Because of the recent events I feel that this is of upmost importance to talk about, possibly now more than ever.
I’ve always battled anxiety and depression. I remember it really setting in about middle school. The anxiety was so bad I would literally make myself sick worrying about little things; how a test was going to go, if we would return safely from our family vacations, and so on. Things that definitely should not make a kid physically ill worrying about them. In high school I was prescribed medicine for it which I continued to take through college.
My freshman year of college I attempted to kill myself. It was a combination of the stress of a whole new routine, the loss of a boyfriend, and feeling like nothing was consistent any longer, and the immense pressure to succeed. Thankfully, my roommate was home at the time otherwise I probably would’ve been successful. She saved my life that day. It landed me more meds, trips to a psychologist twice a week, and caused my roommate to move out. I felt even more ostracized and alone. As I sit here just recalling that time of my life and the hopelessness I felt it brings me to tears. It was by far the most lonely time of my life. I was at this huge college surrounded by people, yet had never felt more alone.
Fast forward a few years. I’m married, still taking the medication I was given in college. We didn’t live in the greatest part of town. Actually, that’s an understatement. The cops didn’t even want to be out there. There had been a few shootings in the stairwell, the family living underneath us was robbed blind while I was at work. This was something I had never had to deal with before coming from a small town. I vividly remember being at the neighbors house during one shooting, listening to 16 shots go off, and with each shot it got closer. I remember when the silence came afterward and I thought for sure they were reloading, about to come through the door at any time. I remember silently crying thinking I would never see my family again. The stress from that event alone was enough to send me into a downward spiral, but then I got the news that one of my friends that had gotten me through my rough time in college had passed away suddenly. I felt like there was no end to my sadness, my stress, and my worry. On top of it all the medicine I was taking had a side effect of blackout periods. There were several hours in a day I would have no recollection of. My marriage suffered. I asked for help and got none. Ultimately I decided I needed to do what was best for me, because I just couldn’t continue down this path. I packed up my car and moved across country for a change of scenery and to be closer to the one person that was there for me when I really needed it most.
Don’t think that this move just solved my problems. It definitely made more, and life was still hard, but my mind was finally clear of all the clouds and I started to work toward my own dreams and goals. I lived out of my car for awhile, working as many odd jobs as I could find. I had a gym membership just so I could shower before work so no one knew my struggles. I also had to do something about this marriage that was no longer, but I felt good, for whatever reason, so I just kept at it. I eventually acquired a dog (I’m a failed foster mom… but she’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me). I worked on a ranch for awhile, I served and bartended, I was able to find a place and pay rent eventually. I was finally granted a divorce (he refused to sign the papers I sent him several times so the court finally ordered it an abandonment and I was awarded my maiden name back). But the important part was that I was genuinely happy and unmedicated for the first time since high school.
Around year three of my new-found life I got a call I never expected to receive. My dad had passed away while on vacation in the Virgin Islands. My whole life was swept up in this whirlwind of emotions I had never felt before. Because of my past history with anxiety and depression I was again prescribed medication. A daily antidepressant as well as some panic pills to be taken when I felt out of control. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I would watch the hours tick by on the clock next to the bed at night. I spent two weeks with my family before flying back home when I was expected to return to my daily life like nothing had happened. I remember feeling like I just wanted the world to stop spinning. That the most heartbreaking thing was that life continued on without him. I was so heavily medicated I felt like I was watching myself go through the motions of everyday life. I no longer feared death, it was something I fantasized about. Some days were darker than others. I developed unhealthy coping mechanisms to numb the pain. I didn’t want to feel anymore. I picked up a second job and went from one shift to the next, hoping to busy myself to the point where I didn’t have time to think about it. I tried again that year to end my life. I woke up on my kitchen floor in a pool of my own blood, a massive headache, and my dog’s head on my chest. She became my reason to get up in the mornings. I forced myself to get out of bed to walk her and take care of her. She saved me from myself. As strange as it seems the thought of what would happen to her if I weren’t there any longer made me focus on taking care of myself and getting better. I started going out with friends again and living a somewhat normal life, instead of just holing myself up like I had been. I stopped taking the medicine and began to deal with my emotions on my own, and positive ways to redirect my thoughts and feelings. Life began to even itself out again.
