Motherhood Forced Me To Fight My Debilitating Depression
I slept through three years of my life.
After fighting major depressive disorder for almost 10 years, my brain, my heart, and my body simultaneously decided that they could no longer take it. At 23 years old, I became tired — tired of keeping up appearances. I was emotionally drained, completely lost, and totally numb.
All at once I could no longer function as a “normal” human being. The day’s minutiae became the heaviest of tasks. Brushing my teeth became my personal Everest. I could not stay awake. I didn’t want to be awake. Being awake was so draining for me that I quit my job to sleep full-time.
And I slept through three years of my life.
I was living in California when the hibernation began. I was away from my family and friends back at home in New York, and the distance offered a convenient way to hide my condition. I obsessively updated my social media accounts so no questions were asked, and I did my best to answer friendly texts when I could muster the strength. On the outside, I looked fine.
My husband, however, watched me crash and burn. He had seen me struggle with depression for the entirety of our relationship, but this was different. I became a shell of the person I once was. He was living with a ghost — a ghost who did not engage with him in any way. He moved us back to New York so I could be near family. It was an effort to get me to socialize, but I couldn’t do it. He did everything he could, but I was no longer willing to help myself and so I drowned. I sunk, and I lay on the floor of my depression until I was no longer conscious.
So I slept through three years of my life.
But rarely in my bed. I slept on the couch and woke up only to eat. I neglected my most basic functions and ended up with frequent UTIs because I couldn’t get up to use the bathroom. I barely showered. I gained 70 pounds.
In April 2016, my relationship was no longer stable. I was not the partner I promised I’d be. My husband was tired of my inability and, more importantly, unwillingness to fight my depression. We drifted while I was asleep.
And then it happened.
On April 4, 2016, I woke up feeling wretched. I joked to my husband that I was probably pregnant, and we had a good laugh. I threw up five times that day, and I took five pregnancy tests too. I was definitely pregnant, and we were definitely not ready, financially or emotionally.
We fought. We both felt that I was unfit to be a mother in my current state. I couldn’t care for myself. I couldn’t be supportive for my husband. I could barely stay alive. How could I nurture a child? He was nervous, and I was riddled with anxiety about the notion of having to stay awake long enough to raise a child. But we decided to push forward.
I fell extremely ill during my pregnancy, and my medical bills forced us out of our home and back into our parents’ houses. The situation was certainly not ideal. I worked every second of the day to be positive about my sickness and excited about our baby. He worked every second of the day to save money for the building expenses. It was exhausting for both of us — until my 16 week appointment.
I had decided early on that I wanted to be surprised by the sex of our child. I thought it would give me something to look forward to. Because I was so sick, I felt a serious disconnect between myself and the baby. I didn’t feel like I was pregnant, and I didn’t feel like a mother. I felt like something terrible was happening to me, and I was miserable.
At 16 weeks, I had been in the hospital for nearly a month. That day, a doctor from the OB floor wheeled me down to the practice to have a full anatomy scan.
“Do you want to know the sex of the baby?”
I looked at my husband longingly. I needed something — anything — to keep me going. I needed to know that there was a real child in there. I needed to know that I wasn’t just sick. He nodded in agreement.
“It’s a girl.”
I looked at my husband and welled up. “It’s Mia,” I said. “It’s our Mia.” And from then on, I was a mother — a depressed mother, but a mother nonetheless.
And suddenly my only emotional crutch was ripped from beneath me.
In the past, I had fantasized about suicide. It was always an option in my mind. It was there for me as an escape from the constant depression, social anxiety, agoraphobia, and crippling self-hatred. Death was the light at the end of my very long tunnel. But I couldn’t depend on that anymore. I would soon have someone who would need me more than I had ever needed myself. Suddenly, I would never be alone again. And that was terrifying. I felt trapped, and that was just what I needed.
In the weeks leading up to my labor, I knew I needed to make a major change — I had no choice. I forced myself to be alive, and it was horribly uncomfortable. It was jarring for me to be awake for several hours at a time. I had no idea what to do during my waking hours, and while I was awake, I thought tirelessly of going back to bed.
Nevertheless, I ate, I brushed my teeth, I showered, and I tried to stay awake for the whole day to train myself for the impending responsibilities of motherhood. I couldn’t always do it. I missed some meals and lost some weight accidentally. I took long naps when I had to. But I tried, and that is more than I can say I did for three whole years prior.
Mia came into the world in a flash. She didn’t cry. She looked up at me like we were old friends, and I knew that I would give anything and everything to keep her safe. She was healthy, and I was happy, actually happy, for the first time in years. And for the first time ever, I was proud of myself. I was proud of my body. I had never respected it more. I had never felt more successful. I had never felt more beautiful. I had never appreciated myself more.
Before Mia arrived, I thought motherhood would mean forcing myself to be awake. In reality, I’m awake every day because I want to be. Being a mother forced me out of hibernation, and now I’m awake to see all the wonderful things I had been missing.
I’m still struggling, but I’m working through it with the support of my partner and my doctors. I have severe postpartum anxiety and PTSD from the constant at-risk state my daughter was in during my pregnancy. I worry about her around the clock.
But at least I’m awake to do that.