It's been five years now. Five years ago this week began the worst week of my entire life. Five years ago I met what I imagine Hell to be face to face.
The person in this photograph might look okay on the outside, but the inside was unrecognizable to me and others. I was a stranger.
Five years is a long, short time. It's easy to forget the details of events that happened half a decade ago. Especially when those details represent the horror of postpartum depression and anxiety. When the feelings, the thoughts, the behaviors, the agony were so painful they were barely endured and were the last thing that anyone would want to remember.
Because I wanted to help others, because I wanted to acknowledge and fully accept what had happened to me, and prevent others from feeling as alone as I did in the midst of the pain, I wrote. I talked. I shared. I recounted my story again and again. And I'm grateful. I believe it has helped. Many of you have shared as much here and elsewhere. That knowing others have suffered a similar way does ease the pain a bit. It normalizes the experience. It acknowledges the prevalence of these inexplicably horrid disorders. It provides a safe place to share, where judgment is absent and hugs abound.
But like everything else in life, as time passes the memories fade, the intensity of the feelings associated with those memories lessens, and the good times that have occurred since the bad times begin to become more prominent in our minds. Now, I don't imagine that whether I continued to blog and facilitate support groups and share my story or not would impact my my ability to know deep within myself how god-awful having PPD can be and was for me. No, I am certain that no amount of time could erase the knowledge that one endured such a horrific and ironically terrible experience instead of what is "supposed to be" the happiest of just a few major milestones in one's life.
What I do believe is that our ability to cope with things that have happened in the past improves with time, with full recovery, and for me with a much better second postpartum experience. And for that, I am incredibly grateful. I thank God that I was able to make what I believe was a complete recovery and especially for my second son and the opportunity to have those many moments I was "supposed" to have when one has a baby.
Except, a full recovery doesn't always look like a return to the exact same person you were before. In fact, I would contend that it almost never does. Many would claim that it looks much, much different. Some would say it often looks better. Myself included. The strength that you didn't know you had. The awareness of feelings and the coping skills learned. The appreciation for being well that one didn't necessarily even realize was important until being well was stolen in what seems like a matter of minutes. And others, those for whom underlying issues were brought to a head and have become obstacles too great to overcome, would argue otherwise. That no good has come from their experience. That the pain of the memories is too great and not only was the wonderful postpartum period taken from them, but the rest of mothering as a whole, well person seems to have been, as well. For some even that new diagnoses have been uncovered since PPD. Bipolar disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder. Seasonal affective disorder. Dysthymia. Depression. OCD. The list is too long. Excruciating for me to write and unlike any pain the women for whom this is reality have ever experienced. I want to scream and shout and pound things when I think of how unfair maternal mental illness is.
For those of you who are in the throes of PPD, as well as for those of you whose PPD experience did not get neatly boxed up and put on a shelf to be brought out only on rainy days, I need you to know something. Please, hear me. I remember. It might not be as clear as it once was, but I promise you that you can't judge a book by its cover. Smiling photos and positive posts do not mean I don't understand or that the pain is no longer. I will never forget what it felt like. I can't. I know that I am called to do this work for now and probably for the rest of my adult life. And because of that I know that I will not allow myself to forget what it was like. I will not allow myself to forget about you. YOU. I have not forgotten about you. I am here for YOU. I have not given up on YOU.