Tragedies can happen at any time, and yesterday, my community was hit with one. A 36-year-old mother and her 3- and 5-year old sons were found deceased after being reported missing just over a day earlier. Though details are still emerging, the police are categorizing the tragedy as a murder/suicide and reports say that depression may have played a role.
As I read the initial news report, I was hit with shock and despair, as many of my friends and neighbors were. The news hit me with a jolt as my heart sank. I felt anger and sorrow at the loss of life, and I also felt confusion, heartbreak, fury, and something a bit unexpected. I felt, for lack of a better word, lucky.
The thought running through my head was, “That could have been me.”
The natural first response to a news story such as this is horror and shock, and I definitely felt that. I think it is easy to immediately judge and condemn the perpetrator, who in this case seems to be the mother. It’s certainly justifiable to feel anger, and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t judged the situation and looked at the mother with wrath in my eyes. How could she do this to her defenseless, tiny little sons? To her husband? To her friends? To herself? It’s devastating, and it could be easy to dismiss the incident as the devastating and inexplicable actions of a crazy person.
It would be easy to do that, if not for the fact that I can also relate.
I’m just four years older than the mother in this story. I have two young sons, just one year off in age from hers. I’ve felt overwhelmed by life. I’ve suffered from depression, anxiety and PPD in the past. I have often struggled to find my worth in this world. I have felt hopeless, desperate and despondent before. I have felt the burden of my perceived failures weigh me down, and I’ve seen how guilt and shame can color everything in cold, dark shades of murky gray. I know what it feels like to be hopeless and scared and ashamed. That could have been me.
I was fortunate, though. I was able to get help when I needed it. After the birth of my second son, I was on the watch for signs of post-partum depression (PPD) and I was able to approach my OB-GYN for advice. In my case, I got a prescription for Zoloft that helped me through the worst of it, and the clouds started to dissipate and clear within mere months. I didn’t like that I had to resort to prescription meds, and it took a long time for me to open up to those around me – especially my own family – and tell them about it.
It wasn’t easy to ask for help – it was darn near impossible to form the words, in fact. I remember trying to approach the subject with my OB-GYN – who I had formed a pretty close friendship with by that point. We would laugh and joke with each other, and share stories about our firstborns. How could I tell this wonderful woman that I was a failure? She had told me many, many times to come to her with any concerns, especially any feelings of depression, and that she would be there for me and that it was totally normal. She told me there was absolutely no shame in asking for help.
She told me that, but when it came time to ask for help, I didn’t believe her.
There was so much shame. I felt like a failure at the deepest level imaginable. I had two beautiful sons, one of them a gorgeous little infant, and yet I was sad. I wasn’t soaking up the joy like I was supposed to. I hated myself for feeling that way. Depression is, at its essence, anger directed inwardly, and oh boy – did I ever feel angry at myself. I hated myself more than I’ve ever hated anything in the world. I felt despicable.
Before I got PPD, I told my husband to look out for signs of depression – just in case – and I logically knew that it was totally normal for hormones to affect women in crazy, weird ways after giving birth, and that Baby Blues were ridiculously common, and that it could very well happen to me. After I started to actually feel those Baby Blues, though, it was a different story. I was no longer thinking logically. I was thinking entirely with my out-of-control emotions, and running on a dangerously low amount of sleep. I was exhausted and ashamed. My emotions were running my brain, and there was very little logic involved at all.
It’s not as simple to ask for help as one might think.
As I said, though, I was fortunate. I did have resources. I was able to ask for help. I was able to get what I needed.
But what would have happened if I started to feel that depression now? Now that my kids are a little older? What resources are available to me today? I haven’t seen my OB-GYN in two years, and it’s not the sort of subject I’m asked about at my annual physical. Plus, the stigma that surrounds PPD is nothing next to the stigma surrounding just plain old-fashioned depression. We want to feel grateful and appreciative of the incredible blessings in our lives, and to feel anything other than pure jubilation is simply shameful.
I have two amazing, healthy little boys! I have a happy marriage! I live in a beautiful home in a cute little suburb of one of America’s best cities. My husband has a wonderful, stable, secure job doing what he enjoys. I’m able to stay home with my children and enjoy these amazing and fleeting years. We go on lovely vacations. If we outgrow our clothes, we buy new ones. We want for nothing. What right do I have to feel in any way sad or depressed, even a little bit, ever? What kind of ungrateful, selfish little monster am I?
I wonder if the 36-year-old mother with her two small sons had those same questions.
We so often go about our lives looking at others around us, thinking that everyone else has their act together. We think that everyone else is dealing with life just fine. We think that we are abnormal, or just plain bad people to ever have feelings of sadness, doubt or confusion. And so, we pretend. We put on mascara and yoga pants and wave at our neighbors when we back out of our driveways. We gloss over the imperfections. We shove our ugly feelings down where no one – even our self – has to deal with them. We build little bubbles around ourselves that we’re terrified to pop.
We feel alone. But we are far, far from alone.
I wish I could tell that 36-year-old mother that she wasn’t alone. I know that many people in my community wish that they would have known that something was wrong, so they could have saved the lives of those two precious little boys and that hopeless woman.
I wish that I could turn back time, but I can’t. All I can do today is tell you, dear reader, that wherever you live and whatever you do, whatever feelings you feel and however you judge yourself – you are not alone. You are not the only one who feels sadness. You are not the only one who has questioned his/her worth. The rest of us don’t have our acts together the way you might think. We are flawed. We are broken.
And we’re in this together.
I’m writing this blog today to beg all of us to stop pretending things are so darn perfect all the time. Let’s let people see our brokenness. Let’s let people in, and let people help us – not only when times are tough, but also when times are just completely boring and ordinary, so we don’t feel so alone and isolated should things start to spiral downward uncontrollably.
We don’t have to go it alone. We don’t have to be perfect. We are perfectly acceptable for the imperfect humans we are. We are beautiful humans with worth, simply because we are a part of this planet. We can make it through the bad times. We can do it together.
Let’s burst those bubbles of shame.
And let’s make sure this sort of tragedy never happens again.