On the surface, this blog post doesn’t have a lot to do with pregnancy or parenting–but beneath its roots, a deep-seated fear about my parenting rests, as well as hope and ambition for my future.
I have depression and anxiety. I suffer from both and have for… well, pretty much as long as I can remember. Some days, it was a smiling depression. Other days, my depression was right there on the surface for everyone to see. Currently, I’m treating my depression, working on learning new coping skills and coming to peace with myself, and beginning to take ownership of the depression–both the aspects that are in my control and the aspects that are not. But it hasn’t always been that way. The journey to learning to love myself has been a long one, and the progress not always linear. Let’s talk about the journey and what it has to do with parenting–and then, let’s challenge ourselves to move out of our comfort zone.
My Depression Journey & Seeking Treatment
My depression has always been there–or at least it feels like it has been–an aching presence that makes it hard to get off the couch or go hang out with friends. My parents saw early signs of it and would encourage me to do things that made me feel better, whether that was my mom signing me up for clubs and activities or my dad sending me outside to get fresh air.
During childhood, that helped. It was enough for me to stay even-keel…ish. And then I went to college.
There were many things I loved about college, from the picturesque location of the school I chose to the friendships I made, but college was also hard. Separated from my family for months at a time–separated from the people who had once forced me to do the things that made me feel healthy–I soon fell apart.
Worse, I was in denial. Sure, I was self-injuring–but only a little–not enough to be dangerous–so that was fine, right? Sure, my room was disintegrating into chaos around me–dirty dishes piled on the floor, laundry in a stack halfway to the ceiling–but it was college, and lots of kids had messy rooms… so, again, fine, right?
I never missed class, rarely forgot assignments, and even graduated summa cum laude. I worked–as many as three jobs at a time–and my bosses always had good things to say about me during performance reviews. That wasn’t the face of depression… right?
It was the Nutella the finally spurred me into treatment.
On days I had classes, or work, I would manage to get myself out the door and where I needed to be, but during spans of time where I had no real responsibilities–no one to hold me accountable to my location–, I couldn’t bring myself to leave my room. I could barely bring myself to leave my bed. Even hunger couldn’t spur me to move far–not when the campus cafeteria had people in it, and I knew the energy that went into “faking it” around people. So instead, when I would get hungry, I would eat Nutella–from the jar, with a spoon, on nothing. Looking back, gross, but at the time it was a food that filled me up that took zero energy to prepare.
And then one day I woke up with a splitting headache. I could barely move, not from depression but from sheer pain. When hunger hit, I reached for the jar of Nutella on the floor by my bed, took a single spoonful, and put it to my tongue.
The headache dissipated instantly, and something in my brain clicked at that moment–something that, for whatever reason, hadn’t clicked with any of my previous symptoms. I had an oh, shit moment, realizing that I had been taking so little care of my body for so long that I’d actually become addicted to Nutella.
The next day, I set up an appointment with the mental health clinic on campus.
During my first round of therapy, my concentration wasn’t on feeling good or learning to love myself. It didn’t even cross my mind that feeling good was a possibility. I just wanted to learn some skills to stop actively hurting myself–some skills so I could learn to function at a basic human level. And I got there. I cut back on the twelve caffeinated beverages I was drinking a day, banned Nutella from my life (sorry, Nutella, it’s not your fault), and practiced coping skills–like hiking in the woods and reaching out to friends and family–which got me to stop self-injuring.
Then I graduated, therapy was no longer free, and I stopped going.
Parenting & Re-Visiting My Depression
I did promise at the beginning of this diatribe that it had something to do with parenting, and it does.
When Ginger Snaps and I got together, we vowed–even before our official vows–to be 100% honest with one another. It’s one of the things we’re pretty decent at sticking to. So he’s known, since the beginning, about my struggles with depression. He helps me maintain the healthy habits–like limiting my caffeine intake and going on walks around the neighborhood–that keep me from sinking into the sort of soul-wrenching depression that I suffered in college. When he and I met, I was a closet smoker–a “social smoker,” which–like the laundry on the floor in college–I perceived as “no big deal.” Within two months of our being together, he’d helped me kick that unhealthy habit as well. (Let’s be real–the fact that he doesn’t enjoy the settings, like pubs and parties, where I used to smoke was a help in and of itself).
When we were first together, I thought that was the best life would ever get–depression present but vices mitigated. Then we started talking about bringing children into the world–something that had always been a dream of mine, and a dream that he fortunately shared. But when it came time to actually try for a child, fear knotted its way into my stomach. I visited my doctor to discuss prenatal care, and as we were talking, I twisted the hem of my shirt and said to her, “I really, really want to be a mom… But I don’t want to be the mom that cries all the time.”
We talked a while longer, and she pulled up some of my old charts, and then, for the first time ever, I was prescribed an antidepressant.
Antidepressants aren’t for everyone. They don’t even work for everyone. But for me, they were gold. The fog that had pressed down on me from all angles lifted, my anxiety abated, and GS and I finally recognized the sacrifices we had made over the years to keep my depression at bay. Suddenly, he wasn’t the only one who could go grocery shopping because I could walk past the sweets in the store without buying all of them or–worse–breaking down in tears on the drive home. He wasn’t the only one doing chores anymore–I was happy, even energized, to keep the house clean.
We had a few sweet, blissful months, and then I got pregnant.
