Tag Archives: maternal depression

Breath By Breath

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I’ve put my daughter Emily to bed.  I’ve laid in bed with her until she’s drifted off and her breath is slow and steady and almost hypnotic.

All of a sudden I’m bawling my eyes out, shuddering silently next to her.  I don’t want to wake her, but it feels like I will never stop as my body shakes and tears gush down my cheeks.  I feel like someone is punching me in my face, in my gut.  I feel like someone is wrapping their hand around my throat.

My five year old purrs in her dreams, and the noise tethers me to this reality.

I take out my phone and text my best friend.  I beg her to never die.  She says something warm and then tells me a joke and next thing I know I’m shaking again, but this time in laughter.

That’s how life is these days.

My mood shifts as though I’m dancing on the edge of a blade.  One moment, I’ve got my shit together and the next I’m dissolving.

It’s been four months since E. died.  Almost five.  It seems an eternity and it seems no time at all.  I still just want to talk about her all the time.  Her voice is still right beneath the follicles of my hair.  And yet, despite the immediacy of her presence, she is farther away than ever.

Death is a fucking fucker and that is about as eloquent as I can get about it at the moment. Grief is an even fucking-er fucker.

Someone said to me last week that grief is love that has nowhere to go.  That’s a more graceful way of putting what I feel I guess.  This pent up surge of love and emotion that has no channel.

I go to E.’s grave every week and I talk to her.  I catch my voice rise and fall in the same cadence it would when she was alive with me.  We had this silly, journalistic way of talking to one another, reporting all of the mundane.

She remembered everything I told her, even the dumbest, most minor details like it was something super important.  She relished stories about my husband and kids.  You know, as a working mom, it does not take much to make me happy.  I’d tell her stuff like how touched I was that my husband stayed home with a sick kiddo or remembered to buy toilet paper on his way home from work, and she’d bring it up months later.  Like if I was annoyed with my husband, she would say something like, “But he’s really a thoughtful guy.  Remember the time he brought home the toilet paper and took Jack to the doctor?”

She made me feel so important.  So special.  So loved.  Who on earth is every going to give a tiny rat’s ass about my membership to the big box store and the lifetime supply of granola I acquired?

So I go to her grave and I talk to her.  I tell her everything.  I tell her what I’m wearing.  I tell her what I had for lunch.  I tell her about the unicorn Emily drew, and I tell her that Jack learned how to play the Star Wars theme on his trumpet.  I read her poems.  I play songs for her.

There’s a part of me that knows I’m just talking to myself, and it breaks my heart.

It makes me cry from so deep within myself, from a place that is still little and frightened, from a place that wants to stamp my foot and pound my fist against my thighs and demand that she come back her right this instant or else!

I keep thinking that any day now I’m going to feel better.

Sometimes I do feel better.  I’m not miserable.  I still find pleasure in life.

But lately everything feels so hard.  Work.  Motherhood.  Grief.  Marriage.

You may have noticed I haven’t written much lately, and when I have, it has been these morose little poems.  Ugh.  Yeah.  I’m sorry about that.

It’s like I just don’t have anything else in me.  I feel terrible for not writing more about my kids or all of the other random myriad of great stuff that goes on, but I sort of feel so drained that to sit down and write anything cohesive and thought out like I wrote two or three years ago would just be impossible.

It seems like all around me people are doing amazing stuff.  Friends are going to political events and getting involved in volunteer work.  Colleagues are reading up on the latest in clinical research and going to conferences to stay current.  People on Facebook are exercising and drinking protein shakes and hanging out in clubs.

I’m just over here like, “How the fuck do you all feel like it?”

I just want to go climb into my bed.

I want to lie still and daydream about being  a mermaid, about swimming far far away under the water and not hearing anything but the swishy splash of my own tail.

I’m so freaking tired.  It feels a monumental effort to breathe.  Everyone else is engaging in their cool hobbies and I can basically say, “Well, I managed to keep breathing all week.  It was hard and kind of painful, but I did it.  So, I’ve got that going for me.”

It’s sort of ironic that I want to duck under the water and swim away when I spend so much of my energy just trying to keep my head above water, but then I’ve always been a portrait in contradictions.

That right there would have given E. a good chuckle.

I miss E. so much, and I wish I could talk to her about this.  I wish I could tell her how tired I am and how sad, how desperately sad, every single breath feels.

