The Day the Darkness Took Hold and the Lights Went Out

I remember it so clearly. It’s been over 2 years and yet revisiting this dark time still flips my stomach and sends a freezing, cold chill up my spine. It makes me squint my eyes tightly closed and lose my breath before some coping mechanism-like force washes over me and tells me to breathe and think of something else. Something happier. Something manageable. Something that I am actually able to wrap my head around and understand.

It makes my heart pound and my palms sweat as I think back to those dark days. Dark days that I’ve pushed far behind me, slamming the door closed, locking it and pressing my back against it in relief while slumping to the floor with my head and my hands, fatigued, unsure and afraid of it returning to overcome me again, like a dragon, breathing me in and then exhaling me like fire.

Things started off normal after my third beautiful and healthy baby was born. The newborn snuggles were heavenly, he started nursing right away without any issue, I had an easier time recovering (physically) than after my two previous births and I was loving every second of being home with our newborn son, our 2.5 year old son and our 3.5 year old daughter.

When I force myself to look back, I can now recognize the signs of distress and see the “red flags.” (Of course it is much easier to recognize these signs in hindsight.)  I was irritable. I was hopelessly tired. I worried 24/7 about anything and everything and was distancing myself from my children and those who love and care about me without even realizing it.

Putting my baby down…

Instead of wearing my baby and snuggling my baby and soaking in those incredible new baby smells and cuddles where they just melt into your arms and everything feels so right, I was constantly holding my baby and settling my baby with the end goal of being able to put him down.

All I ever wanted was to put him down. I was breastfeeding, I was adoring him. I was singing to him. I was cuddling him… but all of it was fueled by the motivation to put him down. It started to become annoying when he wouldn’t settle or when he would wake up wanting to be picked up when I wasn’t ready to pick him up and start all over again. I settled him and picked him up every single time but I found myself doing it out of necessity (so that I could settle him and put him back down) rather than because I wanted to do it. I didn’t want my baby to know that I didn’t want to pick him up. I would take a deep breath and try to relax before picking him up so that he wouldn’t feel my tension. I forced myself to speak in a soothing, calm voice even though I was literally gulping down rage. I loved him so much. My overwhelming love for him made it difficult to understand my relentless urge to put him down.

I was hopelessly tired…

It’s unfortunate that as parents of newborns, we are all basically “running on empty.” We are adjusting to lack of sleep, broken sleep, aching muscles from carrying our babies around and holding them in awkward positions because they are comfortable just like that. It’s unfortunate because it makes it too easy to confuse ‘normal, sleep-deprived tired’ from something more serious. I woke up exhausted every, single day. Coffee didn’t do much to kick-start me nor did sleep, not that I got much. I didn’t sleep. Even when the house was quiet and all 3 kids were tucked snug in their beds, I would lie wide awake at night unable to sleep. I was restless. I would pace the halls all night long.  I would worry about all kinds of things that could have easily been dealt with the next day or the next month but I felt I had to deal with it NOW. I was stressing over not sleeping when I should be sleeping. I was keeping myself awake trying to decide whether or not how I felt was normal.

I was distanced…

Subconsciously, I was filling my days with ways to distance myself from my kids. It wasn’t intentional and over 2 years later, it still brings me to tears when I think of those days, my actions and the time that I lost because of this. I’m not sure I will ever get past the guilt I feel for the time I lost, when things could have been so much better for all of us.

I love my kids more than anything and was so excited to be going off on maternity leave for the last 10 months of my oldest child’s preschool days so that we could spend lots of time together and go on many adventures before she started full-time school. However, I quickly (and without realizing it) found myself being motivated by the need for space. I would set crafts up for them so that I could go to another room and do something else while they pasted construction paper and coloured. Or a game, or a movie or playtime. I found myself getting on the floor and playing with them less and less. Any time I got them set up with an activity, it became my opportunity to leave the room and be alone. While alone, I wasn’t doing anything important or productive.  I would sit.  I would fold laundry.  I would wander around aimlessly.  I would read the news… all things that I could easily be doing in their presence but for some reason, I needed to do it away from them.  I would cringe when I heard one of them yell “Mommy!” and again, I would have to fight back my inner rage in order to smile and try not to show them the storm that was brewing inside of me.

I was withdrawn and in hiding…

I’m normally a very social person but quickly found myself becoming annoyed by social invitations. I became a really terrible friend. I started to forget birthdays and special occasions, I would forget to check in, I would cancel plans at the last minute… even just responding to text messages became so impossibly difficult.  It got so bad that even when I was excited about a get-together, my mind would start concocting excuses for not attending either hours or sometimes days before, and each and every time I would give in and cancel. I would be so mad at myself for cancelling but just couldn’t help myself.  My desire to be home, alone and talk to no one was far more appealing.

I was in denial…

No one wants to believe that they are mentally unwell. When something is happening inside of your own brain, it’s incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to see it for what it is, define it and develop an action plan because you are literally trapped inside it.  You can’t take a look from the outside. This, in itself, is a difficult concept to understand but when those who love you and care for you start to question your behaviour and show concern for your well-being, it’s very easy to feel attacked, misunderstood and to become defensive. It’s not easy to accept that those around you might be seeing changes in you that you can’t see in yourself. \

My husband tried to convince me that something wasn’t right and to seek help from our family doctor for months before I actually did. I wouldn’t seek help because I didn’t believe him, and to be honest, I was quite annoyed by the accusation. I saw his support as a lack of support and had my issues all chalked up to sleep deprivation, baby blues, stress, too much coffee, not enough vegetables, not enough exercise and who knows what else. I was constantly starting something new that I was convinced would fix me. Going to bed earlier, yoga, long walks in fresh air, taking naps, meditation, running, losing weight, eating clean, herbal teas, quitting coffee, taking vitamins and supplements, applying and diffusing essential oils, writing, using a Himalayan salt lamp…. You name it, I tried it.  Each time I tried something new, I was convinced that it was going to be the change I needed to feel like me again.

