When I had my first baby, I lost my mind. I didn’t know I was depressed, because I didn’t really cry. I didn’t tear up over sappy commercials and I didn’t feel empty and directionless. What I had was better categorized as a fucking amazing and debilitating bout of anxiety. Since I thought depressed meant sad, I didn’t think I was depressed. I just thought I was totally losing my mind.
I was exhausted, of course, but I couldn’t sleep. If I did drift off for a few minutes and my baby made a tiny sound, three rooms away, I would spring out of bed and run to her with my heart racing and my fingers getting all tingly. I’d tuck her in again and go lay back down in the blacker than black bedroom with my senses on fire.
I also spent all of my waking time, (which was all of my time,) picturing terrible things happening to my daughter. I pictured baby snatchers, ceiling fans coming loose and shredding everything in their way. I pictured car accidents, stair accidents, slipping on ice accidents, stepping on a cat and falling down the stairs accidents, slipping on a bar of soap in the shower and breaking my neck, dying and leaving nobody to feed my child accidents. There were many more kinds of accidents to imagine, but I’m sure you get it.
I was a nut case. It seemed like everything, including walking, eating and probably somehow breathing was an exercise fraught with danger, and so I had to be on alert all the time. I had panic attacks where I was sure I was suddenly going to forget how to drive or that I would be pushing the stroller across the road and lose control of my body and well… now we’re just getting back in to all the kinds of accidents there were to picture in the world.
I didn’t sit around on the couch and cry all day, so I didn’t have postpartum depression. But, I totally did. In hindsight, I totally, totally, totally did.
So, when I got pregnant with Louisey, I told myself and my husband that, at the first hint of weirdness, I was going to simply call my doctor and get help. I even warned my doctor ahead of time that I would most likely be calling him.
But then, when I came downstairs in the middle of the fifth night after birthing my second baby, and I was trembling and sick to my stomach and couldn’t sleep and I was pacing the cold tile floor in the kitchen… I felt uncomfortable with seeking out help. I curled into a ball at Kurt’s feet and cried because something was wrong and I felt like I was on speed and the edges of the world were too sharp, like somehow the focus got turned too far up.
“Just call your doctor,” Kurt told me.
Call a medical professional, someone who’s been to medical school and who is, no doubt, a pillar of the community, and explain to him that I’m not really sure what’s wrong with me, but that I’m fairly certain that I’ll never sleep or eat or laugh again, because it’s just that terrible? I hated the idea. I think maybe some of it was just that, in my former life, I had never had a terribly easy time being forthcoming with doctors.
Past Medical Professional: Have you ever shared needles or had sex with a male or female who has shared needles or had sex with a giant octopus from outer space who had six sets of genitalia which were all covered in glitter, and who played a magical guitar that made rainbows instead of music?
Past Me: I mean… honestly? God. Probably. Let’s just make this easy on everyone and assume that the answer to all of your questions is going to be probably.
I totally outlived those days, but I still had a wariness about admitting that things weren’t always perfect in my new life. I just pictured respectable citizens glancing at each other out of the corners of their eyes. See? She might appear as though she’s changed, but she’s obviously some sort of unstable criminal under her reasonable mom haircut and spectacular biking calf muscles.
I called my doctor, though and nobody glanced at anybody. (At least not that I could tell from my end of the phone.) He called in a prescription for Zoloft, I started taking it and I felt better almost immediately. I think maybe he asked me how I liked taking it at my 6 week check up and I said, “I like it just fine. I feel fine.” And that was that.
All of those sleepless nights that I went through after birthing Scouty. All of that panicking, worrying, picturing every imaginable scenario in which my baby could have been harmed or stolen from me. It all could have been blinked out of existence by taking a pill for a little while until my hormones leveled out, or whatever it was that made me all kooky after giving birth. That was amazing to me. I feel like such an idiot for not calling my doctor the first time around. Getting help was so easy that it was barely even a task I had to complete. Getting through nine months of pure, adrenaline fueled anxiety-hell was way harder than calling my doctor and saying, “Could I have medicine?”
“Why, yes. Yes, you can.”
People are so uncomfortable with the topic of psychiatric medicine, though. They’ll say things like, “There’s no shame in asking for help,” but then if you talk publicly about how you got help, they flinch like… “I didn’t mean that you should go blabbing it all over the universe that you take crazy pills!”
Why are we embarrassed about taking anti-depressants for postpartum anxiety or depression? I’m not asking in a I have a cause and I’m trying to make a point by asking a thought provoking question kind of way. I actually mean, can you answer that for me?
I suppose the truth can be found in a million different historical, sociological, gender debated parts of the human experience. I suppose the answer is something like… psychology is only a recently understood area of medicine and women are depressed because of their historical position in American society and we’re all removed from our deeper, spiritual selves and we had bad childhoods that we don’t want to talk about so when a problem pops up in our psyches, we’re not able to cope and so we kind of go haywire and can’t treat the subject with openness. Or something.
All I know is that polite society has always had a lot of ideas about somebody like me, and they’ve never affected the ways I’ve conducted myself. If you’re uncomfortable with the topic of my big, scary anxiety and depression, you’ve got something about yourself that’s bugging you. Don’t be embarrassed for me. I told you that within days of starting big, scary Zoloft, I felt totally fine. I feel proud of the fact that I didn’t completely suffer debilitating anxiety for another year, the way I did with my first baby. I feel proud of the fact that this time, when all of my senses and mothering instincts CAME ALIVE and it was too much, too much, too much and they wouldn’t cool down again, I swallowed my pride and my fear and my totally made up ideas about how people would judge me, and I got a prescription for a pill that made me feel totally normal.
And it was so easy.
I have hard days. I have days like today where I have a baby with an ear infection and antibiotic diarrhea and who is teething, and a four year old who only wants to go outside to play but it’s raining and I have PMS and my husband has to stay a little late after work and I accidentally ate a cupcake when I’m supposed to be swearing off sugar and I just have to say, “Everybody stop! Stop moving, stop talking. Just stop, for a minute!” And I’m mean mommy and Scouty rolls her eyes and actually gets it right because we practiced how to roll our eyes in the mirror… but on these kinds of days, there isn’t a single moment where I clutch my baby to my chest with trembling arms and picture all of the millions of ways something could go wrong. When I’m irritable now, I’m just regular old irritable and it feels awful at the time, but it’s really not that bad, because it’s only passing and it goes away.
I’ll sleep tonight, too, and I can’t think of anything I’d be less embarrassed about than that.