Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Motherhood and More: It's not a parenting failure to seek the help you need

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the time after my daughter was born. I was a new stay-at-home mom and my son was 2 years old.

I’m not sure what has brought on these reminisces, but it’s hard to compare where I was then to where I am now. At the time, I made plenty of jokes about not having adult conversation, but was silent about my real struggle.

Over time, I spiraled into a deep depression. I don’t know how else to say it. There were many days when I didn’t think I’d make it through, many days when I locked myself in the bathroom to cry. Many days when I lashed out at the kids when I shouldn’t have.

I felt guilty every day. I felt anxious and sad and lost and hopeless. I didn’t know what to do or how to ask for help. I didn’t tell anyone, because how do you tell people you’re failing? How do you ask for help when to do so you’d have to admit that failure?

It’s only now, years later, that I feel OK with sharing because I’m so far removed from it.

I assume I was suffering from post-partum depression. At the time though, I just thought I was bad at being a mother. But I powered through. I trudged along each day making breakfast, playing games, coloring, but all the while feeling desperate and lost.

I felt alone. I felt that no one could be as awful a mother as I was, so I didn’t seek out people to talk to because I didn’t want them to see exactly how bad I was.

We didn’t have much money and only one car, so we weren’t able to go out to places. And when we did go out in public it was like running a marathon. My daughter was not the best child to take places. She was easily frustrated and easily irritated and ridiculously impatient. Add to that an older child who was testing his boundaries and you have a disaster waiting to happen.

I was terrified to take them out by myself, so most days we stayed home.

We did have fun, though I know it doesn’t sound like it. I tried to plan activities to keep them entertained, but sometimes it was physically painful to have to be on and available all day. I’m an introvert, which means I desperately need alone time to function. That doesn’t happen when you have two small children who need you 24 hours a day.

I became obsessed with my son’s first memory. I was convinced it would be of me yelling over something stupid and silly and that would color our relationship for the rest of our lives. I lay awake at night thinking about it, feeling terrible, feeling the weight of my responsibility pressing on my chest.

Eventually, I realized I needed to do something, that I had to fix what was broken, because something obviously wasn’t right. I knew I needed anti-depressants, but also felt, again, like I was a failure for needing them. I didn’t want to be like this. I felt weak and childish, like if I only was stronger, if I only tried a little harder, I’d pull myself out.

But I think it took strength to finally ask my doctor. I was shaking and crying, trying to explain the issue without making myself seem too terrible.

And the anti-depressants worked. They worked so well. I felt so much better, like a black cloud had gone, like the pressure and the weight and the desperation were lessened.

It wasn’t a quick fix and it wasn’t 100 percent. It took time and effort and there still were days I locked myself away to have a few minutes to myself.

But I was better and functioning and not spiraling any deeper. I was able to see clearer and to be the mama my kids needed.

So if you see a friend or loved one struggling, even a small amount, look a little closer. Ask questions, offer assistance. They might be searching for help but not know how to ask for it.

We’re all in this together, right?

This column originally published in The News-Enterprise on May 25, 2016.