What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
The first question I asked my psychiatrist was, “Are these going to make me gain weight?”
You know, after confirming that the medication wouldn’t pass through my breastmilk and affect the baby. Obviously.
She looked at me for a second and finally said, “No. No, this type of medication won’t cause you to gain weight the way some anti-depressants do.”
I breathed a sigh of relief.
I was four months postpartum, and there was no question I was battling anxiety and depression. Never in my life had I considered going on medication to treat a mood disorder, though I’d had a few (well, more than a few?) rough patches that I negotiated by myself, in the past.
But this time was different. This time I had a whole family, and their feelings, to consider.
I didn’t actually realize the extent to which I was suffering, for a while. I kind of equated postpartum depression with needing to cry a lot, being unable to get much done, sleeping too much, not getting my butt off the couch for days at a time, and watching my house fall apart around me. And that was so not me.
Nope, I was all about Getting Shit Done. I was managing a household with a newborn, a 3 year old and a teenager. I was cooking elaborate meals from scratch, making my own nut milk, working as a content writer for a marketing agency during naptime and after the kids went to bed, and often going to sleep at 2 am to get everything done. I was out several days a week, going to therapy appointments. I was working out regularly.
I was really fucking productive!
How was this postpartum depression? Maybe I just had anxiety. Anxious people can be super-productive too, right?
But along with getting so much accomplished all the time came the feeling of being trapped. Like this way of living was never going to let up, and eventually something would have to give. Because you can’t go to bed at 2 am and get up at 7 am, and be productive and caring and loving while you’re awake, indefinitely.
And once that feeling of being trapped arrived, it stayed. It began to wear on me, and I got so angry. Angry at what? All The Things. Everyone was an asshole.
I had to perform some music by J.S. Bach that was really hard. Bach was an asshole! The conductor who was taking everything much faster than anticipated? Asshole! That lady on the subway who just bumped into my newborn, while I was wearing him? Asshole! The insurance company who wasn’t covering my baby’s asthma inhaler? Assholes!
I laughed about it, but I was laughing a bit maniacally, at that point. It had stopped being a joke, somewhere along the way.
I found myself walking through life looking for a fight. I remember getting on the subway, one day, and actually hoping someone would bump into me or fail to give me a seat while I was carrying my baby, so that I would have someone to yell at. And potentially punch in the face. And I don’t mean figuratively. I actually wanted to physically hurt people.
When I finally started admitting this tiny little detail to my support network, it became obvious from the reactions I got that this was not an OK place to exist in. I nodded half-heartedly in agreement.
But I was getting so much done! And I was surviving, putting one foot in front of the other, each day. Wasn’t that enough?
Sure, if all I wanted was survival.
But how much joy was I missing out on, by existing this way? Why wasn't it OK to be on meds, if it meant yelling at my 3-year-old girl less frequently? How was that the better choice?
And so, I found myself in my therapist’s office, asking about whether the meds I was about to start on would make me gain weight. It wasn’t really my main concern, but it was my last bit of ego, letting go of the notion that I was “OK.” I wasn’t OK. And it was time to look for a way to change that, so that I could be a better mom, and a better partner, to the people who deserved that from me.
Six months down the line, I feel better than I have in more than a year. I still have moments of feeling overwhelmed, and I call people assholes more than I probably should, but I also smile more. I am able to take a moment before reacting, when my daughter does something that pisses me off. I laugh at myself and at the chaos in my life, rather than feel trapped by it.
And that’s a good thing.
I’m writing about this to tell you that postpartum depression, any kind of depression, comes in many different flavors. It’s not always what you think it will be, but there are ways to get better. For me, it was medication and therapy, despite my preconceptions.
Pay attention to yourself. And remember that you’re worth paying attention to.