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SAHM

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.

Anxietyville USA

It’s been so touch and go around here that when I wrote this post last week, I decided to focus on my recent experience of depression. I just didn’t have enough time to go into the whole kit and caboodle. The truth is, a couple weeks after starting the Zoloft, I found myself smack dab in the middle of Anxietyville USA. The last time I visited anxiety-town was during that special time in Jo’s 4th/5th month of life that I often refer to as “The Downfall.”

Like then, the anxiety has had a consistent and tight grip. The layer of my body beneath my skin and above my muscles is always tense and on alert, particularly in my arms and face.

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Photo by arbyreed

My mind and body feel as though things are always about 13 seconds away from complete catastrophe, even if I’m just strollering baby C up the sidewalk while Jo runs and whollops everything he passes with a stick he found.

Anxiety. A real dream come true, let me tell you.

When it first crept in, I thought it was because I’d had a couple nights of sort of crappy sleep and because baby C started doing the old 40 minute napping routine that Jo started doing just before The Downfall. (Thanks to my sister-in-law, I’ve learned that this whole 40 minute thing is a Thing commonly referred to on blogs and parent forums as “the 45 minute nap intruder.”)

Desperate to reign in the anxiety, I made a plan to get more sleep (Ambien) and to simplify my daily routine (put the cloth diapers on hold and supplement with formula a bit if necessary). Check and check. I was going to nip this in the bud.

I got the sleep, and am still getting it. Our trashcans overflow with disposable diapers. And we did supplement with formula a few times. But my little friend Anxiety is still kicking. Right now as I type, I’ve got that old familiar tight ache in my biceps and wrists, as if to say, “Stay on guard. Be ever vigilant. You might be needed for swaddling at a moment’s notice.”

I’ve started to wonder if the anxiety could be a side effect of the Zoloft. I don’t remember this happening the first time I started taking the stuff, but I was also goggle eyed with exhaustion and depression, and anxiety already had me white-knuckling it through every day. (It was quite a time, let me tell you.) My primary care doc confirmed this for me today–anxiety is a common side effect particularly during the first few weeks on Zoloft. But I’m already 5 weeks in.

Whether it’s a side effect or situational doesn’t really matter, though. Because it’s happening. So what I need to do is figure out how to manage it while its here and hopefully to help it go away.

I made an appointment to talk with a psychiatrist (it only took 26 phone calls to find one who could see me this month and accepts my insurance–such a joy to do that while parenting 2 kids and feeling emotionally unstable) so I can wade more efficiently through my questions about side effects and what the best meds (if any) would be for me, given that I’m breastfeeding.

And I also have had some great revelations about things that calm me down and things that leave me feeling like a frayed live wire.

  1. Trying to connect with the anxiety in my body makes it feel better than trying to wish it away. Thanks to yet another great idea from my miracle therapist, I try to find the time to sit quietly for a couple minutes during the day and touch my arms and face where I feel the coiled up tightness. That physical connection often makes it feel better within seconds, and helps me feel less afraid of it. Yep. That layer of my body feels tight. And here I am. And everything’s okay.
  2. Trying to control things makes it worse. When I nurse baby C in the early morning between 5 and 7, I try and get one or two of his infinite burps out of him and then put him back down to sleep in the co-sleeper. Then I creep over to my side of the bed and lay down. And then I find that I’m barely breathing because I’m trying to disappear any possible sound I might make for fear of waking anyone up. I lay there, in whatever strange position I landed, worried about rustling the covers because I might wake AJ or the baby. I flinch when I hear a blunt thud –is Jo waking up? Is he going to burst in the door with his new helicopter and wake up the baby? Shockingly, being in a state of hyper-awareness and frozen silence does not help me get back to sleep. And on those rare and blessed mornings when everyone else actually sleeps till 7:30, it would be lovely to be sleeping myself or at the very least resting and relaxed in bed. So I’ve trying to breathe a lot more deeply in the morning, and, god forbid, let myself make some noise. I walk around like a normal person who takes up actual space. I even flush the toilet. If I wake someone up, so be it. We’ll figure it out. Cause its not worth the emotional and physical toll it takes to try to make myself so small and silent. And even when I barely breathe and tip toe around, they still wake up sometimes.
  3. Simplicity rules.

I might be am trying to make myself feel better with all these lists. Groping for some sort of structure in the midst of the soupy uncertainty of my days and hours. Here’s the deal–I don’t know if I’m okay. Sometimes I feel brave. Others, I’m scared and defeated. Either way, I have two boys in my care, and I’m still feeding them and smiling at them and trying to find ways to maintain an environment of safety when one of them (take a guess) rages in his little kinetic body and wants nothing more than to hit, kick and throw things at me. At any moment, I can’t say how my seretonin-challenged brain is going to react to all of this, but I do know its flipping out sometimes. I’m just hoping I can stay above water.

On empathy, and how it helps me and my oldest son

J’s most common response when baby C cries is to furl his brow, put his hands over his ears and start screaming himself.  I started by trying to explain to J how it would actually be in his best interest to stay quiet, since his screaming would probably only make C cry more. That explanation didn’t get much traction.

So I’ve been trying to connect with J about it.

I don’t like it when he cries either. It’s loud, huh?

Empathizing with him like this has been relieving some of my pent up anxiety, and I’ve realized how much J and I have in common here. I really don’t like it either. And if I weren’t commissioned as the caretaker in this scenario, I might be moved to go for the screaming option too.

I’ve also been taking the empathy a step further, thanks to some advice from my dreamy therapist. She recommended that I try and stretch J’s awareness, and point out that while he feels mad right now that C is crying, he also feels love for C sometimes too.

