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postpartum depression

I’d choose anaphylaxis over depression any day of the week and twice on Sundays

A couple weeks ago, I was doing what I usually do on a Monday morning: sitting in a room full of upholstered chairs with other allergy sufferers, applying ice packs to my arms while waiting the mandatory 30 minutes after getting my allergy shots. I often bring a book to read, but this time I was huddled over my phone, getting all teary-eyed over a text AJ had sent:

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I’m gonna let our wack-a-doo nickname slide for now and cut to the chase. For me, there is no more sublime feeling than AJ’s empathetic response when I finally break down and tell him that I’m depressed. Is there any larger comfort than this: to have a person you love respond with caring and softness when you admit to them that you’re struggling with the feeling you hate the most in the whole world? (No, I don’t think there is.)

I’ve admitted depression to AJ a handful of times over the course of our relationship, and this time, like all the others, it fell out of my mouth like defeat. If I’m telling him, it means it’s true. And I never want it to be true. Despite the fact that I know depression well, I will still run and hide when I feel it again, like a child convinced that if she can’t see it, it isn’t there.

For most of January and February and March of this year, I felt it nibbling around the edges, but I’d try to rationalize it away. It was just the rain, the winter, the Trump presidency, my lack of creative inspiration. Finally, though, I blurted it out to Aaron while he stirred something at the stove and I cried a little bit, and then we got distracted by something and it was over. Until I checked my text messages in the allergy clinic waiting room.

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Photo by Kevin Moreira

The ice was numbing the dull pain in my arm, and I sat there soaking in the relief that comes when someone you love really sees you. As I blinked through tears and started to text him back, a soft wheeze caught in my throat and made me cough. Oh, the familiar rasp of asthma. It intensified even after I dosed up on my inhaler. My throat started to thicken and itch. My nose congested. My face felt unbearably hot. All this in the space of a minute.

I walked into the nurses’ room and told the first one I saw that I was wheezing quite a bit. She calmly said, “Let’s find a room for you.” By her tone, I expected to wait.

I no sooner entered the room that a blood pressure cuff was slapped on my arm and a pulse/blood oxygen thing on my finger. In the next moment, the doctor walked in, and after I listed off all my symptoms, she asked me to please take off my pants and get on the table. She requested .5 somethings of Epinepherine and the nurse’s eyes widened. She had .3 waiting in the syringe already, and dove it back in to suck up another .2 before injecting it into the meaty part of my left thigh.

After I put my pants back on, I was presented with a tray full of little plastic ups with various pills and potions, all of which I sucked down. I then proceeded to “feel like I had drunk 10-15 cups of coffee” just as the doctor explained I would, and the nurse kept me company and took my blood pressure and pulse every 5 minutes.

“When you walked up to me, your face and neck were completely red,” she said. “Some people get really blotchy when they go into anaphylactic shock, and some people get flushed like you did.”

The doctor came back, and ordered another shot of Epinepherine for my virgin thigh, since she wasn’t pleased with my continued wheezing. Once I was re-pantsed, and the nurse deemed me stable enough to leave alone for 10 minutes, I sat in my chair, uncontrollably shaking on my now 20-30 cups of coffee, and checked out the anatomical ear, nose and throat poster next to me. It turns out that the laryngoscopic view of a larynx looks pretty vaginal.

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See?

As I sat there, wired as a Christmas tree next to the vaginal larynx poster, I couldn’t help but compare the satisfaction of this medical experience to the deep uncertainty of my own depression.

Thirty minutes ago, I had some physical symptoms for a single minute, walked a few feet and told a nurse about it, and was whisked into a room where I was given all of the help I needed, immediately.

For the last few months (and on and off my whole life) I’ve been struggling to understand, talk about and address my bouts with depression.

