It was 2:30 in the morning and I was hysterical. My son was a couple of months old and my postpartum depression had hit its stride, though at that moment I didn’t know I had PPD. I only knew my world was upside down and inside out. I wasn’t sleeping or eating, and my mind was continually assaulted by disturbing thoughts that I neither wanted nor understood.
I knew something was deeply wrong, but I didn’t know what it was and I was terrified. That morning in 2001, at 2:30am on my knees on the kitchen floor, I called my husband, who was in Las Vegas at a trade show, and I woke him up. I said I needed help, though I couldn’t explain exactly why. I begged him to come home right away, as soon as he could get on a plane, any plane, headed to Atlanta. I pleaded. I sobbed. He told me he couldn’t. I was devastated.
Two days later when my husband finally arrived home from his trip, I learned that he had sent his business colleague home early from the trade show and had chosen to stay in Vegas to pack out their booth. I had begged him to come home, and he had chosen to stay. He could have come home after all. He just didn’t. When I asked why he stayed after my desperate pleas, he explained matter-of-factly that his partner had been traveling a lot and deserved to come home first. I’ll never forget the feeling I had at that moment. I felt like nothing, like I was worth nothing. At the lowest point in my life I had stretched out my hand and been wholly rebuffed. Had he heard me? The fear and pain in my voice? Did he listen at all when I begged for help?
I am asked all the time by women with postpartum depression how they can make their partners see what they’re going through, and I continue to wonder … can they? Can you ever make someone truly understand what it’s like to be in the midst of a mental illness if they haven’t experienced it themselves? I know I certainly didn’t understand it until it happened to me. I didn’t have the compassion I have now, or the willingness to jump in and assist. I look back at how my husband responded to me at that moment and instead of anger I feel empathy. He was scared, too. At the time I had postpartum depression, I was a shell of the person he had married. He didn’t understand what was going on any more than I did in those early days. He didn’t know the impact PPD can have on a mother and her child any more than I did. Once we got a clearer picture of what was going on and what it would take to recover, he pitched in and supported me. Could he have done better from the start? Sure, but it takes what it takes, as we like to say in our house. Through our family’s experience with postpartum depression, we both grew in our understanding of mental illness. He’s been an amazing support ever since.
My husband happens to be in Las Vegas this week. At a trade show. He’s been there since last Thursday and was supposed to come home late tomorrow night. I’ve been having a wobbly week and though I’m doing fine I’ve told him more than once how much I miss him. This morning, on our regular check-in call, he surprised me and told me he was coming home early. When I asked why he said, “Eleven years ago you asked me to come home early and I didn’t. I didn’t listen to you. I’m listening to you now. I’ll be home this afternoon.”
How I love that man.
Happy World Mental Health Day.
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