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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Let's Talk About Guilt

This isn't a book post so if you're looking for book-ish writer-ly things come back tomorrow. This is a post about the fallout of depression. About the Why behind the stigma.

A few days ago I was chatting with another neighborhood mom I met at the playground and we wound up talking about exercise and finding the time. "It's so hard to find time!" she lamented as she pushed her ten-month-old on the swing.

"Tell me about it," I agreed as Bunny ran around like a small tornado.

The other mom gave me some serious side-eye and spent the next ten minutes trying to tactfully remind me that I don't look anything like someone who makes time for exercise. My standard excuse has always been, "That last pregnancy took it out of me. I had trouble recovering from the c-section."

To which her reply was, "How old is your daughter?"

Um... nearly three?

The worst part isn't the fat shaming. There is an underlying current of "Why are you eating you hideous fat person? Shame! Shame and dishonor! No food for you! Go run more laps!" but that's not even close to the worst part.

The worst part is I don't really remember the first 18 months of my youngest child's life.

I think we have a picture or two from that first year. There's one of me looking like a blue slug melting on the couch taken by someone when we came home with the baby. And there's a few of Bunny herself, but that's it. I have no clear memories of that year.

What did she wear for Halloween? No clue. When did she get her first tooth? Say her first word? Take her first steps?

I lost all of that to the fog of depression. It wasn't drugs or alcohol that stole more than a year of my life away, it was fatigue, depression, and anemia. And it's horrible.

I feel guilty any time someone talks about when their baby first walked, because I don't remember when Bunny did. I could tell you, roughly, when all her siblings did because I journaled, and video taped, and blogged about it. I quit writing in my journal when we moved to Florida, which was a few weeks before I found out I was pregnant. I didn't keep a record.

I feel guilty about not keeping a journal. I feel guilty that I don't remember those months between my daughter's birth and when she weaned and the depression started to lift. All I remember is unending, spirit-breaking fatigue. There were days when breathing seemed to hard and all I wanted to do was stop because it took too much energy. There were days where the mountain of chores was soul-destroying and I felt so isolated I wondered why I even bothered to get out of bed.

It was a really rough time and it's not something you can bring up in casual conversation.

No one accepts "I was really depressed the past few years." as a reason why you're overweight. Trust me. I tried. Doesn't work. The first thing any fitness buff will tell you (myself and my doctor included!) is that physical exercise is great for depression! Thirty minutes of activity boosts endorphin production and makes you happier.

I've known that for years and it still didn't help. Depression sucks your energy away. And weight loss is such a judgmental thing that even if everyone is super supportive and never says a word 99.9999% of people who go back to working out during a bout of depression will quit because they're judging themselves.

It's really easy to quit working out and really hard to force yourself to get back to it when you hate everything about yourself. It's even riskier if you're at risk for eating disorders, which I was and probably am.

So, let's talk about the guilt.

I feel guilty for having postpartum depression.

That's a fact. It's not rational. It's not logical. I can show you pages and pages of peer reviewed research explaining what caused the postpartum depression and how it wasn't a choice I made or something I could really control. I can show you, and myself, how common this sort of thing is. But it won't change how I feel.

If you're here hoping I have a solution for this, I don't. Not yet. I'm as clueless as you are. Maybe all this will ever be is a horrible warning to other people: TAKE PICTURES! WRITE THINGS DOWN! SCRAPBOOK! DO SOMETHING TO REMEMBER THIS BY!

As much as people rage against selfies, I wish I'd had the self-confidence to take a few during that first year of Bunny's life. I wish I'd taken the family photos, even if it meant being in front of a camera not looking like a model.

But, for now, as Bunny climbs in my lap for a cuddle, I'm going to enjoy the time I can spend with my nearly-three-year-old. And, if this is as good as it ever gets, I'm content with remembering right now and having these times of joy.


  1. Thank you for writing this post. I've never been there. I don't have kids. But I think it's important to see this side of it.

  2. Thank you for sharing this, Liana. At least you know it wasn't your fault, and you still have Bunny. You can remember her life from now on. It's ever so much worse when your newborn dies right away, just weeks before you have to move out of state for a new job and lose your entire support network.

    1. Tammy, I really hope that wasn't real story. I don't think I would have survived a situation like that. *hugs*

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    3. Sadly, that is my real story, yes. We had no choice but to cremate our little girl, so we could move. Several years later, when her grandmother died, the funeral director let us slip our little girl's cremains in with her grandma, so that was sweet.
      There was nothing that we could do for our little girl, nothing that would have changed the outcome, but that didn't stop me from feeling horribly guilty for years afterward. Then, after my husband died about eight years ago, I also felt horribly guilty, for not knowing enough to recognize the symptoms he had, symptoms that several doctor friends of ours said they hadn't noticed, either. The guilt was still there, and it took me years to let that guilt go, too.
      I certainly understand your own bouts with guilt and depression. You're on your way through recovery, though, and that's the most important thing.

  3. Anyone who has ever suffered from depression or dealt with it by being with a person who suffers from it understands that it IS a reason for not exercising. I've had some bad things happen to me and the hardest thing has to be forcing myself to actually get moving when depression hits. And I don't get as depressed as my spouse and child do.

    All you can do about the guilt is accept that something beyond your control happened and forgive yourself. Because it was beyond your control. You didn't ask for it, you didn't encourage it, and you certainly didn't go looking for it. But it happened and now you've moved on.

    I'm not saying you're fully recovered because it sounds like you aren't. But you are recovering and now you're dealing with the results. First thing you have to do is accept that it wasn't your fault and stop feeling guilty. Second thing you have to do is put it behind you.

    You might not remember anything from Bunny's first year but there were other people around who do. Your girls, other friends and relatives. Ask them for details. But don't worry about remembering details. If Bunny wants to know them when she gets older you can have a discussion with her then. For now, she's three and that is it's own magical time.

    You have a responsibility to yourself and your family to make sure you recover so take care of yourself and let the guilt go. Don't worry about what other people think and judge. They weren't in your shoes and if they don't understand, then that's their issue. Don't make it yours.

    1. *hugs Ilnara*

      I may print this and hang it over my desk until I manage to move past the guilt and accept that some things are out of my control.

      Thank you. You give the best pep talks. :)

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    3. You're welcome. :)

      Most of this comes from personal experience. Guilt almost destroyed me once and it took me years to accept and understand that I had no reason to feel guilty. So anytime I can possibly help someone else deal with misplaced guilt I tell them what I finally figured out. It doesn't make the guilt go away but it can save them some time in figuring this out.