You know that feeling…the one where you find yourself in a certain place you’ve been before, and a familiar scent or song or wind hits you and it’s like you have been transported to the time you were there before – and all the feelings from that time come rushing back. The present moment suspends and fades, and the former experience washes over you, bringing you right back where you were – the only difference being the knowledge and foresight you carry with you of what is to come.
It hit me while walking my dog up the long, steep hill along Mississippi River Blvd the other day, the same hill I have walked up hundreds of times, returning to my house after a mind-clearing walk. It was late afternoon, the sun was shining from that late spring/early fall angle, and a cool breeze swept through the trees. And in that moment I was taken back to last fall, before it all went down.
It was late September, that time of year when you really start to notice the days getting shorter and the nights becoming much cooler. I was pushing the stroller up that hill on the return leg of our walk, and the cool breeze came through the trees and hit me, as if to remind me that fall had arrived. I immediately noticed that lingering and steady concern in my heart surface and spread, shifting to worry and anxiety. I was on maternity leave, and it was about to come to an end. Life was good, I was at peace. But somewhere deep inside I could sense that this was all about to change. Being removed from the stresses of work, gossip and any social influence besides The Today Show, I was in my own little bubble of joy with my baby. My only responsibility was to feed and change him, and to pick my daughter up from preschool. I was at ease. Happy. Perhaps even blissful. While my marriage was far from perfect, even that seemed to be free from drama or tension. But my blissful love bubble was about to explode. I was about to go back to work – to be thrown right back into the stresses of the outside world. And deep down, I knew what that meant.
The dreaded day for me to return to work arrived. In addition to the relentless pain and anxiety of dropping your baby off at daycare for the first time, I also was doing my best to suppress that inkling that kept trying to surface – that I was stepping into the beginning of the end. For the first couple of months after my return, I was distracted by the intensity of a project that I was thrown into the moment I walked back in the door. But as the work died down, the chaos begin to settle, and the snow began to fall, I noticed the first unmistakable waves of a dreaded familiar feeling.
Indifference. Numbness. Isolation. Withdrawal. It’s not the same for everyone, but this is how postpartum depression shows up for me. I had experienced PPD after my daughter was born three and a half years earlier, and recognized the feelings immediately. Only this time I didn’t waste any time negating or denying the condition. I had two little babies who needed me, a job that I needed to pay the bills, and a life to live. I simply couldn’t afford to get swept up by the waves and pulled under, disappearing into the darkness. So I called up my doctor, explained what I had been feeling and she immediately called in the prescription.
I didn’t want to do it. I had been here before, I knew I would have to stop breastfeeding before I had planned, and I knew life was about to get rocky. After trying numerous medications that didn’t work for me three years ago, I had finally found one that “clicked”. But it had one big drawback – it made me anxious and agitated – and my husband hated me on it. But while I could come up with a million reasons not to, it was time to start taking this medication again because postpartum depression is simply not something that can be left untreated. And unfortunately, the only treatment that worked for me was going to push my marriage over the edge. Between the stresses of having a baby and a defiant preschooler, and the untimely discovery of differing views and values on so many levels, we were already barely hanging on by a thread. His tolerance for my irrational behavior was spent, and I sensed he was already making plans to leave.
After a few weeks of starting up the pills again, I called my doctor and begged her for an alternative. Desperately, I explained my concern about the agitation I had experienced last time and how I was afraid the same effects were starting to surface again now. I told her pointedly about the time I threw a pineapple through the wall because he didn’t unload the dishwasher, and the time I slammed the back door so hard that glass shattered all over the back entry.
“He’s going to leave me.” I begged her. “You don’t understand. I think I need to stop the pills. Or is there something else I can try that we haven’t tried?”
“Your children need a happy mommy. That is the first priority. Without medication, you will not be able to be present for them. You should stick with what you know works for you, Melissa. Your husband should understand what you are dealing with, and he should be supportive.”
I agreed quietly, knowing she just didn’t understand, and hung up. Defeated and dumbfounded. What was I supposed to do? His understanding was all used up, and his support was dwindling. Our relationship just didn’t have the foundation or the gas in the tank to withstand this again. And by Christmas, we both knew it was over. By March, he had signed a lease on an apartment. On May 1st, he moved out.
Walking up that hill the other day, when the wind hit me just the right way, I was taken back to that September day – when I was still on maternity leave, and everything was still good. When we were still a family. And I couldn’t help but wonder, could I have prevented the demise of my marriage? Of course it wasn’t all about the medication, but it certainly was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Could I have powered through – ignored the signs of PPD or tried my best to just put a smile on my face? What if I never went back to work? Was there any possible way I could have kept things just the way they were – in my love bubble – that day in late September?
While I still find myself asking questions like this – both to him and myself, I know the answer is, no. A big part of my spirituality and belief system is based on allowing things to unfold naturally – to not swim against the current or fight life’s natural rhythm. “Whatever is meant to be, will be” is something that so many people say, but this is something that I live daily. It’s how I make decisions throughout the day and also what helps give me the strength to endure life’s biggest challenges. Looking back, I know there was no way for us to hold on to our marriage. It just wasn’t in the cards for us. And to see how our children are thriving like never before, and how well he and I have been able to work together maturely and cooperatively throughout this difficult process, it only strengthens that belief. We went with the current, and this is what was supposed to happen. Change is hard, but it is constant. And it is a futile effort to try to keep things exactly as they are in the present.
Accepting and surrendering to this isn’t easy. It’s actually really shitty. But I’ve learned that I can get through shitty, and that I’ll be okay. At times I feel scared. At times I feel lonely. At times I get angry and frustrated that this is how my life is shaping out, and I have no idea what the future has in store for me. But I can have faith that we’ve stopped wasting precious time and energy trying to swim upstream, and that we’re now taking steps in the right direction. I know that the worry and anxiety that felt heavy in my heart the day I walked up that hill in September was my intuition telling me that things were going to change and get tough – and they did. The days and weeks and months since last fall have been the most brutal and challenging of my life. But there is something intoxicatingly empowering about knowing that everything that I feared actually happened. And that I survived.