It Wasn't Exactly A Conventional Method
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It's hard to pinpoint when it started exactly, but knowing what I know now and having the crystal-clear retrospect of oh, say, six years, if I had to guess I would say that it all actually started while I was still pregnant with my daughter.
Unfortunately for me, women who have unplanned pregnancies are more likely to develop postpartum depression, a fact that I was entirely unaware of at the time but now makes a lot of sense.
I struggled a lot with my pregnancy, unplanned at the age of 21 during my senior year of college. I felt like a failure, I was ashamed, guilty and wondered what my life would hold for me now. The pregnancy induced a whirlwind of change in my life with, obviously, a baby, but also a wedding, college graduation, a move and new jobs all around. I had many moments of depression and anxiety during my pregnancy and even a mini-breakdown one night when I couldn't stop crying.
And even though my heart opened up to motherhood in the moment I met my daughter, changing my life for the better forever, things weren't exactly picture-perfect in her newborn days.
The first signs
It's almost embarrassing to admit that I didn't realize what was happening, but my signs of postpartum depression were 100 percent textbook. Not only did I have two major risk factors (Unplanned pregnancy? Check. Depression or anxiety during pregnancy? Check.), but after my daughter was born, I filled my journals with uplifting entries like:
I just don't know what's wrong with me. I want to be happy, but there is this heavy sadness weighing on me all the time. And knowing that I have so much to be happy about — a flexible job, the ability to be home, a beautiful and healthy daughter — I just can't seem to snap out of it. The guilt that I feel about being sad just makes me feel worse.
As in a fog, I listed through that first year of my daughter's life. My husband was finishing up school, working two jobs and not home a lot. I worked night shift and cared for our daughter and learned what it felt like to live constantly exhausted. My daughter and I spent most of our days completely alone in a tiny apartment. I couldn't enjoy anything, just getting dressed in the morning felt like a monumental task and I felt like the worst mother in the world.
A light at the end of the tunnel
I couldn't recognize what was happening with me, nor could my husband at the time (which, I would just like to point out, is an important tool: make sure your partner is aware of the signs and symptoms of PPD), but I did know that something was wrong.
From my perspective, it simply felt like I had "lost" myself; that motherhood, while wonderful, had also taken away such a huge piece of my identity and my sense of self that I needed to find my way back. I worried if I would ever feel like the carefree girl I once had, if I would ever get back to the place where I was or to the confident, goal-setting individual I had always been.
So I did the only thing I knew how to do.
And went back to school.
How one change saved my life
It may sound crazy, but somehow going back to school was the change I needed to overcome the postpartum depression that I wasn't even aware that I had. I set my sights on graduate school to prove to myself that I was still the accomplished woman I was before I had a baby. Not only did I believe that going back to school would make me look "credible" in the eyes of the world, but setting a goal helped give me something to focus on other than my yoga pants, my baby and the sadness that made me want to curl up on the couch all day.
And it worked.
In many ways, I think I just got lucky. It's obvious now that I had some sort of clinical depression and I wasted a lot of days of my daughter's first year not seeking medical treatment, but somewhere between my daughter's birthday and my three-hour round-trip drives to the college campus, I started to heal.
Slowly, I found a new normal as a mother, a woman and just me.
It wasn't so much the act of the degree I sought (which, confession, I never actually finished), but it was the act of taking some kind of action just for me, something that made me feel like I could better myself. It made me realize that although motherhood can take seemingly everything about our lives, turn it upside down and then laugh a little about it, there is only one way to survive it.
Take one step forward at a time, no matter how small it may be.