“I think you’re more than just tired”

There it was – the truth. It left my husband’s mouth and hit me like ice cold water thrown in my face, stealing my breath and shocking me out of my sleep-deprived denial.
We were driving home from the doctor’s office, my eyes still red and puffy. The appointment was for our four-month-old son, but somehow I ended up in tears.

“Do you think you’re feeling depressed?” the doctor asked.

“No,” I immediately answered. And I honestly believed that was true. Yes, I was crying a lot but it was because I was completely exhausted from months of stringing together night after night of broken sleep and not being able to fall asleep in the day when the baby was napping.

If I was depressed, I’d be sad, right? Not just a little sad though. It would be the kind of sad where you can’t get out of bed and you start thinking the world would be better off without you. I didn’t feel that way. I didn’t want to hurt myself, or my baby. I was completely exhausted, but I wasn’t depressed. If I could just get one or two good nights of sleep, I’d be fine. At least that’s what I told myself.

From the moment my son was born I was anxious. I couldn’t shake the feeling of being on edge, like my mind and body were constantly clenched and braced for the worse. I passed it off as typical new mom stress and figured it would just pass in time. But as days turned into weeks, and weeks into months that edgy, wound up, restless feeling only crept deeper inside, burrowing its way into my mind and wearing me down.

When the initial rush of visitors came to an end and my husband went back to work, I was alone with my son for the most part. Days began with an overwhelming sense of dread, knowing that hours stretched before me with no real structure or social interaction. Time seemed to crawl as I watched the clock eagerly anticipating nap time, or better yet, my husband’s return from work. I loved my son and I wanted to enjoy being with him, but I was so focused on pushing through time, I couldn’t pause to appreciate the moment I was in.

As the anxiety worsened, so did my ability to make decisions and get things done. Everything just seemed so damn hard, and tasks that should have been easy were suddenly insurmountable obstacles. I remember sitting motionless on the couch feeling paralyzed with panic, often catching myself holding my breath and not knowing why.
My senses were in overdrive and my body was in a constant state of alert. I tried to sleep when the baby was asleep, but my mind would start to spin and I would toss and turn for hours. Within minutes of dozing off, my son would cry out and I would be up again.

The lack of sleep began chipping away at whatever coping skills I had left. I was struggling to hold it together and began having frequent bursts of rage that left me sobbing and filled with overwhelming shame. I would yell and scream, slam doors and throw things. On one particularly awful day, I put my foot through the wall after what seemed like endless attempts to get my son to nap.

Never in my life have I felt such shame and guilt.

So when people asked me how I was enjoying being a mom, of course I lied. I had a beautiful baby, a supportive husband, a nice home, and a good job to return to when my maternity leave ended. I had no business being unhappy and certainly no right to be absolutely miserable.

But my husband knew the truth and he knew I needed to face it. “I think you’re more than just tired.”

As soon as we got home, I called my doctor and booked an appointment for the following week.

That weekend we arranged for my in-laws to take our son overnight so that we could be guaranteed a full night’s sleep. I happily crawled into bed and closed my eyes knowing that I wouldn’t have to open them until morning. But I couldn’t sleep. The more I tried to relax, the more my mind would spin. I was devastated.

The order of events over the next few days is a blur, but I remember it being the scariest time of my life. I stopped sleeping completely and made several desperate trips to the pharmacy for sleeping pills and herbal teas. Nothing worked. I cried uncontrollably through the nights, struggling to breathe through panic attacks while my husband held me and tried to talk me down. I started having scary, disturbing thoughts when I closed my eyes. I felt desperate, hopeless and terrified.

I burst into tears when I saw my doctor. “I feel like I’m hanging on by a thread,” I sobbed. She was incredibly caring and supportive as she explained the symptoms and treatment options for postpartum depression and anxiety.

Deciding to take medication wasn’t easy. Part of me felt like a failure for not being able to push aside the anxiety on my own. But the other part knew that I desperately needed help and I was willing to do anything to feel like myself again. I left with a prescription for an antidepressant, and a sense of hope that I would be okay.

With medication and regular check-ins with my doctor, the anxiety and depression gradually began to lift. Within weeks, I started to feel lighter, happier and healthier. I started to feel like me.

Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness. For me, it was the strongest moment of my life – a lesson I’m incredibly grateful to have learned so that I can pass it on.

Julie Trites is an anxious mother of two young boys and a passionate advocate for speaking up about women’s mental health. After overcoming postpartum anxiety and depression, she created onemothertoanother.ca as a way to share her experience, fight the stigma of mental illness and connect other moms going through similar struggles.