Living, Poetry

Out of Touch

Slip of a bra strap
Chain tugging at throat
Hair crawling on neck
Sleeves strangling

Cannot bear
for one more minute to wear
these clothes, these shoes, this jewelry, this head of hair

Lack of sleep
Swirl of chemical chimera
Environmental allergies
Sensitivity to touch

It’s just too much

Whatever the cause,
whatever the combination
it’s an assault on my senses

Damn my lack of defenses

anxiety, Identity, Living, May is Mental Health Month, Mental Health, postpartum depression

The Blue Chicken or the Anxiety Egg?

Which came first? DownloadedFile

It’s the proverbial question.

Did my anxiety beget my depression?  Or am I worried how things will turn out because of my depression?

Worry-wort.  My own worst enemy.  Always running things through my head.  So sensitive.  Beating a dead horse.  All of these are terms used to describe me at one time or another.

I do have a tendency to perseverate.  I can’t let things go.  I worry them like a dog with a bone that is impervious to bite marks.  It’s not productive.  It’s not reassuring.  It’s a form of torment actually.

In college, after my roommate had left for the weekend, I would lie on my top bunk and stare out the window, wondering why I couldn’t go out and round up new friends as easily as everyone else seemed to be doing.  I would watch the sun set, thinking how alone I was.

As August neared its end one year, I bought a thin volume entitled, Why Are You Worrying?  As the cashier plugged my purchase into the register, he asked, “Are you a teacher?’  He said he’d bought the same book at the start of a school year once too.  While he may have bought the book for the same reasons I did, no self-help book could help me turn off the worry.  I triangulated every possible scenario in the classroom; how I would put out fires, cut off conflicts at the knees before they stood up, squash rebellion before it started.  But you can’t plan for every permutation.  The very nature of education is the X factor.

And this nervous nature – is that what plunged me into depression when life became so overwhelming as a mother of three?  I couldn’t control anything, didn’t understand and couldn’t fix the feelings I was having, and felt really crappy as a result.

Or is it viewing life through the dark glasses of depression that makes me see the shadows of worry in every corner?

It’s all tumbled together in the dryer at the highest setting anyway.

The only ‘good’ thing about all of it is that what I thought was a flaw on my part, a weakness, an inability to achieve, connect, push myself, believe in myself, is really anxiety.  I’m not this wimpy, pathetic, sad sack.  I have an excuse!  A reason, a rationalization, a disease.  Good for me!

So chicken or egg – it’s all part of the cycle of life.  All I can do is try not to get scrambled.

Living, May is Mental Health Month, Mental Health, postpartum depression

A Sit-com of Errors

I desperately want[ed] to pin my depression on ‘postpartum’.

If the hormonal let-down following birth was responsible for my troubles, then it was acceptable.  It was normal, natural, physiologically sound.  And it was temporary.  Once my body got back to stasis, it would go away.

Three years later, though the cloud has shrunk, no wind stiff enough has come through to sweep it across the plain of my life and over the horizon.

I don’t think I can ‘blame’ postpartum anymore.

My therapist said that my anxiety and depression are situational; that the heightened stress of my last pregnancy, the trauma following it, the continued stress of a three-child household all brought out my worst symptoms.  I argued that I may have always had some latent tendencies toward anxiety and depression.  Perhaps, she said, but up until this point I had successfully managed them.  I wanted to pinpoint the origin of my maladies, while she was focused on helping me overcome them.  In my mind, if I could find a reason for it, my depression might be more understandable, more valid, more easily admissible.

I think the term situational freaked me out.  Situational.  Just because I was in a shitty situation I couldn’t hang?  What kind of weak human was I?  This wasn’t a sit-com on network television that, after thirty minutes, left the sad sack sitting on the couch for a vibrantly-colored automobile commercial that told viewers to go out and grab life by the *#&@s.  My situation had grabbed me by the neck and wouldn’t let go, throttling me for much more than thirty minutes.

