"I Am Not Broken"
People have always seen me as a happy person. In fact, I frequently get comments on how often I am smiling. That’s the funny thing about mental health… you can hide behind a smile and no one will know you’re feeling anything but happy. I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. My mom recently shared an article with me titled, “11 Things Others Don’t Realize You Are Doing Because of Anxiety”. She then said, “You’ve done a lot of these since you were really little”. Number 11 on the list reads, “Sometimes, you feel too mentally and physically exhausted to get out of bed”. You can see how when my depression set in, it was easy to think it was just my anxiety acting up.
In 2016, after a couple years of seemingly endless doctor’s appointments, I was diagnosed with endometriosis. I’ve always wanted to be a mom, and my doctor assured me that only a small percentage of women have difficulty becoming pregnant because of endometriosis. My anxiety kept telling me that I would definitely be in that small group.
Later that summer, my husband and I were a combination of shocked, thrilled, and in disbelief when we learned I was expecting. It was a dream come true! I spent the next weeks obsessing over having the healthiest pregnancy ever. The entire time, I had this voice in the back of my head saying, “You’re not healthy enough for this. You aren’t doing enough. Maybe it is a false alarm, you aren’t even pregnant.” My amazing husband, Alex, kept telling me, “You are good enough. You are going to make an amazing mom.” When I went to my doctor for my 9-week appointment, the doctor informed me that they could not find my baby’s heartbeat. It appeared that our little peanut had stopped growing at about 7 weeks.
My doctor was the first person in my support army. She was wonderful. She told me that I had done nothing wrong. She prepared me for the surgery that I would have to undergo. She let me cry and listened to my ramblings. What my doctor didn’t tell me is how hard it would be to walk out of that office and call my parents to share the news. She didn’t tell me how this would engulf my thoughts for what seemed like eternity. She didn’t prepare me for the morning of the surgery. She didn’t tell me that getting out of bed that morning would be the most difficult thing I would ever have to do. She didn’t tell me that I would cry harder than I knew possible. She didn’t warn me about how empty I would feel after the operation. Nobody told me that my body would continue acting like I was pregnant for a few weeks. What no one could tell me was how I would feel like a horrible failure. Or how guilty and embarrassed I would feel. Or how long it would take me to be able to see another baby without crying. No one told me how holding my 4-month old godson would bring me the greatest joy and worst pain all at the same time. No one told me how difficult it would be or how angry I would feel when people would try to comfort me with statistics and percentages of pregnancies that end like mine did. Or how difficult Mother’s Day would be. And no one talked to me about the depression I would develop and struggle with for the next year.
Two days post-operation
Anxiety is an awful thing to struggle from. Depression is the most difficult thing I have gone through. The two of them together felt like the darkest, loneliest place imaginable. It was a constant feeling of my heart racing and my chest being crushed by imaginary weights but not being able to (or wanting to) do anything about. It was a combination of the inability to slow my thoughts down enough to even know what I was thinking but still recognizing the overwhelming feeling of self-hatred. I felt extreme guilt. Not wanting to get out of bed or off the couch, I was left with my thoughts. Was it the deli meat I ate? Was it the roller coaster I rode before I even knew I was pregnant? Did I push myself too hard when I went running? Maybe I’m just not meant to be a mom. Did I even want this baby? If I did, wouldn’t I have been more careful? Am I broken? Absurd thoughts, I know, but they felt desperately real. I soon realized this wasn’t my typical anxiety. The real eye-opener for me was the morning my car wouldn’t start. Instead of the normal reaction of anger, frustration, or even the ever-present anxiety, I felt incredible relief. I was so relieved that I could just go back inside, crawl in bed, and not talk to anyone.
I had started a new job a month after the miscarriage. Throughout the year, parents of my students would make comments about when I would be “allowed” to start a family. Students would ask when I wanted to have kids. They were so sweet when they would say, “Mrs. A, you need to have a baby because you’ll be the best mom!” They meant well. Comments from coworkers, acquaintances and strangers seemed endless. They didn’t know what their comments were doing to me. I felt myself resenting the people around me, feeling drained from a job that used to bring me so much joy, not wanting to spend time with friends, and not wanting time alone with my thoughts. I literally didn’t want anything.
Very few people knew what Alex and I were going through, but I was amazed by the number of people who reached out because they too had suffered a miscarriage. It was a small comfort knowing that I wasn’t alone and that I had a support army I could turn to. My mom was my strongest supporter and the person I turned to the most. Talking to my mom made me feel like I could breathe again. As supportive as my army was, they weren’t enough to pull me out of the depression I was feeling.
I relied heavily on my hobby of photography to help me find light and happiness. Looking through the camera lens, I was forced to find beauty. I remember one day I felt the darkness weighing in and I couldn’t breathe. Alex encouraged me to go for a walk. I grabbed my camera and left. I remember seeing a bunch of colored balloons in front of a store. It reminded me that even on the darkest, gloomiest days you can find color and brightness. It was a cloudy, grey day, but I came back with a camera full of pictures and a small sense of weight being lifted from my chest allowing me to breathe a little easier.
Photography was one of my best friends during this time, but it was still not enough. There is such an unnecessary stigma surrounding mental health. There is also a huge stigma around miscarriage. No one talks about it until they have to. There are a few people in my life who recently shared that they are expecting a rainbow baby and my heart is bursting with joy for those women. Because of their brave posts, I discovered that they were suffering from miscarriages the same time I was. How amazing would it have been to have known of that support at the darkest times of our lives? With each of their posts, I feel my support army growing.
It wasn’t until I read Kailey’s and Haley’s stories on Our Brave Faces that I actually reached out for help. Although my story is different, these two strong women have unknowingly saved me with their bravery. It is my turn to show my brave face. They have helped me realize that asking for and accepting help is a sign of strength and bravery. My postpartum depression looked entirely different than so many others. I was even shocked to learn that depression after miscarriage is categorized the same way.
My hope is that women will know they have a support army before they need it. My dream is to break the stigma surrounding mental health issues so no one feels alone. My prayer is that all sufferers and survivors can find the strength to show their brave faces and seek the support they deserve. My husband was right. I am not broken. I am good enough. I look forward to the day I can hold my healthy baby in my arms. Until then, I will remain a mother to my angel in heaven and a fierce supporter for anyone suffering.
You are not broken.
You are not alone.