In Transit

Right now I’m sitting in the observation deck at the Minneapolis airport, a peaceful room with only classical music as the backdrop for the view of the runways. I look out at the planes sitting at the gates, seemingly quiet with no hint as to the activity happening inside; those planes are all going somewhere, though I can’t tell where just by looking.

It feels like a metaphor for me and my own journey.

view from observation deck at MSP airport
I’ve felt a little lost lately, and it feels odd. I don’t know what to say about it. When I first started putting words to my journey three years ago I could see the path I was on, like a moving sidewalk in front of me. Whether I walked or not I was going somewhere, and I had some idea of where. I just had to wait for that moving sidewalk to spit me out the other side. And then it did and I thought, Oh. I’m here. 

“Here” turned out to be a different city. “Here” turned out to be a new job and a new baby and a new appreciation for the time during which the moving sidewalk went a little nuts, forcing me to hold on tightly to the handrail lest I get chewed up en route. And so it was, for a time – at peace, happy, accepting.

After a while, though, things started to feel a little off. I didn’t know why at first, and then I did.

And then I stopped writing because I don’t know what to make of it.

The question I’m wrestling with is, “Really?” I had a baby and got sick and didn’t get help soon enough and now I have to struggle with depression for the rest of my life? Really?!

Inside, I’m railing against this. I’m angry and frustrated and, sometimes, feeling defeated. I did all that work and learned all those lessons and got brave and shared my story to help others and I still have to deal with this shit?

Apparently, yes. Really.

I’m in this airport on a three-hour layover on my way to DC for a conference hosted by a company I know well. I used to fairly regularly fly to the US to speak at conferences hosted by this same company, and as I sit in this quiet room I look around for the me who used to do this, but she’s not here. Just this new me and some classical music.

I’ve often wondered lately if this is it. The last few months with the ups and downs of what I now know is an ongoing depression journey have felt a bit like a layover – interminable and frustrating, watching as everyone else takes off while I’m stuck looking out the window. I’ll depart eventually, but whether I go onwards or backwards I don’t yet know. I’m still in transit.

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.

The Red Button

We were in a hotel at the end of last summer and, as most kids do, Connor wanted to push the elevator button. As we approached, he saw the red emergency button and simultaneously went to push it and asked what it was for. My husband told him what it was for and said, “When you see a red button, don’t push it.”

I was surprised Connor didn’t push the button anyway. If I had offered the explanation and told him not to touch the red button, we very likely would have been explaining to hotel management that there was no emergency, terribly sorry and thank you, it’s just our five-year-old’s tendency to push buttons his mother asks him not to.

Most of the buttons he pushes are mine. I’m not really sure how to describe our relationship without making you think it’s typical of life with a five-year-old boy. Which is not to say that your challenges with your five-year-old boy (or whatever) aren’t difficult too, but this, to me, has often felt different.

I think all parents think they suck at some point. For a blessed few, maybe it’s just a one-time feeling on a particularly bad day. A lot of parents probably have that feeling at 7:23 on a Saturday morning when they’d rather be sleeping and instead are dealing with kids who have been up for over an hour and are bored or restless or just plain loud. And some parents probably have the I-suck-at-parenting thought on an almost-daily basis.

I am all of those parents, but this situation with Connor isn’t the Saturday-morning variety. I’m not entirely sure I suck at being a parent. Most days, I just think I suck at being Connor’s mom.

Way back when he was still a nursing baby, he used to slap me across the face. He got me good some days and it eventually led to a very abrupt ceasing of breastfeeding. I lasted a long time, through the slapping and the biting and the scratching. By the time he was 16 months old I had cut nursing down to once a day before bed, and then one day I stopped. Cold turkey, baby. I’d had enough and I decided in a moment of anger and frustration that I’d wasn’t going to take it anymore.

Connor didn’t seem to notice, just like he still doesn’t seem to notice when I try to take a stand on things I’m not willing to tolerate.

He doesn’t seem to notice when I withdraw after he’s smacked me on the back first thing in the morning or dug his fingernails into my arm while we’re watching TV. He doesn’t notice when I ask him not to do something nor does he notice when I say DON’T DO THAT! He doesn’t even notice when I take Lego away. He’s not like this with Rich or with my mom or at school. It’s all part of his belief that Mommy is no fun and she’s not my friend. And before you start with the platitudes, let me tell you this: It’s not something I’m imagining. And another piece of evidence surfaced a few months ago.

I walked into our bedroom one afternoon to get something and realized Connor was in our bathroom. He was talking to himself and before I left the room again I heard it: “I don’t like my mom, but I do like my dad.”

broken bridge over water

The extent of this problem—because it’s most definitely a problem and not just a parenting challenge or a phase—has become abundantly clear, again, in the last few days. It doesn’t matter if I try to play with him or suggest outings or let him have an extra show on Netflix. It doesn’t matter if all I’m trying to do is prevent him from injuring himself, or me, or his little brother. This is how it is: He pushes, I push back, we collide.

It’s time to do something about it. Past time, actually, but who wants to put yourself out there and say, Hi, I think I might be the worst mother in the world because I can’t deal with my own child. Other parents seem to manage fine with only the occasional raised voice or extra glass of wine after a challenging day – WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?!

I sure don’t want to do that.

But I also don’t want to live with this constant frustration and my parents’ phone number on speed dial for those days when I just can’t deal with him for another second. I’m worried that if I don’t do something about it we (he? I?) will have an ongoing, perhaps increasing, problem.

I’m not sure where to look, but it’s time to find a cover for that red button.

This Is My Brave

“I wanted share a bit of my story with you and say thank you for sharing yours.”

The best emails I get start this way.

I’m always honoured when someone shares her story with me, and when I get a note of thanks for sharing my experience with postpartum depression it reinforces that the hard parts of sharing a tough story are worth it.

Today I’ve shared a guest post on This Is My Brave about why I think it’s important to speak out about mental health. And it is important – the emails I get tell me so, and I know it firsthand from those I’m thankful to.

I’d love for you to come and read, and while you’re there take some time to read about This Is My Brave the show. Jennifer and Anne Marie are doing a really good, really important, and really brave thing.

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.