By Kimberly Zapata
I’ve only seen 3:30 A.M. a handful of times: at the end of a long night of hair holding and tear wiping; on the first day of fishing season, when my father, brother and I would head out early to secure a prime spot along the Susquehanna — only after stopping at Dunkin Donuts for a large coffee and two strawberry-frosted donuts — and in the early months of motherhood, which were defined by diaper changes, “baby burrito” breakouts, and painful let downs. And, fishing fun aside, nothing good happens at 3:30 A.M. It is a time of day when bad decisions are made, strange and unfortunate trips to the bathroom occur, and impulsive words are spoken.
It was the time of day I most frequently questioned my own life.
I didn’t know it at first. The early days of motherhood were a blur. I would fall asleep sitting up and stare at the ceiling, wide-awake, when laying down. I would go hours without food, days without a shower, and — in some cases — more than a week without seeing the sun (without stepping foot outside).
At first, I wrote it off. I thought short temper was the result of sleep deprivation. I thought my inability to “get it together” was just par for the “new parenting” course. And I attributed my pathetic eating were habits to breastfeeding. (If Amelia fell asleep at my breast I certainly couldn’t get up for a TV dinner or piece of toast. I mean, I would wake her. I couldn’t wake her.)
I thought the guilt and confusion was normal. I thought the tears were normal.
I thought I was just adjusting my new mommy role.
I thought and rationalized, thought and rationalized, but before long I noticed a pattern: I realized I was crying everyday, sobbing and unable to catch my breath. (My eyes were perpetually puffy and when I did manage to take a sip of my coffee I could taste the salinity in my mouth — like I stirred salt in instead of sugar.) I realized I was angry and resentful. I realized I was miserable. I realized I wanted to die.
And I had many chances, so many chances; in fact, the opportunity presented itself everyday between 3 A.M. and 4 A.M. and the fact that I am still here is nothing short of a miracle. My daughter would wake for a feeding just as Jim Crammer came on TV. (I never turned the TV off; I was scared of the dark, scared of the silence, and scared to be alone with her, and with myself.) After changing her diaper I would pull her into bed, slip one of my swollen and already leaky breasts out of my top and into her mouth and nurse her, she would lay on her left side and I on my right.
During our Mad Money hour I could have slid my nipple from her mouth — after she fell asleep of course — and left our dark room, led only by the light of our 27-inch television screen. With Mr. Crammer’s face and crappy graphics still flashing before my eyes, and thoughts of financial security (or, in my case, insecurity) racing through my mind, I could easily headed to our bathroom down the hall and carved open my wrists. I could have swallowed a handful of over-the-counter Ambien or washed down painkillers with a large glass of whiskey. (We kept both in the kitchen nearby.) I could have slipped on my black and white flip-flops, left our four-floor walkup in Brooklyn, and walked right into traffic; I could have killed myself before the credits rolled.
But I didn’t. And whether it was luck, perseverance, or apathy that kept me in that bed I cannot be sure. Somehow I stayed put; somehow I survived.
Postpartum depression is — simply put — a type of depression which affects women after childbirth. While symptoms include anger, anxiety, sadness, low energy, changes in sleeping and eating habits, and a reduced sex drive symptoms alone cannot explain the gravity of PPD, to you or those around you. You see depression is impossible to explain. It is an indiscriminate, isolating and numbing illness. While you may still scream and cry, attempting to find the cause of those tears is absurd. (They are instinctual, like a cough or sneeze, and completely beyond your control.) While you know what you “should” feel you cannot do a damn thing to change your feelings, and while you will still be alive — you physically have the ability to move, eat, and breath — you may not have the desire.
You may lose control of your mind, your feelings, and yourself. You may lose control of your life.
Day after day I woke that winter with no desire. Day after day I woke that spring with no hope. Yet hope comes in strange places, and while I never was able to snap out of it (and Jim Crammer still dominates in the 3 A.M. timeslot), I did began to see a shift, first when my daughter slept until 4 A.M. and then when she slept until 5.
It seems strange to put so much weight on morning television — to allow the likes of Lori Stokes, Ken Rosato, and Al Roker to much influence my mood — because it is. It is absurd to think they had anything to do with my recovery. But they were there the morning I opened the blinds while feeding my daughter instead of laying in the dark. They were there when I felt her body next to mine for the first time, not laying there like a hairless cat or strange stuffed animal but when I truly felt the weight of her — when I felt her little hands and paper fine nails clinging to my breast and tracing circles along my stomach, when I felt her life, when I felt my daughter.
They were there when I opened my eyes. They were there when I came alive.
Unfortunately, just because I have overcome postpartum depression doesn’t mean I am “in the clear.” You see, I struggled with depression for years — 11 years — before my pregnancy. Postpartum depression was one manifestation of that depression, but my mental illness remains. My illness will always remain. So, for me, “coming alive” doesn’t mean walking “into the light,” or finding a cure. Hoping to be “disease-free.” Instead, it means accepting my disease. Coming to terms with my disease. Coping with my disease. It means learning to live and not just survive.
For me, life is the most important part of “coming alive.”
Kimberly Zapata a regular contributor for Babble, Romper, and Sammiches and Psych Meds, and her work has been featured on Washington Post, HuffPost, Scary Mommy, BLUNTMoms, Mamalode, The Mighty, The Good Men Project, Yahoo Health, and in Lose The Cape: Never Will I Ever (and then I had kids!) and So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood (Spring 2016). Find her on Facebook. A version of this post originally appeared on Mamalode.