11:11

Alone in a room in a friend’s house in a city that is not my own (anymore), I listen. The house sounds quiet and I think maybe no one else is home. Downstairs is breakfast and a cup of tea and some quiet time and I should get up. But downstairs is also the door to the outside world, and the weight in my chest and I don’t feel ready for that just yet.

I look at the clock: 11:11.

Isn’t catching the clock when it reads 11:11 supposed to be good luck? I see this time frequently. It feels like all the time, in fact, and I certainly don’t feel lucky. At least not today.

clock face

In a mind-over-mind sort of way (there’s certainly nothing matter of fact about it), I get up.

Downstairs is quiet, and my aloneness is confirmed by a text from my husband that both boys are asleep on swings at the park (that’s what happens when you wake up when the clock says 4:58, I guess).

I put the kettle on for tea and open the cupboard looking for a mug. There in rows on two shelves are mugs in three colours. White. Black. Red.

I reach for a black mug and then hesitate, reconsidering. I have a choice, and I make it.

I choose a red mug.

Maybe it’s a sign of my willingness to push the darkness away. Or maybe I’m just feeling lucky.

Stuck at the Second Level

Sitting at your kitchen table at 7 a.m. trying to determine where mental health fits on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is probably not a good sign. It’s probably a sign that you need help.

I didn’t get a satisfying answer from Google (one site suggested that failing to have needs met at any of the stages can lead to depression or anxiety, but I think it has to work the other way around as well, i.e. that mental health issues can prevent people from moving through the stages) so I turned to a friend who is wise in the ways of psychology and mental health. “I would put it in the safety band,” he said, “but really, mental health is a precondition for all of the four levels above physiological.”

That makes sense to me, and it’s why I had turned to Google for answers that morning.Maslow's hierarchy of needs

What I had secretly been hoping for was for someone to suggest that mental health was a requirement for functioning properly in this world, that it fit squarely in one of the levels as a clear and understood need, as though I could then point to this theory and say, See? I have a right to good mental health! and someone, somewhere, would then be obligated to ensure I got it.

This, needless to say, is not how life works.

The idea of it being a precondition to the higher levels does fit squarely into the thought process that led me to Google, however.

Many of the things I would normally aspire to, like being involved in my community or deeply pondering or even pursuing answers to life’s big questions—the things that normally make me feel alive and grateful for this life—now exist mostly as a sidebar to the story of my life rather than being woven in as a fully developed theme.

looking up from inside a building courtyard surrounded by walls

I know I have important needs that are not getting met. I even know what some of them are (lately, a lack of sleep has been putting me firmly at the bottom level of the triangle).

Other needs, though, are less easy to defend as legitimate. The need for solitude and for quiet, the need for living space that isn’t constantly terrorized with the mess and energy of three other people, the need to be able to do my own thing sometimes without the burden of guilt caused by leaving more of the childcare to my spouse who is already home with them full time – where do those needs fit? And why does not getting them met cause me to spiral?

I don’t know how to reconcile these needs AND be a mother. I don’t want these needs to rear their ugly heads on hard parenting days and, while I’m down, kick me once more with the knowledge of how significantly (and negatively) I can affect my children’s place on the pyramid. But it feels like admitting these needs is taboo. Not okay.

I’m stuck. I’m struggling. And admitting these needs is scary, especially when there’s no clear path to getting them met.

Now We Are Six

Dear Connor,

Last night after dinner we put together the loot bags for your birthday party. They’re Star Wars themed, like your invitations, and your dad had selected a bunch of things along that theme that six-year-olds might like. As we put them together, you helped sometimes, and ran around sometimes, playing with the various extra bits, pretending you had a light sabre, and it struck me once again, in that moment, that you are six. You know things about Star Wars and light sabres and you are six.

Star Wars birthday invitations

For the last couple of months as we led up to your sixth birthday, my chest has been tight thinking about it. I don’t know why. There isn’t anything particularly noteworthy about turning six; at least not that I can think of. You might notice that this year, unlike other years, I have titled this letter, “Now WE are six.” For some reason this birthday, unlike other years, feels more like it’s about us and not just about you.

