Therapist: “Feelings are like the weather, in that they–.”
Me: “–can kill you.”
Therapist: “Feelings are like the weather, in that they–.”
Me: “–can kill you.”
Therapist: “How has the motherhood balance been going?”
Me: “Actually much better lately. I’m definitely finding my groove. There’s still just like a constant underlying worry/anxiety, though.”
Therapist: “Right. But I think it’s fair to say that’s just what it is to be a parent.”
Me: “So the worrying never goes away?”
Therapist: “I’d say maybe around age 70.”
Me: “I have to wait until I’m 70?!”
Therapist: “No- until Nora is 70.”
Me: “But I’ll be dead.”
My therapist and I spend one full hour discussing motherhood, and my difficulty in finding balance in my life. We discuss strategies for coping with the mom-related anxiety. We talk about how to feel less overwhelmed by the huge responsibility of raising a child. We come up with a schedule that will allow me to spend quality time with Nora but still be able to do things for myself. We discuss the utter importance of carving out time to write, because writing provides immeasurable benefits to my mental health.
Therapist: “I’m glad we have a plan for you to find more balance. Motherhood can be hard, but you’re doing great. Now before the session ends, is there anything else going on that you think I should know about?”
Me: “Oh, yes– I stopped breastfeeding. So we’ll probably have to keep an eye on that, from a hormonal standpoint.”
Therapist: “Yes, definitely. And I think with stopping the breastfeeding, you’ll find you have a lot more time to do things for yourself, which will be wonderful.”
Therapist: “Is that why you decided to stop?”
Me: “Well, no, not exactly. It’s more that with all the crazy hormones that go along with breastfeeding, I really just wanted to get my body regulated again and back to baseline…”
Therapist: “I think that’s a great decision.”
Me: “…so we can have another kid.”
Me: “I think I’ve been a pretty reasonable parent so far. I just really want to avoid being the parent who cares TOO much– who hovers and obsesses and worries about every little thing her child does. But I definitely catch myself acting that way sometimes, so I fear I’m totally becoming that parent.”
Therapist: “You said you have a nanny part-time. Do you find it hard to relinquish control when the nanny comes to take care of Nora?”
Me: “Oh my god, NO. I count the seconds til she gets there and it’s an immediate hand off, as if we’re in a baton relay.”
Therapist: “Ok. And are Nora and the nanny always in sight when you’re home?”
Me: “What? No! The nanny immediately takes her out of the apartment.”
Therapist: “And where do they go?”
Me: “I have no idea.”
Therapist (10 second silence): “Yeah I don’t think you’re that parent who cares too much.”
Therapist: “You might want to ask the nanny where they go.”
My therapist and I discuss the experience of depressive episodes now that I’m a mom.
Me: “I’ve only experienced one depressive episode since having Nora, and luckily it was brief, but I’d say it was still miserable, just with a different twist. Like I always feel an immense amount of guilt when I’m depressed, but this time the guilt was mom-focused. I wasn’t able to really engage with Nora in the same way, and that made me feel like a terrible mother.”
Therapist: “When you say you couldn’t engage, what do you mean?”
Me: “Well like for example, she was just starting to roll over for the first time, and I couldn’t really connect with the experience in the way I wanted to. Like she was doing it and I was there witnessing it, but I just wasn’t…interested.”
Therapist: “Well, to be fair– that’s not interesting.”
Therapist: “So you haven’t really been blogging?”
Me: “No, not much since Nora was born.”
Therapist: “Well, it’s worth remembering that writing and blogging is your emotional and creative outlet. So that might explain why you’re feeling a bit stuck right now.”
Me: “Yeah. I know. I guess I’m just kind of waiting.”
Therapist: “Waiting for what?”
Me: “Like…waiting to feel like myself again. My normal self. Waiting to get my old groove back after having had a kid.”
Therapist: “I see….”
(10 second silence)
Therapist: “That won’t happen until you die, you know.”
**Disclaimer (in case the title wasn’t disclaim-y enough for you): Like literally everything else on this CLEARLY non-medical blog, the following is based on MY personal experience. It is not intended to serve as definitive medical advice for my fellow mental health sufferers. I am not telling you to go off your meds, and I’m not telling you to stay on them. I am suggesting that you thoroughly consider your options, under the close care of a doctor who knows you well, and that you advocate for yourself before making a rash, fear-based decision. Mostly I am just letting you know that no matter what you decide or what you are going through, try to go easy on yourself. You’re doing the best you can. You are not alone. And you got this.**
A lot of people have asked me if I’m still on my depression/anxiety meds while pregnant. This is a totally fair and welcomed question, mainly because most of you have asked in a matter-of-fact, non-judgmental, just-curious way, like, “Oh, hey, what’d you end up deciding about that?” But some of you have asked in more of an accusatory “You’re not still on your meds, are you!?” way that implies some sort of moral wrongness should I be on them– and even though I know (most of) you people come from a well-meaning place, it still makes me want to light your face on fire.