Now as postpartum fades in the rearview mirror, and my symptoms continue, some getting weirder (reemergence of night sweats), I’m turning my attention to other causes.  My aunt gave me Thyroid Power: 10 Steps to Total Health by Richard L. Shames and Karilee Halo Shames.  Since adolescence, my physician has tested me for nearly every cause of low energy: anemia, low blood sugar, mono, thyroid . . . you name it.  A few years ago, she diagnosed me with Raynaud’s Syndrome (because of my frigid, ubersensitive extremies), but that was seemingly unrelated and no other conclusive evidence could be found of a specific problem.  After reading this book, it seems this is the story of many other individuals with undiagnosed and untreated thyroid issues, which – you guessed it – is a major cause of depression and energy problems.  At this very moment, I am awaiting the results of a blood test much more detailed than the usual thyroid work-up, which often isn’t sensitive enough to catch subtle problems.

But even if I never determine the exact cause of my depression, does that make it any less real?

Whether my brain is misfiring its seratonin, my hormones revolted against another pregnancy, my anxiety makes it impossible to hakuna matata, or my thyroid is on hiatus, my depression is impairing my ability to live.

Yes, I need to analyze certain factors to appropriately address it (i.e. choosing SSRIs, hormone therapy, and/or just plain old people-to-people therapy), but my therapist had the right idea with simply moving forward; rather than looking back, looking forward with a positive outlook to improve my situation.


It would be nice if the script-writer of my life could wrap it up in a nice, tidy episode, though.  To be continued . . .

May is Mental Health Month, Mental Health, motherhood, parenting, postpartum depression

The Perfect Storm


When my husband and I learned of the imminent arrival of our third child, we were in shock.  Yes, we knew how things worked.  Yes, we’d always considered, even expected, a third child.  No, we were not ready for it right then.  After our second was born, we said we’d definitely want to wait until she was older than our first had been before we welcomed number three, which was just over two and a half.    The best laid plans . . .

Our second was eighteen months old when we found out I was pregnant.  In the weeks that followed, we walked around in a stupor.  As I went about my daily activities caring for the kids, I would find myself staring into space, lost in thoughts of third car seats, reconfiguring furniture in our already small house, finances, schedules.  The phone would ring – my husband calling from work – and we would stare into space together, our shock suspended in the telephone lines.  We knew we wanted this child and loved it already, but were totally caught off-guard by its timing.

It was also a difficult time in my extended family.  My uncle was battling a terminal brain tumor.  My announcement to my mother was made by way of my explanation for not visiting the ICU.  He died a few days later.  Four months later, my cousin was killed in a motorcycle accident.  My grandmother’s devastation was complete.  My mother’s own grief was wrapped up in worry for her mother.

Somehow, the days wound on, the months passing.  Caring for two children while carrying my third was starting to take its physical toll.  The usual aches and pains of pregnancy were amplified.  My left hip and pelvis were giving me more pain than ever.  As my due date approached, I felt extreme pressure, a heaviness, different than impending labor.  Having nothing to compare it to, I just assumed it was my body’s worn-out response to doing this a third time.

In the delivery room, my midwife asked me if there’d be a fourth if we had another girl.  “I hope not,” I’d said.  By the time I was pushing, I was sure there wouldn’t be.  Even after two natural births, I’d never experienced anything like it.  I actually uttered the words that infuriate me when I hear them in television portrayals of labor: “I can’t do this.”  But somehow I did.  And the nurses placed a perfect little girl in my arms.

I’d like to say all the shock and worry evaporated as soon as I saw her face.  She was gorgeous, I loved her, but I almost felt like a stranger observing the scene from afar.  I still hadn’t wrapped my head around the idea of starting over again with a third child.  And I wouldn’t get a chance to right away.  In the hours and days following her birth, a new challenge presented itself: getting out of bed.

