So the past couple weeks have been kind of a rollercoaster.
I found myself, very suddenly, feeling awful. Of course every parent has moments or days of exhaustion and overwhelm, and at first I thought that’s all I was going through. But I would wake up swamped with a sense of despair, with thoughts like “there is not one single thing about this day that I am going to enjoy” pushing into my mind. The kids were sources only of frustration and stress, and I was unable to access any of the joy and humor that their company usually brings me. I felt like I was constantly running on empty, like I couldn’t recharge my inner battery no matter what I did.
And I was bewildered by my own sudden unhappiness. It came on so quickly, it didn’t seem to have any rational source, and I wasn’t sure how to handle it.
I started to tell some people, tentatively, that something was weirdly wrong. I posted on Facebook: “This week has left me feeling like a passive observer of my own mental health. And I’m all like, ‘whoa, that went bad quick.'”
I also told some people that I was daydreaming about committing some sort of major crime just so that I could be sent to prison, where there would be plenty of time to read and write and nobody would be depending on me for anything. I could even laugh at myself as I said it, because it’s obviously such a ludicrous fantasy. But at the same time what that daydream really says is “I would like to escape from my life now, please.” And it’s a short step from a fantasy like that to others that aren’t funny at all. I caught myself wishing for a terminal illness—so that I could go to the hospital and be cared for and absolved of all my responsibilities. And I was angry at myself for having such offensive thoughts, but they kept intruding.
It was very scary to me when I found my mind circling around dark topics in this way. I could not understand it. I like my life! Like anybody I get stressed sometimes, I have bad days, but at bedrock I feel incredibly lucky to have a warm, loving family and a sense of deep purpose to my daily work. Why did I suddenly feel swamped by despair? Where had this darkness come from and why was it drowning me? Sam of course tried to be supportive, but he didn’t understand it either.
Eventually it occurred to me that, hey, I did have a baby not so long ago—could this be linked to that “post-partum depression” I’ve heard so much about?
And suddenly the confusion and the bewilderment dissolved. I could stop asking “but what is wrong with me” and start asking a much more helpful question: “so what’s the treatment”? I did the responsible thing and scheduled an appointment with a doctor to talk about the pit that seemed to have abruptly opened up beneath me.
And as it turns out, the doctor was kind of hilariously uninterested in the question of whether or not I should be diagnosed with post-partum depression. He was all like: “Well, you’re obviously depressed. Post-partum or not, know what? Doesn’t matter. Treatment’s the same either way. And frankly, lady, after hearing about how you’re the primary caregiver for three kids including an infant with no extended family in the area or other support and how you haven’t had a solid night’s sleep in seven months, I think it’s a wonder you didn’t crack sooner. Have some Prozac and call me in two weeks.”
So I am writing about this the same way I would write about a sprained ankle or a bout of the flu. Because I think it’s important to destigmatize mental health issues, and because I was truly surprised by how quickly this settled on me. I have every expectation that a short course of anti-depressants will solve the problem. I even feel a little bit proud of myself for being adult enough to seek treatment right away instead of grimly slogging on. My family deserves better than that, and so do I.