Hannah is 13 months old today. But, that's not the strange anniversary. That's the very awesome, incredibly normal and happy anniversary.
One year ago today, I finally began to feel better for a little while. From Hannah's birth on April 2, 2012 until one year ago yesterday, I entered into a traumatic war with postpartum anxiety and depression. And, I entered the hospital in what I was convinced would be my last attempt at recovering the life I used to know.
One year ago today, I started to understand some things I am not sure I want the privilege of knowing sometimes.
I'm not trying to say anything profound here. I'm certainly not trying to convince anyone that they need to "believe" in postpartum anxiety and depression as if it were a fictional creature that required an element of proof. I don't need anyone to believe in it. It's like God. I can't see it, but I felt it, and it was gripping, consuming, in charge, and very, very real.
I keep this blog because it allows me to capture time a bit, and just as I get to go back through my past few years and see how I've evolved, I plan to come back to this blog someday, especially when circumstances feel impossible and I need to remind myself of a few things.
Here's what I know: I got to go to hell for awhile beginning a year ago, and it's ugly there. I don't believe that hell is a place as much as it is an experience. A continuous push down deep underwater while you can't decide if you want to waste your breath screaming or just hang onto your exhale.
It's hard to explain exactly how it felt during that time, but I imagine it's a lot like the way an addict feels during detox. Mentally, it's confusing, complicated, frustrating, devastating, hopeless, and beyond frightening. Your biggest fear is that you are always going to feel afraid, forever. I thought I was stuck with the sensation that my skin was hot and crawling. I believed I might never get to take care of Hannah. I actually yearned to stay up with her through the night, feed her from my body, rock her in the soft, oversized chair I picked out for us, and feel like we were the only ones awake with the moon. Instead, she cried, and I couldn't do a thing.
I felt nothing but fear, all day, every day. At the time I didn't feel failure or desire. There was no room in my body for any other feeling besides fear.
The strangest thing, though, is that I can't recreate that kind of fear now, even if I try as hard as possible. It is eerie to me to think of the person I was less than 12 months ago because I don't recognize that person. That is a gift.
I met my doctor when I was in the hospital a year ago. Throughout my treatment, he thought I was somewhat of a peculiar case because I recovered the week he treated me, and then I relapsed. And then I recovered again. And then I relapsed again. I remained in a tolerable condition for a few weeks after I left the hospital. And then, it all came back. It hit me hard and kept me in that frightening place for days. Again, I couldn't budge. I knew I had recovered temporarily but the fear returned that I would be stuck there again. The last relapse I had was in July, but occasionally I still get haunted by the thought of it.
And yet, in a way, I'm better than I was before. I've identified the liar and know how to stifle the quiet voice with the devious intentions. I have been given some sort of unique posterity. A purpose I don't want, but apparently it wanted me. I have it in my heart to tell people about anxiety, and, more importantly, recovery.
I kept notes in my phone sometimes as I tried to make sense of what happened. Once, a few months ago, I was angry at depression and I began to write a note to it in an effort to yell at something that I only knew - but knew very vividly - with a few of my senses. Instead, I actually wrote somewhat of a thank you note. An excerpt:
You gave me tears, but you also gave me confidence with a purpose. Because now I've seen the darkest of darks and I know how sweet the light is. I can tell a believable story to those who feel stuck...it won't be this way forever...stay strong...don't stop getting help until you feel like yourself again, and then remain committed to maintaining that help forever...it does get better, and it will. I had you, depression. You never had me. I may see you again, but this time I'll fear you less because I've defeated you before. You taught me just how strong I can be. You reminded me that there is nothing on earth my own mother, husband, family and friends won't do to keep me safe from myself when I am lost. You brought me to my knees as I screamed in my kitchen at God, begging for a way out, and you faded as I felt a quiet calm, a sense that this may not feel good but God's plan still is. I own the soul you tried to get me to abandon. You waged a war and tried to use my very own power against me. But I put on God's armour and knocked you behind me, enemy.
I am not happy that I had to experience postpartum anxiety. This was not part of my plan. But I am one of the fortunate ones. I got out. I can see the faces of silently suffering friends and strangers and know that they know something the rest of us don't, and they don't have the ability or energy to explain it. My heart is sensitive to precious, precious human beings who don't understand how they became trapped inside themselves. I ache when I witness people who have not experienced - and probably don't have the ability to experience - the isolation of depression and yet believe they have some authority to judge what it is possible for other people to feel or not feel. We do not know what battles the other is fighting. Each one of us is comprised of special ingredients that blend together to uniquely produce our reality. No two realities are alike.
I have a lot to show for the past year. I approach things a little differently now.
I sit in silence more often. I turn off the noise in the house and listen to my very own breath, and I send praises to God that I have been given the privilege of life - of raising my beloved Hannah, loving my husband, pleasing my family, entertaining my friends (and the occasional stranger), working hard, resting, feeling. I get to celebrate life, progress, change, curiosity, mystery, and many, many more anniversaries.