Every time I hear the theme song to that show Special Agent Oso, on the Disney Channel, I’m reminded of my nervous breakdown (or so it’s come to be known in my mind). It’s a silly little TV jingle but somehow serves as a painful reminder of a very difficult time in my life when I was just physically, mentally, and emotionally ….not myself. When I heard the song today while my kids were watching their shows, I was suddenly compelled to tell my story.
Depression is a funny little illness. Because you look and feel like you’ve been through the spin cycle of a washing machine, yet everyone keeps telling you that you’re totally fine. You’re fine, your family says. You’re fine, your friends say. You’re fine, the doctor says. You’re healthy, your family is healthy, everything is perfectly fine in your life.
If you’re supposedly so damn fine, then why don’t you feel fine?
Why, instead, do you feel like every moment spent awake is an assault on your mind and body, like the very act of taking air into your lungs is earth-shatteringly terrifying, and like you are no longer even living inside of yourself, but instead just functioning as a separate, mindless entity, numbly hovering over your former self in the meager hope that someday you can return and feel, dare I say, normal again?
And all the while, as you’re feeling increasingly UNFINE, the world around you is spinning away. People are still living their lives, still going to work, still caring for their children, still eating and sleeping and smiling and laughing every day. They’re doing all the things you did back when you really were FINE. Except now, everyone else is fine. They are the “fine” ones. They go right on living while you teeter dangerously on the brink of insanity, wondering how the hell you’ll make it another day, another hour, even another minute.
I had my miscarriage in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner. I watched the parade, got my son dressed, drove over to my mom’s, and then sat down with my family at the table to eat. Somewhere between my first stuffed mushroom and second slice of turkey, I began feeling the stabbing pangs of labor pain. Two terrifying hours later, in an emergency room somewhere in Staten Island, I emerged from a public bathroom stall with a tiny, balled-up fetus wrapped inside of a sanitary napkin. Horrified and shaking, I handed it to the triage nurse, who then told me I was running a fever and needed to calm myself down.
Don’t feel sorry for me; my story is only seemingly dramatic because hospitals, blood, and death tend to fill me with sheer terror, and retelling the events of that day is simply impossible to do without conveying just how dramatic it all felt at the time. In reality, I was only eight weeks along, quite optimistic that I would conceive again soon, and I honestly thought I was going to be okay. I mean, MUCH, MUCH worse things have happened to MUCH, MUCH more unfortunate people than me. So after about 10 miserable hours in a dim hospital room, I went home and crawled into bed, feeling exhausted and sad, but also knowing that the worst of it was over.
Or so I thought.
I did not know, at that point, that postpartum depression could happen after a miscarriage, even one occurring in just the first trimester. I didn’t know that the overflow of hormones coursing through my body after this event, coupled with the extreme loneliness brought on by a severely harsh winter, a young child who needed more from me than I could possibly give at the time, and a hardworking husband who was never ever home, would lead me into a frightening downward spiral so intense that I am still recovering from it today. And it’s been three full years.
My husband used to leave for work around 6 a.m., and I’d wake up at 5a.m. just to savor the only adult company I’d enjoy all day until he returned, already half-asleep, around 9p.m. Those mornings I’d sit on the floor in the foggy bathroom while he showered for work and we’d chitchat back and forth; it was the closest to normal that I would feel all day. Then I’d climb back into bed when he left, around the same time my son would usually wake up, and we’d watch Special Agent Oso together (for no special reason, he just happened to like the show and it happened to be on at that time). And then I’d brace myself for a very long, lonely, dreary, anxiety-ridden day.
Ugh, the anxiety. The anxiety is always there. Depressed or not, anxiety is like that extra layer of fat you can’t shed, or the crooked bone in your nose that broke when you were a kid and never fully repaired itself. It’s that single, most hated, THING that will always be a part of you. That’s anxiety for me.