The antidepressant I was on was safe to take while pregnant–one of the criteria when my PCP and I chose it for me–so I hadn’t considered coming off of it during pregnancy. But for the first sixteen weeks of pregnancy I was so sick I couldn’t keep food down half the time, and the medicine stood zero chance: Just attempting to swallow it had me losing everything in my system.
As my medicine left my system, the anxiety and depression returned, only now, there was something worse about it. GS, suddenly used to having a partner rather than a parasite in the home, grew frustrated when I stopped helping around the house. My tears became more plentiful, and not just because of the hormones raging through my body. And for me, after a taste of what happiness and energy felt like, “coping” didn’t cut it anymore.
Therapy, Take 2
GS and I made a decision, together, that something had to give. In lieu of medicine, I went back to therapy, this time with a new therapist. Recommended by my doctor, this was a “biochemical therapist,” which meant that her concentration wasn’t on investigating trauma in my life (there isn’t any) or discussing the ways my parents screwed me up (they didn’t–they’re great). Rather, the focus was on explaining how the brain works in conjunction with the body and then on working together to rewire the parts of the brain that, for me, were hyper-focused on the negative.
For me, it’s working. It’s not as easy as taking a pill was, but I also don’t have to worry that it will wear off over time or that I’ll have to keep upping my doses. In fact, this week my therapist and I celebrated the fact that I’ve had four sessions in a row where I could report having had a generally good week.
Things aren’t perfect yet. I help out around the house, but GS still does more than his fair share of housework. I can go grocery shopping now–and never cry about it–but sometimes we end up with chips in the cupboard that we don’t need. Because “good enough” doesn’t cut it for me anymore, I recognize that there’s still work to be done to ensure that I can be the mother my little girl needs and the wife my husband deserves. But I also recognize progress, both in the tangibles, like picking water up from the grocery store for my husband and not getting sidetracked into the snack aisle, and the intangibles, like the easy banter between GS and I now that he no longer has to fear that everything he says will send me into tears.
A Safe Challenge… for All of Us
My therapist and I are at a stage now where I’ve learned some good coping skills, and now I’m practicing them through a series of “safe challenges.” It’s been empowering to use my mindfulness training to clean the bathroom and my new understanding of hyperarousal versus hypoarousal to prioritize my tasks at work. But for the past couple of weeks, she’s been suggesting a safe challenge that so terrifies me that I dodge around it and ask for other challenges instead.
The challenge? “Love yourself.”
I’m not actually sure what the challenge entails. Once again, this week I managed to plea a lesser sentence (meditation). But as I was reviewing some of the work I did on my Gender Disappointment post, I came up with my own idea of what a “Love Yourself” safe challenge might entail. I meditated on it. And now I want to propose that challenge to each of you.
Here’s what I want you to do. Write a list, without giving in to personal critique or judgment, of everything you love about yourself–of all the ways being you is a blessing. If you’re feeling really brave, you can even post it in the comments to help others who might be struggling with this challenge to give themselves an opportunity to be a little less-than-modest for once.
Regardless of whether you choose to share or not, I encourage you to write the list and keep it in your wallet. As you struggle with your doubts and self-critiques this week–whether it be looking at that sweater that doesn’t fit quite right or cleaning spaghetti off your wall for the third time–pull your list out and take a moment to reflect on the things you love about yourself instead of your personal challenges. Reflect on the positivity, and then report back. Does it help?
I Made My List
In fairness to what I’m asking you to do, I created my own list. And I’ll be real: It was hard. For every line I came up with of a reason to love myself, I could think of three addendums–ways those positive traits could be seen as a weakness, or had worked against me in the past, or were true some of the time but not all of the time. Writing them down made me feel tense, like I was being overly cocky or full of myself.
I realized that it would be ten times easier to write a list of reasons I judge myself or ways that I could improve myself. And as I realized that–and how sad that is–I also realized how much I need this in my life.
Self-criticism has its place in our lives. If I don’t acknowledge that I have a weight problem, I won’t recognize my need to get off the couch and exercise. But when self-criticism becomes the norm, we begin to underestimate ourselves and become paralyzed by the notion that we’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, or capable enough.
So I implore you–because it was hard for me–to only write down the things you love about yourself. You won’t forget the addendums–the “except for in these circumstances”–but those thoughts don’t need space in your positivity journal.
Need an example? My list is below. Are you brave enough to make one of your own?
- I love that I write well, with a solid understanding of grammar and punctuation and a good voice.
- I also love that I enjoy writing and that I have that available to me as a creative outlet.
- I love my sense of humor.
- I love how honest I am with people.
- I love that I have the capability of being self-reflexive.
- I love that I actively seek out knowledge on a regular basis.
- I love how easy it is for me to memorize songs, the fact that I can keep a rhythm, and the fact that I’m not afraid to sing along to the radio.
- I love my vocabulary. I love the taste of long words on my tongue, and sometimes, I also love a little vulgarity in my language.
- I love that I’m not a picky eater and that I’m not afraid to try new foods.
- I love that I still enjoy cartoons and still find the magic in Disney.
- I love the fact that I’m close to my family, and that I consider so much of my family to be dear friends.
- I love the fact that I always fight for the underdog.
- I love the fact that the novelty and genius to music don’t pass me by.
- I love the fact that I enjoy organizing things on the computer, from our family finances to class schedules for my characters to… well, so many things.
- I love the fact that I hold myself to high standards.