Even though it has come and gone dozens of times since my first real depressive winter as a 13 year old, I still feel like I barely know it at all. And it’s hard to talk to other people about something you hardly understand. It comes and goes mysteriously, a shape-shifter, each time with a slightly different texture, weight and character. The closest I’d come to explaining it with a friend recently, when he’d asked me how I was doing, was to admit, “Somewhere between fine and mentally ill.”

And after admitting depression, you rarely get whisked away to a room for effective and immediate treatment. More commonly, people get uncomfortable, nervous, or offer unhelpful advice. So you learn again and again that depression is something that scares people, and you have a short list of confidants—often others who experience it too.

The two times I have sought medical help for it, I was prescribed Zoloft by my OB. It worked a treat the first time, but she never followed up with me about how and when to decrease and come off my dose, so I figured that out alone. The second time, she referred me to a psychiatrist for the anxiety side effects I was experiencing. Riddled with depression, anxiety, a baby and 3-year-old, I called all 5 numbers on the referrals list she emailed me—3 were out of practice and the other 2 had no availability.

I must have called 30 different psychiatrists that I found online before I found one who could see me and took insurance. Once I finally sat in her office, she asked all the right questions and adjusted my dose so that both the anxiety and depression lifted. It was a hard won victory.

Hardly the direct simplicity of my bout with anaphylaxis.

The nurse at the allergy clinic said I could leave once the epinephrine had worn off, as long as none of my symptoms returned. So less than an hour later, I walked out of the old vagina larynx room, and away from the fastest and most effective and satisfying medical treatment of my life. I drove home, breathing easily through my open lungs, that dull, familiar pull of depression in the background, and AJ’s text still unanswered.

On happiness

I’ve been feeling really happy.

Yep. You read it right.

Somehow I’ve tunneled through the depression and anxiety and have found myself here, crudely smacking “SAVORY thin mini CRACKERS” from Trader Joe’s ®, listening to Neil Young croon about a harvest moon while the baby sleeps and the boy does god knows what at pre-school and the watery autumn light stretches its rectangle across the dining room floor and table.

I am happy to be here.

Earlier today I was hiking with my friend Kay and she said that a friend of her mom’s, who happens to be French, said this showstopper the other day:

Ze defineeshun of ‘appiness eezze deezayerink vaht you already ‘ave.

Viola!

That is *exactly* how I was feeling on Saturday afternoon as I sat on my bed nursing Cal after 20 hours away in the city. My best friend Noel was visiting from Colorado and AJ took the boys so I could celebrate her birthday with her. I was nervous that I would find the whole affair supremely exhausting, but once I was a single Pisco Sour in, everything just naturally followed. Another Pisco Sour, then a dinner of Vietnamese noodles at 10:30 pm (!) and dancing to the groovy beats of some crazy DJ-meets-band situation. I felt profoundly old when I asked Noel, “So DJs play with back up bands now?!”

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Why yes. Apparently, they do.

We got back to her sister’s place around 2 (!), slept till 10!! and then had a greasy egg brunch, followed by a brunch dessert.

Why yes. Apparently they do.

I felt high when I got home and reconnected with the boys. For the next several hours, I swooned as I brushed my lips across Cal’s suede soft, drooly cheeks and heard Jo’s breathless declaration in the sandbox, “I have a SUPER DOOPER good idea…”

I desired what I had.

What a welcome change from the dregs of daily life. The toothbrushing battles, the hope that I’ll settle into my Zoloft dose and get some relief from daily tremors of anxiety, the remnants of snack and dinner and robot collage scattered all over the floor.

Saturday’s swoon has given way to a softer, less arching happiness. The sour spray of lime on my chicken taco and a AJ’s lingering hand on my neck just before he says goodbye. I try to pay more attention to these smatterings since I re-watched the movie The Hours when I was pregnant with Cal. I felt oddly compelled to watch it during each of my pregnancies when I hit 38 weeks. Something about the depression overtones, the hypnotic Philip Glass music, the woman-centeredness of it all.

This is the part that lingers with me—a mother talking with her daughter about  a memory from her youth.

