It’s Okay to Not Always Be Okay

Not long ago I opened up about my ongoing struggles with postpartum depression.

I’ve received a lot of support and understanding, and I’m grateful for that.

I still feel pangs of guilt that perhaps I don’t enjoy motherhood as much as some women, even though I know that’s ridiculous.

Fellow blogger, Amanda Watters often writes about the very real balance and struggle of motherhood. Her words resonate with me, as another mama of littles who has had postpartum struggles. The mixed-up feelings are so familiar:

There are hard days, easier ones, afternoons that are unbearably quiet, mornings that hurt ears, nights that can drag on, moments that bless, minutes that can be strangely lonely, times you want to bottle up and preserve like the way the sun shines on their fine hair, and then there are strings of hours that ultimately require more than I as a person am able to give. Sometimes I feel this all at once, but probably it’s more like I feel this all at once all of the time. Sometimes it stings. Sometimes it feels empty. Sometimes it overflows my cup. Sometimes it feels overwhelmingly close. Other times, it’s feels like a distant like a bird on top of a barn. It’s really difficult to explain (especially to strangers) what it’s like mothering small children without seeming like I don’t appreciate my role or my family, but I think that’s because we live in a “I’m fine! Good vibes only!” society. I do appreciate them more than anything else, but in light of honesty, I happen to be very happy and also very drained. And I don’t think a nap or a vacation will fix it. And I also think it’s okay to say that.

Parenting is all over the place. Like our weather in the Midwest, nothing is predictable nor consistent. It’s like you smell your baby, and miss them when they nap, and then cry because you can’t shower alone so you don’t, and then you cry again because of the guilt because someone just told you that it’s all meant to be enjoyed, and you know that already but you know that it’s also just really hard. Tell me you have these days too. Tell me, that even though you are never alone, that you are never not being touched or sat on, you sometimes feel like there’s no one else out there who gets it…

Yes, I know I’m not alone.

We’re all in this crazy, meaningful, riveting, but exhausting journey together.

But it’s hard not to be jealous of those who are happy without even trying.

Sometimes it feels like I have to fight so hard for something that other people just have.

There are good days and bad days for me.

I can’t pinpoint why some days are better than others.

There is no magic formula for a good day – my mental state is seemingly disconnected from external circumstances.

Right now I’m honestly doing pretty great.

I feel like my true self for the first time in over a year.

I have enough love and energy to go around without feeling depleted.

It feels so good to not be depressed,” I recently mused to Josh. (He was like, well duh…)

But hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about my mental health, or take positive steps to fight my depression.

I know I’m not alone.

I’m learning that it’s okay to not be okay all the time.

I don’t have to pretend everything is just peachy when it isn’t.

I don’t have to be jealous of other people.

We’re all fighting a battle of some kind – and even if those battles are different, we can be on the same team.

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Lately I’ve been reading – and laughing out loud to – the book Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. Her writing about life with mental illness is truthful, vivacious, and charmingly inappropriate.

This book got me thinking about my own depression – my hard-won victories, my minor relapses, and my fear of it returning someday.

I like reading other people’s stories.

It’s as if it gives me permission to feel the way I do.

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Depression can be crippling, and deadly.  I’m lucky that it’s a rare thing for me, and that I have a support system to lean on.  I’m lucky that I’ve learned that depression lies to you, and that you should never listen to it, in spite of how persuasive it is at the time.

When cancer sufferers fight, recover, and go into remission we laud their bravery.  We call them survivors.  Because they are.

When depression sufferers fight, recover and go into remission we seldom even know, simply because so many suffer in the dark…ashamed to admit something they see as a personal weakness…afraid that people will worry, and more afraid that they won’t.  We find ourselves unable to do anything but cling to the couch and force ourselves to breathe.

When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate.  Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive.  We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker…but as survivors.  Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it.  Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand.

Regardless, today I feel proud.  I survived.  And I celebrate every one of you reading this.  I celebrate the fact that you’ve fought your battle and continue to win.  I celebrate the fact that you may not understand the battle, but you pick up the baton dropped by someone you love until they can carry it again.  I celebrate the fact that each time we go through this, we get a little stronger.  We learn new tricks on the battlefield.  We learn them in terrible ways, but we use them.  We don’t struggle in vain.

