COMING DOWN WITH DEPRESSION, PART I: HURTING

Sunday, May 19, 2019
Hi friends! I said I'd be back with some big blog posts to share before my sweet baby girl is born, and here is one of them (the most important one). It's the first post in a little two-part series I've written on my experiences with anxiety and depression. I personally feel that everyone has a mental health story. None of our bodies are exempt from getting sick, so why wouldn't each of our minds, at times, also be unwell? 

Part I below is definitely cathartic. It's one of my life's most layered stories and writing it coherently was hard, but I'm so happy to finally share it. Writing it all out helped me process my feelings immensely, so while it's kind of lengthy, it is what my soul needed. That said, pull up a chair! Get comfy. Thank you in advance for reading. 

💛

A devastating flood hit my parents’ home the week before Olivia was born. It was the last thing Southern Utah's desert expected to see that fall — it rattled the whole Santa Clara valley — but Mom still came to help a few days after my sweet girl arrived. Bringing lavender for diffusing, a tall stack of the best burp cloths ever made, and a soft place for my shell-shocked soul to land, her seasoned motherly presence was more than calming. I needed her and the assurance she brought that I could be a mom, because the first days of mothering Olivia without a mentor had me wondering. I deeply loved my baby, but I wasn't expecting the immediate, immense amount of work that came with having her. Naive, I know, but I either never heard that you hit the ground running the second your baby is delivered, or someone did tell me and I just glazed past reality, daydreaming instead of the newborn bliss I seemed to see everywhere. You and your velvety baby cuddling each other to sleep. Cooing and ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the newborn you made, her finger wrapped around yours. Calming your baby's cries with speed and ease and without the slightest bit of stress.


While there was an air of angels around after Olivia's birth, the work wasn’t what I had pictured, and the gravity of it now being my life's work was a dead weight on my mind. Until my mother bird swooped in. So much of the weight lifted as she taught me how to take care of Baby Olivia's belly button, cringed with me when Olivia latched to nurse, and assured me that the uterus cramps as I fed her would go away ("They're a good thing, dear"). She woke up with me for the midnight feedings, burped Olivia while I sat back in the rocker, and sent me to my room while she hushed the baby back to sleep. I felt so helped by her, so seen, so okay.

But life can be cruel, and just as quickly as my hero mother came to me, she left. The flood's sticky mud that lathered one-third of her home and much of my family's life called the matron back. Putting on a brave face, I told her I was fine and walked her to her car. I smiled and didn't stop waving as she rounded the corner away from my apartment and out of my sight. Then, my bravery stripped, I wept. I had two days with her -- two days with her help. Within seconds, the September sun darkened in my mind. I was alone.
Ryan was doting to me and so helpful with Olivia when he could be, but a strenuous Economics degree at BYU called him away, too, day after day. Then night after night he studied and slept, while day after day and night after night I waited for Olivia to need me again. I was anxious, both over her well-being and if I was doing my job right. I was her world, after all. Every other chip in this girl's life could fall and she might make it, except for me. I had to be there for her. Ultimately, her everything was me.

I wish I had let that fact ennoble me. Instead, it slowly isolated me. Days and weeks past, and while my body barely relaxed into the motions of motherhood, and my heart still loved Olivia, I had been abandoned in my mind. I looked up at what motherhood really was, or rather, what it seemed to be: an endless, lonely road of working entirely on your own for the entirety of another's sake. And I saw no one else on that clouded path but baby Olivia and me.

Regardless of being surrounded by friends, and even my brothers and sisters in the area, the aura of being alone hung in the air of my new life as Olivia's mom for months. Yet I had little awareness of it being there. Retrospect analysis of my transitions into motherhood have shown me that being alone on that dark, clouded path has characterized my life with each of my baby girls.
Claire was born during Ryan's first semester at UVA Law. The grades Ryan received during his first semester entirely determined every next step we'd be able to take in his career, and those hopeful-for straight "A" grades hinged solely on his first-year final exams. So 10 days after our precious Claire was born in late November, I flew from our nest in Virginia to Utah with my two baby birds under my wing, leaving behind my steadying, studying husband. We hoped that giving him space would allow him to positively knock out those first-semseter finals (thank heaven it did). We soaked up our Daddy during law school's Christmas break, but going back to real life -- Ryan in school, me mothering our two little girls -- left me feeling so alone. With thousands of miles away from our families, and one last daunting semester of law school ahead, the weight of doing the work of mothering alone began to again flatten me (other life experiences that winter were devastatingly hard on me, too). I was back on that cloudy path, this time with two little girls, one in my arms, one at my side.
I got off that dark, clouded path when Olivia was older, and eventually — but not without gritty fights from my whole soul and not without scars — and I left it after Claire grew, too. Getting knocked down and after Claire’s birth, however, coupled with the other life changes that followed, left me more emotionally and mentally tired and weak than ever before.