I remember one morning getting up at dawn, there was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself, this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And of course there will always be more. It never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment. Right then.

Some relief, courtesy of big pharma

Well things are leveling out around here. Sort of.

I *might* be finding a new Zoloft dosage that works better for my new friend, Anxiety, who has decided to hop on the post-partum emotions bandwagon. It’s only been a few days at the new dosage, and it’ll take a few weeks for things to level out.

We’re still not out of the woods yet, but I actually experienced what it is like to live in the body of a normal, non-anxious person for two nights in a row, thanks to a bit of Lorazepam. I’m always nervous to take a new pharmaceutical, but my friend C nudged me to give it a try, after two horrible mornings of feeling what can only be described as hyper-hell-restless-everywhere syndrome. In the early morning, between 5 and 6 when AJ would bring Cal up for his early morning feed, my body would come online in a bunch of worried, jittery bursts that kept firing over and over and over. As if my whole self was trying to jump/stretch out of my body. And then I’d spend the next several hours reminding myself that I was not dying and that I and my family are all perfectly okay and even doing well.

So an hour after I took the first wee, white circle of Lorazepam, my entire self heaved a huge deep sigh. Relief. I didn’t realize how long my body had been feeling this way until I had my first real break. I’ve been walking around with this tight, fearful, panicked body every day for the last few weeks. And it has been draining as hell.

Last night, after I took my new favorite drug, I just laid on the couch and soaked in the feeling. No aching limbs. No tightness anywhere. Just a tired lady on the couch at 9 pm. Oh, the joy of feeling like a regular person.

Photo by Jorbasa
If I were a cat with a small, wicker ottoman, this is what I would look like after taking my Lorazepam.  Photo by Jorbasa

I feel somewhat guilty for being reliant on prescription medication for my basic sense of wellness these days, but that guilt can just shove it. There will be a time and place when I have more time and resources to try other things. Life is long. Maybe in a few months or a couple years, I’ll be feeling great with an occasional therapy session and the drops of some horrendous tasting tincture. For now, though, I need the big guns, and I’m gonna use them.

It's not about winning or losing

One of the hardest things about the dance I’ve been doing with my depression over the last month is that I feel like I came out the loser in some sort of competition I didn’t even know I entered.

I was so hoping that this time I’d be able to set things up in just the right way to not have to experience this. Enough meals in the freezer, connections with friends, supplements in their little day of the week cubes–enough preparation and I could just avoid having to feel the feelings that are hardest for me.

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What happened to land me here? Things were going so well. I was sleeping (and still am!). Baby C is still so much easier than J was. I’m still taking all the fish oil and vitamin d and placenta pills.

There are a whole bunch of stories I could tell, theories that I have for why I started feeling depressed in the first place. In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter. Because about a month ago, right when I wrote this post, the flat, heaviness that is my depression started to roll in.

After a week of feeling its ebb and flow, I opted to go back on my Zoloft. That was a hard day–not unlike this day, before baby C was born when I had to let go of having him at home and pack for the hospital. My decision to go the pharmaceutical route again was another moment of surrendering to reality. I cried to my dear friend M on the phone, saying, “I hate feeling this way.” And she said, “Well, you don’t have to for long.” The truth of that statement was sobering. There is something I can take that helps this feeling go away and helps me perform the myriad duties that my children and life require of me. So why was I feeling so resistant to filling my prescription?

Some time since I stopped taking the Zoloft that helped me cope with J’s infancy, my brain decided that if I didn’t need the Zoloft this time that I would win.

After turning that thought over a few times and recognizing it as a complete piece of crap, I started accepting reality. I needed and wanted help.

So my little green pills are back. And they’re helping. And I feel really good about making that decision to help myself and, in effect, the people I love, so that I don’t get so stuck in my weepy, catatonic, existential place. It’s a relief all around.

Today also happens to be Jo’s 4th birthday, and the marker of the day I became a mother. Happy birthday, little weasel. And happy birthday to me.