I cannot believe that it has been almost TWO YEARS since I wrote a blog post. Wow! Even more distressing is that I haven’t finished writing a single manuscript in that time either, though I have worked on a couple. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I stopped writing so prolifically, and I had to trace that question all the way back to the reason why I started writing so much. And even though I’ve always loved writing and always wanted to be a writer, the reason why I went at it so frantically five years ago has to do with something I’ve never talked about in such a public forum: depression.
After I had my daughter nearly six years ago, I was on the biggest high of my life. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I would literally tear up every day with pure happiness and couldn’t believe how perfect my life was. That lasted for about six months and then the post-partum pendulum swung to the other side like a sledgehammer. I didn’t recognize it at first as post-partum depression. I didn’t know back then that you could get it even six months after giving birth. I never really knew much about it and in my limited understanding I thought it came on right after childbirth and was characterized by a lack of interest in your infant. Boy, how wrong I was!
So, I knew something was wrong with me, or rather “off”, but I didn’t know what it could be. I just started losing interest in the things and people in my life. Nothing brought me joy. Nothing made me sad either. I just felt…nothing. And to go from being on such a happiness high to feeling nothing, I couldn’t understand it. I had no desire or drive for anything or to do anything. I still loved my family, but loved them in the sense of “I don’t want anything to happen to them,” and “I want them to be happy.” But I wasn’t actively loving them. I was existing by matter of routine only. I went to work. I took care of my children in the evenings, made them dinner, bathed them and put them to bed and when I wasn’t doing something I absolutely had to do, I went to bed. The amount of times I – the anti-television mother – put movies on for my kids so I could go lie in bed staring at the ceiling still wracks me with guilt for all the time I missed with my babies.
At first, I thought it was just a bad day, or that I was in a mood that would go away, but when each day after was the same I started to really wonder about it, and then I became afraid that I was going to be like that forever. Which brought on the panic attacks. Oh, those horrible bastards. Sometimes, I think I would have rather carried on feeling nothing than to descend into the dark place where the only thing you feel in life is anxiety and fear. It just brings you lower and lower. It took me to the point where I couldn’t function in public. I even left work a few times and just didn’t go back because I couldn’t handle it. I started drinking to calm my nerves, and I’m sure you can tell where this is going. I couldn’t go to any function without having a couple drinks first. I drank too much and gained a bunch of weight, which is great for a person’s self-esteem. My marriage was rocky, mostly because I was always mad at my husband – mad because he couldn’t see what was happening inside of me, mad because even though I did everything in my power to hide what I was feeling, as the person closest to me he was supposed to figure it out on his own(that’s what I told myself back then). But he didn’t know I was depressed. He simply thought I’d become lazy because I never wanted to go hiking anymore or do anything other than lie around and drink. He would make comments about it, which made things worse. But it wasn’t his fault. I hid the truth from him (and everyone else) very well. Anyway, problems compounded and I got to the lowest point of my life – to the point of having those thoughts, those terrible dark thoughts of how to end it all.
One night I sat at the computer and googled some of the things I was feeling, and I came across a blog, much like this one, and I cried as I realized every word described me and that I wasn’t alone, that this has happened to other people, and that, more importantly, they had survived it. Then I went to the doctor and he said I had PPD, told me it could come on months after giving birth and it could sometimes last years. Mine lasted three years. Even after I accepted that I was depressed, I didn’t tell anyone about it. I tried to combat it on my own. I figured if I knew what it was then I could get through it by strength of will. Well, it wasn’t my will that got me through it. For that, I will give credit to God…and writing.
I started writing stories to leave my life. I left my own mind and went into the minds of my characters. I went into their worlds and wrote emotions so strongly that I could almost feel them myself. I wrote all of them: joy, love, sadness, fear, anger, humor. I have had reviewers in the past say that my writing is emotive and that it made people cry or laugh. In my stories, the emotion was the point. I threw myself into my writing, every single spare moment I had. I existed in my world, but I lived in theirs. The writing and editing made me focus so much that I had no time to think about my own reality. I wrote, and wrote and wrote to the exclusion of everything and everyone else.
And as I slowly began to emerge from my depression, those people and things I excluded began to matter to me more. I began to notice how many times I had told my kids “no” when they wanted to play with me or spend time with me. I began to care that I had gained so much weight and that I was drinking so much. I began to care about how detached I was from my loved ones and my life. I began to smile – and mean it. I began to feel…like a person alive again. And of course, the guilt was the first thing to settle in. I felt guilty for neglecting my family for so long. I felt guilty for all the time I missed out on with the kids while I was shut up in my room, banging away at the keyboard. And I felt horrible for being so angry at my husband, who spent all my years of depression doing what I couldn’t – loving my babies the way they deserved to be loved.
So, I changed things. I made rules for myself – no writing until the kids were in bed. Every Friday night was Family Fun Night and just the four of us would do something fun each Friday. We made a Summer Bucket List of fun things to do with the kids during the summer. I started hiking again. And as a result, I started writing less. I still wrote and was able to push out Ruby’s Song at the end of 2015, but after that I made a decision. Family comes first. Then, work. Then, the household. Then, my personal fitness. Then, after all of that is taken care of, I will write. And the first four take up so much time that it really leaves very little time to write. It used to bother me at first, but I am so happy – yes, I am actually happy – to be alive and in love with my family. I am happy to play ping-pong with my son until 9 or go on long hikes, or take my daughter’s girl scout troop camping, or get ice cream and play at the park with her while my son practices soccer, or to go out to a 4-hour dinner with my husband, or enjoy an impromptu night in the arcade with my friend. One day, I’ll find myself with a lot of time on my hands. And I can finish up stories then. But for now, I am thankful. I am thankful I have the life I have, the people I have, the job I have, and for the time I do get to write.
And if you’ve read all of this, thank you for still checking in after so long a silence. I’ve shared this very personal story for one reason, really. I hope it helps someone or maybe even saves someone. The 16-year-old son of a family in my son’s boy scout troop just killed himself, and it made me mad at myself for my silence. I don’t talk about it because there is a shame associated with it. I know it makes no sense. I had no control over my depression, but I still feel the shame and embarrassment of it, and it’s a very personal pain for me. But I think back on when I found that blog that night, and how in a moment of pure hopelessness, I found some hope in another person’s story. Maybe that was the first step toward my survival. Who knows? But I am a storyteller who was withholding, perhaps, the most important story I have in me. And now that it’s out there, I hope it does a little good.