That Wasn’t the Whole Story

by Emily Peacock July 6, 2020

I am a fraud. A phony baloney.

I agonize over an essay I wrote in back in April. When it was published on April 6, little did I know that two months to the day, I would be released from a six-day stay at a mental rehabilitation facility (to put it nicely) — a psych ward. I’ve been referring to it as “my time in the ward.” 

I worry that my previous essay was naïve and very one-month-into-quarantine. The truth is, everything I wrote in the previous essay I genuinely felt in that moment. I didn’t know that quarantine would continue on this long. I’m not good with isolation (I’m not sure anyone is; we are social animals), and over time I felt like I was drifting back into postpartum depression. Though, whereas before with postpartum I was trying to keep a newborn alive, I now have a three-year-old boy with an absurd amount of energy. It’s the kind of energy that makes one exclusively read children’s development and discipline books.

Like the majority of us, my son has been missing social interactions, playgrounds, and play dates. I know he feels it; in response he’s stuck to me like industrial-strength glue, sucking up all my energy, sanity, and love. It started to take a toll on me. It happened gradually through April and May, and then before I knew it, I could no longer see this as a temporary situation. With no end in sight, I found myself in my sister’s bathroom trying to saw my arm off. 

Okay, that’s hyperbole, but I did hurt myself. In my mind at the time, it was the only thing left I could do to break the monotony. I didn’t know how to ask for real help in this pandemic, and I was consumed — I mean completely, utterly, filled-to-the-fucking-brim — with guilt. Why don’t I want to be around my child? Maybe he is better off without me. I had been making watercolors that read “I’m a bad mom.” (Those didn’t make it on to my carefully curated Instagram.) I was a shell of myself, again. 

When I got to the ward I was scared and crying uncontrollably. After a first day of mostly sleeping and sobbing, I began to go to group therapy sessions and open up to the ten other wardees. For the record, I’ll say that I was in the highest-functioning unit and I was the sanest person there. But that feels a little like bragging about stepping in the nicest pile of shit in a yard full of shit. Also, I think everyone there thought they were the sanest. But by opening up and sharing, I began to feel better, and hearing other people’s stories also helped. People are suffering. I was suffering, and to my surprise everyone — the doctors, staff, and patients — were so supportive. We all wanted to see each other get better. 

For me, the ward seemed like an odd combination of a nursing home, summer camp, and jail all rolled into one. The food was bland. We waited in line to get our medications, and there was lots of talk around what everyone was on and what dosage. It was nice that the wardees were open about it and that these conversations were the norm. Most of us lived in our pajamas and went to bed by 8:30 p.m. We were up around 6 a.m. 

After a few days of consuming a double dosage of my regular antidepressant, I began to feel more like my goofy self and I had more energy, and even started to teach some of my fellow wardees about the benefits of kombucha, plus a little yoga and watercoloring. Basically, I became the activities director of my unit. For six days, these strangers were my family. In my small-but-diverse unit, mental illness did not discriminate between race, gender, age, sexual preference, political views or class.

I was there because I desperately needed help to understand that is was okay to ask for help, to need a break, and that these pandemic circumstances are like nothing we have ever experienced. I left the ward with a new set of coping skills, a fresh perspective, and a modest goatee. (They don’t allow tweezers in the ward — a total bummer for a lady with high testosterone.)  

I am doing better, much better. It turns out exercising, eating healthy and getting off social media makes me feel better. Crazy right? In hindsight, I can see I got too wrapped up in the new version of the online artist hustle. I enjoy being productive, but it quickly turned into burnout. I’ve always felt I had something to prove; that as a small woman from Port Arthur with a notable East Texas accent who didn’t find art until her 20s, I needed to work harder, longer and produce more. 

Since checking out of the ward, I’ve slowed down and stopped judging myself and others so harshly. I’ve stopped comparing myself to other moms who seem to have it together. Becoming a mom has been enormously difficult for me, and to be brutally honest, before having my son I never envisioned myself as a mother. He is the by far the most amazing thing I have ever made. But a parent can feel two conflicting things simultaneously: I love him more than anything, but sometimes I also feel so defeated and lost. 

One reason I’m sharing my recent ordeal with you is that for my current work, which is based on my experience with postpartum depression, I wrote a statement about wanting to de-stigmatize the shame around mental illness, especially in new mothers. To this day it’s rarely talked about — all new moms are supposed to feel so blessed and happy. But I’ve deeply mourned the death of my independent life I worked so hard for. What I’d like to get at here is that I’m trying to talk the talk and walk the walk. I suffer from major depression disorder, anxiety and suicidal ideation. I take medicine for it, and go to therapy. I am not ashamed of it, and I don’t want anyone else to be, either. 


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Catherine Huete July 6, 2020 - 14:50

Amazingly honest. I had to laugh at you reading only child discipline and development books. That was me when my son was three! As I struggle with depression myself, I really appreciate your article.

Betsy Huete July 7, 2020 - 10:38

Hey Mom! I agree, this is a great article Emily. Thanks for being so brave and sharing.

Adam Neese July 6, 2020 - 15:08

Thank you, Emily Peacock.

David July 6, 2020 - 15:28

Love you, Emily.

Glenda Pivaral July 6, 2020 - 16:58

Thank you for your essay!

Hannah July 6, 2020 - 16:36

I’m glad you wrote this. ❤️ Sharing with my mommy group.