The sense of loneliness that enshrouded Emmy's birth was -- surprise surprise -- enveloped in the other end of law school: graduating and taking "the Bar." The Bar Exam is a final entrance exam in the world of practicing attorneys. Every state administers their own Bar Exam, and without passing it, you can't be a lawyer. The California Bar Exam is one of the nation's hardest exam to pass; it had a 43% pass rate the year before Ryan took it. So my Ryan, once again, dedicated all of his time to our family's future via studying for the that dreaded test, starting days after his law school graduation. We euphemistically said that he was "jumping ship" and that he'd swim back to us three months later in August, but it really wasn't a joke. We figuratively split in my mind as he worked for our family's future, leaving me alone, again, to maintain our family's present.
Thankfully, unlike that first semester's finals during law school, we were together while Ryan studied for the Bar. We lived with my parents in St. George that summer, which is just one mile from Ryan's parents. But even with the best hands at my side when they could be, I still lifted my heavy load as a new mom to three girls largely by myself. Granted, the mindset was half-way merited. Our families had lives before we popped into theirs. Demanding jobs and kids of their own -- they were busy. Even more so, you know what it's like when your baby calms down in your arms only, mama. You know what it's like when someone is trying to follow your kids' routine, but they just can't or don't, and your kids feel their world rock. You know what it's like to be the only one with boobs (just can't say it more straight than that). You know how to run your family’s show. There is absolutely an aspect of being the "lone wolf" as a mother. You are Mom.

An independent versus an isolated mindset: there is fine line between them. It has only been during Emmy's postpartum journey that I've seen how my independence, albeit a naturally good and intrinsic part of my character, has stealthily masked my underlying sense of isolation as a mother. I've bellied up to the bar for so many years. Gritted my teeth and gotten up again after every single physical, emotional, social and mental blow. Flexed my muscles and got going because the going got tough. All while being so sad that I was the last woman standing in this show. Truthfully I like conquering the challenge of not letting life stop you as a mom — of taking your kids out on your own — of being bravely creative and independent. All that gritting and muscle flexing makes me feel strong. But simultaneously, as the fun subsides, my mind and heart often ache that ultimately I am left to do the hard work so utterly alone. I  adore my daughters. I love them. They are my constant best friends. Their big parts of my world mean everything to me and I eagerly, happily do anything for them. Until I hit the breaking point in which I realize, or at least feel that I do do everything for them. Largely unappreciated and unseen for my constant love, too, I realize - or at least feel - that I am alone here. Day in and day out, I work, they live, they thrive, I give. I'm tired. Totally and pushed over my edge, I don't like this mothering job. I want out. 

Independence turned isolation. Love turned a little cold. Virtue turned vice.

Jeni the juxtaposition.
August 2017. Emmy was five months old. The Bar Exam was over. Ryan had done an exceptional job of studying for the Bar full-time and being a new daddy to 3 girls under 4-years-old. He was present when he could be and I'll forever love him for that. Finally, when he was able to swim back to the ship and stay for good -- bless him -- he climbed into that rocky vessel he found his three ecstatic daughters and one exhausted wife. I had never been more tired, and my body was speaking up about it. I ached. Starting with my head throbbing around noon every day, eventually all of me ached by the evening. I was hitting my wall.

As I had been for all of Emmy’s five months of life, I was half-sleeping every single night, tossing and turning, shooting up in bed at the sound of a pin dropping, and dreaming only (if I dreamt at all) about getting up to help one of the girls. I didn't know that these were symptoms of anxiety until I was talking to my cousin and aunt one day, joking about how I "slept with my eyes open" every night. They confirmed that they did the same thing when they had had anxiety during their transitions to mothering three. "Oh, three kids put me under," my cousin said. "I finally got help and started taking medication after three. It was the first time I really addressed my postpartum depression and I just remember asking myself, 'Why didn't I do this sooner? Why didn't I get help sooner?'"

