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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Postpartum Depression: Into and Out of the Abyss

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.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Adventures in Housekeeping with Teenagers

"Lions Raw" by M Norris

I’m not going down there, I said to myself as I squirted blue gel under the toilet rim. Not. Going. Down.
I have a housecleaning list, with tasks that need done weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly, like washing the towels, cleaning the mirrors, mopping the kitchen floor. And I ask for contributions from the fam. Especially over the summer, when the kids’ primary nod toward physical activity is the isometric couch roll, where they shift from one side of the rib cage to the other in an effort to reach the TV remote.
“Mom! Can you come and change the channel? The clicker’s, like, all the way over by the window!”
So I asked the nearly-thirteen-“I-am-now-a-man”-year-old to vacuum the dining and living rooms while I went upstairs to clean the bathroom.
The MGM lion roared out of his mouth.
“And use the Kirby,” I said.
Whale-song and emphysematic-camel-in-a-wood-chipper howls took over for the lion.
“But the Kirby’s so heavy! And it’s all the way in the basement! (If you read that last sentence without inflecting an octave-up whine on the italicized words, go back and try it again.)
The Kirby’s too heavy? Says the boy who regularly tells me how much bigger and stronger than me he has become. Because he’s now one-quarter of an inch taller than I am.
He tried to pick me up once and it sounded like a Gatlin gun went off in his shorts. Yeah, Stretch. I still outweigh you by forty pounds, so if you want to throw down wi’cher mama, go ahead and bring it.
I left the man to wrangle the Kirby into place and I began work on the bathtub.
Before I even got the Comet sprinkled there was, downstairs, a bang. Followed by another. And some unintelligible, muttered words I decided not to investigate.
He does not need my help. I am not going.
The vacuum growled to life.
Another crash. “Aw, come ON!!!”
On my knees I scrubbed circles in the bottom of the tub with my scratchy-sponge.
Below me, in the living room, it sounded as though my son had undertaken hand-to-hand combat with a small band of psychopathic intruders. Or that a herd of wild boars were mating angrily with my Kirby.
Not rescuing him. Not validating this behavior. It’s vacuuming the carpet, not pick-axing granite boulders on a Louisiana chain gang.
After completing the tub I moved to the sink.
On the main floor a sound like someone pick-axing granite boulders on a Louisiana chain gang assaulted the threadbare fabric that is my nerve plexus.
“GEEZ!!!” echoed up the stairwell.
The woman in the mirror regarded me. I regarded her. Our eyes widened, our upper lips curled like Stallone’s, and our jaws took on a chiseled-marble appearance like those of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“I am not going down there,” I told the woman in the mirror, through clenched teeth.
Neither was she.
I scoured the sink, wiped down the toilet, and scrubbed inside the bowl.
The Kirby fell silent, but then I heard whipping sounds, like Indiana Jones had entered my home and found it replete with cobras.
Ah, he’s wrapping up the vacuum’s cord, I realized.
I continued to listen, monitoring my child’s progress. Because I am a mom who cares.
Those might’ve been choking sobs I heard. Or it could’ve been the cat suffering another bout of diarrhea.
Sure hope she doesn’t squirt it out in the living or dining rooms.
The boy returned the Kirby to the basement.
I returned to the main floor to find him on the couch, laptop on his stomach, earbuds snugged into his cochlear canals like two little umbilical cords. His eyeballs shot me the hairiest look of pure hatred I’ve seen since I French-kissed my sister’s husband at their wedding.
Totally kidding about that. I don’t even have a sister. But now you can picture the boy’s expression, right?
I knew he could do it, and without any intervention from Mom.
Think I’ll go make myself a stiff Margarita, then tell him I want him to mow the lawn.

