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What Postpartum Depression Feels Like: The Invisible Thief
The Invisible Thief
This article is a diary-entry-style snapshot into what it was like for me to fall down the rabbit hole of the unforgiving dis-ease of postpartum depression.
Imagine an invisible thief—with magical powers—who steals not trinkets or treasures but pieces of your life—your purpose, your passion, your joy—and ultimately your hope. This thief is not only invisible with magical powers, but he’s a genius. He knows your weaknesses. He’s strategic. He’s relentless. He’s greedy and he wants all of you.
He goes after you from every angle. He attacks your mind—your intellect—your heart—your emotions—your soul—your spirit—your body—and your very life. But he doesn’t stop there. He goes after anything that matters to you. He goes after your relationships. Your dreams. Your destiny.
He feeds on your insecurities, fears, and hurts. The more he takes the more you give and the more you feed him the stronger he gets. But remember he is invisible. He’s like a shape-shifter. You suspect something is amuck but you can never quite put your finger on it. Because remember, he is invisible.
He hides in the shadows not because he fears getting caught, but because he wants you to blame anybody but him for the darkness. He wants you to blame those you love most. He wants you to blame yourself. He wants you to blame God.
...And sometimes the invisible thief said, in my voice, so I never questioned the source, was this: "I'm exhausted. This is too hard. Need to unplug...to rest."
And so when what I needed was rest I instead isolated. And though it was hard I considered it hopeless. And unplugging was really more about avoiding.
It did help me to survive. And I thought that was my goal. To survive. But my goal should have been rest. I would have found peace there.
Because surviving means fighting and fighting day after day leads to a level of exhaustion so deep it debilitates. Exhaustion is one of the greatest counterfeits of rest.
I was fighting TO rest when I should have been fighting FROM rest.
...You may have heard the phrase "Death by a million paper-cuts."
That's kind of what it felt like. It's not that I was always full of fear or sadness or anxiety. That came and went in waves. But what rarely seemed to lift was the irritation. It was like the world around me was constructed of sandpaper and to interact with it was to live against the grain. And the constant rubbing went from being an irritation to making me so raw that I had to turn inward. But that was grating too. So I willed myself to turn upward.
I couldn't see or hear or feel or even sense that my God was near. I only knew He was at work because He'd promised to finish the good work He'd begun.
Even this truth didn't bring much comfort...but it did give me a kind of quiet strength that assured me that this wouldn't last forever. So I held onto that. And I told God that I wanted Him to someday use my experience to help others. I needed the pain to have a purpose.
And guess what? It did. It does.
...and then there was silence. Not in my head...but from my mouth. It was so overwhelming and I couldn't articulate what I was going through and even if I could, nobody, not even the most insightful, wise, amazing person, could understand--not unless they'd been through it. It seemed the more I tried to get others to understand, the more anxious I'd become. The more I would feel fear about how they would respond. The more I would feel angry when they didn't get it. The more I would feel shame when I just couldn't "fix it."
I would turn to TV during these times. Not exactly a great counselor or friend--but it told me a story to distract me from my own--and it didn't judge me. It numbed me. And I needed the numbing. I needed to get lost in somebody else's story--even if it was made up.
Not a long-term solution by any means but that's what I did when I didn't know what else to do. And God spoke to me even there--through the characters and plots and sometimes even through the commercials. God met me where I was at.
It was a lesson in grace and mercy and unconditional love. Even though my perception was that nobody could believe in me, including myself, and that I'd never fulfill my destiny because--how could I? ...
...God still believed in me...
Because He saw who I was, not where I was at. He saw who I'd become, not who I believed myself to be. I didn't understand these things then, but I didn't need too. He was there and I'm here now looking back and I can see that He really, really was there.
Funny how something in the present can be invisible to us but in retrospect it is so clear that we wonder how we ever missed it.
...So you've heard some about how it affected me. But how did it affect others?
Ask my friends who had to wait longer for me to respond to their calls...and who had to expect that I'd probably be sad or frustrated or anxious when we'd meet.
Ask my sister, the peacemaker, who spent who knows how many hours on the phone with my mom trying to explain why I just couldn't deal.
Ask my husband who never knew which version of his wife he would get.
Ask my pillow who heard my prayers get shorter...and simpler...and quieter...utterances like, "God, do something. Amen."
Thankfully God heard those prayers. And they were enough.