But then there is the squishy pillow of my daughter’s cheek under my lips as I get up from her bed to leave her room.  I draw breath enough to whisper that I love her into her sleeping ear.  I draw another breath.  Then another.  And I know I’ll keep breathing, breath by breath, until maybe it doesn’t hurt quite as much.

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Vitamin “Z”– Musings From a Mom On An Antidepressant 

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My doctor recently raised the dosage of my Zoloft.

There, I said it.

Hi.  I’m an anxious and depressed mom, and I’m on Zoloft.

I’m also a “professional” in the mental health field, charged with counseling others with anxiety and depression.  Put that in your pipe, and so forth…

In light of my recent near death experience, I’ve been struggling with more anxiety than usual.  My body and mind are having a hard time feeling safe, and being able to distinguish between everyday stress and actual threats to my well being.

As my compassionate doctor couched it, “I think you miiighhht have a teensy bit of PTSD.”  Ummm.  K.  I can’t really disagree.  I have confidence I will ramble through it, but in the mean time, the symptoms miiigghhht suck just a teensy bit.

Taking an antidepressant doesn’t make my world perfect.  It is not a magic cure-all that takes away every bump in the road.  Taking an antidepressant simply puts the color back into things and allows me to go about my business.

Because ever since I can remember, that’s what depression has done to my world–  it sucks the color out of things, makes everything bleak, grey, hopeless.

I’m not a newbie to what I like to call “Vitamin Z”.

The first time I took an antidepressant was the summer after my senior year in high school.  I was struggling with an eating disorder and a psychiatrist put me on Prozac when I didn’t respond to therapy alone.  I didn’t take it consistently, and ended up stopping it before long.

I took Zoloft for much of my college years.  It was helpful, and I was consistent with it.  The entire time, I participated in counseling to help myself learn coping skills, and to process myself.  At some point, I stopped taking it and did okay with life, utilizing natural supports, exercise, and the talking cure.  For a brief period of time, after a trauma in my 20s, I used Celexa, but stopped when I got married and wanted to consider pregnancy.

Then I had a baby.

Postpartum depression and anxiety hit me almost instantly upon giving birth to my son.  I participated in intensive therapy and was convinced to try Zoloft again, as it was a medication considered compatible with breastfeeding.  Again, the clouds lifted.  I stayed on a very low dose of Zoloft for a period of two years after having Jack.

When I got pregnant with Emily, I knew enough to request I go back on it within hours of her birth.  I am happy to say, after birthing Emily, I had no issues with postpartum mood at all.  Part of this was likely due to having more realistic expectations of what parenthood would be, and also to proactively managing things.

I use the terms anxiety and depression almost interchangeably, because in my mind they are two sides of the same coin.  They waltz around up there hand-in-hand, making me anxious because I feel depressed, then making me depressed because it feels so crappy to be anxious.

If you’ve never experienced either of these conditions before, you probably don’t know what I’m talking about.  Maybe you think I’m crazy.

I’m not.

I am a great mom.  I am a radiant, professional, grounded, and competent human.  I have a career, social life, and hobbies.

I also have managed anxiety and depression since I was young.

It makes me feel vulnerable to speak about.  I would really rather write a post about how my daughter would like to be a dinosaur when she grows up and call it a day.  But I think that sense of vulnerability makes this topic something important to talk about.

Part of this vulnerability comes from the stigma we have around mental illness.  I’ve never thought of myself as someone with “mental illness”, but I guess that is how some would classify me, since anxiety and depression fall into the category of mental illness.  Whatevs.

I prefer to think of myself as charmingly neurotic, a little obsessive, chronically organized, and highly sensitive.  Sensitivity is not necessarily a bad trait, unless we make it one.  I believe my sensitivity helps me to be empathetic and relate to people.

I prefer not to think of myself as “mentally ill,” “depressed,” or “anxious,” because those things seem really heavy and hard to bear.  I prefer not to have others think of me in these categories, either.  I fear being labeled.  I fear being doubted or discredited because my neurotransmitters fire a little differently.

I’ve also learned to manage judgement that comes with taking medication to manage anxiety and depression.  Close friends and family have actually suggested that taking an SSRI is bad, a sign of weakness, an unnecessary habit.  Wouldn’t it just be better to get some more exercise/eat more leafy greens/meditate/look on the bright side/just let it go/yadda, yadda, yadda?

