If someone had told me that one of the most important things I would ever learn after the birth of my son was the difference between anti-depressants, I would have literally thought they were crazy. Now, I was the one struggling to retain my sanity. After getting on hands and knees at my doctor’s office, shaky from not being able to eat or sleep much at all for over a week now, I had in my hand a new prescription to try for what I was praying would be my miracle.
The uncontrollable panic attack that the Zoloft had initiated still hadn’t left me; and I was terrified it never would. Because of that reaction, which had mystified every doctor and pharmacist I had spoken with, I was now officially unable to take any of the class of antidepressants labeled SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. This took Paxil, Prozac, and Lexapro, among others, off the list of potential medications. Since it was agreed upon by everyone involved that I needed some kind of medication to get through this time, my doctor, who had patience I can’t even begin to describe, began doing her research. I would sit on the examining table, wringing hands, crying, while she very calmly looked through her reference lists, making sure that anything I tried would be safe for breastfeeding. Of course, the term “safe for breastfeeding” was becoming in my mind something of a misnomer. I realized early into my many calls to the pediatrician’s lactation consultant, that very few medications or herbal remedies have really been proven safe for breastfeeding mothers. This entire situation fed into my anxiety to a point where I was again online trying to find safe ways to help me sleep. It was getting out of hand, and by the time I was sleeping soundly again, I would have tried nearly a dozen medications and other remedies, with varied success.
“Wellbutrin. Have you heard of that one?” Dr. Lloyd interrupted my latest runaway stream of thoughts with her question. No, I hadn’t, I said.
“Wellbutrin has a different chemical structure from any other antidepressant on the market,” Dr. Lloyd said. “It may work for people who haven’t had success with others.”
That was putting it mildly. It’s different, I thought. Maybe it would work. The side effects of decrease in appetite, dizziness, dryness of mouth, increased sweating, nausea or vomiting, even tremors, all seemed so mild in comparison to my current physical and mental state.
“Let’s do it.” With the knowledge and understanding that I would return to Dr. Lloyd in a week, which in itself was a safety net, I took the prescription, and mom and I left her office, for the third time in less than seven days.
On the way home from the doctor, I called my friend Megan. We had known each other for years, and spent many weekends going to see music, and having a great time. Megan had given birth to a beautiful baby girl just two months before I had Bryce. She was doing great, legitimately. I wanted to hear her voice; to remind me of my life before all of this madness. She also had no idea what I was going through, but I knew she was on summer vacation from teaching, so I made the call while mom drove me to the pharmacy for what would end up being one of our many trips there to try different medications. Today though, I felt a ray of hope through the weight of this dreadful, disturbed place.
“Megan. Hi, it’s Amanda.”
“Amanda, how are you? How’s Bryce? Matt said he was so happy to meet him when he was in town last week.”
Oh, right. I had almost forgotten. Megan’s husband, who runs sound for a band I actually used to work for, had been in town recently for a concert. He and our good friend Kyle, who also works for the band, had wanted to get together. I couldn’t get out of bed that day, so Chris got Bryce in the car and met them at their hotel. They came back to the house, and I managed to make it downstairs for a few minutes. I don’t remember what we talked about, other than how Megan and Matt’s daughter was sleeping through the night at only a few weeks old. I wouldn’t know that joy for months, but was happy for them. I remember thinking that if things were different, we’d be going out to eat or for a walk, and I would be so proudly showing off Bryce, that gurgling, chubby-cheeked masterpiece that he was. Instead, I fumbled down the stairs, a shell, barely able to respond to conversations, and wanting to scream out, “Hey! Things are not OK. Can you please save Chris, and take him with you when you leave?”
Chris was a trooper, though. He must have been so happy to see old friends, and spend some time with them. When I went upstairs, I could hear them laughing, and telling stories. Late night stores. Wedding stories. Those were my stories, too, but I wasn’t sharing in the moment. I couldn’t do it. So I went upstairs. I missed the concert, of course. I was so happy for Chris to go, and reacquaint himself with society, but I was also so jealous, and so frustrated. Here I was, with mom downstairs taking care of Bryce, and I once again, a prisoner in my bedroom. We had only lived in that house for a few months, and I worried I would never want to spend time there. I started plotting for a way to sell the house and buy a new one, free of these horrible memories, and then shocked, remembered that it was only a month or so ago that we had walked with Bryce into this house, floating on the wave of happiness of being a family. How had things changed so quickly to the point that if I could have managed, we’d be living somewhere else tomorrow?
Bringing myself back to my phone call with Megan, I answered her in a way that was quickly becoming my postpartum trademark: Brutal honesty. As always, I broke down and cried. I told her I was having troubles, and was really hoping my doctor could help me. And, as usual, my kind and caring friends tried to respond in a way that was helpful. I could hear it though - the shock. I realize now how difficult it is to catch someone off guard with such raw emotion, but at the time, I was an exposed nerve. Everything was wide open, and there was no way for me to find the words to cushion the blow. So, for those who had the pleasure of taking my calls, or texts, or Facebook messages, they got the real me. What continues to amaze me today is how responsive and understanding people were, even if they couldn’t relate. No one respects me less, or sees me as a person unable of coping. In my nighttime prayers of gratitude, which I instituted once I was able to get my anxiety under control a bit better, I constantly thank the powers that be for friends who didn’t run away.
I could hear in her voice how scared I was making Megan, but I couldn’t stop talking. Fortunately for us both, I am sure, my mom pulled into our local CVS, and it was time to pick up the prescription that would help signal a new phase for me: Healing. It would take months still, but that day, I let all the consuming anxiety live within me. I accepted it; maybe this new medication would cause another panic attack, in which case I was sure I would require hospitalization. Maybe it would do nothing, and I would continue to spend my days trembling and scared. Or, maybe it would help me. I knew the numbers. Up to nine weeks. Nine weeks until the medicine works with my brain chemistry to rewire me so I can breathe again. It was torture to think about it, and I had a feeling that I would need all of that time to get back on my feet. I was right; this was just the beginning of a long road ahead. I would eventually get back to what I considered a new normal, and after some time, feel better about myself than ever before. For the moment, I didn’t know any of that. I just prayed that the newest little bottle with the child-proof cap would do its job.