Because I didn’t start a blog called “Dirty Laundry” to keep things neat and tidy, right?
I have a confession to make: For almost eight months, I’ve been taking Zoloft, following a diagnosis of postpartum depression. I’ll never forget how low I felt sitting in the doctor’s office during a follow-up appointment with my OBGYN, as he explained to me that this—like so many other aspects of my son’s birth—was something I had no control over. I was prepared to lose control of my body while I was pregnant, smiling through each bigger jeans size. Giggling to myself as I ate a large container of fries from McDonald’s with ZERO shame. Crying over anything from bent paper clips to text messages I read the wrong way.
And I accepted it when I suddenly realized I would have no control over Emmett’s birth. The day he was born, I actually brought a copy of our natural birth plan along with me to the doctor’s office. Hours after arriving to that appointment, I was sent to the hospital for an emergency C-section.
But postpartum depression? That I did not see coming.
I am a fitness instructor. An Ironman. A coach. I am can-do attitude personified. I preach positivity. I write a blog about mojo and mental skills training. I wield the power of my mind like a light sabre, so how could I fall prey to postpartum depression? And worse still, how could I continue being a poster-girl for “embracing the suck” when I was losing my grip on this particular “suck”?
It took me a while to process the idea that my brain could push me through three 140.6-mile races, totaling literally years of rigorous training and sacrifice, yet it could not get me through more than two months of “bad days” as a new mom. On one hand, I refused to believe that I couldn’t just FORCE myself to feel better. On the other hand, I really couldn’t manage the emotional landmines and total exhaustion that came with feeling so down and out all the time. While filling out the “wellbeing” questionnaire at my postpartum appointment, I answered the questions honestly, and watched the pen ink smear as giant tears bombarded the clipboard. I knew I’d likely be leaving with a prescription. I wouldn’t be able to fake my way through this.
No “smiling at mile 20!” of the marathon this time…
In the exam room, I sat in my napkin dress ashamed of myself. Not because of the hugeness that still lurked beneath the flimsy paper (feeling fat was oddly the LEAST of my problems), but because I couldn’t muster the pride to sit tall. I was defeated, and I knew it.
The doctor entered and we discussed my state of mind. I told him about the mood swings. I never had urges to hurt my child, but my imagination would torture me with “What if?” scenarios focused on Emmett getting hurt, or struggling to live. Honestly, his birth was so shocking and scary to me that the imagery and emotions from seeing him in the NICU will always be with me, and always haunt me in some way. Even now on the drugs, I cannot shake the helplessness that I felt when I saw how small and fragile he was in his first few weeks. I still hear the alarms that went off when he stopped breathing. And I still treasure the immense relief that washed over us when we learned he would be okay and it was time to go home. He’s nearly 20 pounds now, and not even considered a preemie any longer at the rate he’s been developing. He’s moved on, and I need to do the same. Truly, I’ve always been bad at that.
The Zoloft has helped. I liken it to a filter. It enabled me to catch the “noise” that was coming into my life and left me with just the things I should be focusing on. I can spend time helping Emmett learn how to use his sippy cup now rather than imagine what would happen if I fell down the stairs with him 100 times. And much to my husband’s amazement, I can also leave a few dishes in the sink or forget about vacuuming for a week or two (but not three!) Zoloft is also used to help with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I don’t think of myself as being crazy or “on drugs,” and I’m done feeling embarrassed about it. A part of me believes that I was conjuring up the same remedy through 20 hours of triathlon training every week. There were few stresses that would last through a five-hour bike ride or a 20-mile run. My bad moods fell behind me in the wake of a two-hour swim. The exercise high is real—and studies show that our brains do become altered when we work out. No pill can replace that feeling (nor should it), but I can’t deny that the Zoloft leaves me in a similar state of calm.
I think there’s still some taboo around postpartum depression and what we do behind closed doors to treat it. It throws a wrench in the “I’ve got it together” image new moms want to portray. My Instagram feed is filled with captured moments that would lead anyone to believe I’m a happy, fulfilled and successful mom.
And I am.
And so are most of us. It’s just that there’s an unexpected mania that comes with motherhood. It’s a combination of, “Pinch me, I can’t believe this is happening!” and, “Punch me, I can’t believe this is happening!”
We all deal with it differently. I don’t think we should regard one way as being more right than any other way. The goal is to be a good parent.
Do what needs to be done to be a good parent. Period.
I might not be able to get out the door for those soothing long runs as frequently as I used to, fueled by the need to move and process the mish-mash of thoughts and emotions floating around in my brain, but I still catch a few miles here and there. And I swallow my pills with pride, because I know I’m doing what’s best for me to be the healthy mom Emmett needs me to be. When things really get bad, we turn up the music and dance. We smile. We take it one step at a time. Sometimes to Mick Jagger…
Things are different today, I hear every mother say. Mother needs something today to calm her down. And though she’s not really ill, there’s a little yellow pill. She goes running for the shelter of her mother’s little helper and it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day.
And that’s okay.