D. Barrera July 6, 2020 - 17:26

Love u EP and always in awe of you’re ability to be yourself. Always proud to talk about you and your work to others and thankful for all the ways in which you imbue yourself into it.

Pen Morrison July 6, 2020 - 17:35

What a profound experience you had, thank you for being so open about it. I am an artist and mom too. My “baby” is 20 now but every age they are is a new challenge. I have always said parenting is simultaneously the easiest and hardest job any of us will ever have.

Catherine Colangelo July 6, 2020 - 20:31

Emily, thank you for your courage to share so openly. Trust me, the ambivalence is very common. Anyone who doesn’t get sick of being a mom, at least sometimes, isn’t being honest! It is exhausting work in normal times, and this stupid quarantine makes it a lot harder.

Kandice Harris July 6, 2020 - 20:34

Thanks, homie!

Kellie Davidson July 6, 2020 - 20:55

Great essay! Always know I’m there for you good or bad!!

Cary July 6, 2020 - 21:10

Emily, thank you for being so candid about what you’ve been through and I’m glad you are doing better. Two things that are so important in this essay: be kind to yourself and get help if you need it. We shouldn’t be beating ourselves up for not “being productive” during a pandemic. And if you you feel suicidal get help. Love you!

Rachel Harmeyer July 6, 2020 - 22:11

Lots of love to you. Our boys are almost the same age, and I too felt a resurgence of Postpartum Anxiety and Depression along with quarantine and I really relate to what you’ve written here. Thank you so much for being honest about motherhood as an artist and mental health. I hope everything gets easier for you, and I’m glad you reached out for help. You’re not alone.

Nanette Ulak July 7, 2020 - 06:39


There are so many things I want to say right here; for starters, your essay deeply touched me as a mom and grandmother, so thank you. I have found it so very hard to find true, consistent support from our sisters when it comes to mothering and nurturing. Oh, the competitiveness. You have helped to shatter that invisible force. Again, thank you, thank you, thank you. I want to continue to build a sisterhood with women of your ilk. Maybe our paths will cross again at a park or two.

With much gratitude and love,

Joy Wright July 7, 2020 - 09:01

To speak it makes it lose its hold! Thank you for sharing your story.

Lynn Goode July 7, 2020 - 09:23

Darling Emily, you are such a bright light and so what you need to reignite your inner pilot. You are loved.
As a mother and a grandmother, I can relate. I think many of us can. By sharing your story, you are helping so many others. As you mentioned, group therapy is a powerful tool for helping us understand we aren’t alone. The shared experience can be very healing. These are extremely trying times.
Love to you and Patrick.

Erin Neve July 7, 2020 - 11:39

Your essay is right on. Thanks so much for your transparency and courage. Much love.

Roberta Harris July 7, 2020 - 11:41

Dearest Emily,
You are a bad ass, caring, loving, creative, kind hearted, brave and talented woman!!!! Sending you lot’s of love!!!! ❤️❤️❤️

Beth Secor July 7, 2020 - 12:41

Emily I love you

Wendy Atwell July 7, 2020 - 13:20

Thank you for writing so honestly about your struggle and being generous enough to share it. So happy you are better.

Donna Durbin July 7, 2020 - 14:02

Thank you Emily for sharing the courage it takes to ask for help and learn we never have to do it alone. Anyone can slip into depression and mental illness. I’ve had my own experience. The more we talk about it, the more willing we are to get help and find a solution.

Colette Copeland July 7, 2020 - 14:20

Emily–Thank you for your courage in sharing your story with your incisive wit and subversive humor. I completely related to the feelings of isolation and helplessness as a mother who had a 1 yr old and 6 yr old and was trying to take care of them plus full time grad school as a mostly single parent. I had regular breakdowns and do not know how I managed it. Glad you are taking care of yourself. You rock!

Caitlin Duerler July 7, 2020 - 21:51

Thanks for sharing Emily. You are a Port Arthur rock star like Janis and Robert and you inspire us other Southeast Texans and no doubt your students in Huntsville <3

Brenda Jacoby July 7, 2020 - 22:12

there is honor and
dignity in what you reveal
you are an Artist.
and what you feel
is what makes you

i am a fan

Susan Budge July 8, 2020 - 07:52

Hang in there Emily. Being a mom is a job you learn as you go- Make sure you have a good support group for when he becomes a teenager! No one prepared me for a teenager, much less, art career, aging parent, and teenager in a pandemic-(and I still love my son like crazy!) But still, there are times when you don’t know how you’re going to hold it all together. Look forward to seeing your art… Susan

Nancy July 10, 2020 - 23:32

This was so touching. I’m not a parent of a human child (I have dogs) but I can so relate to your journey. Keep up the writing, Emily. YOU ARE GREAT AT IT. And you’re not alone with all those feelings. I also related to the tweezer comment. You go, girl.

Cynthia July 12, 2020 - 10:40

Emily, I am certain that your open and courageous essay has touched and helped many people, whether they are overwhelmed moms, people suffering from depression, or anyone who is so damn sick of living through a pandemic. We love our kids more than we could have ever imagined, but they can also trigger such intense feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy. Hang in there honey…you are so important! Take care of you. XO

Kathy Kelley August 8, 2020 - 14:16

Thank you so much for sharing this Emily. Your candor helps me immensely.


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