We win.

We are alive.

“Look, there’s other people out there who know what I’m dealing with!” I want to pick the book up and wave it in front of Josh, who is one of those teammates Lawson mentions who “may not understand the battle but picks up the baton until I can carry it again.”

Just because not everyone knows what depression feels like, doesn’t make it less real or less scary to those who are facing it. We can help demystify depression by talking about it openly and sharing when we’re having a rough day.

I know depression manifests itself in different ways for different people.

One person may not be able to get out of bed.

Another may have suicidal thoughts.

Another might not feel anything unless they are harming themselves.

I found that after having children, I’m now one of those people who frankly feels everything more strongly.

My highs are very high and my lows are very low. There isn’t a whole lot of in the middle.

The bright side? At least I’ve got those high points to look forward to. Those moments when I can soak in the beauty of the world or bask in the glow of an accomplishment.

Amid Lawson’s crazy antics and hilarious anecdotes, I found that I really resonated with one thing: the fact that sometimes we’re depressed in spite of  seemingly “perfect” lives. (Can I get an amen, social media?)

 

It’s hard to imagine anyone’s being depressed or anxious when they’ve been given a gift it seems anyone would kill for. At best it seems ungrateful. At worst it seems disgraceful. But still, it happens. Some of the moments that (from a normal person’s perspective) seem like they should’ve been the greatest moments of my life were actually sometimes the worst moments. No one ever tells you that. Probably because it sounds crazy. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

I wish someone had told me this simple but confusing truth: Even when everything’s going your way you can still be sad. Or anxious. Or uncomfortably numb. Because you can’t always control your brain or your emotions even when things are perfect.

The really scary thing is that sometimes that makes it worse. You’re supposed to be sad when things are shitty, but if you’re sad when you have everything you’re ever supposed to want? That’s utterly terrifying….

If everything is perfect and I’m miserable, then is this as good as it gets?

And the answer is no.

It gets better.

You get better.

Yes to all of this. I’ve felt it. So strongly.

How ironic that the times in my life that I’ve struggled the most with my depression were times when I was supposed to be “furiously happy” – like after the births of my children?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m extremely privileged and I know it.

But privilege doesn’t equal perfection. 

Someone reminding me of my privilege pours the salt of guilt on already open wounds.

It makes me feel ungrateful.

It makes me feel unworthy.

But I can’t beat myself up over my reality. I can only move forward with what I’ve been given.

Sometimes I feel everything.

Other times I feel nothing.

But I’m moving forward, nonetheless.

Lawson reminds us that “Comparison is the death of joy,” as Mark Twain put it.

Or, in other words, “Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.”

Or, in other words, “Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes look to everyone else’s highlight reel.”

Or, in other words, “The only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday.”

I’ll close with one more huge block quote from the book, because it’s fantastic:

In other words, stop judging yourself against shiny people. Avoid the shiny people. The shiny people are a lie. Or get to know them enough to realize they aren’t so shiny after all. Shiny people aren’t the enemy. Sometimes we’re the enemy when we listen to our malfunctioning brains that try to tell us that we’re alone in our self-doubt…

Hell, there are probably people out there right now who consider us to be shiny people (bless their stupid, stupid hearts) and that’s pretty much proof that none of our brains can be trusted to accurately measure the value of anyone, much less ourselves.

How can we be expected to properly judge ourselves? We know all of our worst secrets. We are biased, and overly critical, and occasionally filled with shame. So you’ll just have to trust me when I say that you are worthy, important, and necessary. And smart.

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How can we support one another on this journey? Have you ever felt ungrateful and inadequate at the same time? How can we use social media to the fullest – to stop comparing ourselves and better encourage one another to be okay in our not-okay world?

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2 Comments

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  1. As you might remember me telling you, Em, I had postpartum depression for years. All the things you write about and quote– I relate to still. I am seeing more and more that so many of the people I know, and this includes myself, experience depression to some degree throughout our lives. It seems to be a subject worthy of educating ourselves about and finding cures and relief. Love you.

    • Thanks for the reminder! You’re right, it is more common than we think, but unless we all open up about it, we feel like we’re struggling alone. Love you too 💛

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