The first time I remember being depressed, truly depressed, the world had narrowed to three colors – the green of the grass, the white of the sidewalk, and the crisp blue of a cloudless sky. I and one of my fellow high school seniors lounged on the grass behind the cafeteria during a free period. Daydreaming about slipping into the soft spring air, I asked, “Do you ever wish you could just fall asleep and never wake up?”
The look she gave me told me she hadn’t, and that I probably shouldn’t mention anything like it ever again.
I had several spells of depression and anxiety as I went through college, graduate school, and then into my career as a health psychologist. I finally did decide it was okay to seek help, try antidepressants, and go to therapy when needed. The theme was always the same – my psyche doesn’t handle change well. And life brings change, sometimes drastically.
About twenty years after that tricolor afternoon, my husband and I sat in a reproductive endocrinologist’s office. The sky hung close and heavy with an impending winter storm, and the doctor gave us the statistics on how unlikely it was for someone with endometriosis to conceive without medical help. We didn’t have tens of thousands of dollars for fertility procedures, and I doubt I could have tolerated the hormonal manipulation that goes with them.
Infertility plus depression brings a double whammy of not reaching the pinnacle of womanliness, at least according to society’s messages, and not being “strong” enough to handle it. I’m unworthy. Defective. Undeserving. All because my uterus doesn’t want to produce little humans, never mind all my other accomplishments.
I’d always imagined having kids, so now there were holes in my mental landscape. Several of my thoughts had included things like, “when I have kids, I’ll do ____,” or “I’ll have to plan to adjust for _____.” This time of year would bring someday plans of cute kid Halloween costumes, cooking together for the holidays, and how we’d work Christmas morning.
That particular spring brought several other griefs and challenges, and by the time we hit the summer solstice, I struggled to get up and go to work. While not suicidal, I would have been okay with going to sleep and not waking up. Because mind and body are connected, I ended up with a six-week lower GI bug, further contributing to my misery.
Depression is very good at twisting what others say to isolate you further. It’s a blessing that Hubby never saw himself with kids because at least I’m not disappointing him, but when he told me, my depressed brain heard, “I don’t want kids with you.” I couldn’t believe he wasn’t rejecting me, although he wasn’t. We’re in a better place now that I can hear what he’s saying, not what my brain twisted his words into. He is my biggest support, and I’m so grateful I can see that now.
As for community support, it was limited. Infertility, something involving those unmentionable parts, brings silent, unshareable grief, so I’ve barely talked about it. Going to church wasn’t a comfort – you can only hear the phrase “virgin and mother” so many times before feeling like a double failure. When my mother updated me about her friends’ grandkids, I heard the message that I’d disappointed my parents. Talking to my friends didn’t help, at least not the ones with kids. Either I’d be excluded from kid talk, or well-meaning moms would get this weird glazed-over expression and say stuff like, “Having children is the most wonderful but most challenging thing I’ve ever done.” I see now they were trying to be comforting, but the message I got was, “You don’t even deserve to try.”
My saving graces were my practice, my writing, and a gray tabby kitten. I’m thankful for my day job because being a private practice psychologist forces me to be present with someone else and outside my head. My stories gave me a way to simultaneously distract and process. For example, Iris’s grief in Eros Element reflects some of my own, that sensation of being fragile and cracked in the middle. I felt cracked for a year, and like Iris having to hide her grief so no one would find out about her father’s death, I felt I couldn’t publicly show my grief, either.
As for the kitten, well, all you have to do is follow me on social media to know that Timothy Mouse is now the world’s cutest cat and is always ready with a purr and snuggle when I need it.
I’m still in therapy dealing with this script change, and I’m coming to accept it gradually. I still have rough days, and I probably will be avoiding social media over the next couple of months because seeing everyone’s cute holiday kid pictures still feels like a punch to the gut. At least now I don’t have the bizarre combination of being happy but wanting to cry when I hear about a friend getting pregnant. Okay, maybe I do, but I don’t usually cry anymore. And when I do, Hubby is there with a hug.
This was really hard to write, but I hope it helps those of you struggling with infertility and/or depression. Please know you’re not alone even though it can feel like it. You’re not defective. You’re a complete, wonderful human being just as you are, and you deserve every good thing that comes to you. Please get the help you need. Hugs.
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight