Editor's note: Brook Bolen is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.
Around the time my daughter turned a year old, I stopped actively wanting to die. In the weeks preceding her birthday, I’d begun taking medication for severe postpartum depression and anxiety. The effect was swift and powerful: like a wildfire, it consumed my ruthless sadness and regret.
As the first in my circle of friends to have a child, I longed for mom friends. Instead of the joy I was told to expect, each day found me falling deeper and deeper into a despair I couldn’t escape. I loved my daughter, but I regretted the effect she had on my life in equal measure. I had no one to relate to or commiserate with, and I was desperately lonely. I tried connecting with a few in real life, as well as the ones I met through various Facebook groups, but I couldn’t find any real similarities to help anchor me. Partly from loneliness and partly to fill the hours that stretched on endlessly, overtaking everything like unstaked cucumbers in a garden, I tried to find connection in social media, but all I saw were moms who seemingly loved motherhood.
No one openly related to my feelings that I’d lost myself and my identity or my heavy, intense--and thankfully temporary -- regret that I’d had my daughter at all. I wanted to admit these terrible truths to other mothers without fear of their judgement. Most of all, I desperately wanted someone to tell me that they, too, had experienced the same sadness and regret and come out of it to find contentment -- but no one did. In life and in social media, I slowly retreated away from these mothers, because they inadvertently made me feel even more alone and alienated than before. I tried reaching out to my existing friends, but found any tales from their childless lives made me increasingly bitter and sad. I felt like a sequestered passenger on a swiftly departing vessel, watching my old life shrink from view until it was no longer visible or accessible to me.
After my daughter was born, I didn’t just miss my old life, I was bereft. I found bits of happiness in my new life as a mother, but they were slippery and ephemeral. Other than brutal exhaustion, the only real constant I felt was crushing sadness and deep shame over how unhappy I was with my new life.
Despite my best efforts against it, which included regular exercise and ingesting my own encapsulated placenta, I became cripplingly depressed. While I’ve battled clinical depression throughout my life, this was different: It clung to me like static, relentless and unshakeable. In my best moments, I felt like I was in a haze, as if I were watching myself float through someone else’s life rather than living it myself. In my worst, I lay sobbing on the floor, suffocated and trapped by the miserable truth that I’d ruined all of our lives.
My only comfort was something I kept tucked away in the back of my mind like a spare key under a mat: If and when I found myself home alone, I would shoot myself in the backyard.
One day, a friend told me she thought I was suffering from PPD and offered to put me in contact with Amelia, a friend of hers who’d gone to treatment for it and was since doing very well. I contacted Amelia and found in her the judgment-free understanding and reassurance I’d been longing for. She told me that she too had initially found no joy in motherhood, only deep, endless sadness -- even going so far as to scream “I hate you!” into her wailing baby’s face when she was at rock bottom. It was only after she’d undergone treatment that she had been able to not only accept, but grow to love, her new life. She swore she owed her sanity to her medication and felt confident it would work for me, too. I desperately wanted to believe her, but I didn’t.
Yet mere weeks after I began taking medication, I felt like a completely different person. My mood stabilized and rather than be destroyed by motherhood, I was able to withstand it. I began to actually enjoy my daughter and fell madly in love with her. Slowly but surely, my new life became more familiar, and evolved into the new normal Amelia had told me it would become.
None of this means that my new life is perfect -- but it does mean that my new life is now manageable, and most of the time, it’s actually great. While the natural progression of age and time have made things easier, I’m certain medication saved my life. I know Amelia was instrumental for my recovery, too -- not only because she encouraged me to seek out treatment, but because she validated my horrible truths without judgment.
Thankfully, I no longer regret becoming a mother. My biggest regret now is that postpartum depression and anxiety once robbed me of my ability to enjoy my daughter and my new life, but I’ve come to realize it was necessary to bring me to where I am today. It is a fundamental part of my story and my unique, beautiful, powerful relationship with my daughter, as well as part of my work to (re)create myself as a mother for her.