My life as a military spouse consists of the same chaotic rhythms and homesick moments as most. The winds and waves of moving, deployment, and reintegration have raged against me.
There were deep joys of making friends that were more like sisters and I have chased down new adventures. However, there was a season, on top of the normal shifts and sways of military life, that my ship felt like it was sinking. For almost two years, every day felt like a fight for my life. “When is the last time you changed your shirt?” or “How long has it been since you have left your house?”
These are questions that I wished that someone would have asked me:
Are you tired? Do you feel completely isolated in your feelings? If I was sitting across from you having coffee and sharing our hearts, I would tell you three things about postpartum depression.
This is hard.
I know you are struggling just to achieve a “normal” wavelength. Everything makes you tired, frustrated, or lonely. Maintaining the “status quo” right now is tough, but don’t lose hope. You may be going through this season alone, but you aren’t the only one. You can do this!
This is not your fault.
Postpartum depression is the result of a chemical imbalance. Combine that imbalance with immense sleeplessness, anxiety, a newborn, and you have a perfect equation for struggle. You are not without help or resources.
This will not last forever.
I know it seems today like this dark season will never be over, but it will. In the meantime, invest in some self-care.
When my husband had been active duty for little more than five years, we moved to Ohio. I was around seven months pregnant with our second child. Our family adjusted to the moving and the job changes, but I had no idea what was just around the corner. We had a beautiful daughter and my career was moving forward in stride. I worked in the financial services industry as an insurance producer. I secured a position at a local insurance office and there was a ton of anticipation to get settled. I successfully maneuvered having a child and returning to work before.
This would be easy, right?
Shortly after my son was born, my husband returned to work. My body did not bounce back and my mind was thrown for a loop. The transition from one to two children was overwhelmingly difficult. My husband was out of the house and I was left with a 2-year-old and a newborn. There would be no sleeping, very little eating, and absolutely no showering.
Every day seemed like a fight for survival. I would tell myself things like, “Just make it to bedtime, Megan,” or, “This won’t last forever.” I didn’t care that I was wearing the same shirt I had slept in for the last three days or that it was covered in various forms of baby goo. I was exhausted. While the tiredness could have been chalked up to simply having a new baby, there were other things that began to make me feel like I lost my ability to cope.
On top of not wanting to get out of bed, I would cry almost every day. Shouldn’t I be overjoyed and enjoying every moment with my children? What do I have to be sad about? I felt frustrated with every aspect of my life. I could barely put myself together, much less clean the house or fix a meal. The guilt turned into shame, and the shame turned into resentment. I was isolated and floundering.
I just knew that things would improve when I got back to work. Work had always been a place that evoked feelings of validation and of purpose. I hoped getting back into a routine (and out of my house) would alleviate the loneliness of the last eight weeks.
Wrong again. It would prove to add to the stress and anxiety. My passion for my job would all but disappear.
I stopped caring about my appearance at work. I gained almost 40 pounds. I became distracted, distant, and unmotivated. My postpartum depression eventually cost me my job. At that point, I felt like I was failing at every aspect of my life. I would hear my own voice, “You are a terrible wife, a lazy mother, and a useless employee.”
The disappointment was crushing.
Wading through the next year, waist deep in despair, felt unending. I missed my job, and the fulfillment it brought to my life. In addition, in the midst of one of the darkest seasons of my life, we had another child.
Then, my husband received deployment orders.
The kids were 5, 3, and 1 years old. In a frantic rush, I prepared myself to be left alone with the army of tiny dictators (that I made) and inside walls that were closing in on me. Lists were made, rules were established, and I was grasping onto anything that might make me feel like I was still in control. After wallowing in my own self-pity, I had a breakthrough.
I wasn’t sleeping well, so I made the decision to go to the gym in order to physically wear myself out. I hastily loaded all of my toddlers in the car. Upon arrival, I attended my first dance fitness class. Like a spastic chicken, I was off beat, ran into people, and tripped over my own shoe. It was hilarious. I loved every minute. The women were welcoming. Meeting new people was encouraging. Every time I returned to the class, I was stronger than before (and my rhythm eventually improved).
Four months later, I lost 30 pounds and, more importantly, I felt great. Eating healthier became a habit. Fitness had brought me joy and awakened a passion inside me that I didn’t know was there.
After qualifying for a MYCAA account, I received four certifications in the fitness profession. I was lost for so long, lost in my thoughts and in my unachievable expectations. I found something that I loved, something that pushed me.
I found myself again.
Please hear me say that there is not a “one-size fits all” fix to postpartum depression. When I look back at the blood-stained battlefield of my own journey through postpartum, it was a suffering that I had no name for. I traveled the hard way on a long road and I don’t want that for you. I wish that someone had told me what was happening. If you find yourself in deep despair and wrestling with postpartum depression, I urge you to reach out. Talk to a friend, your doctor, or a counselor. Give voice to your feelings and tell someone. Be strong in taking the first step toward health. You are certainly worth it.