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.

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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.

Sunshine Today, Cloudy Tomorrow

Ethan has a remote control toy that talks. “Today’s shape is circle!” it says when he pushes a button, and then quickly launches into a counting song as his baby fingers push two buttons together. Sometimes it spouts out a weather forecast as if he were watching TV: ”Sunshine today, cloudy tomorrow!”

The voice for that one is female, squeaky. Overly cheerful, as though clouds tomorrow—the forecast is always the same—were a welcome thing. Although I suppose there’s something to be said for having a heads up that clouds are on the way.

clouds at 3:41 pm as a metaphor for depression3:41 p.m.

My depression has materialized in almost every form possible – anger, anxiety, flat nothingness, extreme sadness that requires a large and close-by stash of Kleenex. Until recently, that sadness was a slow decline, a slipping, a falling in, something I could feel coming. My forecast would show the clouds moving in; it was a reliable source that would allow for some preparation. I would reach out to bat the depression away, then watch it soar like a badminton birdie that flies farther and smoother than its awkward form would suggest.

Earlier this year that changed. I started having what I call “mini crashes” – fine one day, not fine the next. The sunshine would, suddenly and with no warning, be replaced by clouds, and I’d stand there wondering where they came from and why my inner meteorologist had failed me.

clouds at 8:42 pm as a metaphor for depression8:42 p.m.

I had one too many rainy days and had to do something about it. Thankfully, I’ve got it mostly under control now, but I still watch the clouds much more than I did before.

That’s the reality I’m left with, I guess. It’s been five years and the depression—or the possibility of it—isn’t going away. It’s in me. It is me.

It’s taken me a long time to accept that and be willing to deal with it and all its implications.

It’s okay, I guess. It’s manageable. Mostly, as they say, it is what it is. I’m better now, but if I need to I can batten down the hatches, ride out the storm, and wait for the sunshine to filter through again.

It always does.

clouds at 9:13 pm as a metaphor for depression9:13 p.m.

[These pictures were all taken on the same day several weeks ago. The clouds where I live are beautiful - shocking and entrancing and sometimes downright menacing. I take pictures of the skies a lot, but the way the clouds developed on that day happened to be particularly eye-catching.]

 

Breaking Radio Silence

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while (or have spent any time browsing the archives) you’ll be well aware that I used to bare my soul on here on a daily basis. Desperate times call for desperate measures, as they say, and my desperation used to lead me to sharing just how awful I was feeling with anyone who chose to read about it.

It used to be easier to do that.

I’ve had some rough days lately and part of me wanted to just stay silent and pretend that everything was hunky dory. Maybe that’s because I don’t want to admit that I can’t prevent bad days with baby #2 just by sheer force of will. (Okay, that’s a big part of it.) But it’s also partly because I don’t really want to get into it. I don’t want my mother worrying that she’s going to have to talk me off the ledge again. I don’t want to appear vulnerable.

Feeling vulnerable sucks.

But feeling like I’m not being true to myself sucks as well. I know – I don’t have to share anything here if I don’t want to. But this blog is part of my path through this whole experience so I’m okay with sharing things here.

The good news is that the last couple of days have been better. The extra good news is that I haven’t had any more conversations with the steam cleaner. (I would, however, like to point out that my husband mistook the steam cleaner for Connor the other night too. He didn’t actually talk to the steam cleaner, so he maintains he’s clearly more sane than I, but I’m not convinced. I think he’s just less inclined to talk to inanimate objects in the middle of the night.)

In any case, I hate feeling like I spilled my guts and then went radio silent. So here’s a picture of some old-fashioned toffee tins.

rileys-toffee
Pretty, don’t you think?

Conversations with the Steam Cleaner

Last night I decided to be a big girl and take the new medication I was nervous about taking (one reason being that it has a sedating effect so I wasn’t sure how the night wakings were going to go). The first time I got up I felt drunk, exactly as if I’d had a little too much to drink. I’m not a big fan of that, but I’m hoping it either goes away or Ethan sleeps long enough that I sleep through that phase.

Around 3:30 I came back into our room after feeding Ethan. Then Rich got up to blow his nose and I had a lovely conversation with the steam cleaner thinking it was Connor.

“Hi buddy. What’s wrong?”

The steam cleaner/Connor didn’t answer.

“Are you okay?”

Still no answer.

I sat in bed trying to remember what colour t-shirt Connor had on when he went to bed. I was sure it was a dark one.

“Connor, love? Are you there?”

Connor the Steam Cleaner was silent.

At that point Rich came out of the bathroom.

“What’s that?” I asked him. “Is that Connor?”

“No, that was me blowing my nose.”

Apparently he’s not terribly good at following along with insane conversations in the middle of the night.

“No, that. In the corner. Is that Connor?”

Rich did an impression of a dog chasing his tail as he turned around and around to see what the hell I was talking about.

“What?! Who’s there?!”

Understanding dawned.

“That thing in the corner? That’s the steam cleaner,” he explained.

“Oh. I thought it was Connor.”

“You scared the crap out of me.”

I shrugged and went back to my drunken sleep. At least we didn’t have another kid to put back to bed.

PS Don’t ask why we have a steam cleaner camped out in the corner of our bedroom.

PPS He was wearing a light-coloured t-shirt.