The Old Me is Gone: Looking Back on Postpartum Depression

Lauren Palmer

1:35 PM (2 minutes ago)

The author walking on a beautiful autumn day while appreciating the beauty of coral roses.
The author walking on a beautiful autumn day while appreciating the beauty of coral roses.
I started writing this story as a social media post for World Mental Health Day, but it deserved more than an Instagram caption.

Here’s the truth, the complex reality impossible to convey in chirpy Instagram posts or check-in texts with friends: I haven’t felt like the same person since having post-partum depression two years ago. It’s partly the inherent exhaustion of parenting two kids, and also that the world has basically been a fiery hell scape for the majority of my second daughter’s life. And while the trauma of 2020 was enough to make anyone depressed, my own personal history commanded a more honest reckoning. The homeostasis that used to come easily to me for so many years just doesn’t anymore. I have to work a lot harder for the good days, and I’m more grateful for them.

I spent much of 2019 feeling really frustrated with my new reality, with the fact that after more than ten years of remission, depression was back — fogging my brain, twisting reality, and making me doubt my own worth. Medication helps. Exercise helps. Child care helps. But the thing no one really tells you about depression is that even when you’re better, the worst of it never truly leaves you. Part of you always carries that pain, because depression opens a chasm within you that you can never truly unsee — like discovering a new color that is invisible to everyone but you. Even when you’re better, there’s a shadow pain. You always know it’s there, and you live in fear of sliding back to it.

Some days are great, light — and I almost feel like “Old Lauren.” And some days it feels like my brain is set to a different radio frequency than the rest of the world, a joyless and bleak broadcast of hateful self-talk, catastrophic projections, and recaps of my worst memories and biggest failures.

I once heard depression described as a mental blindness to optimism, and as someone who considers her zeal for life to be her very best quality, I spent a lot of time last year worrying that I’d lost my spark. When it took me 20 minutes to write a short email that I later noticed was riddled with typos. When I sat down to write, my happy place, and couldn’t string together anything beyond a stilted account of the day’s events. When I was chatting with an acquaintance and my brain couldn’t produce an eloquent sentence to save my life. On those days, I felt like a superhero who lost her powers. I’ve always identified as someone who wants to live my life full throttle — packed with as much connection and kindness and adventure and joy and love and fun and courage as I can.

But if 2020 taught me anything, it’s that you can’t live life to the fullest every. single. day. Some days you just have to endure. Carpe a different damn diem because this one sucks. And that’s okay! Accepting that feeling instead of beating myself up at my lack of gratitude for EVERY! LITTLE! MOMENT! has been a game changer.

As my baby turned two and the crushing weight of this new phase began to lift, I wondered if I could let go of the eternal pity party. Did I really need to shame myself for having depression on top of the struggle of having depression? What if depressive seasons are just a normal part of life for most people, and there was not in fact some broken piece of my brain I needed to uncover and fix before life could begin again? Was I really still depressed or just hung up on what the depression took from me? At what point was I choosing to focus on the jagged edges instead of the incredible beauty in the center of it all? I decided to stop waiting for my brain to magically flip to the smooth jazz of Life FM and empower myself to control whatever variables I could. I found cognitive behavioral therapy and started learning how to call BS on harmful thoughts, choosing new ones that got me closer to where I want to be. I decided to let the bad days be bad, and enjoy the hell out of the great ones. Life didn’t feel quite the same as before I became a mother, but why did I think that it should? Every single element of my life has changed, and maybe the vision of myself I’ve been clinging to these past few years could stand to evolve, too.

And you know what? I’m starting to think Old Lauren had those sucky days too. I’m quite certain she felt overwhelmed and disconnected and lost, probably just as often as she felt joyful and witty and carefree. Time has a way of filtering out the static, and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and who we’re becoming play a big role in the way we remember our own self-history.

We can never go back to who we used to be. As much as I longed to feel like Old Lauren, she didn’t know the joy of holding her two beautiful baby girls. She had never watched two little people she brought into this world giggling over inside jokes and snuggling in bed together. Old Lauren had more time to herself, but she didn’t have the wisdom, resilience, and determination of New Lauren. New Lauren has more worries and deeper scars, but she has more character and grit, too. I know which one I’d rather be.

One day last fall, I was walking outside on a beautifully brilliant autumn day. A perfect day. It was one of those days so stunning that the sunshine seems to touch every part of you, like your soul has thrown open a window to let in some fresh air. I clutched a bouquet of coral roses and realized for the first time they were my favorite flower. “I made it. It’s over. It’s behind me now,” I thought to myself. And of course it wasn’t really, but that doesn’t matter. Because in that moment I didn’t feel the gaping darkness and realized it wasn’t the center of my life anymore. It was moving away from me, receding back from whence it came. I had turned the corner on that particular blackness. And though my lightness was accompanied by the sure knowledge that another dark time would visit me in the future, I wouldn’t be so afraid of it next time.

New Lauren lives in a world that brings sorrow and suffering, the same world that contains absolute miracles like a good friend’s laughter and baby feet and coral-colored roses and brilliant autumn days. How great is it, the promise of every new day? Each filled with magnitudes of unknown wonder, just waiting for us to discover if we can set down the past and — knowingly, gratefully — step into ourselves and all that awaits us.

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