In March I began taking Lexapro after seeing a psychiatrist. My decision to see him was made months ago, when I was still pregnant. Since having my first child, I have been struggling mightily with depression and anxiety. Over the last (almost) four years, I have made countless calls to my husband at work, crying so hard it was difficult to breathe. I have spent hours alone at home with one child, or two children, or three. I have endured numerous visions of horrible things happening to my babies, many panic-induced mornings or afternoons when I hid in the kitchen and shoved chocolate in my mouth and guzzled soda – anything to make it better for just one second. I have looked out the window and thought about leaving, either by car or by suicide. I have read accounts of mothers who shook their babies or drowned them in bathtubs and I have understood the overwhelming darkness that grips desperate women.
I am not proud of these things. But this has been part of my experience of motherhood, one of isolation and alienation, probing the depths of myself and hating what I found there.
The other part is laughter and hugs and kisses and gentleness and light and the knowledge that my family is my world. That when my children were born, I was born – a little more each time with each child. That my husband is truly the best person I have ever known – flawed and fallible, yes, but someone I am truly honored to love. That those things, the depression and anxiety and yelling and thoughts of suicide, aren’t me. They are pieces of my experience. But not me.
What happened when I became a mother is that I was unexpectedly cut open and my first child was delivered and I slept under the haze of general anesthesia through it all. I was not present for my son’s birth and neither was my husband, and to this day it is something that bothers me, that my son was ushered into the world without the two people who loved him most there to catch him, to say “Welcome to the world. We’ve been waiting so long for you, Charlie.” He is a wonderful child, he knows he is loved, and it’s not often that I think of his traumatic birth. But when I do, it’s with the knowledge that such a thing, the birth of a child, no matter how it unfolds, changes a mother for life. It would have changed me regardless, and yet, it stings. It stings and I learned. I learned so much and I evolved into a mama warrior and I dragged the darkness along with me, the trauma, and then I put it all into my next pregnancy and my preparations for my second son’s birth and I had fantasies of cathartic weeping while pushing him out in a pool of warm water. I had a feeling that a different birth experience would help me to heal and I went down a different path to deliver my child and at the end of that path, ultimately, was another operating room, another surgical birth. I was so exhausted from laboring so long and pushing so long that I could barely stay awake while the OB cut into me and pulled my second son out of my scarred womb. But I stayed awake, I was determined to be present through it all, and I heard his first cry and I felt the squish of his cheek to mine before the nurses whisked him away. The OB took a long time stitching me shut as he had lacerated my bladder during the surgery, and over the next week, I developed a bad UTI and I spent an entire day at home sobbing in agony while waiting for a prescription and a confirmation from the doctor of what we already knew.
The human soul is strong, though; it wants to survive – flourish, even – and I healed. My incision healed and my heart healed even as it broke in different places simultaneously. My dad was put under hospice care and I learned that my midwife had heartlessly betrayed me, and in the midst of these things, my husband got a new job and we packed it up and moved six hours north, leaving our family and friends and our beautiful little home behind. We’d rented an apartment sight unseen and it was fine, it was a place to live while we got adjusted and came to know the area, but it was never home. We had no money; that first Christmas we were only able to buy the boys a gift because my dear friend sent me a gift certificate to Amazon. We had one car and I spent days upon days in our cave of an apartment with the boys while my husband worked. After a six month adjustment period and realizing we’d never be able to make it on one income, I returned to my college job, waiting tables, and I worked nights while Roy worked days and we passed the kids off between us.
One month after being back at work, I found out I was pregnant. I was never unhappy about it. I knew this baby was our baby girl. But I was unprepared. I was terrified. I wanted to fast forward through the pregnancy and birth and just hold her in my arms. As my belly grew, my anxiety worsened. I grieved hard over the fact that I would never have a vaginal birth. Thoughts of death crept into my mind on a regular basis. My dad’s condition worsened and stabilized, worsened and stabilized. I made two trips to see him while I was pregnant, and each time I was never sure when I’d get to see him again. It is strange now, to look back on my last pregnancy – I was so sure that I was going to die during my C-section, that I’d never meet my daughter, that I’d leave my beloved family and friends behind, and I was so preoccupied with my own mortality that my dad’s death was a true shock, even though he’d been on hospice for almost two years, even though he was skeletal, even though I knew he couldn’t hold on forever. He’d been ill for 30 years, surely he’d make it a little longer.
He didn’t. He died the week my daughter was born, and it’s been over four months now, and the world still doesn’t feel right without him. He died the day after my mom’s birthday, five days before his own birthday. I don’t mean to make this about him, but all things are about him, all things lead to him, he’s half the reason why I’m here and the entire reason why I’m a woman. He’s in me and he’s in my children. I can’t deny him.
But what was I talking about?
Depression. Yes, things have happened, hormones fluctuating over and over, three pregnancies, three births, three children have entered my life in the last four years, we’ve moved twice, once was completely out of the area I’d lived in for 10 years and the place we called home, I quit my job and became a stay at home parent and then went back to work part time. Things are always changing and I once heard that depression is a healthy reaction to change. Depression, for me, is hard to recognize, even though it makes me virtually unrecognizable. I’m always justifying it, thinking if I ate better, got more exercise, slept more, I would feel better, and while that is almost certainly true, none of those things have been able to pull me out of what has been, at times, a truly terrifying place. And people have said all kinds of “helpful” things to me, like “just be grateful” or “just be happy”. Someone asked me recently why I don’t “just smoke some weed.” I don’t get this whole “just” attitude. It’s like telling someone suffering from infertility to “just relax” or “just adopt.” If things were as easy as that, none of us would be hurting and we’d have all the things we wanted.
I think I finally gave up and realized that as much as I wanted my depression and anxiety to have a completely natural cure, I’d experienced too much misery to wait it out much longer. When I went to see my psychiatrist for the first time, my voice shook as I described what life had been like for me – yes, I’d had so many moments of sweetness and light, but the bad moments were horrible, they were monstrous and my self-hatred was growing. I finally realized that as much as I wanted the bad moments to be normal, they weren’t. They were me being unable to cope with whatever little thing I couldn’t cope with at the moment, making that little thing into a huge horrendous thing that led me to yell at the kids or call my husband sobbing, and the worst part, to hate myself for being weak. For failing.
The little white pills have helped me, thankfully. At night I sweat profusely while I sleep (wonderful side effect) and when the baby wakes to feed, I am cold with my damp clothes stuck to my skin. It’s a little alarming and also a little comforting, I like to imagine that my psyche is driving out the demons with a brutal force, I like to imagine that someday I will be cured. I have no idea if I’ll be on medication forever, but for now, it’s helping me cope with the needs of my three small children and the grief surrounding the death of my father, and the grief surrounding everything else in life. There are still bad days, the difference is I’m not staring desperation in the eye much of the time.
I’m practicing talking about my depression and anxiety. I’m practicing talking about being on medication. I’m practicing this because as with most unsavory parts of life, much is left unsaid, and I need to shine a light on my experience. It matters.