I have thought about this a lot, trying to figure out why. The closest I can come is that it has something to do with the stage Ethan has reached. At 18 months (and then 19, and then 20) it became clearer and clearer to me how different he is from how you were at that age. And in so realizing, it became clearer and clearer just how hard those first few years of parenthood were when you were a baby.

boy in skull shirt with spiked hair

My darling boy, I love you so much, but a lot of things about being your mom in those first few years just sucked. I look back on those things now and I wonder how we got through it. Sometimes I think maybe I didn’t actually get through it intact, but maybe this is just how things are and were meant to be. Maybe some of these things would have come about anyway.

You are an entirely different person now. Well, maybe not entirely. You are still full of life and energy, but you have evolved into a person who has two speeds: high speed and off. You are either moving through life at mach speed or completely still, focused on Lego, or a movie, or fast asleep. For the last couple of mornings I’ve had to come and wake you up so you could be at school on time, something I don’t actually recall ever having to do in the last six years. You were curled up in your sleeping bag on your camping cot (which you’ve insisted on sleeping in since returning from camping last weekend) and you didn’t even move when Ethan and I came into the room. And then I left the room for a moment to tell your dad that you were still totally passed out—because it really was that remarkable—and Ethan jiggled you enough to wake you up and the next thing I knew you were out of bed. You went from completely OFF to completely ON.

Hoo doos in Drumheller

Recently, I have become better at catching you in, or encouraging you into, quieter moments. I have worked on regulating my own settings so that your high-speed setting doesn’t inevitably push me straight into overdrive. Our relationship is better now than it was. Better now, I think, than ever. I can see more clearly what you need, and you can express your needs more clearly to me, and we aren’t always jockeying to each have our own needs met RIGHT NOW.

I have struggled recently with the things your birth brought into my life - things I didn’t ask for and didn’t expect. But I struggle less with you, and as a result you struggle less with me. We have found a balance, like the point of a spinning top that stays in control, en pointe, and fully supported by the forces around it. It took us a few years of working to build the strength and structure to appear to dance more lightly, but we got here. And as I look in the mirror I see us dancing a choreographed dance that we perform mostly in unison, spending less time treading on each other’s toes.

silhouette in front of water wall

I like this dance, my darling boy.

Now we are partners.

Now we are six.

I will love you always and forever,

Mama xx

A Window Into Apathy

“I found myself losing interest in almost everything. I didn’t want to do any of the things I had previously wanted to do, and I didn’t know why. The opposite of depression is not happiness but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment. Everything there was to do seemed like too much work. I would come home and I would see the red light flashing on my answering machine, and instead of being thrilled to hear from my friends I would think, “What a lot of people that is to have to call back.” Or I would decide I should have lunch, and then I would think, but I’d have to get the food out and put it on a plate and cut it up and chew it and swallow it, and it felt to me like the Stations of the Cross.”

dark clouds over hay fields

The TED talk by Andrew Solomon about depression that’s quoted above has been open in the browser on my phone for ages. Weeks. Months, maybe. I wanted to watch it but hadn’t yet, so it stayed hidden away, only occasionally glimpsed when I clicked on another link and saw the window whiz by as I opened a new one.

And then last night I was putting Connor to bed, and as he wiggled and settled and drifted toward sleep I was scrolling through the open windows on my phone trying to clear them out. (Because there are so many things sitting on my chest as obligations, and open windows on the browser on my phone felt like yet another series of things I really should get back to, which is ridiculous, so I decided it was time for those windows to go away.) I scrolled through each window one last time and thought, no, I’m not going to make those quinoa cakes and I really don’t care what 29 awesome things I don’t know about Google and I’m sure those stock photos that don’t suck are great but I don’t really need more stock photo sources and I closed each window in turn.

And then I got to the window for this TED talk.

lightning-strike

You know how sometimes something ends up in front of your face and then later you look back and wonder at the timing? It gets pushed in front of you through some kind of cyber-magic and you finally pay attention to it and suddenly all sorts of things make sense. That’s what happened with that TED talk. I somehow—not deliberately—ended up on the transcript page and as Connor wiggled and settled and drifted to sleep I started reading.

In January I wrote about how I was missing inspiration and some of you said, “That’s okay” and “Some periods of your life are just like that” and “A different path is not a bad thing,” and I thought no. And I even said it—I said This is not how I wish to live—but what I didn’t say at the time was Something feels wrong. Something is wrong. I just let it float around in the back of my awareness and I thought about words like apathy and how I don’t remember ever feeling so strongly that I just don’t give a shit and for more than three months now I’ve wondered what it’s all about.

