“I think you’re more than just tired”
There it was – the truth. It left my husband’s mouth and hit me like ice cold water thrown in my face, stealing my breath and shocking me out of my sleep-deprived denial.
We were in the car driving home from the doctor’s office, my eyes still red and puffy. The appointment was for our four-month-old son, but somehow I ended up in tears.
“Do you think you’re feeling depressed?” the doctor asked.
“No,”I immediately answered. And I honestly believed that was true. Yes, I was crying a lot but it was because I was completely exhausted from months of stringing together night after night of broken sleep and not being able to fall asleep in the day when the baby was napping.
If I was depressed, I’d be sad, right? Not just a little sad though. It would be the kind of sad where you can’t bring yourself to get out of bed and you start thinking the world would be better off without you. I didn’t feel that way. I didn’t want to hurt myself, or my baby. I was completely exhausted, but I wasn’t depressed. If I could just get one or two good nights of sleep, I’d be fine. At least that’s what I told myself.
“I don’t think you were honest,” my husband said.
“What do mean?” I snapped, immediately defensive. “I told her how he’s still getting up through the night and how tired I am.” And then…
“I think you’re more than just tired”
I’d like to say that the truth set me free, but that would be lie. This truth scared the hell out of me.
My downward spiral
From the moment my son was born I was anxious. I couldn’t shake the feeling of being on edge, like my mind and body were constantly clenched and braced for the worse. I passed it off as the typical stress every new mom feels. What woman doesn’t feel overwhelmed when they become a mother? I figured it would just pass in time.
But as days turned into weeks, and weeks into months that edgy, wound up, restless feeling didn’t go away. It crept deeper inside, burrowing its way into my mind and wearing me down.
I didn’t have many close friends with babies. So when the initial rush of visitors came to an end and my husband went back to work, I was alone with my son for the most part. If I wanted to get out of the house I had to pack up the baby and drive my husband to work so that I could have the car. Then I would have to do it all again to pick him up at the end of the day.
I knew it wasn’t a good idea to be stuck at home all the time, so I went to library programs, the odd play date, or a walk with the dog. Getting out helped quiet the anxious thoughts, and some days I felt okay. But most of the time I was too exhausted to drive my husband to work, or the baby would finally be sleeping when it was time to leave. These days began with an overwhelming sense of dread, knowing that hours stretched before me with no real structure or social interaction. Time seemed to crawl as I watched the clock eagerly anticipating nap time, or better yet, my husband’s return from work. I loved my son and I wanted to enjoy being with him, but I was so focused on pushing through time, I couldn’t pause to appreciate the moment I was in.
As the anxiety worsened, so did my ability to make decisions and get things done. I would sit motionless on the couch feeling paralyzed with panic, often catching myself holding my breath and not knowing why.
Everything just seemed so damn hard, and tasks that should have been easy were suddenly insurmountable obstacles, including feeding myself properly. I’ve always been small, but between breastfeeding and the loss of appetite associated with anxiety and depression, I was thinner than I had ever been. People took notice, commenting on how lucky I was to have dropped the baby weight so quickly. I just awkwardly smiled and thanked them, not wanting to admit that I would gladly pack on the pounds if it meant that I could relax enough to fall asleep.
Sleep when the baby sleeps
It’s good advice if you can do it. But for me, it was impossible. My senses were in overdrive and my body was in a constant state of alert. Every time I closed my eyes my mind would start to spin and I would toss and turn for hours. Within minutes of dozing off, my son would cry out and I would be up again.
The lack of sleep began chipping away at whatever coping skills I had left. I was struggling to hold it together and began having frequent bursts of rage that left me sobbing and filled with overwhelming shame. I would yell and scream, slam doors and throw things. On one particularly awful day, I put my foot through the wall after what seemed like endless attempts to get my son to nap.
Never in my life have I felt such shame and guilt. I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I felt like a monster.
So when people asked me how I was enjoying being a mom, of course I lied. I had a beautiful baby, a supportive husband, a nice home, and a good job to go back to when my maternity leave ended. In my mind, I had no business being unhappy and certainly no right to be absolutely miserable.
I managed to hide what was really going on from most people, but my husband lived with it every day. He knew the truth and he knew that I needed to face it.
I think you’re more than just tired.
As soon as we got home, I called to book an appointment with the same doctor we had just left, but I couldn’t get in immediately and had to wait until the following week.
That weekend we arranged for my in-laws to take our son overnight so that we could be guaranteed a full night’s sleep since there would be no baby in the next room to wake me up. I was giddy with excitement at the thought of finally sleeping through the night. I happily crawled into bed and closed my eyes knowing that I wouldn’t have to open them until morning.
But I couldn’t sleep. The more I tried to relax, the more my mind would spin and keep me awake. I was devastated.
The order of events over the next few days is a blur, but I remember it being the scariest time of my life. I stopped sleeping completely and made several desperate trips to the pharmacy for sleeping pills, Gravol and herbal teas. Nothing worked. I cried uncontrollably through the nights, struggling to breathe through panic attacks while my husband held me and tried to talk me down. I started having scary, disturbing thoughts when I closed my eyes. I felt desperate, hopeless and terrified.
I burst into tears when I saw my doctor. “I feel like I’m hanging on by a thread,” I sobbed. I told her everything that was going on and everything I was feeling. She was incredibly caring and supportive as she explained the symptoms and treatment options for postpartum depression and anxiety.
The thought of taking medication was upsetting, and it wasn’t an easy decision to make. Part of me felt like a failure for not being able to push aside the anxiety on my own. But the other part knew that I desperately needed help and I was willing to do anything to feel like myself again. I left with a prescription for an antidepressant, and a sense of hope that I would be okay.
With medication and regular check-ins with my doctor, the anxiety and depression gradually began to lift. Within weeks, I started to feel lighter, happier and healthier. I started to feel like me.
Reaching out for help was the best decision I’ve ever made. It wasn’t a sign of weakness. It was the strongest moment of my life. Now when I lie in bed at night and feel my mind and body relax, I drift off to sleep feeling grateful for all that I’ve been through, and everything I’ve overcome.