One Mother’s Harrowing Battle with Depression

Once driven to the brink of suicide by postpartum depression, one mother learns to love her children—and herself—again. This is her story.

My name is Britt. This is my story.

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I have always tried to hide my dark, sad, vulnerable side and only show the happy, sanguine side of my personality. Then, about four years ago, shortly after the birth of my second child, with my marriage unraveling, I slipped into what my counselor termed “situational depression.” It persisted for several years, at times almost disappearing when I felt in control of my life, but returning anytime I felt I had lost control.

My depression deepened in early 2000 when I finally left my husband of seven years and moved in with my mom. I was 26 years old, a mother of two, a full-time working college student, and struggling to survive. Then, with a series of negative events – each seeming worse than the last – I found myself spinning downward into a world of pain and sadness I couldn’t explain.

Parenting my two small children became providing the bare essentials. I was unable to provide the love and attention they deserved. I still worry that I irreparably damaged my children during that time – with my quick temper, my lack of patience and unexplainable tears. At the time, I beat myself up daily – for being a bad mom, a terrible wife, an unmotivated employee and an underachieving, slipshod student – until every accomplishment I had ever achieved was negated by all of my perceived failures.

Soon I just didn’t care. I couldn’t get enough sleep; it was next to impossible to get up in the morning. If I didn’t have to take my kids to daycare, I couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t get dressed, couldn’t care for them – I let my mom do my work. When my kids were with their dad (we have joint custody), I would stay in bed all day (if possible), only to get up to go out to party. Then my drinking went out of control. I didn’t know how I got home some nights, nor did I care.

Visions of slitting my wrists became a weekly, then daily, then hourly occurrence. I despised myself and was almost incapable of showing any love to my children. I would cling to them and scream at them by turn, then be racked with guilt for being such a horrendous parent. But love was next to impossible to show when I hated myself.

I was a walking dead person. Photos from that time show my sad, empty eyes and lifeless expression. I had convinced myself that my ex-husband would be able to find a better mother for our children, that it wouldn’t matter if I wasn’t around. The cancer of my spirit gained strength until death seemed like a sweet escape.

So in the early morning hours of May 6, 2000, I gave up. I walked into a 24-hour Wal-Mart store and bought a bottle of Nytol, of which I took all but one, trying to sink into an eternal slumber. Fortunately, a friend – my angel – had a premonition that I needed her. She saved my life – giving me a second chance to see my babies grow up, to find love for life and love for myself.

My family, even my mom with whom I lived, had no idea how depressed I was. I hid it so well that my suicide attempt came as a total shock to them. When I woke up the next morning, I found that facing my loved ones was much worse than the pain that drove me to attempt to die.

I still live with depression. I take a daily antidepressant and visit my therapist when things seem to be getting out of control. I have found other ways of combating my illness – playing, cuddling or just being with my children, exercise, and visiting with my friends.

I no longer complain about birthdays – I embrace them. Every little milestone my children pass is cause for celebration – from losing teeth to starting school – because I almost abandoned them rather than ask someone for help. It took tasting death for me to realize that I couldn’t be the “strong-new-millennium-I-can-do-everything-myself-I-don’t-need-help-I’m-a-mom-for-pete’s-sake-woman” that I thought I had to be. I learned that asking for help is not a sign of weakness but sometimes the only ticket to survival.

Britt is a pseudonym for a Minnesota mom who battled depression.