And then there are those who believe it just takes more love.  I can say with authority, love does not cure depression.

Such comments used to make me feel insecure, riddled with self doubt and recrimination.  I’ve learned to let them pass from one ear to another without causing any cognitive dissonance.

Here’s the equation it boils down to in my brain:

Being able to get up and be a functional human = GOOD

Feeling miserable and negative = BAD

Feeling able to care for myself and my family = GOOD

Carrying a hopeless sense of overwhelmed panic = BAD

When life is more or less balanced, I can juggle my highly sensitive nature with what I need to manage in the way of kids, marriage, home, career, etc.  But when something happens to tip the balance, such as a brutal winter, trauma, or situational stressors, it is much harder to keep all things in perspective.

I know my moods are getting the better of me when I am more irritable than usual, when everyday responsibilities fatigue me, and when everything seems like a struggle.  These are pretty much typical symptoms of depression.

For me there is also a sense of being trapped and feeling like my situation won’t ever change. And then of course there is the twirling cage of wild, flapping birds that fills my chest and abdomen when I am anxious. I feel too sick to eat. I wake too early in the morning, unable to fall back asleep because I am worrying about my day, the laundry, my kids getting eaten by bears–  you name it.

It is at this point when I call in the script for my good old Vitamin Z.

Look, if it were as simple and elegant as just letting it go, or taking a breath, or getting more exercise, then yeah, I wouldn’t need the artificial assistance of medication.  If those things work for you, great!  You don’t need an SSRI to help balance the delicate flow of serotonin in your noggin.  More power to ya’.  Medication is not for everyone, and I would never make a blanket statement or recommend that every person who struggles with their mood should be on it.

I don’t relish taking a pill every day.  Medication has side effects, such as making it difficult for me to lose weight, or numbing my libido just slightly.  And then there are the gastro side effects. I knew someone who called SSRIs the “Cranial/Rectal Shunt,” because they take all the shit out of your head and pump it out the other end. But I’ll take the very manageable side effects over the crappy sense of failure brought on by unbalanced serotonin.

I know when I’ve gotten to the point where I need that little boost so I can go about my life.  On a very low dose (which some would even consider sub-therapeutic), things just tighten up in my brain.  The dreadful thoughts don’t have free reign to scamper around in my noggin.  The moods and worries are not as expansive and there is a tremendous relief in that for me.

Before having a family to care for, a marriage to nurture, or a home to pay for, it was easier to shake off anxiety and depression. Staying in bed all weekend wasn’t an issue, and there was a little more freedom to “work on myself.”

But for many of us, as parents, there are so many pressures coming from so many areas of our lives and it can be hard to bounce back from a dip in our emotional state. Hormones that fluctuate with pregnancy, childbearing, and menopause, and bring sometimes debilitating instability, are topics for a post of its own.

I know there are thousands, maybe even millions of moms in the same predicament as me, given the statistical prevalence of anxiety and depression.  

Some of them have found help and support, and others are suffering in silence.

We are beginning to study and know more about how maternal depression affects children, so at the end of the day, this may be the most important reason I have for making sure I am appropriately treating my emotional state.

I’ve been on the higher dose for about three weeks now, and I’m starting to feel the difference.  Just in time for the spring thaw, so I can have a little psychic space to enjoy looking at daffodils and playing outside with my kids.

Let Us Eat Cake, and Other Thoughts That Keep Me Going

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IMG_6067There is a hunk of birthday cake in the freezer.

This thought keeps me going.

I have four loads of laundry to do, healthy meals to make for the week, moldy shower curtains to take down, wash and re-hang, a birthday party for which to prepare and attend, sibling disputes to referee, beds to make, and floors to de-crumb.  You know how it goes.

My hands hurt.  My back hurts.  There is a nagging pain in my neck.

Whaaamp whaaahh.

But if I make it to the end of the day, after the kids are in bed, I can sit on the couch and eat frozen cake.

I haven’t exercised in way too long, and my kids are watching way too much TV.  We’ve eaten fast food more than I’d like to admit.  Sometimes I go days without offering them a vegetable.