When the nurse came to get me the next morning, she asked if it was the first time I’d been out of bed.  “No,” I answered, nonplussed, until I saw her face as she watched me move.  My walk was more of a shuffle, getting in and out of bed was slower than glacial melt.  Finally, after many such episodes throughout the day, she said, “Maybe we should send you for an x-ray to make sure you didn’t break anything.”  Break anything?  You’re not supposed to break anything when you have a baby – except your water.  Now she was making me nervous.

An x-ray confirmed her suspicions – and my pain.  I had a slight case of diastasis symphysis pubis.  Thank God it was slight because it meant the ligaments in my pubic bone had separated.  And as slight as it was, it was excruciating.

Once the adrenaline wore off and the soreness settled in, I couldn’t roll over in bed without crying.  It took me 45 minutes to get out of bed early one morning when I didn’t wake my husband or call the nurse.  My father brought me the old karate belt I’d left at their house to lash my legs together as I rotated them off the bed to come up to sitting.  Hip adduction was simply impossible.

My husband had taken two weeks’ vacation to help with the baby.  He didn’t know that, in addition, he’d be doing everything for the other kids, washing and folding clothes, preparing food, and helping me to and from the car like a little old lady.  The helplessness that can afflict a new mother was magnified ten-fold by my handicap.

I told my mother-in-law, “I’m finding it hard not to feel sorry for myself.”

She said, “I don’t blame you.”

Her answer surprised me.  Were things really that bad that I should be feeling sorry for myself?

Apparently so.  I worked my way into some sort of routine with a newborn who fed at no particular time, a preschooler who had to be in school at a precise time, and a toddler who took off her shoes and socks whenever she felt like it.  Weekly visits to a physical therapist worked me through a regimen that gave me a tenuous, yet workable, physicality.  And yet, four months after the baby’s birth, I still couldn’t cope.

I would reach my breaking point over hair elastics stretched to theirs over the top of a dining room chair.  God help the poor soul who dumped out the basket of toys I just filled.  My two oldest would jump when I started screaming at the top of my lungs out of seemingly nowhere over seemingly nothing.  I felt like a pot about to boil over and I was trying desperately to keep the lid on tight.  It was a particularly grueling drop-off at preschool one morning that crystallized everything.

Sleet was just turning to snow as we pulled into the parking lot.  I strapped the baby into the baby carrier on the front of me and moved around to the other side of the car.  My toddler had already taken off the hat and mittens I’d fought to get on her at the house.  I reached into the back seat where the preschooler was seated to depress the red button on her harness, instructing her to unclip the top part while I redressed the toddler’s extremities.

“I can’t, Mommy,” came the plaintive cry from the back seat as she stared out the window at the passing kids.  I instructed her to focus on what she was doing and try again.  This conversation repeated itself over and over like an audio loop, her despair and my frustration escalating each time.  Finally, I lunged into the car, swearing like a sailor, the baby bobbing in her carrier like a cork on the ocean, undoing the strap and telling her to get out of the car.

Then I stopped.  I scanned the parking lot around us for parents going to and from their cars.  Had anyone heard me?  Had they seen this terrible little episode?  Shouldn’t I have known I was getting out of control before it was too late?  Once my oldest was safely in the classroom and the rest of us safely home, I dissolved into tears recounting the story to my husband on the phone.

“I need help,” I said.

A few weeks later, I started a new kind of therapy.  I met weekly with a licensed social worker to discuss and treat what finally had a name: postpartum depression.

At the end of my first visit, I said to her, “So, do I have postpartum?”  In classic counselor speak, she replied, “Would you like me to say you have postpartum?”  I laughed and she joined me.  “I can go through the indicators if you’d like,” she said.  One by one, she ticked off every single one of my circumstances: unexpected pregnancy, death of a loved one(s), stress, difficult delivery, physical trauma, demands of caring for other children, anxiety.  “Does that make you feel better?” she asked.  Oddly enough, it did.  For the first time in months, I felt light leaving her office.  I wasn’t a failure and I wasn’t crazy.

This perfect storm was not forecast, but at least now I had some sort of outlook for the future.