PP to the D

If my last post left you feeling confused and bewildered, let me explain.  I’ve not been in the best place, but I’m working hard to get past it all.  Some of you know, and some of you don’t know, that my mother has been very sick for several years.  She has had puzzling neurological problems that have been progressive and thoroughly debilitating.  And it became obvious to me when she stayed with us after Emery’s birth, just how profound and extensive her disabilities now are.  She has begun the process of meeting with specialists at Johns Hopkins to nail down a diagnosis.  She won’t know for sure what she is dealing with until November.  But the diagnosis that they are leaning towards is a chronic, progressive neurodegenerative condition for which there is no cure.  And it is hereditary.  Her sister has been wheelchair-bound for decades, and now my mom is on that same path.  I am terrified of eventually having the same problems, and I’m heartbroken at the possibility that my children might have to deal with this as well.  My mom lives in WV, with my dad, and relies on him exclusively for her care, as she doesn’t drive anymore and has a difficult time getting around.  But now my dad might be sick with a different chronic, progressive neurodegenerative disease.  I don’t know the particulars about my dad’s situation yet, but I plan on learning more at the end of the month when I drive to WV with my two boys.  It’s a 13-hour drive without stops.  With breaks for nursing, potty, stretching the legs, etc., I’m sure it  will be a very long journey indeed.  But I’m fairly certain this is a journey I must make, to check on my dad for myself.  I need to have some frank, difficult conversations with him.  And I need my parents to get their legal affairs in order so that I know what their wishes are when it comes down to it.

Most of this mess exploded in the weeks following Emery’s birth.  Those were hard weeks for me.  Seeing my mom struggle to get around our house.  Seeing Holden outright reject my mom’s offers to read him stories because he doesn’t want to hear her voice (her speech is affected by her condition).  It was painful to be a part of this.  Also during this time, (when Emery was 3 weeks old), R had a brief stint in the local emergency room for extreme abdominal pain.  He was there for a full day, and as it turns out, he was so stressed that he was in physical pain.  So over the next few days, I was running errands to the pharmacy, going to the grocery store, taking my broken car to the mechanic, hoping that my newborn was fine in my absence.  My mom couldn’t help with the errands since she doesn’t drive, so I ended up doing everything on my own.  I ran myself ragged, and by the time I stopped to catch my breath, I looked down, and Emery was no longer a newborn.  I somehow missed that entire time.  I felt like a wet nurse, not a mother.  I felt like everyone needed me and I didn’t have enough of myself to go around.

It’s occurred to me since then that I don’t know how to ask for help when I need it.  I remember my midwife called me during this time to check in, and I was really good at convincing her (and myself) that I was fine and I could handle everything.  She told me to call on others to help.  But I don’t know how to do that.  I don’t even know what I would ask other people to do.  So I just did everything myself.

I’ve not been myself since Emery was born.  Bonding with him has been slow, but it’s coming along.  I feel anger (not at my kids) but at myself and others in my family.  I have anxiety and constant intrusive thoughts that I am going to accidentally leave Emery somewhere.  Whenever I am driving somewhere in the car, I look over my shoulder at least 5 times to reassure myself that he’s safely buckled into his seat.  I can’t shake the feeling that I’m leaving him behind.  Whenever I hear a noise, I startle, assuming one of my kids has fallen or hurt themselves badly.  I keep thinking that something awful is going to happen.

But something awful has happened already.  Despite my best efforts and all of my training, I know that this is postpartum depression.  As a psychologist, I know that depression isn’t just about the person who stays inside all day, crying.  That’s not the situation I am dealing with here—I still get out of the house, I still put on a smile, I do the chores, and shower daily.  I exercise.  I do these things because I don’t want it to get to the point where I am immobilized by this.  I refuse to let this control my life.  Even though I am completely overwhelmed with the challenges facing my parents and the sorts of news that I’ll have to encounter in the coming months and years, I am still picking myself up every day and trying to do what’s right for myself and my boys.  The anxiety and intrusive thoughts have been telltale signs.  Having my parents and my children at the pinnacle of their need for me AT THE SAME TIME is an absolute fucking nightmare.  Who do I help first?  Who doesn’t get help?  Is this my life telling me AGAIN that I will never have room for my career to flourish?  These questions are consuming, and they are constant.

So, if you aren’t hearing from me, or if I’m acting weird, if I’m drinking too much, exercising too much, and laughing too little, don’t take offense.  Know that depression is about grief, and grief has its own half-life.  I will be OK again, one day.

August 7th, 2012 10:37 pm

Hey Amy. I am sorry I have been a bad cyber friend. I just rediscovered my own blog and in turn clicked the link on my blog to yours. It sucks that you are struggling with post-partum depression. I saw hints in your posts on the FB group but was wallowing in my own pre-partum angst so much that I didn’t put a true response of concern out to you. I think sometimes it seems going through the motions actually IS helpful and better than shutting down completely. Sharing the load is tough, admitting that you can’t do it all and remain functional. Maybe make a list and parse out a few tasks on a regular basis to your husband or recruit a neighbor/friend or family member that lives close. (I can’t remember if you have that luxury). I find that sometimes taking a few items off your worry list and lighting the mental load of your own self expectations can ease that overwhelmed, drowning sensation. I am pre-worrying about the seeming impossiblility of working while having two children. Admittly, I can’t help but think, as much of an honor as it is to be the primary caregiver, that we women have outlandish expectations thrust on us from every direction to be everything to everyone. You can’t do it all all the time. It is not admitting defeat to ask for help. And please PLEASE repeat this mantra back to me in 6 months when my second child arrives. Feel free to message, email, txt me anytime you need to vent (my number is accessible to friends on FB). I think you are doing a phenomenal job of juggling all your responsibilities/worries and continuing to complete your daily routine. You will be ok. I hope you feel more ok sooner rather than later. I’ll keep you in my thoughts.

August 15th, 2012 2:08 pm

Amy, I’m so sorry you have to deal with all of this. It’s so hard. I had postpartum after William and it was incredibly hard. And like you, I absolutely hate asking for help even when I desperately need it. I wish there was something I can say to help alleviate the pain of facing your parents’ conditions, being on call 24-7 for the kids, and trying to find out when it’s your time. Please feel free to email or FB message me if you need anything…even if it’s just to vent. Peace be with you. –H

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