Welcome to the fourth and final day of our review of The Ghost in the House for the Warrior Mom Book Club!
Amber: Whether it’s shame or isolation because of our symptoms or just pure fatigue from the work of motherhood and life, we all need care and reassurance. In fact, I so needed to read the words on page 83 of The Ghost in the House again today: “It is hard to make firm plans for next Thursday if you are not sure next Thursday will be a ‘good’ day or one of those mornings when you can barely crawl out of bed.” Even with a 5-year-old and an 18-month-old, and depression and anxiety that are either under control or not really an issue this time (thanks to good treatment I’m not sure which is the case), this SO describes how I feel almost every day. What are your thoughts about the following statement? Is motherhood and accompanying depression/anxiety physically exhausting for you, too?
BR: That was me when I was really suffering. I would say that I knew that I was truly getting better when I could feel confident in making future plans. I have never felt the exhaustion that I have felt over the nine months since my daughter was born.
JPG: I did not realize how physically exhausting motherhood could be when also dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety. When my anxiety flares up, I definitely feel it physically. I have to exhaust myself physically in order to get my racing mind to quiet enough for sleep. I am much more deliberate about how I expend my energy when planning parties, play dates, etc. I try not to cram my weekends too full so that I can recharge my batteries on the weekend.
BB: I still have a hard time planning anything because I don’t want to let anyone down. I hate to schedule something and then have to cancel because the baby is napping, or I’m exhausted, etc. I feel terrible about it, especially when I see all these other moms who seem to have all kinds of plans and playgroups! How do they manage it? I honestly have no idea. I really want to get out more – and I know that I need to – but it is next to impossible for me to even pencil anything in because I don’t want to have to erase it.
TM: When I was in the worst of postpartum depression hell I didn’t make plans not because I wasn’t sure if it would be a good day, but because I KNEW it wouldn’t be a good day and I didn’t see any point to making plans when I KNEW I was going to be tired and miserable. I was also a master of making reasons why I couldn’t do something: the baby cries too much in the car seat, it’s too hot to go outside, it’ll be too depressing because I won’t be able to do what I want, etc.
Amber: Earlier in the book and in some of the comments in this 4-part review you’ll find that acknowledging that our mental health CAN impact our children can be a cause of guilt and anxiety in and of itself. The following statement and the sentiment which is repeated throughout the book are very reassuring that we can impact our children positively as much, if not more so, than negatively through our efforts. “So, to summarize: your children may have inherited your “bad” genes — but depression is a lot more than just genes. In fact, the more complex the picture becomes, the more encouraging it gets … as Kendler’s research shows, we are not passive recipients of either our genes or what life hands out to us. This is poker, remember, not chess — and much depends on how we play the hand we are dealt.” Comments?
BR: This sentiment is both triggering and reassuring for me. It amplifies the acute sense of responsibility that I have taken on as a mother- and this is scary. But it also gives me hope that with awareness of my mental health and how it impacts my behavior, which my daughter is always watching, I can put in effort to show her a healthier way to live.
JPG: I hope that I am teaching my girls compassion and empathy. I want them to know that they can talk to me about their feelings. I talk a lot about my feelings. For example, “When you do this, I feel angry, upset, frustrated.”
BB: I try to remind myself often of what Thompson says here. I come from generations of mentally ill people and recognize the impact that my genes have on me. But when I shared my struggle with postpartum depression with my parents, my mother for the first time told me that she had parented out of fear because that is how her father parented her. That gave me hope that I could do something different and break the generational pattern despite my genes. I finally saw that so much of parenting really is a choice and that nature and nurture both play roles in our lives.
Amber: At the end of the book, a contributor, Denise, talks about her peer support group and about being rebuilt “thanks” to PPD. “Denise thinks that people like herself–who are blessed with natural confidence, who when things are going well are particularly capable and efficient–have the most to learn from depression. “It rips everything from you: your self-worth, your self-confidence. You’re laid bare. There’s nothing you have to give anybody.” It was only then, when it was no longer possible to define herself by what she could do, that she learned it was okay to just be.” What have you learned from surviving depression and anxiety?
BR: I have learned that I am stronger than I ever thought I was and that I can survive even the most unexpected and debilitating circumstances. I have also gained greater self-awareness that will allow me to be a healthier role model for my daughter.
BB: I have learned that I can get through anything. In the midst of my struggle with postpartum depression, a good friend told me, “I know that you will conquer this. Do you know how? Because you have conquered your depression before, and I know you will again. It cannot beat you. You are too strong.” Some days I believe her, and some days I don’t. But being in recovery, I understand that there is always tomorrow, and yet at the same time, there is only the present moment. Every story – even tragic ones – can ultimately bring redemption; we need only to seek it out and bring it into the light.
JPG: I have learned that I am much stronger than I realized. I realized that everyone struggles in life. I have gained a much deeper understanding of mental illness, and I am more kind and compassionate to others. I have learned to be comfortable in being the type of mother that I am, to play to my personality strengths.
TM: You know, sometimes good enough is just that, good enough. It doesn’t have to be perfect. What I do and who I am just have to be good enough to get through and if that means dirty laundry, mismatched socks, and a happy mother and child so be it.
Amber: Here’s to being good enough! Thank you all for sharing your stories and reflections on this book so openly. I know they will be so helpful to those who need hope and healing today.