It didn’t begin the night of the day we brought Amy home, when I called my mom in tears at 1:30 in the morning, dismayed and terrified because we couldn’t manage by ourselves, desperate for help.
It didn’t begin two days later, when a panic attack Thanksgiving evening led to Benadryl for me and formula for Amy, and our nighttime separation.
It didn’t even begin eleven days after the birth (interesting coincidence — she was eleven days overdue) when an all-day panic sent me to the E. R. and from there to the psych ward, Zoloft, and Ativan.
I think it began before Amy, before Mark even, somewhere in the years when I was little. The details are murky, but by middle school I was experiencing depression and anxiety on a fairly regular basis. I functioned well enough that it looked like normal teenage angst to me and everyone else, despite the suicidal note I wrote to a friend in seventh grade. (Doesn’t everyone think about suicide in seventh grade?)
When I became a Christian in eighth grade, a lot of the gloom and fear lifted, or was at least pushed aside by the joys and hope I’d come to realize. But the gloom and fear pushed back, especially in the summers.
I tried to get help sometimes. Talking to a pastor, or to a teacher, or to friends. Sometimes I found comfort and reassurance for a time. Mostly what I heard was that I was really doing great, because I was so aware of my issues and so honest about them. You know, the “awareness is half the battle” thing. I got tired of years of awareness without the other half of the battle.
And what is the other half of the battle? It’s not possible to live without any fear, anger, or sadness — there is darkness in the world, and darkness in me, and while the curse is even now being lifted, the darkness will not be completely vanquished until Christ comes again. So what exactly can I hope for?
When I went into therapy with Joe the first time — because I got the “you’re doing great, you’re so aware and honest” speech from yet another pastor, and when I confessed to him how that message threw me into despair, he referred me to Joe, which was terrifying — surely seeing a psychologist is only for crazy people, people with serious problems…
Anyway, when I went into therapy with Joe the first time, he told me that the goal is to face reality, to experience all of life even when it is painful, to have faith that I will not be destroyed by experiencing life; and, by making the subconscious more conscious, and by making connections, I could defuse some of the intensity and impact of my feelings and unhealthy thought patterns. And that maybe I could learn how to be a self — how to be a subject, an agent, with my own personality, desires, inclinations, and so on; to develop healthier boundaries between me and God, and between me and other people.
I made so much progress and learned so much.
But various vulnerabilities increased the strength of those roots of depression and anxiety. We left our home and moved to a strange new place, where I was rejected by the youth group I volunteered with, where that church felt so oppressive in general, where I failed to make any friends, where graduate school sucked almost all of Mark’s energy dry, where we were getting older and hadn’t yet resolved our ambivalence about having children…
(Of course there were also positives… a boost to my musical career, a move to a better church…)
And even though my pregnancy was mostly happy, it had its own vulnerabilities. Fear of labor and delivery. Fear of developing PPD. Fear of being insufficiently prepared for successfully laboring without medication. Fear of the overwhelming responsibility of having a child, and of the impossibility of being a perfect mother who would never hurt or fail or disappoint her child in any way ever.
I was afraid of induction. I was afraid of labor meds. I was afraid of pain. I was afraid about all the things I’d have to learn how to do to take care of a baby.
Labor was scary; even though it went pretty well, it’s still a pretty traumatic thing to do.
The baby was scary, even though she was beautiful and I was so happy to see her. She got scarier as we realized her absolute neediness.
Going home was scary, leaving behind the support of the hospital nurses and dining staff and the midwives.
Here is plenty of vulnerability to make my depression and anxiety strong and powerful.
Then add that I discovered I was too anxious to sleep even when everything was calm.
And that brings us to that day we brought her home, and to the Thanksgiving panic attack, and to the eleven days later all day panic and the psych ward and all that. That’s pretty traumatic and vulnerable, too.
Did I mention all the guilt and shame? And the despair and fear that I had made such a bad start already when I had been so desperate to be the perfect mother? And the aversion I felt to this house and this baby, the site and the object of my failure and yet the place and the person I must learn to live with. Or how difficult it was to know how much my difficulties caused stress to Mark and the others who had been helping?
And now I am still on Zoloft and Ativan, wondering if they’re working, wondering how long I’ll need them.
And now I am still subject to depression and anxiety, sometimes apparently at random, sometimes with clear triggers like an especially fussy Amy moment or some other vulnerability.
And now I am sometimes still subject to moments when I cannot face my daughter (or much else).
But now I also have moments when I enjoy her so much, and can take care of her even when she is fussy, and moments when the vast responsibility of the rest of her life doesn’t weigh too heavily on me.
And all along I have had support that has amazed me; thank you all.
— So — I’m not sure this is really PPD — it may “just” be a major episode of the depression and anxiety I’ve almost always had. I’m not sure the labels matter. I’m also not “cured yet,” but again I’m not sure that’s really a feasible goal — the goal is to get the intensities down to a more manageable level, and I think we’re making progress.