Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Part III: In which I stop breathing

The two most common answers I received in response to my “what do you want to know” question were how I realized I had a problem and needed help, and what I’ve done that has helped. I’m going to use those to direct the rest of my posts—starting with how I realized I had a problem and that I truly did need help.

It didn’t take me long to know that things were not going well once we came home from the hospital after Ben was born. That wasn’t unexpected, though, with a new baby as well as recovering from surgery. I cut myself some slack and settled in to “wait it out” until life worked itself into a new normal with three kids instead of just two.

Sadly, it didn’t really get better. That’s when I formulated my plan to go on a retreat. I had heard the idea from a book I read, and it really resonated with me. I was completely convinced that if I could just get away for a while and re-evaluate, I would be able to figure out how I wanted life to go now and who I wanted to be as a mother.

I know I’ve already written about this before, but it was pretty significant for me. At that point, I knew enough to know that life was not how I wanted it to be, and I took every step in my power to change it for the better. That was a great weekend that I look back on fondly, even though it didn’t have quite the lasting results I was going for.

When I came back from that weekend, I began implementing all the plans I had made. We had a much better daily routine, with set times for meals and snacks and naps and playing. TV time was greatly decreased. We started having family prayer every night and Family Home Evening every week. I arranged playdates and excursions to get us all out of the house. I came up with crafts and activities for the girls to do. We starting practicing letters and numbers to get Jane ready for school. See—all kinds of good things!

I was asked how I managed to look so in control when really I was completely losing it inside all the time. Basically, it came down to these plans. A symptom of PPD is the inability to make basic decisions. I could not for the life of me decide what to eat for lunch on a given day. I had meltdowns when I had to come up with something for dinner. If I had a spare twenty minutes, the tv would inevitably come on just to spare me the anguish of thinking on the spot. When I had to make a decision, I completely froze, no matter what the decision was. Having all those plans in place removed the decision making. I could follow a plan if I had already laid it out. It was almost like a way of staying out of my own mind, a way of ignoring the fact that I was not actually functioning.

Even still, those plans only lasted so long. Shortly after my retreat, Chris went into a very busy time at work (you may remember me blogging about it at the time). He worked 70-80 hours per week for six weeks. Six weeks. That’s pretty much an eternity. He wasn’t home ever. He would leave early in the morning before anyone was out of bed, and he wouldn’t come home often until after 11:00, or even as late as 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, and then still be up and gone by 5:00 or 6:00.

In my already stressful state, I was then responsible for my kids 24-7 and essentially without a husband for those six weeks. We managed a few dates here and there, and I almost always waited up for him so we could have a few minutes together when he got home, but for the most part, our communication was limited to texts and emails. I went completely into survival mode. It was largely during this time that Jane basically ran the house. (How’s that for responsible? A 3-year-old in charge.) I knew in the back of my mind that I really wasn’t doing well, that my plans were slipping, but I convinced myself that as soon as Chris was home again, everything would be fine.

Once again, my grand assumptions turned out completely wrong. I had a special knack for that…

It was during this time that my panic attacks started. There was one particular night that I remember vividly. Chris had come home around 11:00 and we both went straight to bed. Just as we had turned out the lights and laid down, Ben started crying. Chris was already asleep, and I knew he needed to sleep because of his work schedule. I had to get up.

Bad plan.

I couldn’t pick Ben up. I knew that if I touched him, I wouldn’t be able to control my actions. Scary thought. I ran away. In a matter of moments, I found myself alone on the living room floor, curled up tightly in a ball and sobbing. I couldn’t do it anymore. I had nothing left. I had nothing to give. Nothing. I felt like only a shell of a person, and yet powerfully controlled by emotions I did not begin to understand. Despair. Fear. Hopelessness. I knew I was lost—so far lost that I didn’t even know where I was trying to go. Or if I wanted to get there. As all those emotions washed over me, I started hyperventilating. My chest was so tight I couldn’t breathe. I have no idea how long it really lasted, probably only a few minutes in reality, but as far as I could tell, I spent hours upon hours on that floor.

