I will never forget the relief I felt the first time someone looked at me and said “Miranda, you’re depressed. This is depression.”
In that moment, my moods, the sadness, anger, rage, all of it, had a place. Slowly, with therapy, dedication to getting better, and through the twists of fate which started me on the path to the life I now live, I got better. I learned to cope. I healed.
I climbed the mountain of depression and anxiety. I’ve climbed it many times since, with the landscape of that mountain changing every time.
On Sunday I climbed a real mountain.
Sunday was the Climb Out of the Darkness for Postpartum Progress. A group of Atlanta Warrior Moms, their spouses and friends, and supporters of our cause, met at the foot of Stone Mountain, and together, we climbed. (You can still donate to the COTD Atlanta Team until the 30th, by the way.)
To be honest, I hadn’t wanted to go.
I looked around the house and surveyed the wreckage that comes with prepping a house for sale and moving and thought of all the other things that needed to take priority in my life. I heard the nagging voice of my anxiety telling me that I couldn’t climb if I wasn’t healthy. Why should I? How could I?
But still, I went. I had to. I had made a promise to others to be there.
The buzz and energy at our meeting place was palpable as people prepared to climb Stone Mountain, which definitely helped to invigorate me. I cried hearing Katherine speak about her experience as a new mother and the events that led her to found Postpartum Progress. (I almost always cry hearing a fellow Warrior Mom tell her story.) And then it was time to climb.
Once we started on the trail, I found myself alone, and if there’s one place I hate to be it’s alone in semi-social settings. As an extrovert I thrive on interacting with others. I crave companionship and camaraderie. We were all climbing together but I was climbing alone.
I tried to rally myself with the thought that others were climbing with me, all over the world, actually, but I couldn’t find peace. My heart beat harder and faster, both from the exertion walking the rocky trail and from the anxiety of being alone.
I stopped to catch my breath and slow my heart and thought about turning back. The “rules” of the Climb Out of Darkness just state that you do what you can, even if you just stand in the sun. I could’ve gone home then and that would’ve been enough. I wanted to turn around and go home.
From behind, I heard Katherine call my name and ask me to wait. It was kismet. Serendipity.
She caught up to me and together we walked the rest of the way up the mountain, talking, not talking, stopping to breathe when we needed to, but together instead of alone.
My feet felt like lead for much of the upper part of the mountain, my usually long stride reduced to small steps. Slow and steady, one step at a time.
We were just shy of the summit when I thought that was really the end of my climb. I would have to stop and go back down, physically unable to continue on.
It felt a lot like laboring with Emma. The end was so close but I thought the physical pain of going any further might break me. I knew it was almost over but the mental hurdle of finishing was enormous.
The summit was so close. It was right there! We could see people milling about at the top. Thankful to have made it there or having taken the easy way up, we couldn’t be sure, but there they were.
Katherine had to go find her family, and I couldn’t abandon her or I’d be alone again. I was “complete” so there was no turning back. I stood on shaky legs to go with her, and as we crested the top of Stone Mountain, her husband and children greeted us both.
We did it.
I’ve never been ashamed to say I had postpartum depression, not even when I was in the thick of it, and no matter what others may have said or thought about my openness with my struggle. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve always been something of a chronic oversharer or because I just believe so deeply in speaking our truths when we can when it comes to mental illness.
But I have been ashamed to have postpartum depression. Or just regular depression and my old friend anxiety.
I’ve been ashamed because I like to think of myself as too strong to be overcome by things like that, but even strong people are vulnerable. While the external stigma surrounding mental illness is terrible, sometimes I think the internal stigma is worse.
We are, after all, our own worst enemies.
The truth is that sometimes I’m not strong. Sometimes I need help.
Sunday I climbed out of my own darkness. (With a little help from my friends.)