Joey Fortman: On Losing Your Identity

postpartum depression mother's day rallyDear New Mom,

When I was asked to write about my ‘story’ and where I am today…I wasn’t really sure what angle to take. I could be my jovial self and share in a humorous & unassuming way the ups and downs of motherhood for me. But if I did that, I’d really be doing a disservice to you and to myself, for not being honest.

In the prime of my selfish ‘pre-baby’ days I got married. Moved across the country from Chicago to Philly … leaving behind the super success as a radio personality I worked so hard to achieve. And I had just turned 30.

I spent the summer without a job, but then got a great on-air position with a top-ranked radio station in Philly. Within the first week of my new job, I found out I was pregnant. Gained 50 pounds & 41 weeks later popped out a bouncing baby boy, no thanks to a HORRENDOUS birthing experience. One where you end up in labor for 30 hours & later on a surgical table getting an emergency C-Section. Yep. That was me.

The day I was suppose to return from maternity leave? My position was eliminated. It was the first time I had ever lost a job. The good news was that it wasn’t because of my performance. The bad news? I was still fat, in a new city, new baby, no job, no family, no friends with children and a workaholic husband who didn’t have time for my rollercoaster of emotions.

That was the beginning of the downward spiral that leads me to today. To sharing the most vulnerable part of my life. Not because it helps me to heal, although meeting women who have gone through similar stories has given me enormous strength. But because I know it’s out there. That it happens to new moms every. second. of. the. day.

The pain. The fear. The loneliness. Having no purpose. The depression.

Here I was, with a husband in love with his son, his job and his ‘adult life’. He definitely loved me, too, but he couldn’t understand why I was always so sad, negative & depressed. Of course not. After all I was having a pity party for one.

It was horrible.

As I write these words I remember the days and nights of that loneliness. Feeling vulnerable. Lost. Confused. Empty. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

I’m not going to sugar coat it. There were days that I would lay in the closet while my son napped and cry. Cry so hard that my face hurt.

I was angry. Mad at my husband for not understanding. Mad at him for being too preoccupied to give me attention. Mad at my industry for taking away my purpose. Hurt that none of our family or ‘old’ friends from Chicago ever visited.

Outside our front door, everyone had absolutely no idea. They saw me as this ‘cheery, fun, charismatic’ person. Good thing I got something out of my college education with a degree in theatre. I sure was good at ‘faking it’.

After four therapists, two psychiatrists, two visits to our family doctor, about seven DIFFERENT depression meds, and a very bad attempt at ‘self medication’,I still didn’t get the answer I was looking for. You’d think after that many doctor co-pays someone would have been able to fix what was wrong with me!

Here I am… nearly three years later. I tried to figure it out in every way, to help myself get better. From a stint at a ranch in Tennessee searching for a purpose, tocompletely losing love & respect from family & inlaws, to a life-changing visit to the psych ward…

I was scared to death. I thought I’d never ‘be me’ again. I thought that I was a complete wash of a human being.

Then there was family. They thought ‘oh-you should embrace this!’ Basically telling me that ‘I’m a mother now. And forget all the other things you worked so hard to achieve.’ I’d smile. And give a fake chuckle. Obviously they don’t know anything about me and how hard I worked to get where I was going.I was not raised with the notion that women stay home and raise the families. My family was very poor. My father worked to put shoes on his 3 daughters and my mom worked so her girls would have health insurance. My mother taught me to work hard for what I want. To follow my dreams. That I could do absolutely anything if I set my mind to it.

And that I did. I was in control of my destination. I was on top of the world. I had it all and assumed that the next door to open was marriage, baby, family, right? Yethere, at the time when I should be loving life, I was looking for an end. A way out.

I didn’t ask for help in the very beginning because I was so afraid. I cried, self-medicated and harbored anger. My insides ached. And it just kept building up.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my son. I’d jump in front of a speeding bus to save his life. After all… that little boy is what saved mine.

I recently have been diagnosed with bipolar type II disorder. I still have trouble accepting it because I never had these ‘symptoms’ prior to having my son. The stigma that society puts on mental health can put anyone struggling back into that cold dark place. But I want my son to know I’m a fighter. After the day he said ‘Don’t cry mommy. Want my binky?’ I knew that was it. I refuse to let my child grow up thinking ‘my mom is always sad. She sleeps all the time.’ I hate that I allowed this illness to control me for the first few years of his precious life.

The one person who has kept me alive is the one person who needs me the most, my child. I will fight. I will fight for an answer to this insanity that has been bombarding me for too long. And the more women I meet and hear ‘their story’ the more I know I’m not alone, not crazy, not a bad mother or a bad person even.

I am definitely in a better place now. Today. I can’t tell you what tomorrow brings, but I can tell you that I am really working hard to accept this new life. Today? I live in the moment. I regret the past. But look forward to the future.

If you are a new mom struggling with a search of identity, know that you are NOT alone. Know that even if you don’t hear or find the answer you want from doctors, keep searching. Because what you are feeling is real, and it affects so many women in the world.

I have been handed this new life for a reason. I’m happy at my son’s sweet smile. I love the way he touches my face when he sleeps next to me at night. I love the way he looks at me when I give him a lollipop. I love the way he holds my hand when he’s scared. I love the way he randomly says ‘I love you Mommy’. I love the way he looks to me for life.

Joey Fortman blogs at Real Mom Media and also has a video site called Moms On the Spot. You can follow her on Twitter at @joeyfortman.


Donations to Postpartum Progress can be made here: http://postpartumprogress.org/donate-postpartum-depression-2/

About Katherine Stone

is the founder of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the top 20 Social Media Moms by Working Mother magazine. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

Tell Us What You Think

Comments

  1. It's so helpful to hear I'm not the only one who came out of PPD with a life-long mental health diagnosis. Though in my case, the symptoms were there long before my daughter was born…I just couldn't see them. Anyway, thanks for sharing your story and your hope. It really hit home for me.

  2. This was me exactly. Everyone kept telling me this was my life now: mother. And I couldn't have it the way it was. I get that, but at the same time? nooooo!!!! I have a career and a life!
    Sigh…I love this message of hope.

  3. I'm with Katie. And you.
    I busted my assets to make it through college. On my own. I loved my career. But I loved my son, too.
    Finding both parts of myself and having them live in relative harmony has been a ridiculously difficult battle.
    Thanks for sharing your story today!

  4. thank you for sharing your journey here!

  5. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Joey,
    Thank you for being here today! Like you, I had a career before I had my first child, and I'm so glad that you brought up the concept of losing one's identity, or at the very least being confused about what your identity is when you become a new mother. This is a part of the transitioning process that we need to talk about more.
    – K

  6. the new identity of mother was so confusing for such a long time. took me many months to fall into it.. maybe even years. I know we aren't alone.

  7. Thinking about my kids' memories of their mom as sad or angry or irritable is a hard dose of reality. I still worry about what my older daughter thinks of my near constant crying and anxiety the first several months of my son's life.

  8. I just got the chance to swing over here and read your wonderful responses! Thank you so much Katherine for inviting me to share my story. And thank you all who took the time to share your strength.
    Being able to open up about this was so hard for me. But so therapeutic at the same time.
    Another step in my healing process of life. thank you again, friends.
    Joey

  9. Oh my. Thank you for this. I see so much of myself in it. I am so glad to be home with my baby girl, but I grieve for my other life sometimes. And I'm bored- who knew I could be bored and busy, and I'm lonely in a new city. People tell me I just need hobbies, or more self-care or "me" time, but some days I have trouble remembering what I enjoy or what made me happy. It's hard, so hard, but I want to have hope that it won't always be this way.