But last night a window appeared in front of me and I didn’t close it. Instead of closing that window I opened it, and now I can actually see through to the other side. I’m not sure what’s over on this side—because I do feel like I’m on the right side now—and I don’t know exactly what to do about it, but at least now it has a label. At least now I’m no longer confused about what’s happening. I went from thinking I’m slipping and not really understanding why because it felt different than in the past to knowing that, in fact, I slipped.

Now, as well, I know that apathy is a symptom of depression. And as wrong as it feels, the knowing of it feels much more right.

Talking About PPD (and All Its Friends)

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, so it seems appropriate to share this with you today: Yesterday I did an interview for a news outlet about why it’s important to talk about postpartum depression in the context of maternal suicide. You can see that interview and the rest of their reporting on the Global News website.

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The interview was prompted by a Canadian Medical Association Journal article about why it’s time to put maternal suicide under the microscope, which, in turn, was prompted by the case of Winnipeg mother Lisa Gibson who, it appears, killed her two small children and then herself and was said to have been suffering from postpartum depression. There are a few things I want to say about this issue and my interview with Global News.

I’ll start with this: Women like Lisa Gibson who kill their children are not monsters. That’s a bold statement, but I really believe that to be true. In fact, let’s make it a bolder statement:

Women suffering from postpartum mood disorders who kill their children are not monsters. 


Some of you are already in fits of rage, but hear me out. I don’t want to change your mind about this, because it’s such an emotional topic and I totally get that, but I do want to be able to have a conversation about it. I’ll share my thoughts and I welcome yours in the comments.

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First, women who do this are not suffering from your typical depression. Generally they are suffering from postpartum psychosis, which is as scary as it sounds. Some very brave women have shared their stories of postpartum psychosis and the completely unreal, not-based-in-real-life things they believed. Women like Jenni, who shared that she saw:

“…a figure, a dwarfish figure – a dark, person-shaped creature that scurried toward the bassinet, saw me, and darted away.”

Jenni thought it was this figure—instead of colic—that was responsible for her newborn’s crying.

And then there’s Heather, whose story I’ve shared before. Heather described finding herself naked on the side of a DC highway:

“When helicopters flew overhead, I was convinced the world was going to end and that presidential nominees Barack Obama and John McCain were headed to DC to join forces and save the world. I thought of a few ways I could help save the world: My husband and I could kill each other. Or we could kill our children. Or my parents…”

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So: Women like Heather do not have murderous motives. Often they truly believe killing their children is necessary for reasons that don’t make any sense in the real world. For others it’s less like a plot from a dramatic Hollywood blockbuster and more that they believe their children would be better without them as a mother. Don’t try to make sense of it. It’s psychosis. And until we make it okay to say, “I’m not okay,” and to make it better, easier, not-terrifying for mothers to ask for help, this is going to keep happening.

We need to make it okay to ask for help.


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And that’s why I did the interview. The news clip, of course, includes mere seconds of what was a much longer conversation and if you’re familiar with my story then you haven’t missed much. But the clip also focused on medication – partly because it’s a visual associated with the topic and partly, I suspect, because it’s sort of shocking. (Serious? Clearly associated with mental illness, in any case.) And while medication is one of the things I credit with helping me finally recover, it’s not the only option and it’s not what works for everyone.

The point I wanted to make, essentially, was this: Ask for help. You’re not alone. Postpartum depression is shockingly common and you’re not the only one and it doesn’t make you a bad mother. There are options, and whether you’re hiding in the bathroom crying or formulating a plan to take your own life, you can get help. There is another way.

Please, ask for help.

It’s going to be okay.

 
SUICIDE AND CRISIS RESOURCES

If you (or someone you know) is thinking about hurting yourself or your children, get help. 

Canada: Crisis centres in Canada: http://www.suicideprevention.ca/in-crisis-now/find-a-crisis-centre-now/

US - National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Internationalhttp://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

And remember, you don’t have to be suicidal to call a hotline. If you need to talk to someone, call. You can also go to the nearest emergency room to ask for help.