “SUPERMOM? SHE’S NOT EVEN A DECENT MOM. SHE ISN’T BONDING WITH HER CHILDREN. THEY WOULD BE BETTER OFF WITHOUT HER! SHE WASN’T EVEN CAPABLE ENOUGH TO BREASTFEED!”

With every positive statement of encouragement, the internal voice fought back. It wasn’t until a year later when my hormones were more in sync and the dust began to settle that I started to find clarity. What I now know, that I wish I knew then, was that I needed honesty. I needed someone to see me struggling and to have an open, honest conversation with me about my struggle. I needed to know that I needed help, and that it was ok that I needed help. I needed to know that motherhood is hard, and that admitting it’s hard wouldn’t make me any less of a mother.

The belief that motherhood is perfect bliss is a harmful fallacy that I refuse to perpetuate. Is being a mother a blessing? Absolutely. Does it bring unexplainable joy that can’t be replaced in any way? Without a doubt, yes! However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a struggle. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t heart-wrenchingly painful at times, too. I beg of my fellow mothers, join arms and be honest with one another. Share your joy, but share your struggles too. You never know who might need to hear it.

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