So allow me to try to explain a few things. Knowdlege is power and faces are generally better not aflame.
The answer is no, I am not on my meds. But let me be VERY clear about this– I am not off them because I have some kind of holier-than-thou judgement about staying on meds while pregnant. I have absolutely NO judgement about that, and in fact encourage women to stay on them if that’s what works best for their health and situation. Obviously. I am the queen of mental health triage– you do what you gotta fucking do to keep your marbles, sista! #sanityfirst
The drug I was on, Prozac (an SSRI), is actually known to be safe for pregnancy, and I know plenty of women who have been on this drug or others like it and have given birth to perfectly healthy children. And in fact, countless medical studies show that having a depressive episode or being acutely anxious while pregnant is far more harmful to a fetus than taking medication that will effectively treat these conditions (these MEDICAL conditions, in case you needed a reminder that this shit isn’t made up hocus pocus, they are legitimate illnesses). But yes, it is true that some mental health meds are unsafe for pregnancy. As long as you are discussing family planning with your therapist ahead of time, though, he/she should be steering you clear of those particular meds while pregnant.
Soooo after reading the above regurgitation of all the fun medical facts I’ve learned during my family planning journey, you’re probably wondering, “Ok, so if all of that is true, why DID you stop taking your meds?”
Well, in a shocking turn of events, it was for no good reason at all, really. Basically, my therapist presented it to me like this: “The optimal, ideal situation is that you are off all medications and feeling fine, aka not depressed or anxious. Should you go off them and feel anxious or depressed, then the next best situation is for you to go back on them and stay on them for pregnancy. The least optimal scenario is that you have an acute depressive episode or debilitating anxiety while pregnant.”
Ok, so obviously all I heard there was, “The optimal, most ideal situation is that you are off meds….” and then I sort of stopped listening and everything else just became . After all, it was my first time getting pregnant, I had no fucking clue what to expect or what the process TRULY entailed, so yeah, I wanted to do the thing I was told is “optimal.” No-brainer here. Do the “optimal, ideal” thing, because those are strong words that sound good. And I’m gonna be a good mom, damnit!
I’m not saying that line of thinking made sense, I’m just saying it’s the line of thinking I had when I quickly declared, “Ok, off the meds we go!” with far more confidence than any medication-dependent person with a lifelong mood disorder should have.
This decision was made back in July, and we weren’t planning to try to get pregnant until December, so I still had some time to wean off and be completely med-free for a bit before inviting a fetus into this
shitshow of an experiment delicate situation.
A few things to note.
The conclusion I made based on these four somewhat unhelpful and conflicting points? If I go off the meds and things get bad, they probably won’t get as bad as that really bad time, because things are different now, and I’m more prepared.
But let’s be real, given I’ve had the consistent help of meds for 9 years, there’s just no possible fucking way to know that.
So I took the gamble, because gambling is fun when you’re drunk in Vegas so it’ll probably also be fun when you’re sober and housing a fetus, thought no one logical ever.
And at first it was fine. The weaning went smoothly. By the time I was completely off the meds, it was late October, aka my non-optimal time of year thanks to colder, darker weather setting in, and a general life-long refusal to understand why summer ends. So I didn’t feel GREAT* (*not really my M.O. regardless) but I certainly wasn’t depressed. Plus we had the 2-week, warm-weather honeymoon to look forward to, so that kept me going.
But the second I got pregnant in early December, shit hit the fan. I alluded to a lot of this in my post In a Shocking Turn of Events, I Am No Glowing Goddess, but shied away from some of the grimmer details because a) it was my first post about the pregnancy so I didn’t want to come out Depression guns a blazin’ and b) I was genuinely excited to finally share the news. But I do now feel the responsiblity, as a mental health advocate and general blogger of honesty, to let it be known that I was NOT ok that first trimester. I was hesitant to use the word “depressed” while I was in it, because I really didn’t want to admit to needing meds, and I felt like I should “stick it out” until the second trimester. Plus, recognizing you’re depressed WHILE you’re depressed isn’t always easy– it’s part of the mind-fuck of the illness. The very symptoms of depression (self loathing, worthlessness, hopelessness) prevent you from assessing the situation as “This is medical. I am ill,” and instead twist it to “I am the worst, I am being a little bitch, and I need to grow a pair.” (but alas, you cannot grow a pair– and the harder you try, the more you hate yourself for failing. Tricky little devils, these mood disorders).
I convinced myself it was all normal first trimester stuff. And some of it definitely was. Constant nausea and exhaustion will make anyone feel like shit. But some of it was really fucking dark, and I’m not so certain that’s normal.