The Day the Lights Went Out…

The day that my mental struggle slapped me across the face is one that still chills me to the bone. Many people who have faced Postpartum Depression have described the dark thoughts as a wave of negative energy or a ‘flash.’ It comes over you quicker than blood can rush through your body and for a brief moment or shorter, it swallows you whole.  You have absolutely no control.  You can’t move.  You can’t breathe. It could almost be described as an “out of body experience.” I, personally referred to these flashes as ‘darkness.’ Because in this brief flash of darkness, your thoughts are not your own and you are helpless. It is as if you are frozen in time and another (much darker) force takes over you and there is no hope for light. My flashes of darkness were only seconds long. I couldn’t imagine them lasting any longer.

The first one happened in the middle of the night. It was winter. All 3 kids weren’t feeling well. I was tired. My sweet, 3 month old baby had his very first cold. When babies get their first cold, it is so awful. They don’t understand what’s happening. They can’t sit themselves up when they need to be upright. They get frustrated and scared when they can’t breathe through their nose. It’s torture for both baby and for baby’s parents who want to do anything and everything they can to make their baby feel better.

I can remember nursing my baby to sleep and then holding him slightly upright on my shoulder as I rocked him, hoping it would help him breathe a little easier. The humidifier was on in his room and I was rubbing his back, trying to get him to fall sleep after dropping saline drops inside his tiny nostrils in hopes of unplugging them. It wasn’t working. He was crying and crying and crying.

So, in order to help clear his sinuses and help him breathe, I did what I had done many times before with my older 2 children. I started a piping hot shower so that it would fill the bathroom with steam for him to breathe in.

I believe it was around 4 o’clock in the morning. Starting this steam room was a bit of a juggle since it was either too bright for him to sleep with the bathroom light on, pitch black with it turned off but if I left the door open a crack to let the hallway light filter inside, the steam was sure to escape and set the smoke detector off which would wake everyone up and solve nothing.

So, I opted for complete darkness. The bathroom was quickly filled with hot, steamy air from the shower. I sat on the closed toilet seat with my poor, stuffy-nosed baby lying on his back on top of my thighs as I gently bounced him with my hands gently cupped underneath his tiny head.

My eyes started to close from the weight of the steam and the darkness.  I switched between soothingly shushing our baby boy to singing lullabies, to humming, to gently saying comforting affirmations like “It’s going to be okay… You will feel better soon… I’m sorry you don’t feel well…”

It was so hot in that bathroom. I could feel the sweat dripping down my face but the steamy air was working so it was worth it. My baby started to breathe better and started to settle. I started to settle too. The settling only lasted for another 15 seconds before he started screaming again. He was so unhappy. He had been miserable all day and the day didn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. I tried to nurse him but he was so congested that as much as he wanted to eat, he couldn’t breathe through his nose when he latched so he couldn’t. He was mad. He was hungry. He was frustrated. He wouldn’t stop screaming. His screaming went on and on and on as I bounced him around on my shoulder, now pacing back and forth in our tiny bathroom before sitting back down on our seat atop the toilet as the shower poured scalding, hot water beside us.

My body was aching from holding him the way that I was… a closed toilet seat isn’t exactly ergonomic for rocking a baby. I was tired. I was frustrated. I was feeling my stress level escalate. I could feel my heart pounding. I needed him to stop screaming. I needed to breathe. I needed to sleep. I started to feel overwhelmed and out of control.

Suddenly a dark wave rushed over me and I vividly pictured myself throwing my baby into the scalding hot water of the shower and walking away. Simultaneously, something in my head was somehow telling me to do it.  Again, I pictured myself picking up my tiny, adorable baby, swaddled in a muslin blanket, opening the shower curtain and tossing him into the hot, steamy shower before turning my back and walking away.

It scared the hell out of me.

It scared me so much that I’ve never actually told anyone about this because I didn’t want to relive it or face it again.  Nor did I want to admit that I had thought something so awful, so violent, so manic and so hateful.

In a split-second, being in my arms seemed like a dangerous place for my baby to be held. 

I quickly flipped the bathroom lights back on, burst open the bathroom door, and woke my husband up to hold our baby before returning to the bathroom to turn off the shower, and open the bathroom window to the refreshingly cold, winter air outside. I collapsed on the floor with my head in my hands over my knees and cried like I have never cried before. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

This was everything I had read about Postpartum Depression. This is why I didn’t think I had it…because this hadn’t happened to me. This was the scariest experience I’ve ever had in my life… but also one that SAVED my life. It wasn’t long. It was only a flash. Maybe a couple of seconds at most. But it was a flash of darkness that chilled me to my core and left me with no reason to deny what I had been feeling and to recognize that it was far from normal.

I saw my doctor the next morning and my journey to diagnosis and treatment for Portpartum Depression began.

More coming soon…. ❤️

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