With every one of my children I experienced a few days to a couple weeks of baby blues. Moments of unexpected tears - sometimes even when I was laughing. The blues at times made me feel panicky, other times like I desperately didn't want to be alone. What I remember most about those bluesy days is that I wanted to witness others (ok, just my mother and other equally germ free humans) caring for my babies, loving on my babies, or looking at my babies like they were the most full-of-wonder creatures to share life with. Within a week or two, though I was exhausted and still recovering physically from childbirth, I was unmistakably blue-free.
But it different with my 4th. Within minutes of my precious "water snake" (her preferred name lately) being born, an incredible and consuming depression washed over me. It wasn't a depression that left me unable to bond with her, it was more like a desperate love that left me grieving the loss of every minute that passed us. I thought she would be my last. Her every first was also my every last. I didn't just cry. I sobbed. Uncontrollably. Awkwardly. I think most everyone, except Sister felt awkward around me. I think my mom felt offended or scared. I can't remember the conversation, but I remember my mom sitting at the table and my dad standing behind her as if to protect her from my pain. Like I could reach a desperate hand out of my pit of sadness and drag them both unwillingly in to join me.
When I wasn't sobbing, I was still. Paralyzed. I had to life, no pep, no spark. I knew I should eat, but I couldn't. I knew I should phone a friend for support, but I couldn't do that either. I couldn't focus for very long, and it felt like before I could even catch my breath, the next wave of grief would crash in. This lasted much, much longer than I wanted it to. Not that I even wanted it. It just lasted way, way, too long.
After a while, even the arms and the hearts where I should have found refuge got tired of my depression.
And that's when I began to understand, for just a little glimpse of a moment,
what it feels like to live with a mental illness.
My first, all consuming, no defenses, no hold nutting back, all in, whole hearted love, was with a man who lives with a mental illness. When the relationship ended, I was so angry. I was angry at God for not answering my prayers (God didn't fix it). I was angry at everyone who didn't realize yet the severity of what he was living with and didn't know how to help (they didn't fix it). I was angry that all the promises and dreams of what our life was "supposed to be" would never be (It was all about me - my dreams, my future, my life. I was young and very self-centered).
My experience with postpartum depression left me with the possibility that, maybe what I experienced for a year, is what he - and more than 350 million people worldwide are experiencing. The whole time, I wished it would go away. The whole time, I wished I could be normal. And the whole time, I loved my family. I loved my children. I loved my baby. And that was so very real - even when I was unable to show it.
I still remember sitting in an airport in Texas, on my way to D.C., flipping through my phone looking at pictures of the kids. And in that moment I realized there was no more grief. No more desperate, terrorizing, overwhelming feeling of loss.
And then I felt it. Joy. Celebration. Excitement.
And then I saw her. There she was. My Alana Joy. I saw her face in a picture and I could smile back at her without feeling like I was about to lose her forever.
Her name Alana means to rise up, to float, to have hope.
And Joy, well, I gave her that name to be a gift to her, but that has been her gift to me.