I cried every single day. I stared blankly a lot. I couldn’t write, and could barely read. I felt absolutely no attachment to the pregnancy, and had no ability to see how anything was going to get better, or how I was supposed to love or care for a child. I was stuck in a thought loop of “You’re going to be a terrible mom, what were you thinking? This was a huge mistake.” I could barely get out of bed and I felt horribly, utterly lonely– the kind of lonely that can’t be cured by another person comforting you, because that ironically just makes you feel all the more alone (on that note, God bless Eric. No, literally, God, PLEASE bless him with a bevy of Corgi puppies upon his eventual arrival in heaven). That self-hating loneliness was the only feeling I had– about anything else, I felt absolutely nothing at all. It was 3 long months of toggling between complete isolated self-loathing and absolute, utter detachment. I’m not sure which I prefered. Both were pretty fucking non-optimal.
But it got better, eventually. Very recently. Do I feel great now? No. But I’m not depressed, and I’m able to feel excited at times. I have some energy back. I feel more motivation to get up and go. I open the blinds. I listen to music. I’m doing my job, not just suffering through it. I walk on the treadmill. Food tastes like food again.
But please note, the second after this baby is born: (<— definitely what post-labor looks like, no?) I will be right back on that Prozac. That was always the plan– my risk for postpartum depression is high, and we’re not taking any chances. And when it comes to the next pregnancy, should I be lucky enough to have that happen, I will likely stay on the meds. Those 3 months were horrible, and I see no reason to make an experience that is so hard on even the average, emotionally stable woman even harder.
So, this is just to say, if you are one of those pregnancy newbies out there, and you are presented with your options in the same way I was, please know that it’s ok to not choose the “optimal, ideal” scenario if it’s not going to work for you. It’s not optimal or ideal if you feel like a self-loathing garbage truck for three months. It doesn’t make you selfish– it makes you reasonable and responsible. There is no wrong moral choice here, and you shouldn’t feel bullied* into making a decision that might not make sense for you (*to be fair, I really wasn’t bullied by my doctor. I still completely trust her. While I wish she had worded it slightly differently, what she said was perfectly reasonable– but I heard what I chose to hear and then I proceeded to bully myself, because that’s what we depressives do best).
But how should I respond when told it’s best to try to go off the meds, even if I don’t feel that’s the best option for me, you ask?
Well, next time, I’m probably going to say this, so feel free to borrow it: “Nope nope nope! No thanks, Doctor Person Who Isn’t Me, but I am me and because of that, I know myself farily well by now, and I sure do enjoy being sane! Seems the risks of the meds are pretty low, and the risks of me losing my shit are pretty high, so I’m going to keep doing that thing where I’m lucid and functional and seeing the point in showering, because, even though I don’t know much about babies yet, I DO know it’s easier to care for them when your mind is firmly planted in reality and you don’t wake up wondering why you have to exist. Right? Babies like moms who care about living and eating and clothing themselves? I feel like I read that somewhere and it sounded accurate.”
Or something similar. There’s probably a less condescending way, I don’t know.
Bottom line, do what works for YOU. I am not advocating for either option– every mental health situation, and every person, is different. I am simply advocating for you to advocate for yourself (under the care of a doctor you trust, of course. I really hope that goes without saying), and to really think through what will work best– again, for YOU.
Did going off meds work for ME? Meh. Hard to say at this point, because now that I’m out of the darkest darkness (I hope), it’s like “Ok, I survived that and no one died or anything, so that’s good.” But should that be the standard? No one died? Probably not. I feel like it was a lot of unnecessary suffering and potential risk, and I can’t imagine ever willingly going through that again. Plus, I can only hope and pray that my struggle didn’t harm the baby. So far everything looks good in there, the heartbeat is rapid and strong (doc says “Sounds great!,” I say “Sounds like anxiety!”), and I have no tangible reason to think she’s not thriving. But who really knows. And whether on or off meds, I’d have that “who really knows” feeling regardless. So next pregnancy, pretty sure it’s gonna be .
And if you’re not ok with that? That’s cool. Just express your judgement to someone else, not me. I can’t go lighting faces on fire once I’m a mom, but I can definitely teach my kid to spit in your eye and claim it’s an accident.
My therapist calls and I pick up to begin our phone session…
Me (sniffling): “Hello?”
Therapist: “Are you ok?”
Me: “Yes, sorry, I just made the mistake of watching This is Us on DVR and of course now I’m ugly choke-sobbing.”
Therapist: “What is This is Us?”
And then I got a new therapist.
Me: “I just haven’t been feeling great for the past month. I’m exhausted and unmotivated and just want to hibernate.”
Therapist: “Wine or booze?”
Me: “Oh my god, yes! Please! Both!”
Therapist: “Excuse me?”
Therapist: “I said ‘winter blues?'”
Therapist: “What did you think I said?”
Just thought you were offering an ACTUAL CONCRETE SOLUTION FOR ONCE.