|Depression by Mary Lock|
On my run this morning, half-way through my playlist, two songs took me back ten years, to the aftermath of my second child’s birth, and the aftermath of that aftermath. Monster, by Skillet, could’ve been the theme song to my pilgrimage through postpartum depression; Third Day’s Saved is my refrain about the ascent out of that hell.
I think it’s finally far enough behind me that I can talk about it.
To me, depression always meant sadness. Lethargy. “I’m so blue I just want to lie on the couch and sleep all day.”
Depressed people cry. They eat a lot, or don’t eat at all. They stare out the window into the rain and ruminate on their heartaches.
I didn’t know that depression can manifest as anger.
My two-year-old son spills some Cheerios on the table. I pick up his bowl, milk and all, and hurl it against the wall as rage erupts from my body through my vocal cords.
Postpartum depression took me down slowly and systematically, over several months.
Awakened yet again in the middle of the night by a child’s crying, I scream, “Why won’t you let me sleep?!?”, my fists wrapped in shaking desperation around the crib slats. “Be quiet and go to sleep!” I yell at my infant.
I yell. At my infant.
Not knowing any better I put my two children on opposite schedules: the baby napped from ten to noon, the toddler from noon to two, the baby again from two to four, which left me a block of six hours in the middle of every day with no break and no time alone, and no way to leave the house.
During my screaming tirade one evening a knock sounds at the door. I look out to see our neighbor, and terror washes through me. “She’s concerned, and is going to call someone about me.” When I open the door, she says their car was broken into the night before, and asks me to keep an eye out.
I’m relieved. “I have to stop this,” I tell myself.
Messed-up hormones certainly played their part in my collapse.
My husband comes home many evenings to find the children locked in their bedrooms, crying, and me in our bed, in the dark, covers pulled over my head, also sobbing. “I can’t do this anymore,” I tell him. “I have to kill myself, because I can’t keep doing this one more day.”
Our already unhealthy marriage started to fall apart. We fought more than we talked. Resentment and rancor colored all our conversations.
I sink onto the floor and huddle against the washing machine as I weep. My mind sorts through all the ways one can commit suicide, searching for the easiest and least painful.
“No, I can’t kill myself,” I say, more to the washing machine than to myself or God. “I can’t let my children grow up thinking their mommy didn’t love them enough to stick around.”
One of the insidious things about mental illness is that the sufferer often can’t see the sickness for the symptoms. I really didn’t know anything was wrong. That help existed. That I wasn’t just a failure at life.
Then one afternoon, miraculously, I got a short break when both children napped at the same time. I sat in the chair where I used to read and write and have my quiet time, and I complained to God.
“I hate everything I do all day,” I cried. “I hate clothing them, and bathing them, and feeding them, and reading to them, and taking them places with me. I hate it all!”
As soon as those words came out, into the air, and into my own ears, I realized: It wasn’t always like this.
When my son—my first—was born, I loved caring for him. Picking out his clothes felt like dressing my own perfect little baby doll. Going for an outing brought me such delight when people fussed over him, or I got to show him things and places he’d never seen before. I’d sing You Are My Sunshine while I washed his hair, and play Peek-a-Boo behind the bathtub curtain.
I’d once enjoyed mothering.
I pulled out my copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting and turned to the chapter on postpartum depression. It read like a biography of me:
Irritability or anger. Anxiety. Mood swings. Sleep problems. Appetite changes. Suicidal thoughts. Lack of interest in the baby. Feeling disconnected from the baby. Thoughts of harming the baby. Sluggishness. Exhaustion. Memory loss. Sense of guilt or shame. Sense of doom. Scary or odd thoughts that repeat in your mind. (List from EveryDayHealth.com)
I called my OB.
I got medicated.
I saw a psychiatrist.
And over the next twelve months, I got better.
We get in the car after too long a visit with friends. It’s late, past the children’s bedtime, and we’re still 45 minutes from home. Normally I’d be a melodramatically neurotic wreck, beside myself with stress that they still needed baths and feedings, and we should’ve left for home earlier, and now everyone’s getting to bed late and I’m going to be exhausted tomorrow and why does it always have to be this way?!?
But the antidepressant has mellowed me. I think, “I guess I’ll feed one while he bathes the other, then we’ll switch. Everyone will be tired and tomorrow will be hard, but oh well.”
Later I tell my mother-in-law about my uncustomarily placid and rational thought process. “Is that how normal people think?” I ask her. She smiles, a little sadly, and puts her hand on my arm. “Maria, that’s how healthy people think.”
I spent my medicated year as emotionally charged as Mr. Spock after a cigar and a couple of Harvey Wallbangers. I felt neither miserable, nor especially happy, but calm. I looked around. At my children. At my life. At myself.
For the first time I recognized the authoritative place I’d allowed anger to occupy in my life.
“I will not pass this on to my children,” I resolved. “It ends with me. It ends now.”
I paid attention to how I dealt with stressors and problems and accidents. “I want to behave this way when I’m no longer medicated. This is who I want to be. Not the other woman.”
One of the children knocks over a glass of juice. It soaks into the tablecloth and runs down onto the floor. “It’s all right,” I say, as I go to the kitchen for a rag. I clean it up, throw the soaked linens into the hamper, get out a new tablecloth, and refill the glass. “There you go. All better,” I tell the child. The cleanup took less than three minutes. And my heartbeat, blood pressure, anxiety level never changed.
And my child never cried.
The doctor weaned me off the medication. The emotions came back, both good and bad. But they no longer controlled me. They took their proper places in my life, as nothing more than flags to get my attention: “Hey, this is a great thing! More, more!” or “Hmm. We need to do something about this.”
I learned how to prioritize: People are more important than things. Patience and peace need not be at odds with teaching and discipline. Sometimes love means cleaning up someone else’s mess without uttering a single word.
I reach into the refrigerator and knock over a glass of grape juice someone left inside. It spills and splashes and runs over the top shelf, and the second shelf, and onto the bottom shelf. Grape juice is everywhere.
I sigh and begin to take bottles and bags and jars out of the refrigerator, rinsing each one under the faucet. “That was bound to happen eventually,” I say, given how often people leave their leftover drinks in the fridge.
My breath catches in my throat.
Not even a hint of anger rose up in me. I didn’t have to struggle against my natural disposition, or fight to control myself so I didn’t yell or throw something or slam the side of my fist against the wall.
And I’m years off the medication.
Thank you, God. Oh, thank you.
My battle with postpartum depression consumed some of the most traumatic months of my life. I would never ask to go through it again. I would not wish it on anyone.
But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.