"There is no point treating a depressed person as though she were just feeling sad, saying, 'There now, hang on, you'll get over it.' Sadness is more or less like a head cold- with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer."
I remember the day this picture was taken. I think Tito was around three months old. It was a Sunday, and our first time back at church since his birth. We met many of our friends; there were lots of ooohs and aaahs , people carrying him in turns, we took some pictures with a couple of them. And the entire time, I was silently screaming.
My husband took this picture in the parking lot. I didn't want it, but he insisted. He said, "You're his mother, and he loves you." And I plastered on the smile I had learnt how to fake effortlessly. I've come back to this picture many times. It once made me so sad I would have to look away. Now it causes my heart to ache, but I have gained perspective.
So here I am, pulling back the curtain, peeling off the scabs...this isn't easy. It hurts to remember. It's quite late, my husband's staying up with me tonight because he knows how hard this is. I'm already crying. It frightens me to share it. But this experience has taught me that I can't be quiet...not when so many lost at sea.
Look at that picture. Do you see a woman in pain? Does she look sad, low, stressed, angry? No. And for those of you that know me, would you ever have tagged me to some day suffer from severe depression? I sure didn't. My family didn't. My husband never saw it coming. It was like an earthquake, right out of nowhere; and we were buried under tonnes of rock, with no light...not even a glimmer.
For a long while, we didn't realize that something wasn't right. At first, we thought it was the shock of becoming parents. Then we acknowledged that our boy's colic was an extraordinary issue, making our experience harder than the norm. But around the third week mark, I reached the conclusion that I was a complete failure of a mother. I'll never forget sitting on our bed one afternoon, breastfeeding my son, tears streaming down my face. I whispered, "I am so sorry you got me as your mom. I wish you had been given to another woman, who could take care of you". I held my son and wept.
For the longest time, I couldn't connect with him emotionally. Postpartum depression does that; you love your child so hard your heart can't bear it, but you look at him and feel only sadness. Or you feel numb. They cry and you feel nothing. They smile at you and you feel nothing. They reach out for you to pick them up and you turn away. It is an astonishingly brutal kind of hell. But I never asked for help.
My sleep deprivation only fanned the flames. I started to cry constantly. In the shower, in the kitchen, and as I drove. I would hide in people's bathrooms when we visited, and cry. I cried in the pediatrician's office, who by the way told me, "It will pass." I cried in the supermarket, at the mall, in a booth at Java...I cried everywhere. But I never asked for help.
And then the rage came. I can't begin to describe it; a white hot molten blinding rage, at the entire world. My husband took the full brunt of it. He couldn't do anything right. I lost all rational thought. I was angry because he came home five minutes late. I was angry because he forgot to buy bananas on the way home. I was angry because... because everything. I once got so incredibly angry that I couldn't see straight. We were taking too long to leave the house packing and repacking the diaper bag, that I got the urge to break something. I walked into the kitchen, and took out all our plates. I wanted to throw them at the wall and hear them break, see the shards scatter everywhere. I felt it was the only way I could open a pressure valve and decompress. I needed to BREAK SOMETHING. I was boiling with this uncontrollable rage. I don't think I'll ever know what made me put the plates back into the cabinets. It could have been embarrassment, my housekeeper was in the kitchen. But I think it was God's mercy. On all of us, especially my husband, because that would have petrified and destroyed him all at once.
My son's crying started to sound like nails dragging across a blackboard. I couldn't take it anymore. One evening while I was home alone with him, I put him in his cot, locked the apartment and went and sat in our car. I was there about 10 minutes, and could still hear him screaming, as I bent over the steering wheel, crying my eyes out. And still I didn't ask for help.
I developed intrusive thoughts; I could not control them. They did cartwheels in my head day and night; thoughts that my utter incapability to mother my son was going to one day kill him. I might forget him in the car. I might turn to grab the soap and he would drown in his tub. I fell asleep in chairs constantly while holding him at night and felt certain that one day he would slip out of my arms and onto the cold tiles. I might get distracted and he could crawl into the fireplace. We didn't even have a fireplace. One day I started to imagine what the picture would look like if I wasn't in it. Would my husband marry a better wife, a better mother for my son? Why continue? Our little family was little more than a battered palm tree in the middle of a super storm, stripped of its leaves, it's bark...seconds away from splintering into a million pieces. And it was all because of me. Because I couldn't do what my body was made to do, which is have a natural birth. Because I couldn't nurse my child from day one. Because I couldn't calm him, shush him to sleep. Because I couldn't be showered and pretty by 9am every morning. I couldn't perform simple tasks like grocery shopping or going to church without having a complete meltdown. THIS WAS A MISTAKE. I wasn't made for this. I'm defective. The thoughts swirled in a whirlpool in my brain. My husband, my son and I, we were in free fall.
