I Am Not a Warrior Mama
It seems like a lot of the narratives about motherhood and mental illness go like this:
I was sick and it was horrible, but I got lots of support and took some pills and started jogging and now I am living happily ever after. Here’s a family photo with an Instagram filter! Look how happy we are!
It makes me irritable. It feels like a Hallmark card you give to someone because it's too awkward to talk about the reality of the situation: it is messy and hard, and it's going to be messy and hard for a long time.
After I’d tried and failed to quit taking antidepressants, pregnancy became a game of risk-benefit ratios. I could keep taking the antidepressants and risk birth defects, or I could stop taking them and risk killing myself and my unborn child. There was literally no option that didn’t jeopardize his health.
I took the pills. I got lucky. Both my children were born healthy. I’m still weighing risk-benefit ratios. It’s no longer feasible to spend the day in bed just because I feel anxious. It’s also not OK to push the anxiety down until it explodes into a panic attack and terrifies your three-year-old.
My mental illness is not my fault, but it preys on my personal weaknesses.
It always has. Before, I could occasionally let it get the best of me. Now I can’t do that without creating ripples in my kids’ lives that they’d be better off without.
So much is at stake.
I don’t want to hear how women fought a valiant battle against chemical imbalances in their brains and lived happily ever after.
I want to hear how they stay sane in the mess of daily demands and too little time. I want to hear how they manage to keep their sense of humor, even if it’s taken on a darker shade.
I’m glad that postpartum depression and anxiety has gotten increased attention in recent years. I’m happy that back in January, a government-appointed health panel recommended that women should receive routine depression screenings during pregnancy and after birth. I’m excited that more and more mothers are speaking out about their experiences with postpartum mental illness.
But what happens after the postpartum period, when the effects of mental illness are still rippling through people’s lives? What about the women whose depression and anxiety don’t go away? This is what I want to read about, what I want to write about, the voice I rarely hear.
The “warrior mama” attitude might encourage others, but not me. Not today. Nothing about this battle feels noble. I am just floundering about, trying to find better coping mechanisms so that I will not leave my children with lasting scars.
I want this legacy of mental illness to end with me.
Photo courtesy of Kelsi Barr (Creative Commons)