For most of my life I have dealt with high levels of anxiety and even have had to cope with full-blown panic attacks. The first time I can remember being worried and stressed is when I was in first grade and facing a spelling test. The need to be perfect and get the words correct began to consume me and I began to doubt my ability and worry and stress about not making parents proud.
I as I grew older, the worry and stress became worse and daily part of my life. I won’t bore you with all the things that stressed me out because honestly everything stressed me out and the need to be perfect and make people happy was the driving force in my life. Even to this day, I don’t know what I want out of life because I have spent my life trying to please other people and make them happy.
Dealing with constant anxiety and worry has caused me to develop some coping mechanisms that consist of over-planning everything, having detailed pros and cons lists, and exercise. For the past 30 plus years this has helped prevent the dementors from overtaking me. For those of you who are not familiar with the term dementors, they are creatures from the Harry Potter novels that, “glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them.” JK Rowling created these characters and they were inspired by her own struggles with depression. Anyone who has struggled, battled, and lived with depression, knows the description and characterization is very accurate. Depression is so much more than being sad, and although I had learned to live with anxiety, I had never struggled with depression, because even through all my anxiety and worry I had held onto hope and always could see the “light at the end of the tunnel”
However, something occurred in my life that caused me to become very vulnerable and prone to a dementor attack, an attack that almost broke me. I am speaking of giving birth to my son and the resulting postpartum depression that began to consume me without me realizing what was happening.
I did not know anything was truly wrong with me because I had never been a parent before or dealt with a pre-term newborn or severe sleep deprivation. So I justified my feelings as being just a result of these. When I got the courage to casually mention some the dark feelings of despair I was feeling, most people told me they were normal and just “baby blues” and that the feelings would pass or that things would soon get better. So I kept fighting through and feeling like a crap mother because I knew my son hated me and I wasn’t sure I even loved him and I felt incompetent, overwhelmed, and like I had ruined my life by having a baby….and then I felt so guilty about these feelings that I became determined to be a better mom, and would refuse all help from people to assist me with my baby.
This went on for weeks before things got so bad that I could not stop crying. I was shutting everyone out because I was so scared by the feelings and thoughts I was having….I just wanted the pain and loneliness and feelings of despair to end. I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up, because only when sleeping did I have any respite from the thoughts tormenting me.
Finally, I listened to the people telling me to get help. I needed a patronus and did not know how to summon one on my own. So, I allowed my doctor to help me. First it started with just talking to a therapist, then it was decided that my postpartum depression was severe enough to warrant some additional help with medication. This scared me and felt like maybe I was being weak relying on medication, but I have recently learned that admitting you need help and then accepting that help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
I won’t tell you that everything is perfect now, because it is not, but I am learning to understand and accept that not everything needs to be perfect to be happy. I know that I will have bad days and the dementors will try to suck the happiness out of me, but I know I have the ability and tools to fight the dementors and just admitting that I have dementors makes me stronger and better able to fight.
Writing all of this was not easy for me. I am someone who hates to admit weakness, but what I now know is that admitting I live each day dealing with depression, and anxiety actually shows how strong I am, and the same goes for all those people out there dealing with their own dementors. Keep fighting those dementors, you are not alone and you are stronger than you think.