Baby Blues: Sometimes Itâ€™s Harder To Cope With The Manic Highs Of Motherhood Than The Lows
Thereâ€™s this misconception about depressed people that weâ€™re depressed all the time. I imagine some of you might think this of me given that I write a weekly column about PPD. But Iâ€™m not some kind of depressed murky swamp creature in real life. Around people I like, Iâ€™m actually more like an overzealous but loving Yorkie pup, minus the ankle biting!
Like everyone else, I experience moments, even days, of elation â€“ when things just seem to fall into place. The way PPD coincides with these high moments, however, changes the effect on me. The truth is, sometimes itâ€™s even harder to cope with my highs than my lows.
Depression, like many mental illnesses, is a security blanket. In the same way the anorexic person uses starvation to feel in control, my low moments are a familiar place where my PPD is justified. I get to a point when crying actually feels good, and isolation feels right. Iâ€™m used to feeling sad, lonely, whatever. It sucks, but Iâ€™ve dealt with it before so I know what to expect out of it.
So when things are going well, itâ€™s like suddenly I have this intense vulnerability. I caught an episode of “Reba” where she describes these daunting feelings to her daughter as the â€œgoing-good blues,â€ which I think is a perfect and catchy term for it.
Take several weeks ago, when my husband had his first vacation since our toddler was born. We had a whole week together, a week we used for necessary stuff like cleaning and errands, but also for me getting more alone time and us getting reacquainted as a couple. We spent time just lounging on the floor while our daughter toddled around us. We watched movies and cooked meals. We didnâ€™t do a single extravagant thingâ€”it was the best â€œstaycationâ€ ever.
But during this brief period of rest, I was so completely on edge as I kept waiting for â€œitâ€ to happen. You know, an unexpected bill in the mail, or a sudden illness. A fight with my husband. My daughterâ€™s first serious injuryâ€”a broken arm, or a gash in her leg. Or something completely insane, like the death of one of my parents, or the apartment burning down. Or finding out I have lung cancer/throat cancer/a brain aneurysm. Or all three. I donâ€™t think about this stuff when Iâ€™m going through a â€œdownâ€ period, because stuff already sucks, so whatever.
But when things are going well, these borderline absurd worries literally keep me up at night. WebMD doesnâ€™t help. Taking my smartphone to bed for reading purposes doesnâ€™t help, either. But even when I try to distract myself from these imaginary ailments by reading benign or humorous things, I still canâ€™t sleep. For the first few hours I will flicker in and out of the REM stage, my brain constructing and reconstructing sentences about the same topic.
For instance, last night I went to sleep after reading some stuff on a specific friendâ€™s Facebook page. For the next few hours, my friendâ€™s name paired with imaginary activities kept popping up in my head like a live mental newsfeed. And thereâ€™s always a song, too, a single song on repeat play that sticks with me until my brain finally â€œresetsâ€ sometime between two and four in the morning. When I wake up with a new song in my head, I know Iâ€™ve finally obtained some actual sleep.
What the hell is this?
But Iâ€™ve noticed this only tends to happen when Iâ€™m going through a â€œgoodâ€ period. When everyone in my family is mostly happy and there are plenty of exciting things on the horizon. When Iâ€™m down, I kind of just fall asleep and everything goes blank. This actually makes me wonder if Iâ€™m more on the bipolar side, and the racing thoughts are a product of my manic episodes.
Thereâ€™s also the possibilityâ€”and this is going to rub many of you the wrong way, Iâ€™m sure, but I have to say itâ€”that this is just what happens to your brain when you become a mother. I know a handful of other women who feel like their brains are on overdrive like this, yet they donâ€™t have a history of mental health problems. I canâ€™t pinpoint exactly what it might be about motherhood that triggers this.
I do know, however, that being responsible for the life of a child does make me check and double check things I wouldnâ€™t have paid much attention to in my previous life. And all this checking and re-checking puts me on the defensive and doesnâ€™t give my brain much of a chance to settle down.