I couldn’t breath. I was sitting at my kitchen table but I was drowning. Over the past couple weeks I had become painfully aware of the fact that I was treading water and quickly losing my strength. But now the dam had broke. I felt the water crash over my body and the brute force of the water pushing me down. I knew I was breathing. I knew I was sitting at my kitchen table. Yet at the same time I felt the water crushing me. I pulled upon all my strength and stumbled to my bed to wait for my kids to wake up. I held fast to the belief that when their perfect eyes opened the depression couldn’t touch me.
But this was different. It wasn’t the feeling of hopelessness and apathy I had felt while my children had slept in the months prior. That feeling had developed from extreme fatigue to a hazy confusion to a longing for nothingness over the months. It wasn’t that I wanted to end my life, but I longed for nothing. I could see it in my brain. A white, clean, silent space with no sound, no emotion. It was the only peace I could imagine to escape the demon that twisted its way into my brain, into my core. I simply wanted nothing.
Two weeks prior I had been diagnosed with postpartum depression. It was so painfully, laughably obvious that I didn’t flinch when it was said. Yet the acknowledgement of its existence brought a profound shift. Life came into stark focus. I had wondered in the few short weeks after my daughter’s birth if I had postpartum depression, but I was told how great I was doing despite how difficult it was. My children are 16 months apart. I had a baby who was barely toddling and a baby who was barely out of the womb. How did I expect to feel? This was normal. I can do this. I will put my head down. I will swallow every scream of pain and fear. I will treasure my children and put them above me. I beat the mantra into my head, so when asked at my 6 week postpartum appointment I said I was doing great. I continued to say it and believe it, and pile more responsibility upon myself for months as I desperately fought to feel like myself again. And more so, desperately fought to hide any hint that something was wrong.
Then the dam broke. The children woke the next morning and I could barely move. I was terrified of what would happen next. I felt my mind slipping away from me. I asked my husband to take me to the ER. One of my son’s books has the line he felt an uh oh in his heart. As we waited for test results, a guard came and stood by my door. I felt an uh oh in my heart.
I was put on psychiatric hold and taken to Mission Oaks. I have had pain in my life. But nothing touches on the pain I felt that night knowing it was no longer my choice when I would see my children again. Even now I can’t think of it without tears coming to my eyes – the desperation to hold them and kiss them and promise them everything would be ok. But I didn’t know if or when it would be ok. I had lost my mind and now I had lost my free will.
Mission Oaks will be a place I will hold in my heart for the rest of my life. It gave me a hard reset. It reminded me that I am a person of worth. My family and closest friends rallied behind me, coming to visit me and calling me throughout the three days I was there. I slept for the first time in six months. My angel of a nurse brought me coffee every morning. I met a young woman who is unfathomably awe-inspiring. We walked the small loop of a hallway in the lockdown area endlessly between group sessions and drew inspiration from each other. Mission Oaks brought an abrupt end to the journey I was on and let me breath. I began to feel the depression snaking around my head and realized for the first time it was not me.
Life is full of shoulds. Once kids enter the scene the enormous pressure those shoulds bring is suffocating. My children are now 2.5 and 1 year old. In the few short years I have been a mom I have been drowning in shoulds. I should have a perfectly organized house at the end of each day. I should have fresh, well rounded snacks at the ready regardless of where we are at any given moment. I should know every detail of each stage of development and encourage my children in the appropriate activity to ensure they are reaching every milestone on time – or a little early.
These shoulds aren’t limited to the kids. I should be perfectly put together every time I leave the house. I should be unfazed by tantrums and take everything in stride. I should be an active part of my community and make a positive impact on the greater good every day. I should continue to be a well rounded adult bursting with well articulated ideas that stretch beyond child-rearing. In short, I should not be just a mom.
Articulating all of the shoulds swimming around my brain makes the entire situation seem laughable. Sadly the realization that I am living in a world of shoulds is very recent. In the past year I have suffered through postpartum depression and a complete loss of identity with the joy in my kids as my only stronghold.
I have made a commitment to myself that I will no longer think in should. Rather I am looking at life through a new lens. Instead of feeling that I should do something, I am asking what is my intention behind that action. I am looking at the world from the inside out, not the outside in. Will this serve me and my family? Can it meet my desired outcome? And more so, is that outcome truly my genuine desire or does it meet a notion of who I think I should be?
My story is not unique, but I hope that by sharing my journey and returning to Mrs. Siri I can create a place for others to evaluate and shrug off their shoulds.