Lately I feel like I am living on a planet with super high gravity. That’s what postpartum depression feels like. Every single thing that you do is harder because it’s heavier, but you still have to do the things.
I have struggled off an on with varying levels of depression, mostly seasonal. Sometimes this is just a general negative funk. Sometimes it’s a seemingly inability to function. One semester at Longwood I skipped 2/3 of my classes and slept an average of 18 hours a day. I would procrastinate on papers until the last possible minute, then just shut down and sleep. Taking the zero ended the anxiety. Outside of severe student loan debt, there were, alarmingly, no major consequences.
Postpartum is a new flavor of depression for me. Some moms struggling with ppd aren’t as lucky, but fortunately being solely responsible for a tiny helpless being every day helps keep me together – barely.
I recently started seeing a postpartum psychiatrist regarding whatever you call my whirlwind of exhaustion and emotion. She listened to my litany of complaints and feeble excuses for the many things I know I should do, but don’t do. (We only just met, and professional or no, I have an inherent desire for people to think highly of me.)
I have a psychology bachelors degree. It’s no PhD, but it’s enough to know that she’s very good at what she does. The way I know is that she started by telling me how common my troubles are; I’m not alone or a bad mom. Then she targeted one thing: sleep. Our priority is for me to get more and higher quality sleep. We worked together to make a simple plan starting with melatonin for sleep and some blood tests from my doctor to see if my anemia or a thyroid problem is a root cause of my sleep disturbances.
Another way I know she’s good at her job is that I left confident that we were working toward a solution. Just recognizing that my current attitude is abnormal and believing that something might make it better, is usually a giant step toward actually getting better. In a single appointment, without even starting any psychiatric medications, I already had a big energy boost. This energy boost yielded meal planning, grocery shopping, an impromptu zoo trip, and an equally impromptu minivan purchase. 5 days taking melatonin with decent sleep and things were looking up.
Then Monday happened. Our lengthy dealership process cut into a significant chunk of my sleep, so I started the day with a low battery. The aftermath of buying a car set in, complete with a 2 hour trip to the DMV with the napless wonder. I handed off a cranky boy to his fresh-from-work dad and headed off for my bloodwork appointment.
I am a big supporter of destigmatizing mental health, but no one wants to answer a very clinical series of questions to determine just how many ways and with what severity they feel like a failure. Especially twice, to both a nurse and a general practicioner.
I know that it is selfish to hide it all away and let the negativity seep out, rotting and festering in all of the holes I am leaving by not dealing with it. I can assure you, when you are exhausted and sad, and everything is so much heavier, it is infinitely harder not to be selfish. I am proud of myself for seeking help. This is my guiding thought going into this appointment.
After poking and prodding all of the sensitive areas of my psyche, she proceeds to give me a lengthy list of daily recommendations. “Are you taking your iron? Why not? Does it upset your stomach? You just forget? (Jots down notes.) You can get iron from food too, if you work on a more balanced diet that will help.”
She checks my hands and eyes for trademark anemia paleness, chalks it up to my just being pale in general.
“How about exercise, do you exercise at all? No? Regular exercise is proven to help with mood and sleep. Are you at least getting outside in the sun? You can get a lot of vitamin D from just 15 minutes outside, and it will help you reset your sleep schedule. Just try to get out for a walk every day and that will take care of sunlight and exercise.”
She checks my breathing. Asks if I can go upstairs without shortness of breath. I lie a little bit.
“Make sure to have an hour of light and screen-free time before bed to help you fall asleep. Go to bed early so that you can get enough hours in.”
I assure her that I try, and by try I mean I toss and turn for at least an hour, but now I’ll verbally berate myself every time I check my phone out of pure habit.
She preps the bloodwork order, probably as hopeful as I am that there’s something biologically wrong with me and that I’m not just this bad at being a human.
As a kind afterthought she pops her head back in the door on her way out and adds “make time for yourself, everyone deserves time to themselves.” And I don’t know whether to curse or cry so I just say “I know, I’ll try.”
I go home rattled and embarrassed to a messy house, and a husband who is managing to care for our son, make dinner, and even tidy a bit. I am grateful with a side of resentful, because he makes it look so easy. It’s very Harrison Bergeron of me, but if I can’t do something, can’t everyone else have the decency to be equally bad at it so that I can feel better about myself?
That’s when I realize that I start watching my niece the next day. This means prepping the diaper bag for a day out of the house, setting a 6 am alarm, waking my sleeping child, commuting in rush hour traffic, and adding 18 more pounds of curious, loving, needy, messy, delightful weight to my current 20-ton backpack of responsibility.
I alternate between ruminating on how selfish I am being and how much I want to be sleeping. Instead I suggest a walk, because it’s Ollie’s favorite thing to do and because it is on the doctor’s list of lifestyle changes that all have to be done right now if I’m ever going to feel any better.
We make it across the street before I ask to just sit down on a hill and let Ollie play because I am already tired. John reminds me that he had planned to go watch a football game at 7. Noting my abundant negativity, he offers to stay and help with bedtime, but in an effort to be less egocentric, I wave him off to enjoy his much needed alone time.
Bedtime is heavy, but discovering that we have no clean bottles to pack for the next day, was a crushing blow. Somehow I make it through.
This, in a rather large nutshell, is why I am seeing a psychiatrist. I called for an appointment because I keep yelling at my sweet child when I can’t handle his curiosity or neediness at inconvenient times. I am reminded that I’m off when I interpret every facial expression or comment as judging, angry, disappointed, or otherwise negative. These are all just symptoms of the overall problem: doing everyday things feels like trying to sprint underwater, and I have to do everyday things everyday.
At the end of the day both I and my child have eaten, he’s been changed, and he’s gotten some sleep, so we’ve been getting by. My doctor’s list of helpful suggestions is not only daunting, it’s dangerous. Making it seem so easy makes me feel even more incompetent. Having to go back and tell the doctor that I failed to do any of these things consistently makes me anxious I can’t even reliably sleep away these feelings, as I would have as an introspective college freshman.
My psychiatrist understands this, because she is trained to understand this, and because she has seen dozens of women go through this. I thank my lucky stars that she does, because when you add insurance paperwork, insensitive doctors, and daily life’s many tiny pitfalls, I could not possibly keep running this underwater marathon. I am hopeful, that with her help, I can get back to a nice, metaphoric, on-land power-walk.