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can’t get it out of my head

You know when you have a song stuck in your head and you can’t for the life of you get it out?  You find yourself humming it while you’re washing dishes, singing it off-key in the shower, and hearing the lyrics run in your head when you’re trying desperately to fall asleep.  There are two things that are really annoying when this happens.  The first is that it is never a good song by someone you like.  For me, it always has to be Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus or someone equally annoying and untalented.  Sorry, not a Belieber. The second thing, which is completely a result of the first, is that I never know all of the words.  Sometimes I only know a line or two, so I am singing the same two horribly written lines over and over and over until I just start making up my own verses.

Something my therapist said at our last session has been running on a continuous loop for over a week now.  Except it was said by someone I respect and trust.  Which makes it much harder to ignore.

We were discussing how to put a plan in place so that I could keep my depression and anxiety in check when I return to work full-time in the fall.  She asked me to think about what I think is going to be the hardest part about that transition.  The tears started streaming down my face immediately, surprising both of us.  I answered without any hesitation:  “Missing out on my daughter’s life.”

That’s when she said it.  “You have a lot of balls up in the air right now.  And you’ll have even more once you go back to work.  You have to decide which balls to drop.  You can pick up the work ball again.  You can pick up the education ball again.  But you can never get back your daughter’s childhood.”

Ok, I’m no detective, but it sounds like she’s trying to tell me not to go back to work, right?  Which is confusing me because it was never a question.  I’ve always said I’m going back to work.  I love what I do.  And I need the structure and routine to keep triggers at bay.  I’m going back to work.  Right?

But now she has me questioning everything I thought I knew.  Am I doing the wrong thing?  Am I dropping the daughter ball?  Is that selfish?  Am I going to completely regret my choice?

So then in my mind, I used her own words against her.  She told me once that, with the exception of a very few, no choice or decision is permanent.  I can change my mind.  If I go back to work, and I realize it’s no longer the right thing for me, then I can make a change.  Because the only thing worse that could happen is that I don’t go back at all.  And then I will always wonder what if.  So for now, I’ll keep all of my balls (this is starting to border on inappropriate), and see how good I am at juggling.  I can always change my mind.

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there’s good news and there’s bad news

Four beautiful words.  “You have recovered well.”  Spoken by my therapist to me on Monday night. I let out a huge, deep breath that I didn’t even know I was holding in.  I had felt that this was true, but I needed to hear someone else say it, someone who knows what she’s talking about.

And she did.  Four months after I started going to therapy for PPD/anxiety, I was told I have recovered well.  Four months ago I wouldn’t have believed anyone if they said I could be this person again.  I felt so unhappy, so desperate, so undecidedly not me, that I couldn’t imagine things getting any better.  You know when you have a really terrible cold, and your head is all foggy, and you see people who are well and you can’t remember what it feels like not to be sick?  I had forgotten how good it feels to be me. To be happy.

She let this sink in, giving me an encouraging smile, before she dropped the bomb.  “I think we can start weaning you off sessions until you go back to work.  Because that may trigger your depression and anxiety again.”

My initial, free-association thought was that “weaning” takes on a whole other meaning once you become a mom and you really can’t go back to using the word in a discussion that doesn’t involve infant sleep or breastfeeding.  But my second thought was a cold, hard realization:  this will never be over.

I sat there, a little stunned and a lot frustrated.  I have recovered well.  Remember?  I’m done with this.  But the rational part of me was there whispering that I had known this all along.  Depression and anxiety is something I can overcome.  It is something I can defeat.  But it will always be a war that I have to fight. This was just the first battle.

And once I stopped being mad at the messenger, I realized that if I was being honest with myself, going back to work is already triggering my depression and anxiety. 

You haven’t seen a post from me in a while.  That’s because I’m in the throes of writing my thesis for my Master’s degree and preparing to teach a brand new course in the fall. And if I’m not working on one of those two things or on mommy duty, I am so overwhelmed by trying to find balance in my new life that I shut down and can’t accomplish anything.  Did I really think it would get easier come September?

