Confused by the clouds
Eleven years ago, I began struggling with what I now refer to as “living under a dark cloud.” As a college student living in a new city, I felt like I was going insane. Triggered by the death of a close friend and the life changes brought about by college, my fits of crying, sense of despair, and fleeting, disturbing thoughts became the new normal. Those four years brought with them varying degrees of light and darkness. My college graduation day was one of the worst days of my life. I wasn’t sure I’d make it out in one piece.
Making Sense of the Storm
Now I have the words to describe what I was experiencing. My name is Julia and I struggle with anxiety and depression. While these haven’t been a constant in my life, it has been a theme that continues to resurface.
After college, I got married, got a job, and the cloud lifted for a while. I unexpectedly got pregnant with my first daughter and the transition to motherhood was easier than I anticipated. The first few weeks of her life were a bloody, breastfeeding bliss, yet I wondered if it was possible to be any happier. A few years later, I gave birth to my second daughter, and we had a rough start. After a long induction, a failed epidural, jaundice, a lip tie, and thrush, we made it out of the trenches. I worked full-time, bonded with my breast pump, and crawled my way back to normal. I had cloudy days but never felt overwhelmed. I thought that maybe that dark season was a fluke and wouldn’t be returning.
I was wrong.
A climate shift
When my second daughter was 13 months, she weaned herself overnight. My hormones took a hit, and so did my mood. The darkness I felt in college came back with a vengeance and I had no idea what was happening.
During that time, I went to my primary care physician, who prescribed an anti-depressant. It made me numb and unable to sleep – not a good combination for a mom of two. I tried it for about two weeks and then stopped, determined to fight my way out of the funk with a healthy diet, prayer, and exercise. It worked for a little while, but I knew I wasn’t back to normal. I regularly battled anxiety, irritability, exhaustion, and a feeling of hopelessness. I experienced random dark, intrusive thoughts about harming myself, despite my lack of desire to do so. This continued on and off until I became pregnant with my third daughter, who I gave birth to just seven short months ago. When she was born, I was prepared for the panic, the irrational fears, and the anxiety, but they remained at bay, holding off for a few months. The stress of my husband graduating from grad school and our moving to a new house provided the atmosphere for the clouds to roll back in.
When it rains, it pours
As the storm began to brew, I knew something was off. My kids were noticing how irritable I was. When my husband and I disagreed, I was so overwhelmed by emotion that I couldn’t think clearly enough to finish the conversation. I felt like I could never get enough rest. I regularly felt like I was in a dream-like state, watching myself from the outside. This continued to escalate. One day, I was getting my kids out the door to go on a playdate. I realized that the car seat remained disassembled after being taken apart to be washed. Instead of muttering a few choice words under my breath per usual, I picked up the car seat, threw it across the room, and collapsed on the floor in a puddle of my tears.
Then one day, the drizzle turned into a torrential downpour. I was in the car with my husband and kids at Home Depot. I was exhausted from anxiety-induced insomnia, and I just wanted to spend the day in bed. I was half-convinced that my two-year-old and infant daughter were conspiring against my husband and I, between the diaper blowouts and tantrums. I became over-ridden with fear and anxiety, and I hit a wall. My husband knew I had been struggling, but I could barely look him in the eye when I confessed I couldn’t live like this anymore. I needed help, and I needed it right then. I deserved more than this, and so did my family.
That day, I called every psychiatrist in the DMV that accepted my insurance, and thankfully got ahold of someone who could see me the next day. When I showed up in the office, I described to her what I went through in college and was experiencing postpartum, and she gave me words for the struggles I had faced for 11 long years. She diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. She prescribed another anti-depressant, which gave me pause. She encouraged me to give medication a try, combined with exercise, lots of sleep, a support system, and talk therapy.
Fast forward three months. I’m still a stay-at-home mom who stays up WAY too late binge-watching my favorite shows and struggles to get to the gym. When I don’t sleep or I drink too much caffeine, I still battle intrusive thoughts and irritability. Sometimes I still snap at my kids and avoid people. But I set an alarm to take my medication every day and make exercise a priority. I deleted social media from my phone and I have a small network of people who know my struggle intimately. I attend talk therapy every single week.
This treatment plan isn’t a be-all-end-all for everyone, but it has helped me immensely.
When we go through major stressors—marriage, moving, death of a loved one, birth, or the start of a new job – our minds can go a little haywire. Hormones alone are enough to make us deviate from our normal, let alone any trauma, or unbalanced brain chemistry. There is such a stigma with mental illness and the fear of the unknown, but it’s about time we bring it into the light. Call a friend. Tell your doctor. Let people help you. Because this life, and motherhood, are worth fighting for.
You are not alone