About 2 years after I lost my dad I decided to move closer to my mom. I packed my car up and did the cross country journey again, this time with my dog in tow. I moved in with my boyfriend (now husband). We soon found out I was pregnant. While I was scared shitless he was ecstatic. We got married, moved into a house that was of more appropriate size for our growing family. It was the happiest time of my life. I had a great job, we were excited for our baby to come in December. I still had some emotional days because I wished so badly that my dad could be a part of all this excitement, and moving back to where I grew up really stirred up some memories but I got through it with the help of my husband.
December 7, 2017 I will never forget. It was one of the best days of my life to date. I finally was able to hold my healthy baby boy in my arms. The first few days I was on cloud nine. He was perfect. I couldn’t believe he was mine. He was everything I had ever hoped for and then some. The hospital quickly screened me for signs of postpartum depression and then released us. The first few weeks I would have weepy days, post baby blues, but nothing overly serious.
Let me interject here and tell you I had decided that I was not going to do postpartum depression. It wasn’t going to happen to me. After all, I had the most perfect little baby, what did I have to be sad about?
Then the realization set in. I was depressed. I was constantly angry. I felt out of control. There was immense pressure to go back to work from those around me, or at least I felt there was, but had no idea where to even start to look as far as childcare. I didn’t want to go back to work. I didn’t want to leave my baby. I felt guilty for not working, but then I felt guilty for leaving my child with someone else while I was out looking for a job. I felt guilty for feeling depressed when I had so much to be thankful for.
The guilt turned into anger. I was angry I couldn’t control it. I was angry that I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my life anymore. To tell you the truth there wasn’t anything that didn’t make me angry. It all came to a breaking point that left me feeling useless, unwanted, and like everyone was better off without me. It was familiar to me, and I finally reached out for help to a postpartum hotline I had heard Aarti Sequeira talk about a few times. Within minutes I was in touch with two local therapists who coached me through my feelings. Both of them talked to me briefly and immediately diagnosed me with postpartum depression. They called around and found local support groups for me where I could talk about it with other women and know that I’m not alone. They sent e-mails with videos for my husband to watch explaining what I was going through and how to handle it. They also continue to check on me on a weekly basis. It literally saved my life.
This isn’t me throwing a pity party for myself. What I’m doing is normalizing mental health issues by being open and honest about it. My goal is that people will stop being afraid to ask for help. There’s this huge stigma around these things, but get this; it’s ok to not be ok. If you’re hurting, let someone know. If no one is readily available, I’m dropping hotline numbers below. I know it feels strange to reach out to someone you don’t even know sitting on the other side of a phone of God-only-knows-where, but I did it, and it helped so much.
On the flip side, if you have never struggled with depression, anxiety, or postpartum depression, you need to know that this is not a choice. We don’t choose to be this way. In fact, most of us tell ourselves every day the same things you do; “I’ll be fine. I have so much to live for.” “You’re being selfish, so many other people have it so much worse than you do” and so on. See, I know that. I get that. But that doesn’t pull me out of the darkness. If anything it pushes me further into it, I just make the decision to stop saying anything to anyone about it for fear I’ll be made to feel even more guilty about something I can’t control. Which brings me to another point; don’t stop dropping the suicide hotline number. Lots of people have been saying lately that you just need to check up on your friends. While I get that, I’m not about to open up to anyone about much for fear they don’t understand how depression works and they use one of those magical phrases that make me feel like a big worthless bag of shit. I would rather reach out to someone educated on how mental illness effects people than be guilt-tripped and made to feel worse.
Just soak that in for a second. I would rather talk to a complete stranger than talk to my friends about what I’m going through.
I know what you’re thinking… “Well, Kayla, it sounds like you need new friends.” That’s not true, I have great friends. But we’re all at different places in our lives, we all have our own struggles, and we’re all guilty of belittling other people’s struggles. It’s frustrating to pour your heart out to someone and feel like you haven’t been heard or that they don’t understand, or even worse, pushed even further into that dark cloud of depression.
In summation, yes, check on your friends. But please, for the love of all things good, continue to drop the number of helplines. Many people struggle in silence and won’t talk to their loved ones for fear of their response. There is help and you don’t have to feel like this forever.
The suicide hotline is: 1-800-273-8255
Or text the crisis line. Just text the word “home” to 741741 from anywhere in the U.S.
The postpartum helpline is 1-800-944-4773 or text 503-894-9453
Visit Postpartum Support International for more information on postpartum depression.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, it’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.