The darkest period of my life was like one, long, drawn-out anxiety attack. My days were spent pacing the floors of my three-room apartment for hours at a time, fingers tearing at the hair behind my neck and pulling until it was smooth, maybe even bleeding. I’d clutch the phone in my hands and cry, praying for it to ring, wishing for someone to talk to, anyone at all who could distract me from my personal hell for a moment or two. I’d open every shade and curtain in the house, hoping the daylight might flood my home and chase my shadowy demons away. I’d wait by the window, praying, begging, pleading for my husband to pull up in his car and save me from the bitter, paralyzing loneliness.
My son was only two years old at the time, not nearly old enough to understand why mommy was starting to lose her mind. But he knew something was terribly wrong. I know he did. He would randomly break out in hives, or he would suddenly be covered in eczema patches on his arms and legs—but it only happened that winter and then never again. Neither the allergist nor the dermatologist could explain the peculiar sudden onset of my poor little boy’s skin ailments. “It’s just the harsh winter,” they said, and prescribed some expensive ointment or cream. But I knew it was my fault. My torment was spilling over onto my son, he was taking in my stress, my depression, and it was finding its way to the surface of his skin. It might sound crazy to you, but it makes perfect sense to me. My son was hurting, too.
One morning, after I’d gotten out of bed, I fainted as I poured my son’s cereal. Boom, hit the floor, just like that. It could have been dehydration, or anxiety, or maybe just plain hunger, as I hadn’t been able to force down more than a slice or two of bread in about three days. I woke to find my son, confused and visibly upset, pleading with me to get up. Seeing pain in the eyes of a two-year-old is not something you can ever un-see. Knowing that his pain is a reflection of the pain in your own eyes, well, that’s rock bottom.
At that point, I really needed help. For my little boy, my sweet, innocent, scared little child, I had to come out of this. I simply had to. There was just no other way.
Recovery was a slow, gradual process. My family, namely my mother and sister, whom I spoke to most often at the time, held my hand through most of my struggle. With the help of my family, some medication, and a whole lot of self-discipline and self-discovery, I eventually began to feel like myself again.
That journey was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. NO ONE in my life understands or has even half of a clue how difficult that was for me- how every single second of every single day was wholly consumed by my hunger to push forward, my drive to never let this illness consume me again, and to be around for my children, no matter what.
In March, I was thrilled to learn that my daughter was on the way. This was a blessing for more than just the obvious reasons– I was forced to stop taking medication and learn to heal entirely on my own. If I hadn’t gotten pregnant, I may not have stopped the meds so soon and grown overly dependent on them instead of learning to heal on my own. My little girl saved me from what might have been a different kind of downward spiral. My little girl saved my life.
You might be wondering why I’ve recounted this extremely personal story with you today, especially given that I’m prone to much more lighthearted subject matter.
Recently I came down with a pesky case of writer’s block, and I haven’t been able to pinpoint why. I think, perhaps, my heart simply decided it was time to tell my story. Or it could be that this bonechilling winter we’re having is a constant reminder of that low point in my life, and I needed to just blurt it all out before I lost my mind. It’s almost like I’ve had this feeling in my chest, tugging at my heart, just sitting there and pulling at me with all its might, like a giant, malignant growth pushing to be set free. Well, I’m setting it free today, for whatever the reason. Perhaps someone will read my story and benefit from it in some small way. Maybe someone will read it and feel a little bit less alone. At the very least, perhaps I’ll be cured of writer’s block.
You don’t need to be a parent to find yourself coping with depression, although I know many are. You don’t need to be married, engaged, employed, unemployed, grieving, sick, healthy, rich, poor…. You don’t need to have any reason at all. For many of us, depression and anxiety are simply things we struggle with every single day. They’re as real to us as breathing.
Your depression affects everyone around you, whether you realize it or not. Your family, your children, your friends, your job. Sometimes people understand, but most of the time, they don’t. If you’re lucky, someone will get it, and they’ll reach out to you. If you’re really lucky, you’ll find a place within yourself where healing can begin on its own– where you can realize how much the people in your life need you – and you can learn to be you again.
My journey is an ongoing one. Some days are good, some notsomuch. I know I’ll never be 100%.
But I’ll never stop trying, either.