It had gotten so bad that during the day, while my big kids were in school and the baby was napping, I would crawl into bed and cry myself to sleep. Once I woke up, I'd count down the hours until I could go to bed again. I didn't want to go out or do anything that would prolong my day. I had no energy. I worried about things constantly.
The thought of a lifetime of bathtimes and bedtimes, figuring out what to serve for dinner and coordinating playdates, seemed unbearably oppressive, like jumping into the pool wearing a backpack. Some Saturdays mid-morning, I would look at my watch and think, "How am I ever going to make it to bedtime?"
I think I faked it pretty well though. As I ran all over town, dropping my kids at school, chatting with other parents, attending meetings, going to dinners, I seemed fine. I smiled, plowed through my email inbox, paid bills, and kept everything running. I never missed a deadline. But inside, I wasn't right. And when I was tired on top of it, forget it.
On the nights when my sleep was interrupted by the kids, I was almost non-functional in the morning. I could feel myself snapping at everyone. I could feel the dark blanket pressing down on my chest, like a lingering cold.
At nights, after struggling for hours to keep things appearing fine, after doling out the right amount of discipline and comfort to the kids, after managing the whirling dervish of anxious thoughts circulating madly in my brain, I would fight back tears reading to the kids. I taught myself a trick: if I counted how many letters were in each word as I read it aloud, I could distract myself just enough to keep from crying. But as the Berenstain Bears and their sunny dirt road whizzed by, the tears would start again.
"Mommy! Stop!" my son would beg.
One day, while shopping for a birthday gift, I saw a particularly appealing, stuffed animal that I thought might cheer me up. I bought it. When my son, the stuffed animal aficionado, saw it at home, he snuggled it tightly and asked if it was for him.
"No, sweetie," I said, choking up. "You know how sometimes everybody gets sad? Well, I was feeling a blue inside today so I bought this guy to cheer me up and help me stop crying."
He looked at me quizzically and quipped, "It doesn't look like it's working."
The worst part, truly, during these bleak months, was that nothing was "wrong." I was leading a blessed, privileged life with a healthy family. I had so much to be happy about and nothing that should be causing me to be upset. I knew that and it just made everything worse. How could I be crying in my beautiful bedroom with natural light streaming in mid-day, my healthy baby sleeping upstairs, my kids at a great schools, my husband with a job, and yet inside all I wanted was to be unconscious.
I had taken medication for anxiety and depression on and off for over a decade and had been treated for depression since I was 14. Yet my husband truly believed I could "power through it" by learning more coping skills. He worried about the long-term effects of anti-depressants and wanted me to just "fix this" on my own. I tried and tried through therapy, books, cognitive behavioral exercises, but it just didn't work.
Finally I knew I needed to just go back on the meds. At my in-laws' house over the holidays, my kids' fighting in the hallway and the baby screaming, I quickly raced to my room, rummaged through my cosmetics case, and popped the little blue pill. I decided not to tell my husband.
For the next few days, I kept waiting for something to change. The blanket was still smothering me. I was starting to despair. Maybe I needed a higher dose? And then one day, I felt just a little better. Lighter. The next day, even more. I started to notice that I wasn't counting down to bedtime. I was laughing more. I was more even. When other people got in bad moods around me, I didn't let them drag me down into a vortex. I stayed calm. I didn't engage in fights. I wanted to get out of bed.
Within a month, I felt like I was living in a new, easy, effortless world. All that time and energy I'd been spending fighting my depression was suddenly gone, a veil lifted. There was a spring to my step. I started having a million creative ideas, like I used to when I was feeling "me." I wanted to start a new business, launch a new non-profit, write a children's book. I didn't want to go to bed at night; I wanted to watch silly TV shows with my husband. I was playful and creative with the kids. When they had tantrums, I didn't. I dealt with problems better. I felt bubbly inside, bounding with happiness that I could function again. Sure, things still bothered me occasionally, but they didn't throw me off. A sleepless night just left me feeling tired, not unable to function. I couldn't wait to simply live. The thought of a lifetime of figuring out dinner for the kids didn't fill me with dread, it just was.
After a couple weeks, I asked my husband if he'd noticed a change.
"You're not getting upset," he said. "You don't take anything personally. It's
like you're always on your best behavior! What do you think it is?"
I debated keeping my secret but he figured it out. He wasn't upset. He was happy that I was happy. It was the best gift of all. Now I thank God every morning as I pop my pill that something so small can make such a big difference. I am beyond grateful. And truly happy.