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A Decade-Long Dream, Postpartum Depression & Anxiety (PPD/A), and the Origin of DYL

My family and I went last summer to the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park here on the outskirts of Cincinnati for a walk that, though I didn’t know it at the start, would prove to be a very transformational moment for me. At the end of our walk, when we were already incredibly tired, having walked more that day before 10am than we had in an entire day in quite a while, we found ourselves at the bottom of this massive hill. At the bottom of the hill, we were draped in cool shadows, but that the top of the hill was sunlight–beautiful and warm–and our car. There was no way around it, the only way home was to go up it. The boys were in the double stroller and I decided I was going to start pushing. This picture doesn’t do it justice, y’all, it is massive and these boys are heavy. About halfway up the hill, I was as close to parallel to the ground while pushing the stroller as I could be without laying on the ground.

Somewhere up that hill, as I strained to push and my mind swirled with “when will this damn hill end,” it hit me that my struggle, in pushing/pulling myself and my family out of this dark hole, was the perfect metaphor for what I had been facing since Eli was born. All of a sudden, getting up that hill in the park took on a whole new, important meaning.

It was honestly something that took me by surprise–postpartum depression and anxiety or PPD/A–though it probably shouldn’t have. I was raised surrounded by those with mental health illnesses and I had worked evaluating the mental health disability claims for a decade by the time I had my second baby. I knew what the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety were, but when they hit me, it took me weeks to recognize it, face it, and seek help.

The thing that caught me off guard about PPD/A is that it doesn’t feel like a set of symptoms, but rather, it feels like who you are. I wasn’t feeling sad, I was sad. My thoughts were not broken, I was. I didn’t feel hopeless, I was hopeless. It was completely defeating that despite working so hard to get pregnant, living with all the fear around being pregnant and that my choice to get pregnant could be the thing that took me away from my first son (another story for another day), that when I was with this perfect little being I had prayed for, I did not trust myself to take care of him, I couldn’t connect the love I had for him in my head with my heart, I wanted to do anything but interact with him. And in my mind, for that, I was irreparably broken, not deserving of his love and adoration, not deserving to be a mother at all.

Alicia holding newborn Eli
Alicia, holding Eli, about 7 days old

I loved my babies and I knew that, everyone did. But the last 5 or so years of the all consuming, always present goal to get pregnant with, carry, and deliver them, with all of the risks and complications, had left me a shell of a person. Someone I didn’t recognize in the mirror. Someone I wasn’t even sure I liked.

The incessant negative thoughts, anxiety about ALL the things, great and small, fits of rage that came out of nowhere for no reason, did not feel like symptoms of a disability, even after I figured out what was going on. They felt like who I was now, as a mom, a wife, a woman. This was the new me and I wasn’t sure I could live with her….

Now, this blog is something I’ve honestly thought of for over a decade. I bought the domain about that many years ago now. Over the years, I debated changing the name, made lots of lists of things to write about, took photos for the purpose of sharing them one day . Every time I would get the courage to get started, I would quickly stop and it would fade to the back of my mind. I’m a “behind the scenes” girl, an extroverted introvert. Putting myself out there like that was against my nature for sure.

I actually had the site set up on Blogger for a time and I had logged a few posts before I found out some not so nice folks at work had been making fun of me. To be fair, the tone of my writing at the time was super…let’s call it…enthusiastic. I was trying reeeeeallly hard. And I wrote about fairly trivial things like my Cinco de Mayo party tips which are no where as important as what we do daily at work. It actually wasn’t the fact that they were making fun of me that made me stop, because if I love and feel passionate about whatever I’m doing, screw the petty betties, am I right? But at that time, their commentary matched my inner monologue. What did I have to say, really? I was a newlywed without kids, renting a 1,000 square foot apartment, who liked to decorate and throw parties. And I had anything important to add to the blogosphere? I wasn’t convinced.

Alicia with her boys Ethan and Eli
Alicia with her boys, Christmas 2019

Fast forward to the end of that decade. I’m a mom of a toddler and a newborn struggling with my identity as a new mom of two babies, who, by the way, was in the middle of a fierce battle with postpartum depression and anxiety and losing.

I was desperate to feel like me again and suddenly, decorating my new home and throwing parties felt very important to that endeavor. As I began treatment, I started searching for what brought me joy outside of my family. Designing the spaces in our home that would not only be creative and beautiful, but functional and comfortable, reimagining the possibilities of a home in serious need of renovation that had been written off by buyers who could not see its potential, getting my hands dirty and crossing projects off my proverbial list…they became my life line.

Then my love of and desire to host friends and family came back. Pinterest was fun again. I replaced “how to survive a blood clot” and “how to get pregnant naturally” with “how to stain a wooden banister,” “best toy organization hacks,” and “party appetizers and desserts.” I could read the paper–face everyday challenges– and still have energy to be creative. I had a resurgence of “me” and I needed a place to channel it. Plus, I now seemed to have A LOT to say, many friends and family supporting me, and the confidence to step out there. Thus, Design of Your Life was born.

Eli just turned one at the beginning of the month and what a year it has been. It has taken quite a bit for me to get this site up and running because I knew nothing about coding and web design when I started (and I honestly know next to nothing about it now). But I am so grateful to be a wife, a mama, and now, a blogger. And I’m very grateful, dear reader, that you’re joining me for the ride.

10 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your story! You described PPD/A in a way I always tried to but never could.

    1. Oh wow, thank you for that. You never know if it’s going to make sense to anyone else, or is going to sound too dramatic, etc. There was so much more I could’ve said but I wanted to focus on how I got to where I am now, writing on this site.

  2. Thank you Adrienne! I’m so happy that we’re on the other side of it and I’m excited to part of the blogging community now. 😊

    1. Thanks Jamelia! It’s something we should all be able to talk without shame, and if we would, we all could.

  3. Thank you for being so open and sharing your story of PPD/PPA. I also had PPD and PPA, and I didn’t recognize it for six months. Those inner battles are terrible. I am so glad that you are able to write about the things that have meaning for you, and you have people who support you.

    1. Thank you Tosha! I feel like PPD/A is one of those things where you have no idea how prevalent it is until you start talking about it. It’s basically a chemical reaction, the start of which we have no control over, but we can help ourselves once it’s diagnosed. It takes strength and I’m grateful for my community and help I received when I wasn’t at my strongest.

  4. Alicia, Thank you for your transparency and genuine self. It warmed my heart to connect with you as I have struggled with PPD/A that’s lasted years but it wasn’t until my last bout of depression that I too found comfort and purpose in decorating and revamping my home. Our love for our boys is so immense we’ve found healthy ways to cope to be the best mamas they deserve! Thank you for sharing your story! A story so many of us completely identify with! 💖

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