Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Amber Rhea guest posts: Falling in Love Takes Time

It is 1:00 in the morning, and my 18-month-old son wakes, screaming. He is teething. For the past few months (which seems like forever), he has been getting his molars and canines. I feel for him; I cannot imagine the pain he must be in, and I wish I could make it go away. I should go to him, comfort him, give him ibuprofen, maybe a cup of milk. But my heart pounds, my throat tightens, my stomach churns, and I can’t move.

I am frozen in the bed. I try to talk myself through, using the various techniques my therapist and I have practiced. “This is not a threat,” I whisper to myself. “This is an inconvenience, but not a threat. I am not in danger. I am safe. It will be okay. I will go into Fitz’s room, pick him up, check his diaper…” I continue to list off all the individual steps I will take. I try to move my legs, but they are suddenly incredibly heavy. I feel like I will vomit. Tears well in my eyes… and I nudge my husband.

Without a word, my husband gets out of bed and leaves the room, shutting the door behind him. I listen as he enters Fitz’s room and deals with a toddler who is tired, confused, and in pain. I listen as they go into the living room to sit on the couch and have some milk. I listen for as long as it takes… sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes almost two hours. The guilt comes in unrelenting waves. I feel like a failure. When I finally sleep, I have nightmares about being in a car wreck or a plane crash, or my husband divorcing me or having an affair.

This post is supposed to be a story of triumph and hope… so why does it sound like such a downer?

Because while the above paragraphs reflect the truth of what happens more nights than I care to count, there is another side to the story – and it is this equal truth with which I am working to reframe my perspective. The day after my son’s birth, postpartum depression and anxiety hit me luck a Mack truck. I could not make the simplest of decisions. I felt anxious 24 hours of the day. I cried constantly. I was terrified of my newborn. I wanted to be dead so that I wouldn’t have to feel that way for one second longer. If this was motherhood, I was certain I had made the worst mistake of my life. Even as I read through the list of symptoms of PPD and PPA and saw myself reflected in one bullet point after another… even as I remembered the various risk factors I had, such as a history of depression… I was sure that in my case, it wasn’t a serious but common medical condition from which I would recover with treatment, it was a fundamental flaw in my character and a reflection that I was not cut out to be a mother.

This was my life for weeks and months on end. Wracked with fear, guilt, and sadness; body in a constant state of fight-or-flight; paralyzed by small decisions; going through the motions in public, smiling for pictures, thanking strangers who complimented my baby, but inside feeling like I was dying. I went to my therapy appointments every week even though it felt like nothing was changing. I worked with my psychiatrist as we tried different medications, some of which did nothing, others that had side effects I couldn’t tolerate. I listened to other women who had survived a PMAD as they assured me I would recover, and I did not believe them.

Then, one day, when my son was 4 months old, I was on my way to get a car wash, and suddenly… I felt normal.

The feeling didn’t last long. A few hours, maybe. But it was a glimpse at the way things could be – an indication that I wouldn’t be in this horrible place forever. It sounds like a horribly cheesy cliché, but that day it was as if the clouds parted and I could finally see hope. And little by little, sometimes at a frustratingly slow pace, I made progress. Motherhood started to be a source of happiness and pride, rather than a source of terror and pain.

My middle-of-the-night anxiety episodes are proof that I have not yet recovered 100%. But they are also proof of how far I have come. Because I used to feel that way every minute of every day. My entire existence was one never-ending anxiety attack. I had no joy in any aspect of life. Now, the anxiety takes over only at night – on most nights, but not every night. That is progress. I may be frustrated that this is an area I’m still working on, but I am working – and I didn’t get as far as I’ve come without work. If I look back on everything I’ve overcome (“look at the evidence,” as my therapist says), I see that I no longer give a second thought to countless things that once seemed insurmountable. If PPD and PPA have taught me anything, it is that I am strong and I don’t give up – the past 18 months are a testament to this fact. So I assure myself that one day, when my son cries in the middle of the night, I will be able to go to him calmly and offer comfort, and the paralyzing anxiety will be nothing more than a distant memory.

Amber Rhea wears many hats: full-time grad student, part-time historic preservation intern, and proud mom of an energetic little boy who was born in May 2011. She is a survivor of postpartum depression and anxiety and feels strongly about raising awareness of these conditions and increasing support for moms in the Atlanta area.


Kate F said...

Yay Amber! Your post is lovely. We might last summer, and I'm happy to read this update. Kate F.

Anita said...

I hope this will make you laugh: Please get well soon so that you will have a break between now and the teen years, where I currently am. :)

Seriously, we the women of the world have to stick together. Carrying babies (pregnancy), which most of the time, leads to being chief nurturer, is something that a man will never fully "get." The changes in our bodies throughout the years can be challenging, however, we are strong and deserving of having good lives with our families.

Your son is beautiful and your story is heartwarming. Hang in there. Blessings and best wishes to you, Amber.

Thanks for hosting, Amber.