Day 2 – Masked.

In the recent month or so following my blog’s publication, I have had people asking me, “Were you really depressed? How?” “You didn’t look like it!! I’d never have guessed!” “So sorry I could not be there for you”…

This did not come as a surprise per se, so I’d reply, courteously, I didn’t know how to break it to them that I couldn’t love the handsome boy whose photos I loved to post on Facebook, like this one when he was just a few weeks old, and this one too. Why I couldn’t just relate to all the love moms felt, and why it was distant, very hazy for me. To put this in perspective with today’s entry of my 30 day writing challenge, I will explain why I did not open up to many people, and this is inclusive of family too.

So, Facebook has this thing where they post up your memories of years gone by. One particular memory lept at me today as I was scrolling down my Newsfeed. In the post, which you can check out here, the caption is simple, and my friend Morris certainly had no idea the weight of the words in the pic. My reply was typical, but in real sense, I was depressed to the core. Forget those status updates posted in the moment when depression hadn’t reared its ugly head.

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Image: Solace Services

I shelved away sharing the pain and anguish of Post Partum Depression (PPD) for many reasons. First, I did not know any other mommy locally who had gone through this. Weren’t moms supposed to be excited at the birth of their bundles of joy? Didn’t moms bond immediately with their little ones? and c’mon, who slaps a kid less than 6 months? There was something wrong with me, yes, I knew that. I just couldn’t define it. In that haze, when asked how we, baby and I were doing, my response was ‘Fine’. Truth is, that was a fallacy. Hidden well under the smiles, filtered photos and timely words, with absolutely no nuances of a mother who was wrecked.

With no point of reference for what I was going through, how could I start to explain to another person all these? The heartache of a mother’s love for her child waxed cold? They’d never understand, at all. Where do you start to tell the struggles when the person you are conversing with will be a mom in a fortnight? Wouldn’t that discourage her/ dishearten her? I didn’t want to be *that* mother for a soon-to-be-mom. it would be worse to explain that to most of my guy friends too. Don’t even get me started on the relatives section. The few I am close to probably wouldn’t get it, I mean, they had happy families, plus this would be a first.

And so I caved in with the walls that had long stood for inner fortitude. Everything I knew about strength came tumbling down like a house of cards. While at it, I wore the mask, pretty well. But my immediate family can attest to the fact that the ,mask did slip off from time to time. When it did, they were astounded, flabbergasted is more like it. “Why do you beat him so much? Can’t you love him? What’s wrong with you?” A conversation I had with my mom then altered my life’s trajectory. She said it in vernacular, I will try to translate it: “Why do you harbor such intense hatred for your child? YOUR child? You are a single mom, if you don’t love him, who is gonna love him? Who will accept him?…” After those words, everything else she said was drowned by my tears. Hot tears.

That conversation, I will never forget. It drove a knife into my heart, because it was true, but especially because I didn’t know how to pull myself from that place of hatred, an uncontrollable feeling of jus existing. She would not understand, evidently. And so the mask became my best friend. Around people, I was this bubbly mommy, taking photos and all, smiling, eating, and for much of the first 6 months, shoving nyonyo in my son’s mouth for breastfeeding. When they went, I got rid of the mask, and yelled, screamt, cried my heart out. Ever cried so much, you can swear your pillow has saline deposits? Yup, that was me, the real me, the depressed mom who couldn’t admit to the fact that something was wrong.

I opened up to a couple of friends, one, my guy friend (with dreadlocks, Thank you Jesus) who stood by me for pretty much the whole journey. Granted, he didn’t understand what all this was, but he was there. And the fact that he was present meant the world to me. He listened to my whiny, sobby, screamy self, and never once judged. Looking back, it made a HUGE difference, I am forever indebted to him (I miss you!). My second pal, a lady I schooled with in High School, who offered that shoulder to lean on, the shoulder that didn’t mind getting drenched from tears; she called for hours on end, and let me pour myself out, much as she was not a mom (but she is gonna be one soon, Congrats honey). She continues to encourage, inspire and challenge me.

My point, staying masked was not out of choice as such. It was a way to survive the scrutiny that’d result if I opened up. Scrutiny and Judgment. As a result, I try as much as possible to be in  a state of quiescence when interacting with a friend who is going through the motions. I learnt, first hand, that been present, sometimes, is all that one can do, and all that may make the difference.

Know a mom who is suffering in silence? Or one who is depressed post-partum? Would you make a point to reach out, gently? To let them know that while you may not understand or ‘feel’ what they are going through, that at the very least, you will be there? Above all, that there is a friend who is closer than a brother, one who will never leave you nor forsake you? His name is Jesus. He is alive.

Featured Photo Credits: Ashley Barnes

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