I have recovered well.  And part of recovering well is realizing that I have to make the choice every day to not give in to my anxious thoughts.  To not let “working mom guilt” overtake me.  To be happy.  To get help when I need it.  To be honest with myself and those who love me about what I’m feeling.  To make decisions that are right for me, my husband, and our daughter.  To hold on to the me that I have recaptured and to fight for her every day. 

2

worried sick

A lot of people ask me how I knew that I had postpartum depression and not just the baby blues that every new mother typically experiences.  At first, I didn’t know.  I thought the crying (mine this time, not my baby’s) was just hormones and exhaustion.  I thought the feelings of despair and hopelessness would simply subside.  When my daughter got better, I would too, right?  I kept thinking, When the weather gets better, so will I, or, I’m just tired, or, It’s not like I’m suicidal or anything.  But then my daughter turned three months old and things still weren’t better. I felt lost and unhappy and guilty.  But by far my worst symptom was and continues to be anxiety.  I worry.  A LOT.  I know, I know, all new moms worry, so let me explain. 

What do I worry about?  When the doctor said my daughter’s head circumference was in the second percentile (not a typo), I worried that her head would never grow. Did you ever take the heads off your Barbie dolls when you were little and all that was left at the top of her neck was that small plastic ball that had held the head on?  That’s what I envisioned my daughter looking like when she was a teenager. 

I worry that all the time spent in the baby swing will cause issues with her spinal development.  I worry that all her crying and screaming will leave her with a voice like Emma Stone, but that she won’t be famous enough for it to be cool.  I worry that letting her cry it out will cause her to feel abandoned and the cortisol levels in her brain will remain high and cause emotional issues when she is a teenager.  I worry that she doesn’t sleep enough and it will prevent her brain from developing properly.

I worry that because I was less than thrilled about finding out that I was pregnant, I made her this way.  I worry that she is unhappy. I worry that my worry is prolonging her colic.  I worry that she will end up like me and be an anxious adult who can’t fully relax and enjoy life.

I worry that my husband isn’t able to fully enjoy the joys of parenthood, which he has wanted all his life.  I worry that he will resent me for being so dependent on him. 

When my daughter goes to nurse and right before she latches she sticks her fingers in her mouth and seems to expect milk to come out, I worry that not only is she not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but she’s pretty much a spoon.

I spend the night worrying what the next day will hold and the day worrying about what the night will bring.  I worry when she cries at night. I worry when she doesn’t cry at night. I worry about the fact that I wake up in the middle of the night thinking I hear her crying and that she has been for hours when she is really fast asleep.  I worry when her nap is only 30 minutes long.  I worry when her nap is two and a half hours long. I worry she will die of SIDS. 

I worry that if she is an only child that she will grow up and never get married and my husband and I will die and she will be all alone in the world.  I worry that she won’t be an only child and I will have to do this all over again.

I worry that I don’t play enough with her.  I worry that I don’t read enough to her.  I worry that I hold her too much or not enough.

I worry that I am worrying away her babyhood.  I worry that this time will go too fast.  I worry that it won’t go fast enough. 

I worry that all my crying makes her feel unloved.  I worry that I am a bad mom.  I worry that I am messing up the only childhood she will ever have.

I worry that this is the person I am now – that my life will always be consumed with worry and fear and guilt. 

These are not simply fleeting thoughts.  They are the constant chatter in my mind, drowning out any rational logic that threatens to invade. And I make myself sick.  Literally. My breaths become shallow and it feels as if my heart is being squeezed.  I have headaches from clenching my jaw and back pain from tensing my body.  My stomach is constantly in a tight knot and I am nauseous most of the day.  I am continuously exhausted, but cannot sleep.  I cry without warning and despite my best efforts not to.  I either don’t eat because my stomach hurts so badly, or I have a junk food nosh fest.  Routine decisions like what to have for dinner or what card to buy for a friend’s birthday are overwhelming. I snap at my husband, my inner monologue is a repetitive cycle of negative thoughts, and I have no energy for things I used to love.

While some of this might sound familiar to you, I hope most of it does not.  I hope that you are not burdened and dragged down by the weight of worry.  But if you are, I hope that you know you are not alone.  And that the best thing you can do for yourself is to say it out loud.  Get help.  Because this really isn’t the way it should be.