"Really? You had depression?" My cousin was happy and positive -- a "yellow" personality, like me. Those I knew with depression were, well, "blue." They had empathetic, giving personalities, but they often latched to pessimism, criticism, and angst. I didn't naturally identify with them, and thus, never considered that I could be depressed.

"Oh yeah she did," my aunt (who is also very "yellow") said. "I did, too. Although I had way more anxiety than depression. I was just like you once -- I hardly slept when I 'slept,' so I got help, too. I'm still taking my anxiety medication!"

Their combined stories flipped my switch. I finally got it. It clicked: I had been depressed. I had depression! I had anxiety. So much anxiety! The physical pain I'd been feeling was rooted in sleep deprivation and so much crippling, stressful anxiety. Feeling resonance with their experiences, and knowing that Ryan was now "free" from the Bar and in a present space, I was pushed to speak up and get my help.

I went home from my aunt's, told my Ryan through tears that I had been depressed on and off for years, and that I was anxious and that I needed help. He scooped me up, loved me, and assured me that he was there — I’d get help and be okay again. I got an appointment that evening with the doctor for the very next day.

I'll never forget the feeling of success that washed over me while driving across town for that appointment. Never had I recognized how bound I was by being mentally unwell until that moment, as my mind and spirit literally sensed the relief that was coming and felt free. FREE. I felt free at just the thought of finally getting help with my isolated feelings. I had never sensed it before, but my mind’s anxiety and consequential depression were invisible chains that had been holding big parts of me at bay for a long, long time. Finally I was taking the first steps to shaking them completely off. Finally, my soul said, I was going to again be consistently me.
The doctor prescribed an anti-depressant and I took it immediately. The stories I had heard about starting depression medication were almost all 100% positive -- weights lifted off of shoulders, symptoms vanished, relief was found. That was, however, not my story. The medication made me sick. So physically sick. I had been functional and able to care for my babies before taking depression medication, albeit feeling alone and anxious often, but taking medication actually forced me in bed. I was nauseous and sleepy and not myself. Three days later, with the doctor’s approval, I stopped taking the medication. I've never touched an anti-depressant since.

I knew I still needed help, though, so I went the homeopathic route, as my family had always done when traditional medicine didn't provide relief. Our family's chiropractor in Salt Lake City helped me understand some of the root causes of my depression, and he gave me a supplement to help my brain balance. The supplement was a band-aid solution for me, and I was so grateful for it. It was just what I needed to get on my feet so that I could start really thinking and learning about why I was anxious and depressed. One more doctor and therapist's opinions later -- coupled with my gut instinct -- I determined that my anxiety and depression was more circumstantial than chemical, and that changing my mind's thought processes would change my condition.

That said, do I disagree with prescription anxiety and depression medication? Heavens no. I honestly hoped it would be my shot-gun answer, just as it is for many people. Modern medication is a gift, and I firmly believe that if anyone has had deep, clinical depression, or if they are currently in the thick in that kind of depression, that they should absolutely get some sort of supplemental, medicated help to get them on their feet. You cannot walk toward full mental health if you are knocked down or have been knocked down in the past. Use the gifts of modern medicine and trained professionals to fully get on your feet and going in the right direction again.

Do I think medication, or supplements in my case, are the end-all solution? Also, no. My own experience has proved so profoundly that if I didn't change my thought processes -- the roads in my mind in which my thoughts walked down -- I wouldn't change my worried feelings. And so, vice versa. If I could understand my needs and address them honestly and hopefully with my own work and others' help, which would then influence my feelings, I could heal. I've also seen in others how medication has only bandaged their conditions for years. The pill doesn't fix the problem. It quiets it, which again, is a relieving blessing for a time. You can get up and start weeding the garden of your mind! But there is an undeniable catch: you have to do the sweaty, uncomfortable work to uproot the old seeds that have caused you anxious, depressing pain. You have to stay on top of weeding out the seeds that continue to grow construed thinking. Toxic weeds will forever grow amidst your life's flowers without you rolling up your sleeves and pulling them up and out.

Which is exactly what I started to do.

COMING DOWN WITH DEPRESSION, PART II: HEALING

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