Well, our long winter’s nap lasted about 2 1/2 years. Ha. Not only is our farm awakening to the sights, sounds and smells of spring, but I feel like I too am figuratively awakening. I’ve spent the last two years growing and raising a baby (sweet Annabelle Ruth was born April 1, 2016).
As she approaches her 1st birthday, she continues to grow faster than the weeds in my garden and I find myself awakening to a closer version of the “me” that I desire to be. As I awaken, I leave behind the sleepless nights. I leave behind the nag of the “getting-it-dones”. I leave behind the desire to do nothing but sit on the couch (as if that would ever happen – I have 4 kids). I leave behind the post-partum depression.
Depression. How I wish to remove you from my vocabulary. You convince me that I don’t want to do the things that I love. You make me want to lie in bed and not get up, ignoring the cries of my newborn child. You cause me to think things about myself that I don’t truly believe. You turn me into something I am not. You make me feel…broken.
I first struggled with post-partum depression after I delivered the twins. I displayed obvious symptoms of depression, but when my husband suggested that I may have post-partum depression, I refused to believe it. In fact, I became angry with him for even suggesting such a thing. I denied it for weeks until I felt like I was literally going to break in half due to the weight of my sadness. How can emptiness feel so heavy? Empty, yet it seems to weigh more than life itself. I was prescribed an anti-depressant, which at first made me feel even sadder, “I am an optimistic, fun-loving person. Why do I need to take medicine to turn me into the person that I already should be?” The medication helped but I still had plenty of depressive moments.
Following my subsequent pregnancies, I was prescribed anti-depressant medication immediately after showing signs of post-partum depression. This time around, as a mom of three other children, I found it even more disheartening to deal with my post-partum. Under the weight of my sadness, worthlessness, loneliness – whichever evil face Depression decided to rear on a given day – I felt the urgency to protect my children. I didn’t want them to feel this. I wanted them to feel nothing but love and happiness. So, as I marched on, wielding a sword to fight off my demons, I unceasingly clenched a defensive shield over my little ones.
I am now feeling better and I can sense that the gray cloud continues to dissipate. Emotionally exhausted, I look back at the battles I have fought and won over the last year and I thank God that my depression is not here to stay. Rays of sunshine are breaking through and I can see more clearly those things that helped me the most in persevering through my post-partum depression.
- I shared my pain with others I’m not referring to the phrase, “misery loves company,” but rather opening myself up and being willing to share my burden with others. The first time I struggled with post-partum depression, I hid my sadness. I think I did so because I felt a bit ashamed – ashamed that I was depressed, ashamed that (at the time) I didn’t like motherhood. But I grew from my previous experience and came to understand that post-partum depression, like other mental illness, is a mortal affliction and a true struggle. It is something for which we should show compassion when we observe it in others, and certainly never shame when we see it in ourselves. As I opened up about my depression to others, I could feel their love for me even when Depression told me that I shouldn’t love myself.
- I found joy in the doing I’ve shared in a previous post a quote I love by author, Anna Quindlen: “The biggest mistake I made [as a parent] is the one that most of us make. … I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of [my three children] sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages six, four, and one. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.” Now for me, there is hardly a time when I have more of the “get-it-dones” than when I have a baby around. On days when I felt particularly down, the get-it-dones seemed especially endless. It was on these days that I reminded myself time and again to treasure the doing more than the getting it done. Repeating this to myself did not serve as a magical remedy for my sadness, but it did help me to see the bits of happy scattered throughout the tedium of breastfeeding, diaper changing, laundry and the rest of my list of get-it-dones.
- I served A few weeks ago, my son seemed bummed. I called him into the kitchen and asked if he was okay. He replied, “Well, it’s just…nothing is going right today. I’m having a really bad day.” He proceeded to rattle off a number of things that made him unhappy that day, each one by itself not a big deal, but added together summed up to a bummer of a day. I then responded in the way I usually do and told him that he couldn’t leave the kitchen until he named at least 5 good things that had happened to him that day (try this on your kids – works every time). He quickly thought of 4 good things, but became stuck trying to think of a 5th. I let him sit on the kitchen stool and think about it for nearly 10 minutes before I told him that I was already thinking of the 5th good thing. I asked him, “Jordan, did you fill someone’s bucket today? Did you help anyone? Make someone’s day a little better?” He replied, “Well, I didn’t really think about anyone else today.” Grinning, I responded sarcastically, “Ohhhhh… So, you mean to tell me that you did nothing but think about yourself all day? You didn’t even concern yourself with anyone else? And YOU had a bad day??” Understanding exactly the point that I was coming to, he blushed and nodded his head “yes.” “Well, buddy, I think that maybe you need to forget yourself and go serve someone else. I guarantee that as you do so, you’ll feel a little happy come into your day.” I also told him that the 5th good thing that I was thinking about happened when I was busy getting dinner ready and I had asked him to give his baby sister a bottle. “She’s growing fast,” I said, “and you won’t have the opportunity much longer. That happy moment should go to the top of your list.” So my sweet boy moved forward and found little ways to serve his siblings. Within minutes, he turned his bad day into a happy one. I knew that, as Jordan focused on serving others, he would turn his day around. I knew this because I had tried it myself! Even when I felt depressed and hopeless, as I turned away from myself in order to show love to others, I could feel drops of happiness being added to my own thirsty bucket.
- I relied on my faith Although last in this short list, it is certainly number one. During the low points of my post-partum depression, I was able to put one foot in front of the other because I had faith in my Savior. Even on my worst days, when I could hardy love myself, I never allowed myself doubt that my Heavenly Father loves me. President Thomas S. Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said, “[The love of our Father in Heaven] never changes… It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve [it]. It is simply always there.”
So, we move into spring, and life, literally and figuratively, is new. I’m finding joy in the doing, filling others’ buckets, feeling God’s love and loving myself. The farm is beckoning me and I’m so excited to bring it to life this spring and summer! Life is good down on the farm.