Monday, July 18, 2016

When Racial Prejudice Smacked Me in the Head

"Handshake" by AK Rockefeller

In college I took a class titled African-American Literature. That’s been a few days ago, but if memory serves I was one of no more than three white students in a class of eighteen or so.
Why did I sign up for it? I’d like to say it’s because I was radical about racial understanding. More honestly it’s because I never liked doing what everybody else does, and I figured not too many white, middle-class, northern-America English-ed students were taking that course to fulfill one of their lit requirements. (I was right.)
Incidentally, I signed up for Russian history for the same reason. I dropped it a week later because I didn’t speak Russian, I knew nothing about Russian history, and it’s pretty hard to take useful notes when you don’t know a Menshevik from a mensch, and you think the Ottoman Empire is a great place to buy footstools.
In African-American Lit we read W.E.B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Maya Angelou. I learned more about slavery and the civil war and the minority experience than I had in every American history and literature and political science class I’d ever taken, all put together.
But the thing that smacked me upside my privileged, oblivious, majority-culture head was something one of the other students said during a class discussion. She explained, “When you’re black, and you do something wrong, like come late to class, people say, ‘Black people are lazy and irresponsible’. But when you do something right, like study hard and get good grades, people say, ‘There’s an example of a good black person’. If you perform badly, you’re proof of the rule; if you perform well, you’re an exception to it.”
I’ve never forgotten that, and I hope desperately that it’s made a difference in how I perceive and treat others.
In these days of prejudicial hatred and bloodshed, and brokenness across layered, tangled lines of ignorance and anger and unforgiveness, it’s easy to feel helpless to do anything to turn the tide or change the culture or make any kind of meaningful contribution to healing and reconciliation and hope.
But I can remember every day that each person I encounter is an individual, with his or her own experiences and history and feelings and dreams, and does not and cannot represent an entire race or class of people.
I can show the same respect, deference, and generosity to those I don’t understand—or don’t agree with, or don’t even like—that I hope to be shown by others. And I can recognize that I am shown respect, deference, and generosity, almost across the board and with few exceptions, because I am a white American in a white-positive America.
And I can be an active participant toward goodwill, who watches for opportunities to behave with humanity and decency and respect toward others—black, white, or otherwise—and not someone who goes about her day less concerned about the words she used with the cashier than about whether the person ahead of her in line had eleven items instead of ten.
And I can pray that someday behaving with decency, honor, and civility to others will put me in the uncomfortable position of doing things just like everybody else does, instead of just the opposite.


Friday, July 8, 2016

The Best Beauty Advice You'll Get All Year

Photo by Super Beijing

How can you improve your appearance, right now, today, this very minute? And without spending a single red-hot dime of your hard-earned cash?
Stop examining all the parts of yourself that you don’t like, and start appreciating the parts you do.
Imagine.
I’m probably the last person on earth others turn to for fashion or beauty advice. One of my favorite tweets EVER came from @amydillon who wrote, “My personal style can best be described as ‘didn’t expect to get out of the car’.” Woman after my own pajama-clad heart, that one is.
But a few years ago I realized that every time I passed a mirror my eyes went straight to my “trouble spots”, which is an American euphemism for “parts of my body that were not germinated by a Norwegian supermodel and did not manage to get themselves filtered and airbrushed before they exited the bathroom”.
I wished away my birthed-three-kids abdomen. I loathed my weird-shaped forehead that smacked into concrete pavement when I was five and suffered the brunt of chicken pox at twenty-five. My eyes shot daggers at the 12%-humidity-makes-my-do-go-Medusa hair exploding from my scalp. And I walked away from every encounter with my own reflection ever more convinced that these flaws rendered me permanently, and irredeemably, coyote ugly.
But then I remembered that I do occasionally get the odd compliment.
I have long-ish legs.
My skin looks a fair bit younger than it should. (I knew I’d be glad I never picked up smoking or sun-worshipping.)
And the pregnancies that fat-bombed my tummy did the same thing to a couple of my lady parts that formerly required push-up articles of apparel and/or well-placed, balled-up tube socks to create even the suggestion of hillocks under my T-shirt.
Why didn’t I ever take note of these things when I looked at myself?
So I started.
It was magic, people. Pure magic.
Ladies—and gentlemen, too—I challenge you to try it for two weeks. Heck, even one week. Every time you look in the mirror, put your eyes on something you like about yourself, and keep them completely off the stuff you’d change if you could. It’ll change your life.
100% money-back guarantee.

This is probably the only beauty tip you’ll ever get from Wasting My Education. But you never know what you’ll find here unless you SIGN UP!


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Occupy the Kids: a Summer Survival Guide for the Uninvolved Parent

