In 2009, I gave birth to my second son via emergency C-section. I then spent the better part of a year battling severe postpartum anxiety. It was a runaway train I didn’t see coming and it was the sort that hit me on any given day without any notice. It left me exhausted, disoriented and wondering whether I would ever feel normal again. And the worst part, in the beginning, was that no one knew what was wrong with me. Despite seeing two obstetricians, two midwives and taking a trip to the emergency room, the only diagnosis I was given was nausea due to my hormones rebalancing. Thank God for a gorgeous friend of mine who had a background in clinical psychology and knew exactly what I was dealing with. I don’t know what I would have done without her. Or without a number of people who supported me during that tough season.
Having a definitive diagnosis was only the first small step to getting better. The next 11 months were nothing short of traumatic. As a family, we were in a constant state of crisis management as we struggled to determine what I could handle each day – physically, mentally and emotionally. I was used to being “in control” – a real self-sufficient kind of girl. Even an hour of this “foolishness” was too much for me! My brain was telling me that I needed to get this all under control so I could resume normal, responsible activity. But the reality was, I was in a crisis and needed help to find my way out.
There were a number of strategic people in my life who helped me get through the year I dubbed “the year from hell.” For starters, my husband was a saint, lovingly picking up whatever I couldn’t hold during this difficult season. But there were also a number of key girlfriends and family members who stepped into the gap for me. Their presence, and what they did for me during this time, made all the difference in how I ultimately got through this illness and came out the other side stronger for it.
Even though they couldn’t fully understand my situation, my friends and family still showed up. We lived in a borough outside of Manhattan in an area that wasn’t the easiest to access by public transportation. Nevertheless, people came. They came to cook meals and to sit with me so I wouldn’t be alone. There were people who came to pray with me and some who came to take care of my kids. There was always someone with me – and someone else made sure that was the case. In this sort of crisis, full understanding of the situation isn’t necessary. Unconditional presence and support is.
They actively loved and cared for the people I would have loved and cared for – had I been able. I have gorgeous memories of one of my girlfriends rocking and soothing my newborn son, holding him up to her face and kissing him and singing to him. I had friends who spent nights with me for days on end while my husband was out of town on business. It gave me and my kids some sense of normalcy while their mother was trying to get better. My best friend changed every one of my newborn son’s diapers for the first two weeks while she sat with me day in and day out. And I had family who took us in for weeks at a time so that my husband could be freed up to concentrate on supporting his family through his work without having to worry about me. My friends and family stood in the gap for me, pouring love and attention into the people and things I would have poured into had I been well. They didn’t do it their way either. They did it the way they knew I would want it to be done. That meant so much to me and came across so clearly as an act of love.
My friends and family gave me hope that I’d get through it, but they never made me hurry. When you’re as self-sufficient and “in control” as I was before I got sick, you don’t do anything “organically.” You don’t let anything pass in its own time. You grab that bull by its horns and make it submit! But with this condition, I wasn’t able to do that. I didn’t even have the ability to want to do that or to even pray on a regular basis that I would get better. When you are the self-sufficient type and people start to help you – and you need them to help you – fear can start to creep in. What if they leave? What if they get tired of helping and I’m not better yet? Or worse, what if they grow tired of me – of the fact that I’m not progressing as quickly as they think I should – and decide that enough is enough? Fortunately, I had friends and family who told me to take all the time I needed. There eventually came a time when I was able to rise up and actively take part in my healing, but that time didn’t come for almost twelve full months. My support system suffered long and loved hard.
I share these things because they can help anyone in a crisis they didn’t see coming – an unexpected and significant illness, the death of a family member, a divorce. When people suffer at this level, they don’t need advice and they don’t need a coaching session. What they need is love and patience and kindness. What helps are acts of service and laughter and just being present; prayer and lots of hugs. And I found it to be the most sacred of help when someone sacrificed themselves to be a virtual “stand-in” for me when I couldn’t stand up and do things in my own strength.