Saturday, January 6, 2018

Postpartum Depression: The Recovery

A friend of mine shared one of my old posts today, and when the page views made it pop up in my blog stats, I re-read it and thought back on the experience that led to writing it.

It was this post about suffering from postpartum anxiety and depression after the birth of my son a year and a half ago. It made me think about what my life has looked like since writing that post, and the truth is that it took a long time to stop feeling the way that I felt the day I described there: 
Even as it's happening--the panic, the shaking, the breaths that catch in my throat--there's a part of me that's outside of it all, watching it. There's a part of me screaming, "This isn't a big deal! Get it together!" But I can't hear her. In that moment, I feel like I am in fight or flight, but the threat is me. How do you run from yourself? 
With a quick glance or in the right light, I still seem like myself. I still make wry jokes and plan to meet with friends. I still smile. I still love and enjoy both of my children. 
But like a copy of a copy of a copy, if you look closer, the picture isn't quite right. I'm not quite me. The edges break down and the lines start to blur.
In the first weeks following my son's birth, I felt like this all of the time. Every single thing in my world overwhelmed me. I was particularly frustrated with myself because my son was such an easy baby (especially compared to my high needs daughter who, for the first four years of her life, never slept more than an hour or two at a time).  This newborn was sleeping for three hours, waking up to nurse, and going right back to sleep for another four hours. He was the infant that they use to write those parenting books that make all the rest of us feel like we're failing at everything. Even when he was awake, he was just as happy to coo quietly in a bassinet as he was to be held in my arms or swaddled up in a carrier. He just went with the flow.

And I still couldn't handle anything.

The microwave would beep and I'd fall into hysterics because the thought of dealing with finishing lunch would be too much. I'd have to call to pay a bill over the phone, and it would feel like someone was asking me to climb a mountain barefoot while juggling fishbowls that I couldn't spill. Everything was just too much.

At the worst moments, I would fall into a heap on the floor and sob until I had nothing left to sob. At most moments, I walked through my day with my muscles tense, as if I were permanently braced for a blow that never came.

It got better . . . slowly. It was like a pendulum swinging wider and wider with each arc. My normal was on one end, and the terror of being completely consumed by daily living was on the other.

At first, the pendulum would swing from one to the other every couple hours. Eventually it would swing back and forth only a few times a day. Then a few times a week. Then a few times a month. Then once a month. All told, I have only felt like the swinging stopped (fully rooted in my normal world) within the last few months. Part of me wonders if it is really done or if it is just on a particularly long arc.

As time went on, I learned to treat the anxiety like a monster that would sometimes escape a cage but that I knew couldn't actually hurt me. I just had to let it wear itself out until it was too tired to resist being led back into the cage. It was always there, waiting and growling from the darkness, but as long as I could keep it contained, it couldn't ruin my day.

Looking back now, I think the thing that hurts the most is that it feels like time lost. My memories of my earliest weeks with my wonderful son are of terror punctuated with tiny moments of love and joy. I am so glad that I have pictures and videos from his earliest days now that I can look back on them with a clearer mind, without a monster snarling in my face.

Postpartum anxiety and depression is very common. The chances are high that someone you know and love has suffered through this roller coaster of emotions . . . even if you don't know about it. The fear we have about being open and honest about our mental health holds us back from getting the help and support we need.

Monsters are strongest in the dark. Once we turn on the lights, they never look quite as terrifying. Let's make sure we shine them brightly.

Photo: Shannon Kokoska 

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