I wrote an email to Britta the next day and tried to give her some picture of what was going on. I couldn’t explain it well because I didn’t understand it (it’s so much easier looking back now than it was at the time). In my attempt at explanation, I said something to the effect of, “I just cry all the time for no reason.” That right there set off a huge lightbulb in my mind. Isn’t that the typical postpartum depression phrase?

I started doing some research online and was able to find the screening evaluation my doctor used to diagnose PPD. There are 10 questions, and each question is given a score of 1, 2, or 3. The maximum score is 30, but anything over 13 is cause for concern. My score that day was 22. A few days later, my score had gone up. I knew then that I had a problem.

Now for a confession: I had never really believed in depression. I believed that anyone and everyone could be completely happy if they would just read their scriptures and say their prayers and go to church. If you weren’t happy, then you weren’t doing it right. I know how utterly wrong that is now, but I didn’t at the time. I was convinced that if I just pushed through, studied my scriptures more, said more fervent prayers, all my problems would go away.

Then I really lost it.

One day was going particularly badly. I had tried to keep myself together all morning long, but I was quickly coming to my wit’s end. Every time one of the kids made a noise, my body would tense up with fear that I would actually have to do something about it. No matter what I tried, I knew I was losing control.

It came down to one moment. I was sitting in the rocking chair next to the living room window. I knew I was having a hard time and that I probably wouldn’t make it through the rest of the day on my own. I called and talked to Chris for a few minutes, but it wouldn’t work well for him to leave work, so that conversation ended with me still feeling lost and worried and alone, even though I knew he would come home in a heartbeat if I asked him to. Then Jane walked into the room.

All she did was walk from the kitchen into the living room, just a few steps. She stopped. At that very moment, I had an overwhelming sense that if she came any closer, I would hurt her. I knew that I was so out of control of myself that if she came anywhere near me, I would put her in the hospital.

Before you all start calling Child Protective Services, let me make it perfectly clear that I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING. I take it as a tender mercy from God—a miracle, even—that Jane turned around and walked out of the room without saying anything or coming any closer to me. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt at that moment that I could not be trusted with my children and that I desperately, desperately needed help.

Second tender mercy of the day—I called Amy and she was home. She only lives around the corner, and she was at my door in a matter of minutes. She looked at me and promptly asked if I needed a hug—and I said yes. If you know me at all, you’ll know that I don’t hug often. I hug my husband, and I hug my children, but that’s about as far as my comfort level extends. The fact that I said yes was a HUGE red flag that something was really wrong with me.

Amy immediately took over. She ushered the kids out of the room and got them occupied, then sent me away. Sounds harsh, but it was exactly what I needed. That day was my first visit to my thinking spot. After I came home a few hours later, she still watched the kids so I could take a nap. That was what I consider Step 1 toward emotional salvation—strong word, but that’s really what it felt like.

To sum up, the first thing that was absolutely critical in surviving postpartum depression was HELP. Support from others is so, so, so important both for my personal sanity and my ability to cope and, facts are facts, the safety and well-being of my children. As much as I love them, they needed more than I could give at that time.

I have so much more I want to say! That’s why I’m writing a book, right? I’ll have to let you read it sometime. But, for now, we’ll leave it at that. Peek into part IV: How I learned about traumatic birth and posttraumatic stress.

P.S. I know that I am making some hidden references to Winnie the Pooh—starting chapter names with “In which”, talking about my thinking spot. I would just like to note that I am not making that connection on purpose. I don’t really even like Winnie the Pooh. In fact, most times when someone gave us clothing that had Winnie the Pooh on it, I wouldn’t let my kids wear it…until they were big enough to pick for themselves. Now the girls wear that stuff all the time. Sigh.

Not that that has anything to do with anything. Just saying.


Tannie Datwyler said...

I know that this is in the past Laura, but reading this makes me so mad that I moved to Idaho. I wish I had been there. You know that I would have done anything to help you. I hate that I couldn't do that.

This is so good. I know that sounds odd considering the circumstances, but the way you are writing is very raw and real. It's amazing.

And as for Winnie the Pooh - that made me chuckle, after I was done crying. :)

Unknown said...

I'm so sorry you've been going through this, Laura. I've been there too. There were times I screamed at Logan so hard that I started sobbing. I've been SO much better since I went to the doctor and got medication. Thanks for sharing your's good to talk about it!