What is unbelievable, is how I kept it all hidden, behind my killer smile and witty conversation. I could still host guests and hang out with friends. I still made people laugh, could wear a dress and make up if I had to. Because that's who Wambui Kariuki was. I had to live up to my name, my reputation. My own parents, my siblings, never saw it. I developed an alter ego of my former self, and concealed my new broken self. I was able to project clear blue skies, even as I was in a tailspin in this storm. And it almost killed me.
There's a reason I've been this detailed in my story. I need you to see that this can happen to ANY WOMAN...of any race, any childbearing age, any upbringing, any level of education, any financial status. It excludes no one. It's taken three and a half years to accept that. I have carried the burden on my back since Tito's birth, that I was never meant to have children, and that my son would forever suffer because of my inability to take care of him like he needed me to. The guilt has been like a second skin. I have watched other women so effortlessly handle their kids, and I have felt a deep shame. To be honest, this happens to me quite a bit even now. I have felt like such a fraud; people will tell me how great I am as a mother and I want to scream, "This is all a lie!'. I've felt the weight of "who I once was". I had myself on a pedestal, felt like I had to stay "PERFECT." I was Wambui; the doctor, the singer, the writer, the delightful wife, with a knight in shining armour for a husband. I didn't fit the criteria for insanity. And yet here I was, entombed in this disease my bones turning to dust.
How this ends is a bonafide miracle. In my denial and foolish stubbornness, I refused to seek help. My husband did everything to get me to see a psychiatrist. We had now reached a place of acceptance. I was frighteningly sick. But I had it in my mind that I was not a loony bin candidate. I wasn't going to have some quack tinker about in my brain and pump me with meds that would turn me into some dribbling, mumbling shell of myself. I have my Psychiatry rotation in med school to thank for those fears. All I kept seeing was those schizophrenic patients at Mathare Mental Hospital we had to interview. Nope. It wasn't happening. I was not a basket case. The irony of a person with a mental illness denying that she had it, with five years of medical school to her name.
We came very close to getting help one day. My husband went ahead and made an appointment, actually got me into the car, and drove me to a psychiatrist's office. We sat in the waiting room; he put his arm around me to stop the shaking...I was shaking head to toe from terror. It was a small room, with gaudy green chairs, there was a smell of chlorine. The receptionist kept smiling at me...that small smile you give to patients in hospital. My husband put a plastic cup of cold water in my hand. I drank a little, then wanted to throw it all up. And the shaking, I couldn't get it to stop. I sat thinking, "Well. Here we are then. Life sure hasn't turned out like I expected it to. How the mighty have fallen."
This young lady walked in with her mother. They sat next to us, and we were all quiet for a few minutes watching some music videos on the TV in the room. She kept staring right at me. She had bright red lipstick, and a green satin blouse. Suddenly this girl shot to her feet, and began to scream at the rapper on the screen. I gripped my husband's arm in fear, wanting to run. He whispered, "Don't move." She continued screaming at the rapper, calling him a fake and how she could out-rap him any place, any day. She then whirled around, stood in front of us, and began to rap. Loudly! Guys, it was....crazy. Literally. She then gave a loud shout and started jumping about. That was the last straw for me. I shot out of my chair and walked out. I didn't even wait for my husband. I just walked out. He hurried after me. We stood outside the elevator in silence, not looking at each other. The doors opened, and there was one other man inside. We were all quiet. He came off the next floor. The doors closed again, and I looked up, into my husband's eyes. Then the balloon popped. We burst out laughing hysterically. I could barely stand, we were holding onto each other HOWLING. The doors opened at the ground floor and we tumbled out like two cats caught up in each other, still laughing. People were staring at us, and we didn't care. I remember gasping, "I need a bathroom! This is too much!".
We got to the car, and laughed our hearts out. It was the first time in six months that we had laughed for real, looked at each other, into each other, found each other. I shouted, "Babe, I'm sick...but I ain't CRAY CRAY!".
Guys, we laughed for forever. He held my face, and gazed into my eyes, my heart. He said, "It's good to see you again my beloved." I replied, "I'm here. I'm here".
He kissed me, our tears mingling, and we thanked God.
Then we drove home; back to our son, and our life.
And the healing began.
Christian, wife, mom, doctor, and an alien on earth, on my way to the city of God.