It was the summer of 2009, about a week after I had given birth to our first baby. My wife and I were headed home to our little house that was located about two hours outside of the city. We were on the highway when I saw a mother duck trying to cross six lanes of traffic with her babies. We slowed down, but there were cars whizzing by and it became obvious that we might cause an accident if we stopped. Our newborn baby girl was in the back seat of the car and I had been gushing over her since her arrival. For some reason, as I looked at my own brand new baby the idea that these little ducks could get hit became unbearable.
The stress had been building in the days since I had given birth but this reaction was nowhere near typical. Through tears, I insisted that we stop, call the police and wait until they arrived to save the ducks (like the police were going to come save ducks). When I was told that there was nothing anyone could do, it just wasn’t something I couldn’t accept. I completely fell apart. I kept seeing my own little baby as the baby ducks and myself as the mother. I had never felt so helpless. That was the beginning of what would be the worst year of my life, which also happened to be the first year of my first child’s life. It was the beginning of a Post-Partum depression that felt like being covered in a thick layer of black tar that seeped into every crevice of my life.
After the baby duck incident, things went downhill quickly. I was in a constant state of anxiety, always feeling like I was just about to have a panic attack. Before long, it became clear that I couldn’t be alone. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t stay still, I couldn’t rest, I couldn’t catch my breath, I couldn’t take care of my baby or myself and I couldn’t find even a few seconds of hope, let alone happiness. There was no reprieve from the feelings of depression and hopelessness and the inability to escape left me permanently panic stricken. This was severe Post-Partum Depression and Anxiety. On top of that, there was immense guilt for being unable to take care of my little girl. In the coming months, there would be times when I wished that I had cancer so that I would die without having to take my own life. I would fantasize about finding a way of escaping it, knowing that I couldn’t because of the baby. I felt trapped and desperate at a time when people expected me to feel happy and grateful.
After being at home for a few weeks, it became clear that I was unable to take care of myself and our little girl. Since my partner had to work, we made the decision to leave our little house and the small town that we loved to move in temporarily with my mother and father in law who lived in the city. During that time, we slept in the bottom of a bunk bed together right next to our little girl’s crib across the hall from where her parents slept. I owe the world to everyone in my family for all that they have done to help us, but the situation was not at all what we had pictured for ourselves. Living with your in-laws and your brand-new baby doesn’t exactly do wonders for a marriage.
A few months after the move, my wife and I were on the highway driving back to her parents’ house after a quick visit to our home in the tiny little town (a place we both loved and missed). I was in the back seat with the baby, and it occurred to me that all I had to do was open the car door and roll out. It’s hard to explain that feeling, but it was like I was so close to death that I could feel it’s breath and I wanted to reach out and touch it. We went directly to the clinic and the psychiatrist agreed that I should be admitted to hospital. I went without hesitation, knowing that I needed to be in a place where I couldn’t find a way to be alone, even for a moment. It was the scariest thing I have ever experienced in my life. Burned into my brain is the memory of watching my wife walk to our car from a barred hospital window, knowing that she was going home to look after our baby without me. I spent one night in the hospital and was released the next morning. I spent that entire time with my ears plugged, and counting backwards by threes in my head in an attempt to drown out the sounds. Sounds that were enough to make someone who was already fragile tip right over the edge.
It’s been seven years since this happened and it is only now that I can write about it. Until this post, only a few people have known about it. Feelings of shame still creep in. I know that those feelings are a result of the stigma attached to mental health issues, but that doesn’t make them any easier to handle. When people feel ashamed, they’re less likely look for support, and without support, Post-Partum Depression and Anxiety can be insurmountable. Mental Illness, just like many other illnesses can be fatal, and it has nothing to do with weakness. I fought harder during that year that I ever have in my life and to be honest, I just squeaked by. When it comes to mental illness we all need each other. We need openness and we need support. We need to talk to our neighbors, our relatives and our friends, as well as to therapists and other professionals. It’s not enough to just talk to therapists and professionals.
What I needed most during Post-Partum was the opportunity to commiserate. I desperately needed to hear similar stories that confirmed that I wasn’t alone and that other women had gotten through it. Hearing about those experiences helped me more than anything else by far. Because of that, I promised myself that someday I would write about my experiences so that it would be there for other women to see who may also be struggling. Most importantly though, I wrote about it because I know that someday one of those women could be my own daughter.