I don’t get around to changing the sheets on our beds very often, and tend to forgo activities I consider “adult” like buying wrapping paper or drying my hair.  I’ve gotten lazy about sending Thank You cards, and forget to return phone calls.  Many days, I look at my clients with an engaged face, but a disengaged mind as I contemplate the list of how I am failing as a mother, wife, and social worker.

It goes on and on.

Being a working mom is hard.  Like way harder than I could have ever imagined.  I’m sick of talking about it, and bored to tears of writing about it.  It’s not a unique a story, and I actually have it a lot better than most.

And that cake is there.  It is a little slice of nice, the thought of which momentarily stops the monotonous broken record of maternal depression and exhaustion.

Maybe I’ll eat it.  Or maybe I won’t, because just knowing it’s there, just in case, satisfies.

I feel guilty I’m not on Pinterest in my spare time, looking up crafty shit to do with my kids.

I.  Just.  Can’t.

I feel really, freaking guilty I don’t spend every second admiring my children’s ethereal beauty, and that I count the hours until bedtime.  I feel even more guilty after they are in bed and I realize another day is past us and I squandered it being frustrated and mindless.

Maternal depression is tricky.  It is misunderstood by society, and seems taboo to address head on.  I don’t think of myself as “a depressed person,” but every once in a while I become so overwhelmed by the mundane, it suddenly occurs to me, “I’m depressed and that is why every minute activity or request is being interpreted as a complex demand which threatens to push me over the edge of despair.”  (I.e., spending 20 minutes unraveling the vacuum cord after Jack “helped” me clean.)

I don’t even like using the words “I’m” and “depressed” in the same sentence.  For the record, I’m also not a person who eats her feelings, but imagining that cake. . . it just helps.

Before motherhood, depression sucks, but is tolerable because there’s more access to self care.  This is not to say depression can’t be totally debilitating to non-parents, and it is certainly not a competition about who is more depressed than who.  But I’ve found self care becomes a lot more elusive for moms who work and use money formerly set aside for organic diet and massage on daycare, or who are shuttling kids around to dance and soccer and don’t have the time to work out unless they get up before the sun.

There is also a weird dichotomy that if we don’t take time for ourselves we are martyrs, but if we do we feel oddly and uncomfortably entitled.  It doesn’t help with the whole guilty/worthless/trapped/hopeless sense one has when depressed.  Stupid jerk, I find myself telling myself.  What did you think motherhood would be?

Then comes the unbalanced, lack of perspective and sense of failure.  You don’t even deserve all you have.  It takes some strength to keep the train from careening off track.  So, let us eat cake.

Other thoughts that keep me going?

My daughter wakes me up every morning, pokes my nose gently with her pudgy finger, and says, “Hug mama?”  I love her chirpy voice and cookie dough smell even more than freezer cake.

20140118-083136.jpgThe kids may not eat veggies, but they eat fruit all day long.  Their preferred beverage is water, and so is mine.  We are all getting our fiber, and are wonderfully hydrated.  So there is hope for our health.

The kids played nicely for ten whole minutes the other day, so there is hope we might make it another year without them mauling one another.

We read to the kids every day.  They love books.  So there is hope that extra half hour of TV won’t demolish their brains.

Jack goes to karate and does everything he is told, the first time, every time for a whole hour.  So there is hope maybe he won’t always be a stressy ball of tantrum.

Emily pooped on the potty twice in the past month!  Sure she also peed on the carpet and dumped out a pantload of crap on the bathroom floor, but she also pooped on the potty twice!  So there is hope I will usher yet another child into big-kid-pants.

Jack’s sunflowers offer their bright faces to the sun.20130827-093636.jpg

It’ll be okay.

It’ll be okay.

These are the hard years.  These are the years when there is never enough money, time, patience, energy, room in our bed, or sanity.  These are the years on which we will look back with longing for arms stretched up to us.  These are the years when we are growing plastic, little brains and are under the gun to do it right, do it good, do it quick.

These are the years when tending to our own mental health so often takes a back seat to the needs of our families, work, home.

But we need our oxygen so we can keep breathing for those slimy little critters, who we can’t remember when last we bathed.

Sometimes a little cake on the couch does just the trick.  Sometimes simply thinking about cake helps.

These are the years when our kids need our hugs, smiles, and random potty jokes in the middle of the day so much more than something crafty from Pinterest.

It’ll be okay.  We will get there.

What do you do to take care of yourself when you are overwhelmed or down?  Share a thought that keeps you going.