Photo by Geoff

I am a hearty believer in the value of self-entertainment. A raging introvert, I love my own company and can amuse myself devoid of other human interaction for days or weeks. Probably even longer, but R&D on that usually fails because of the need to do stuff like respond to my family members’ words and return CPS phone calls and buy things I can’t procure via Amazon Prime.
That Hubby has a full-time job and the kiddos attend public school are simple facts of awesomeness when it comes to enabling a surfeit of Me-Time.
The months of July-September, however, prove a serious challenge to my personal space.
But having survived multiple summers with multiple children I feel I have amassed some wisdom. I’ve developed some strategies and policies and tactics for keeping the kiddos out of my hair engaged in creative play that I’d like to share in the hopes that as more people get on board with my manifesto of laziness child empowerment, I will be viewed as a sagacious trend-setter rather than as that mom, who’s so engrossed in her novel she doesn’t notice her kid drowning in the deep end of the pool. I may one day even put out a bestselling book on effective strategies for avoiding parenting.
So, here they are: five easy ways to rebuff your children’s attempts to interact with you this summer.
* * *
Task One Child With Spying on Another
There is nothing one sibling desires more dearly and viscerally than to destroy the life of another sibling. Tell the one that’s pestering you that you’re positive his brother/sister got a pound bag of Tootsie Rolls in the mail from Grandma, but you’ve been unable to catch him/her eating them. Caution the spy to conduct surveillance in the most clandestine manner possible, so that future missions will not be compromised because the targeted sibling suspects s/he has been ratted out. And tell your secret agent if he finds the bag of candy it’s all his.
Give the spy a sheet of paper with the headings TIME, ACTIVITY, and OPSEC, and have the child log his mission ops in five-minute increments, with the time he observed his sibling, what the sibling was doing, and how the spy kept his observations hidden. (If the child is too young to read and write, even better—require hand-drawn pictures.)
This activity should keep the engaged child busy for at least a couple of hours, with minimal, if any, intervention from the parent.
Have the Children Set Up a Home Pet Spa
Rover sure could use a bath, couldn’t he? How long has it been since Lady Fluffy-Butt had her claws cut, filed and painted, and her split ends trimmed? And those gerbils haven’t been buff-puffed in a month of Sundays.
This is an outdoor activity, of course, and best done inside the confines of a sturdy fence. Unless you’re sick of feeding and housing pets, in which case just kick the whole lot of them out into the yard or parking lot and hope for the best. (Or the worst.)
You’ll probably have to help the kids collect all the stuff they’ll need: a large bucket or kiddy pool, some (dull, blunt-ended, so PETA doesn’t come after you) scissors, old toothbrushes, bars of soap, nail clippers, foot powder, hair ribbons, etc. But once the Pet Spa is under way you can go back inside and lock the doors.
Oh, and call the neighbors to let them know to bring over their menageries, too.
Organize a Scavenger Hunt
This one can be either an indoor or outdoor activity. And, if your kids are like mine, they’ll do just about anything for money. Exploit this.
Hand each child a list of things to find, and sweeten the pot by telling them that whoever collects all of the items first will be awarded $[whatever amount of money will generate relentless pursuit of success]. Here are some ideas for your search list:
a purple paperclip
a green toy car
three hot-pink ponytail bands
six four-leaf clovers or three five-leaf clovers
an unused Atomic Tangerine-colored Crayola in its original paper
a silver-tipped Himalayan Edelweiss, with root ball
an un-canceled postage stamp of the Shah of Iran, circa 1972
the Shroud of Turin
the lost ring of Sauron
Host Kid Olympics (or Thunderdome Reimagined)
Pull out all the athletic equipment you can find: bikes, trikes, jump-ropes, soccer balls, croquet mallets, javelins, nunchuks, crossbows, etc. Tell each child he must design a new type of Olympic event utilizing at least three different items of equipment. Have the children run their competitions outdoors or in a sturdy rec room, developing their own standards for self-judging and peer-judging. It will end in tears and screaming and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and probably a trip to the E.R, but you’re likely to get at least an hour and a half of solitude before the smack-downs really get underway.
Score extra points with the neighbors by inviting their kids to participate, too. Get hold-harmless agreements signed up front.
Arrange an Adorable Urchin Yard Sale of Sadness
Put out a table in front of your house or apartment complex and seat your children on chairs behind it. Dump on the table every toy you’ve confiscated from the kiddos because they were fighting over it, or playing with it instead of doing their chores, or utilizing it in an unsafe and/or unacceptable manner (e.g., “helping” a sibling shed a loose—or an unloose—tooth with the business end of a lightsaber). Write “YARD SALE: MAKE ME AN OFFER” on a large piece of poster board and tape it to the front of the table.
You need not even price the items. Neighbors and passersby will feel so sorry for your weeping children they will pay reasonable amounts to take off your hands things you don’t want your cherubs to have anyway. It’s a win-win for everyone!
Well, except maybe the kids.
* * *
So there you have it! Feel free to use these activities to free up your time this summer. Maybe these ideas will even springboard you to some awesome responses of your own when you hear the dreaded words, “Mom, I’m bored!”
And not to pat myself on the back, but I didn’t even grow up with near-aged siblings through whom I learned this stuff. I guess I’m just a prodigy when it comes to neglecting my progeny.
Have a great summer! I know I will.