One of the hardest things about my postpartum experience was the fact that in the early days, I would have moments where I felt like myself. These glimpses into normalcy would come about unannounced, and for a brief time I would feel free of the oppressive weight and pincer grasp of anxiety that shrouded me at other times. I could sleep for a few minutes. Or feel like eating something. When this happened, I would almost cry with relief, but then just as quickly, I could literally feel my mind closing in, and the tingling in my fingers and feet would begin, as well as the ever-present queasiness that made it so difficult to eat or just “be.” I never self-identified as depressed, but found after a week of this that I was sinking into a depressive state. I had no answers, and no relief. On a day when I had to get myself back to the doctor again, I found myself laying on the couch as Chris and Bryce played on a blanket just a few feet away on the floor.
“I just want to do that,” I sobbed, through tears of exhaustion. “Why can’t I just do that?”
“Do what?” Chris still wasn’t sure what to call this new me, or identify what was happening. We hadn’t gotten an official diagnosis, so at this point, we were wading in a no-mans’ land, just making it day to day.
“I just want to be with you and Bryce. Sit there. Lay there with you both. I can’t even do that. I can’t do anything.” It was true. I was listless. Held back from even the simplest things, I would remember these words during a sunny winter’s afternoon about 8 months later, when Bryce and I spent two hours practicing his crawling skills. Looking back, I realized that I wouldn’t take anything for granted again. But in that moment, I could not conceive of a time when I would ever be relaxed again, enjoying life as it comes. It wasn’t in my grasp.
That day, in Dr. Lloyd’s office, I took the Edinburgh Scale. It showed a moderate level of depression. I was again shocked, as I had always held on to the idea that I wasn’t depressed, I was just anxious. It was another moment of revelation that challenged the very core of my identity. Almost swollen from crying, Dr. Lloyd and I devised a plan. We would try a new antidepressant, but that choice wasn’t an easy one. Because of my very unusually destructive reaction to the Zoloft, we felt all medications in the same class were off the table. I was also still managing to breastfeed, and that took a few others away as possibilities. We settled on Wellbutrin as the new medication, and I very hesitantly agreed to begin taking it immediately. I was so scared; what if I had another reaction like the one that had sent me into a blind panic I still hadn’t fully recovered from? What is something else happened I couldn’t even imagine? I had a day or two of Internet-searching “relapse” I will admit, but I felt so out of control, I had to know what could happen to me on this medication. Fortunately, while I didn’t feel one iota better that night, at least I could tell it wouldn’t poke another hole into my damaged psyche. I wasn’t willing to live without, and really, what choice did I have?
As my mother and I left Dr. Lloyd’s office, I saw several other people in her waiting room look my way. What must they think of me, I wondered? I have never judged another soul in a waiting room or hospital since those days; I understood for the first time just how hard it can be to put one foot in front of the other. We walked across the parking lot to Harris Teeter so I could buy some Ensure, a recommendation from Dr. Lloyd since it was now over a week since I had eaten much of anything. I wandered around the store like it was the first time I had ever been in public. Everything was too bright and too loud. I wasn’t ready to be there, and even though it felt like prison, home was my prison, and I couldn’t wait to be there. I had a ray of hope; maybe this medicine would be saving grace, and eventually, (and in part), it was.