Emily Cook Dyches, a beautiful woman, wife, and mother of five, passed away February 2016 from circumstances related to severe postpartum depression.
Emily’s family has started The Emily Effect Foundation as a way to: 1) help increase awareness and diagnosis of postnatal mood disorders; 2) help improve the availability and quality of treatment; and 3) help end the stigma by allowing women to share their own stories. In honor of Emily, today I am sharing my story, my Letter of Light.
Left: Me in the middle of battling PPD. Right: Me two years later. The eyes tell the story. What a difference!
In honor of Emily Cook Dyches, today I am sharing the story of my battle with postpartum depression. In so many ways, Emily’s story is my story. Emily and I went to the same college. She would have turned 40 this year. Like Emily, I once climbed out of a car in the middle of moving traffic.
This is my story.
(You can read other stories of women with ppd on The Emily Effect Website Letters of Light.)
I struggled with episodes of postpartum depression for six years before I realized that I had something more than a serious case of incompetence. I believed that I was weaker than other women and that I lacked the ability to cope with the normal stresses of life and motherhood.
For example, one day my toddler pulled a jar of peaches off the pantry shelf scattering broken glass and peach juice across my kitchen tile. It completely overwhelmed me. I locked my kids in their rooms so they wouldn’t step on sharp glass, but I couldn’t face the kitchen. I cleaned out the bottom shelf of my linen closet and hid there in the blackness, shaking and cold. I prayed my husband wouldn’t come home for lunch and see me like that. I felt weak, broken, humiliated, and completely ashamed of myself.
There were other episodes: trying to cut myself in the shower, slapping my husband in the face, climbing out of our family car in the middle of moving traffic, leaving the house after midnight while everyone else was sleeping and driving all night.
There was a constant weight on my chest that made it hard to breath. I couldn’t fall asleep even though my body was weary to the bone. I felt that my world was collapsing in on me. I felt like I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I was constantly consumed with premonitions that I was going to die and leave my kids without their mother. My mind was a barrage of overwhelming thoughts, worries, and feelings of utter worthlessness. I had once been a talented and successful woman, but I believed I had become incompetent and that my life was bad because I wasn’t organized enough, wasn’t spiritual enough, didn’t exercise enough, wasn’t capable enough.
After our fourth baby was born, I found myself on the doorstep of a friend at midnight, in desperate need for help. She made me promise to call my OB’s office the next day. I did, and was prescribed an antidepressant.
I didn’t take the medication. I was suspicious of an “over-the-phone” diagnosis which sounded to me like a “one-size-fits-all” treatment. Plus, a dear friend of mine had recently suffered a horrific reaction to Sertraline with a lot of complications. I was terrified that taking a drug would make my condition even worse.
Not taking medication was one of the best and worst things I’ve ever done. My journey to find natural healing was a crucible of personal discovery through which I learned how much I allowed negative, toxic voices to monologue uncensored in my head. I learned that my body was telling me to slow down and to be more realistic with my expectations. I learned that it’s okay to let people see my imperfections. I learned to open my heart to life and love. I learned to take time to breathe.
After eighteen long months, I finally started taking an antidepressant. The symptom relief was wonderful. I could finally sleep. The constant weight on my chest went away. The muddiness in my head cleared and I was again able to make rational decisions. I felt more like the real me.
My journey through postpartum depression was a defining moment in my life. It was the hardest thing I’ve endured, but I believe it has made me more compassionate, empathetic, grateful, open-hearted, fun-loving, and fearless. My daily dose of prozac gives my body much-needed chemical support.
I tell my story because another woman told her story, and through her story, she saved me.
Porcelain women, carrying the burden of humanity.
When we crack under the weight,
Women come, like elves in the night, and use stories like glue to hold us together.