Loudly Whispering Mommy: My Story
by Jessica Christenbury
So far, my story is one of hope and in the beginnings of recovery. Being a mother during these past few years, as I was just recently diagnosed, has been the most difficult part of the journey towards recovery. The guilt during these times has been almost unbearable. How could I feel so down when I have so much to be happy about? How can I be strong for these two children when I can barely lift my head? Rosalee is 3 ½ and Walker will be 2 in April.
My depression sunk to new depths after the children were born, prompting therapists and doctors to believe it was postpartum depression. But I knew something was definitely wrong, not just postpartum. My memories, however, of depression followed by overwhelmingly confident, happy moments started in my teenage years. One particular defining moment was when I was 17 years old, I was in a car accident. I was going 5 mph while the motorcycle I hit was well over 50 mph. My clunker car (which I saved for months working at a local Little Caesar’s Pizza) was destroyed, but it was nothing compared to the thought of me killing someone. I didn’t, but I never shook that feeling. I hated myself.
I knew something was different about me around this time. My emotions, here and there, were my own sometimes. Sometimes, I didn’t know who I was. I attended college and mostly stuck to myself. I had loyal friends that did not understand why I didn’t want to be included in groups, but other friends called me a “bitch” for some reason.
In 2005, I graduated from a major university after transferring from a small liberal arts school. With a degree in English, I had no idea where I was going or what to do. After random boyfriends lasting 2 days or 6 months, I met my husband during a time that I vowed I did not care about a single person. I wanted to be alone. In 2008, we married in a traditional church fashion. Our relationship consisted (at that time) of me asking a lot of questions to myself…what the hell was I doing? I always seemed unhappy but had these days consisting of moments of what seemed of almost happiness. I began a teaching program in which I worked as a teacher while I obtained my teaching certificate. I took classes and tests. This was a turning point in my life.
Now, I was on a stage every day. I loved teaching English, but I hated all the eyes on me all the time. At the end of the third (and final year of the program), I could not stand it any longer. I locked myself in a small bathroom during our lunch period and could not muster the courage to walk out to the middle school students waiting on me with the other teacher that taught with me during that particular period. Every day was excruciatingly long dragging me deeper into a depression. But I had small bright moments along the way – enough to fool most people. I was an actress 10 hours a day. I would come home take Tylenol PM at 6:00pm and sleep until I had to get up. I binged on Arby’s on the way home and slacked off in the kitchen. Newly married, I felt the guilt of not living up to the ideal wife. I hated myself more with each passing minute.
After leaving teaching, I obtained a job at the same major university of which I graduated. I edited manuscripts for major journals. I loved the job, but my supervisor was horrific. During this time, I became pregnant with my first child. This did not soften the boss. She still put me down whenever she could. When I won a grievance petition filed by me after a lot of support, I was placed in an office not far from my previous cube. Here, I was put front and center for many people to see.
Some of my darkest days were spent here. The guilt of being a mother who could not find happiness in her children (or anything for that matter), the expectations of a job I was not trained or skilled to do, the scrutiny of another coworker (who would later turn into my supervisor), and the up and down emotions of every day life. I could not handle the simplest tasks – making me appear dumb, incapable of following directions, and slow (one supervisor actually called me slow). I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do. At this time, no one knew there was something majorly wrong here. I hid it well. I cried and dried like the best of them. Even my husband did not know the severity of it. My fear of what people would think if they knew what was really going on in my head ruled my world.
I began to daydream of swallowing sleeping pills. Then the huge wave of guilt would knock me over. How could I feel that way when I have two (now at this time the second child, not planned, had been born) beautiful children? I have a job, a husband that loves me, and home that I should be proud of? I cried in a warm bath. I gripped my knees and questioned it all.
In 2012, I first sought help. I kept it secret from almost everyone. I’ve seen several therapists and psychologists within the past couple of years. Suspicion of Bipolar Disorder began in these conversations. I’ve tried multiple medications, different combinations. Time moved in slow motion. And yet… there were days that whizzed by. During, what I know now is my manic phase, I stayed up at all hours at night, picked fights with my husband, and made wild plans with unusual decisions. I spent money before I even had it and drank a lot of wine. During my depressive phases, I slept all day for days missing work and blowing off friends. I was a monster forcing mascara on my lashes and pushing my feet into heels.
During these past few years, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve come to realize that there is hope out there. I don’t have to be perfect, I can’t do everything all the time, and I will succeed at most things but not everything. Family members, for the most part, have been supportive, as I’ve slowly started telling people and sharing my discoveries about myself. Surprisingly, my own mother criticized me the most during these past few years, the toughest years. She has always led me to believe that I should just suck it up. Get over it. I finally had to realize that this was not going to be something I could just “get over.” I’ve been hurt by her words, but she has come to me since then – recently in the last 6 months – and told me her feelings and how they’ve changed. She does believe in this illness and she does believe I suffer.
Since April 2014, I’ve been working a small part time job but mostly writing and trying to put all these thoughts together. I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement from family and friends (even strangers), again supplying me with hope and endearment. I’m coming around to accepting this as me. I’m beginning to use these discoveries as a glue to hold the other parts of me together. My blog that I created in 2012 is a part of this puzzle, pieces I hold dearly. It originally started as a new mom blog, one of the millions out there, but now it has become topics of conversations, people really beginning to see this disorder in a different light. Now it is about navigating through this diagnosis, this life, being a mother, wife, and friend. I post poetry, thoughts, ramblings, and observations. I’ve gotten some great feedback, but I’ve wanted to branch out and really share my story with people. I do know this: I must write. I must put these words out in front of me.
I’ve come to think of me being a mother is what saved me. I could never leave them, and I could never lead them to believe (as they got older) that I didn’t love them enough to get better. In the end, it was them and their lives that saved mine.
I’m still bobbing in the pool of hope while holding on to the edge for recovery.