When you are childless not by choice, odds are you will find yourself entering into some type of grieving process. The degree with which you experience this grief varies from person to person. Some people make it out the other side relatively unscathed; Others never make it out, instead remaining stuck in a jumbled mess of emotions including loneliness, shame, bitterness and despair (just to name a few of the big, nasty ones). Worse even than this may be those who find themselves without the ability to feel anything at all, moving through their life with a fog of nothingness hanging over them that never lifts.
And then there are those of us whose grief becomes something dangerous. If you already struggle with recurring episodes of anxiety and clinical depression, the infertility journey can end up being a road that leads you down into a hole so deep and dark there may only seem to be one way out. I know this firsthand. It’s not just my infertility story, it’s part of my life story and although it may be embarrassing or shameful to tell it, it’s so important that I do. I got very lucky and got the help I needed from people who weren’t afraid to tell their stories and stand with me through all of this. We need these people in our world, and I want to be one of these people.
I thought I had accepted my childlessness once and for all. I really believed that I had made some type of uneasy peace with it, until I came to see that I was only pushing my real feelings down deep inside where I would not have to deal with them. Still, no matter how deep I stuffed them, they began to bubble back up and seep out in ways I could no longer control. Anger, depression, anxiety and panic attacks, self-harm… all of these became my reality. The extreme pain I felt, day in and day out, led to my suicidal thoughts and planning. I knew of no other way to make the pain stop and I believed that the it would never stop unless I took charge and ended my life. I began obsessing about how I would kill myself, what method I would use, where I would do it and when. I began telling my husband that I wanted to do it so he would not be shocked or surprised when it finally happened. On a Sunday morning, in the midst of an argument with him that escalated to screaming and yelling due to my anger and despair, I sent a text to a man I used to know (someone who I never wanted to speak to again) and told him that he would be happy to know that I was planning to kill myself today. The scary thing is, I meant it; I had finally had enough of my life and knew I could not endure the depression and hopelessness anymore. I felt worthless and I just wanted it to be over. Despite the fact that this previous “acquaintance” was someone I held great hatred and un-forgiveness towards, he called the police and they showed up at my house. They told me that if I didn’t voluntarily check myself into the emergency room for a psychiatric evaluation, they would drag me there themselves and do it for me. Surprisingly, this ended up being one of the best things that has ever happened to me and I find myself in a strange situation… feeling truly grateful to this man who I hated so much for helping to save my life.
Because I have a full-time job and was scared to death that I might lose it, along with my home and my marriage, I was sent through Intensive Outpatient Group Therapy (IOP for short). This was a 5 week program where I would be expected to attend small group therapy 3 hours a day, 3 days per week. All group sessions were led by a Licensed Therapist. Although I was thankful and relieved to not be admitted to the psychiatric ward, the idea of having to go to 9 hours of therapy a week and moving my work schedule around for it terrified me. This was it, I told myself, I had finally, officially “lost it”. In had experienced depressive episodes before, the first one starting in my junior year of high school, and I had been put on mild antidepressants in the past so that part was not new to me. But this was 9 whole hours of required therapy a week. I was completely filled with shame… and when I walked into that first group session I was shaking so bad I could barely fill out my paperwork. Yet, that fear ended up being for nothing… IOP was a huge blessing for me, I believe it was truly God stepping in and saying “ENOUGH OF THIS”.
There is something special about the small group atmosphere; I not only learned things from sharing my own stories of grief, loss and depression, but some of the most meaningful lessons were learned while listening to others and their struggles, and the caring, insightful feedback and direction given by the therapist, even when it wasn’t directed to me. I learned coping skills that I desperately needed in order to take control of negative, worn-out thought patterns. I remembered that although there are things in my life that I do not have control over (my ability to have a child being the hardest for me to accept), I do have power in my life. I learned where my power lies (in my thoughts and actions) and began to exert that power. I also learned that I was not alone; There were others there who struggled with life. Their presence there felt like a force field around me and it made me feel safe.
I was taught that loving myself exactly as I am right now, even with the infertility and depression, is NOT selfish. Real love is NEVER selfish. I learned that I am worthy of my love and the love of others just as I am, even if I can’t have children. For the first time, looking into the eyes of the other group members, seeing their pain and their strength, I actually believed it; They were worthy, and so was I. This amazing, positive environment was where I began to find my joy again. Therapy, along with targeted medication lifted me up and out of the pit of despair and put me back on the road of life. I can’t express how thankful I am and how I wish this same experience for everyone who finds themselves where I was.
I don’t know what would have happened to me had I not gone to the emergency room that day… I truly don’t want to know. It is enough that I did and that I am here now, feeling better (although still not perfect) and finally realizing that “perfect” isn’t a good goal to have anyway. I see my individual therapist once a week and I know how important it is for my recovery and my future to keep it up. I am worthy of that future, and so are you.
If you are reading this and you ever feel like I did, or if you ever have thoughts of hurting yourself or ending your life, I hope you will understand that you don’t have to be afraid to get help and that you are not alone. All it takes is to reach out to someone you love, or to a friend, teacher, counselor or mentor. If you do reach out and you don’t get help, keep reaching. I promise you, it’s not your destiny to live the rest of your life depressed, grieving or hopeless. Just reach out… your future is waiting for you.