Monday, January 25, 2016

Subconscious Wisdom

First of all, my postpartum depression post has quickly become the most viewed one I've ever written. You are all amazing - thank you for all the support. I hope that post has helped many of you in some way.

Here's a bit of an expansion on that. I mentioned that I had two dreams that led to my decision to take meds; they were so vivid and spoke so clearly that I still recall them in detail seven months later.

The First

Tickle was two and a half months old, and I couldn't admit to myself yet that I was experiencing PPD. And then I dreamed.

I saw a drawing. That was it: a simple drawing that could have been a cartoon clipped out of a newspaper. It was an alphabet quilt, colored in brown scale on a bright white background. Each square of the quilt was its own letter, with a corresponding animal family: A for alligator, B for bear, and so on. But in each panel, one parent played energetically with the child and smiled happily, while the other parent sat by themselves to one side, either looking away or looking at the other two as they played, wearing an expression of worry or anger or sadness.

I especially remember the zebra family. The baby zebra was so happy with the little wooden train (with an expression that Spousal Unit calls "unfettered joy"), pushing it while the mom smiled and lovingly rested a hoof on his back. But the zebra dad was sitting by himself, looking away, visibly upset.

On waking, I immediately realized that yes, I'd been feeling depressed. It's not like I'm a stranger to the feeling; I've dealt with it most of my life. But I was able to acknowledge that it was more than hormones and difficulty adjusting, because the thing that struck me most about the dream was that in each panel of that quilt, a parent was missing out on his or her child having fun and growing up, unable to appreciate the good times.

I knew I had already missed out on too much and had to do something about it.

The Second

Two weeks later, I had been trying to follow a new routine, doing my best (but still failing) to actively hold back the worst of my depression while continuing to see my therapist. If I were to take meds, I had to start right away for them to have any effect before my maternity leave ended. I'd filled the prescription and even brought it home, but still felt unsure about taking them.

(Looking back, I don't know that I even remember why I was so divided. Part was probably not wanting to depend on a drug for happiness, which is a flawed view - it's more about allowing me to experience a proper range of emotions. I think it mostly had to do with taking them while breastfeeding. My doctor had given me the most well-researched prescription and assured me that any amount that might reach Tickle was negligible and harmless, but still, I worried. Because I'm really, really good at it. If it were an Olympic event, I'd take home the gold every time.)

And then I dreamed.

In the dream, Tickle was born as twins and immediately whisked away from me. Birth had been so intense that for a while, I thought it had been a dream, especially without the babies at my side; the nurses and doctors wouldn't tell me anything, either. But after repeated confrontation, they admitted what had happened, and I went off in search of my daughters in the cold, industrial-sized hospital. I finally found Tickle in the dark hospital NICU, which was lit up with awful red lights. I clutched her to me and it was clear that she had no issues at all - she was small and so very new, but healthy as could be. They had only taken her away from me because they (whoever they were) thought it was best for her. But I knew that was wrong. I knew that she needed me.

Holding her tightly, I left the NICU and encountered the hospital director and a few other staff, who had been trying to chase me down and keep me from finding the babies. I was so upset that when the old balding director provided a weak apology for the situation, I clutched newborn Tickle tightly in one arm and swung out at him with my right.

You know how in dreams, you always end up moving as though through water? Fighting is completely ineffective and you can never run fast enough. But that wasn't the case with this dream. I gave the director several solid punches, all while yelling at him and holding my little girl close. I was able to defend and protect her, because I would do anything for her.

I woke up feeling exhilarated and empowered, and knew that desire to do anything for her extended to improving my mental health. I took the first pill immediately, with a smile on my face.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Saying the Hard Things

Let me preface: I love my daughter.

I have loved her since Day 1 (however you might measure that). I'm continually amazed at all the things about her - from the way she stared at everything so intently the moment she was born to all the shifts and changes as she's become a different person over the last nine months. She's incredible and studious and smart and adorable and (yes) perfect.

I thought (hoped) it was just hormones at first. Then I thought it was just trouble adjusting to this big life change. Then I called it by its true name (at least, in my head) and tried to ignore it, and then hoped it would go away on its own. I'm sure many other mothers do this too.

I felt so guilty for having postpartum depression. I also felt angry for so many reasons: I couldn't figure out how to do it right (because surely I was doing it wrong). Spousal Unit had (still has) a different parenting style than me and we had trouble compromising (largely because of the depression and hormones). I was also angry because I love being a mom (!) so much more than I thought I would, and I felt like my entire life had been re-written with Tickle (i.e., Child Unit) as the focus ... and I was okay with it. I felt like that made me a bad feminist, or like I was betraying my old self. 

It was a complete 180 from who I once was. Because becoming a mother made me a different person. Is making me a different person. And it's been tough coming to grips with the facts that (a) I would completely give up everything I am in a heartbeat for my daughter, and (b) it's better for both of us if I don't, because I'm a better parent when I take proper care of myself - in all ways.

Medication and therapy have helped a lot. So have Spousal Unit's incredible patience and understanding. So has learning about PPD; it turns out that anger is one of its main symptoms. I had a hard time deciding to start taking meds back in July, but I realized that taking them was, for me, the best way to continue being a positive force in Tickle's life. Taking them was part of being a good parent. The way I felt before and after they kicked in was night and day, and it's noticeable even in pictures.

Before - June 2015, 2 1/2 months

After - September 2015, five months

It was like stepping into the wonderful technicolor land of Oz. And hearing Nessun Dorma's triumphant climax for the first time. And catching a whiff of that amazing dish your mom used to make when you were a kid, bringing beautiful memories to life before you.

All at once.

I had forgotten it was possible to feel so good. Best of all, I was still capable of feeling a normal amount of sad or angry when appropriate - a big difference from my last experience with antidepressants, 12 years ago. For several months, life was still difficult sometimes (usually due to lack of sleep), but a thousand times more wonderful. I can't imagine what it would have been like to go back to work while feeling like I did before.

While my mood isn't nearly as bad as it used to be, I've had more trouble since winter began and the days shortened. I've dealt with seasonal affective disorder in the past, and apparently having PPD doesn't give me a pass on it this time around. I've had to remind myself again that taking care of myself is taking care of my family.


Lately this means renewed diligence with taking the meds (because they're still important, damnit) and making time for my SAD light. It's hard to remember that it's okay to put myself first - when I feel like myself, I tend to give away the last cookie, do five "quick" errands before bed, and forget for an hour at a time that I wanted a glass of water. (Really - when I get caught up in something, I even forget that I'm hungry.) I need to remember that feeling well doesn't mean I can slack off on taking care of myself.

When I feel like a shadow-cloaked beast has taken hold of my soul, showering is a victory. Recognizing that the words I want to say are fueled by depression - and then holding them back - is a triumph. Through all of this - despite all of this - I have loved Tickle and Spousal Unit immensely. Even when I felt suicidal, my warped brain felt that course was the best thing for my family (again, I'm no longer feeling like this, but I still have rough days). I'm emphasizing this because of how often PPD is misunderstood. I want to be transparent about it so that others know that feeling like this doesn't make you broken. It doesn't make you terrible. And asking for help doesn't make you weak.

I almost didn't write this post because I don't want Tickle to ever think that my PPD and other depression means I didn't love her during those times. I don't want her to think she isn't enough or that anything other than my biology was to blame. But not talking about it is the easy thing, and I don't want her to think that the easy thing is the right thing. I don't want her to be shy away from doing difficult things or having complicated discussions.

I don't want her to feel embarrassed by or scared of her own feelings.
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