3

one step forward…

Life with PPD is the epitome of the saying, “One step forward, two steps back.” I had a great weekend.  My daughter took great naps during which I was able to run, write, shower, and eat. We even took her to a party on Sunday where she took a whole half hour nap!  In someone else’s swing! Life was looking up.  I felt human again. I felt like me. I thought I had made a turn.

Then Monday came.  It was also the day of the dreaded four month check-up.  That means shots.  Four of them.  Since the last time the doctor gave her shots, he turned her into the red-faced screaming demon she now is (really NOT a result of the shots, but the coincidence gives me an easy target to blame), I had understandably been worrying over this appointment for weeks.

It started out great.  My daughter was smiling and cooing and charming the whole waiting room.  Her head is now in the tenth percentile!  She is three inches longer!  And even though those things have absolutely nothing to do with me, I was a proud momma. I had to be doing something right.  Look at how my baby was growing. 

And then they weighed her.  Between her two month and four month check-up, she gained…a pound.  Just the one. My husband and I looked at each other in shock. Look at those chunky thighs!  Listen to her guzzle when she eats!  And although we were surprised, we weren’t concerned.

Until the doctor came in.  She asked if we had any questions, and I immediately pulled out the notes I had taken on my phone with a dozen or so questions. Most of them had to do with her sleep.  The doctor’s response?  Her feeding was the problem.  She wasn’t eating enough, which is why she only gained one pound, and which is also why she’s having so much trouble sleeping.

My heart sank.  I was doing something wrong.  I did this.  My baby girl was hungry every time she woke up at night and I didn’t always feed her because I thought she was just mad we wouldn’t give her the pacifier.  The one area in which I thought I was actually doing pretty well, nursing, was essentially causing all of our problems.  It’s my fault.

And then she dropped the other bomb.  No more sleeping in the swing.  Not safe.  Crib only.  Just when I had gotten my arms back and a couple of hours every day free, she was taking it away from me.  My daughter doesn’t nap in the crib.  She was barely napping in the moving swing.

The world that had seemed to be getting a bit bigger with each passing day shrunk back.  The tears I had been so good at holding back the past couple of weeks came pouring out.  I had just started to recognize glimpses of my old self again, and I felt that this doctor had taken that all away from me.

The whole ride home I was wracked with guilt.  My poor girl just wanted to eat and I’ve been depriving her.  I am not fit to be a mom.

When we got home, my daughter was clearly exhausted from the shots and the dose of Tylenol we gave her.  My husband took her upstairs, swaddled her, and laid her in her crib.  She cried for a few minutes, but then she fell asleep.  I stupidly allowed myself to hope.  Maybe this can work.  Maybe she can do this.  Maybe I can too.

Exactly one half hour later, she woke up wailing.  I knew I had to go upstairs and try to get her back down.  She’s clearly tired, and a half hour nap is not going to cut it.  I had to go into her room and get her to fall back asleep.

But I couldn’t.  I couldn’t get myself off the couch.  Even though she was screaming, even though I knew she needed me, I couldn’t do it.  I felt so overwhelmed with guilt, fear, worry, and despair that the thought of actually taking care of my daughter felt like too much.  I wasn’t up to the task.  My husband graciously took over.  The rest of the day I spent in bed, crying, sleeping, unable to make a decision about even the smallest things. 

I was in mourning.  Taking that one step forward made those two steps back so much harder.  I mourned the loss of my confidence.  I mourned the loss of a baby who woke up from naps happy and smiling. I mourned the loss of finally feeling like maybe I could manage this whole mom thing. I mourned the few days I felt like a real person again.  I mourned for my life pre-baby when I felt like I knew who I was and what I was doing.

But I am a mom now.  And being a mom means that I am no longer the most important person in my life.  I have a daughter who needs me.  Whose very existence depends on me.  So I will get up.  Because my depression?  It isn’t me.  I will not let it win.  I will not let it prevent me from the most important job I have ever had: being a mom. If I need to cry, I will cry.  If I need to rest, I will rest.  But I will keep moving forward.  I will keep taking baby steps.  I will keep my eyes on the woman I know I really am.  I saw her last week; I will see her again.