I’ve been saying stuff like this:

I see you’re feeling really angry that C is crying. I don’t like it when he cries either. Remember this morning when you were playing with C and laughing? Isn’t it crazy that you feel angry at him right now and that you also felt all that love this morning?

Lo and behold, when I’m saying this stuff to him, it reminds me of the same thing–to see things in terms of both/and rather than either/or.

Hey there, self, I see that you’re feeling scared that you’ve been up for 2 hours in the middle of the night trying to get C to go to sleep. And now you’re wondering if the decision to have him was a huge mistake. Remember when you were taking a shower the other day and you thought that having C might be the best thing you’ve ever done? Well, both things are true.

Both things are true.

And if I can just take a breath and stick with my life for another 5 minutes or 10 hours or week, the feeling I’m having will change into another and another and another. And they’ll all be true.

Yesterday, J stopped me in my tracks as we were talking again about C’s crying. He said (in that wonderfully casual and earnest way that only he can), “I love him when he’s crying too.”

Well, knock me over and call me Nancy. He gets it. The bigger we make the space, the more feelings can fit in.

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Photo by BugMan50

We are expansive enough to feel upset and loving at the same time. Or frustrated and hopeful. Or scared and excited.

Hopefully I can remember the same thing the next time I’m awake and exhausted in the wee hours.

Confessions of a mostly stay at home mom

I’m primarily a stay at home mom. And sometimes people pay me to work as a doula and as a freelance video producer and editor. When I have a project or a client or both, I trade time I normally spend cleaning and cooking for the opportunity to dive into a creative project and relationship. I make money. And I feel like I’m doing something.

It’s a strange distinction, since when I’m not working for money, I’m still doing something. A lot of things, in fact. Managing our house, its cleanliness, food stores, our finances, and attending to the myriad of needs and whims of our 3 and a half year old, J. Also, for the last 7-ish months, I’ve been gestating another human.

When I write it all down like that, it sounds pretty impressive.

My lived experience: not so much.

Last week, I caught myself saying, “Work? Well, I delivered my last video project, and my last doula client give birth last week, so I’m done working until I pick things up after this baby is born.”

Totally.

By “done working” I mean this:

I wake up every other morning when J does, at or before 7am (thank you A, for taking every other morning so I can sleep till after 8:30), we cuddle in bed, then make breakfast. I read J books, get him dressed (we’re down to one of 2 outfits these days that he wants to wear—both are pajamas), tote him along for whatever projects I need to get done that day (gardening—easy to accommodate his boisterous, physical self; grocery shopping—less so), go to a park or meet up with a friend of his at some point, dole out snacks, make and eat lunch. We pay for childcare 3 mornings a week, so on those mornings I get time to wash dishes, clean and cook uninterrupted. Or pay bills, or sleep or blog or get my hair cut or go to therapy. In the afternoons, I shepherd J through an hour of “quiet time” which often results in numerous trips upstairs to help him poop, make sure he’s not pilfering the Tums he discovered on my bedside table or coloring his walls with crayon. Sometimes I manage to sneak in a nap. Then it’s more errands, maybe playing trains or orange jellyfish or poisonous space triceratops. Then onwards to interrupted dishwashing and dinner preparation. A usually gets home at 6:15, we eat, then the bedtime ritual begins and A usually takes him up to his room to play songs sometime after 7.

“I’m done working.”

How is it that I fall for this: the chronic and devastating under-valuation of managing a home and raising children?!

Yet I do. At first glance, I only consider or talk about paid work as work. When I lay on the couch while J is at childcare or during “quiet time,” I often feel guilty for watching Project Runway.

It’s hard for me to admit this because I know how I would like to feel. I’d like to be highly aware of the kick ass work that I’m doing.  I’d like to feel the weightiness of the contribution I’m making to the world every day. I’m nourishing people’s bodies, I’m helping 2 new people to emerge into the world. I’m tending the soil out of which my family grows.

My lived experience, though, is that many moments of every day, I feel somehow diminished by the work that I do at home.

Since becoming a mother, I feel like my value in the world has decreased.

So why the disconnect? Why do these judgments lurk in the dusty, dark corners of my mind, even while I “know” that the work I’m doing is extremely important?

I’m sure the repetition of things said and not said during my childhood has something to do with it. There was the recognition I got, even as a kindergartener for being “gifted and talented,” and I was regularly told that I could do or be anything under the sun—a scientist, a lawyer, a doctor, or president. I believed it. I wanted to be an archaeologist, a geologist, a dancer and an artist. But I can’t remember one time as a child that I imagined, or was encouraged to think about how motherhood or contributing to a family was a pursuit worth aiming towards. That is not to say that anyone ever looked at me and said “Being a mother is worthless work.” But somehow, here I am, washing dishes and loving my son and feeling less relevant somehow.

I’ve thought many times that I always have the choice to go out and get a full-time job. And I don’t want that. What I want is, to some degree, what I have—flexibility to spend time with my children and regular opportunities to make money in ways that I find engaging.

The other thing I want is to consistently feel that the mothering work I do is a valuable contribution. Dare I say just as valuable as the work that my partner does at his office everyday.

Here’s a novel idea–my sister mentioned recently that she knows a couple who organized their budget to pay the stay at home parent for the time she spends with their child. At first, I hated how reductive this sounded. This whole problem isn’t just about money.

But it’s definitely a factor.

What if our monthly budget spreadsheet actually listed the monetary value of the work I’m doing every month?  We have a line item for childcare—but that’s just when we pay other people to do it.

What if we found some way to account for the fact that every hour I spend with J is an hour that A can spend making money at his office job?

What if we started talking about the parenting I’m doing everyday as my work or stopped referring to A’s time he spends doing city planning as his?

I don’t know the answer, but I’m off to do some more work.