This afternoon, I'm sitting on the couch in my living room, looking out the window, and it's raining. Sometimes, it's hard to remember the endless string of days that all felt this gloomy despite the sun shining mockingly in the sky.
In six short weeks, my littlest guy will be one year old. One year. I can hardly believe it, especially because it seems like I wasn't even here for most of it. If I close my eyes, I can still recall restless nights filled with sobbing and yelling, and days spent staring catatonically at my children trying to figure out how I got there. Weeks without getting dressed and refusing to spend time with anyone became my norm. Almost daily, I'd go to the kitchen to prepare dinner only to discover that I'd completely forgotten how to cook. Then I'd call my husband and ask him to bring home a frozen pizza. I'd realize I was missing my kids' lives and get out my camera to take pictures, then find myself fumbling with the buttons and knobs frustratedly before putting it away.
I think there's a permanent crease in my forehead between my eyebrows. I'm 25.
One night, my sweetheart and I were watching TV, and a commercial for the drug Abilify came on, you probably know which one I'm talking about--the one with the woman whose bathrobe follows her around everywhere. I started crying, turned to him and said, "I need help. I feel that way all the time." He held me for a little while, and promised he'd help me get the assistance I needed. We scheduled an appointment with our bishop right away. When we met with him, he gave us the name of a counselor that I could go talk to. The first appointment with her was okay. Not good, not bad. The second appointment was terrible. I remember very little about what we talked about, except that she wanted tips from me on how to lose weight, and she told me that I was a "difficult child." I couldn't go back there. She just wasn't the right fit. And besides, she looked a little bit like a frog.
The second therapist was a little bit better. At the end of our first appointment, he handed me the name and number of a psychiatrist. I was to meet with her, get diagnosed, and start taking medication immediately. It didn't dawn on me that he shouldn't have already had her contact information written down. He shouldn't have prepared to send me to a psychiatrist until he had a basic understanding of what was wrong with me. Things progressed, and I thought that I just needed to tough it out, that I would get better with this course of action, until the day he told me that the things I'd done (and the way I'd been) these first years of my boys' lives were going to screw them up on such a deep level that it would be impossible to fix them without therapy. Lovely. I looked past that, thinking, "Surely I'm just taking things the wrong way. I'm not breaking up with another therapist." I went to one more appointment, and at the beginning, he exclaimed, "Do you realize we've been working together for seven sessions now? This is going very well." After I left his office, I did some soul searching. Seven sessions. And nothing was better? Nothing at all?
Meanwhile, I'd met with the psychiatrist. She was fabulous! Well, fabulous if you call sitting down with me for an hour and diagnosing me without asking about things that were going on in my life fabulous. She never once asked about my children. One of the main points in her diagnosis (bipolar II, by the way) was that I wasn't sleeping. I had two babies at home, of course I wasn't sleeping. Nevertheless, I felt relieved to have a diagnosis, and I blindly trusted the psychiatrist. I started taking a medication called lamotrigine. It's generic for Lamictal, a mood stabilizer. The first day on Lamictal was good. I felt my mood lifting, and I felt some of the fog clear. Everything was wonderful until we realized a month had passed and I couldn't remember anything that had happened. We took a family vacation to Washington, DC, and without the pictures, I could hardly tell you that I'd been there. There were still nights of crying and yelling, and even worse, my husband couldn't see any lights on when he looked into my eyes. They were some of the scariest days of my life.
Then the headaches started. The lamotrigine/Lamictal headache is easily the most painful experience I have ever had. It feels like a bolt of lightning has permanently affixed itself between your temples, and randomly shoots hot daggers into the backs of your eyes. You should try it sometime, what a rush.
At my second appointment with the psychiatrist (a 15 minute med-check) I looked her in the eye and said, "Are you SURE this is bipolar? I was surprised with the diagnosis, I came expecting to be diagnosed with postpartum depression." She shook her head sadly, as if to say, "You sad little patient," and then said with a stony look in her eye, "No. You're bipolar. You have always been this way, and you will always be this way."
Please. Put a dagger in my heart. "You will always be this way." Something was seriously wrong with that statement. I hadn't always been this way! I knew there had to be a way out of the place I was in, and I knew that seeing this uninterested psychiatrist and borderline creepy therapist wasn't going to be it. I spent two weeks digging through DSM-IV (the diagnostic manual for mental disorders) and taking tests online that are supposed to be administered by medical professionals. I asked my husband about a trillion times if he agreed with me, and every time the answer was the same.
According to every piece of medical literature we could find, I was not bipolar. I only fit one set of symptoms, and bipolar has two. I was depressed, not manic. How could she have not seen it? I wanted my money back, but instead canceled my next appointment and did something you're never supposed to do.
I stopped taking my Lamictal. Cold-turkey. Have you ever had a headache that made you feel like you wanted to die? I have. For three days. But then something magnificent happened. I started to wake up.
I will never forget the morning I came out of our bedroom into the living room holding my head and squinting my eyes. I looked at Christopher with a look of alarm and said, "Why is everything so LOUD?" Slowly a grin spread across his face, and he started to laugh. "Adrienne. You're hung over." The hangover lasted about a day, and suddenly I was alive again. I thought everything was going to be okay.
A few weeks passed, and I started to recognize the nagging depression (and occasional rage) were still pulling me down. I realized that it was finally time to take matters into my own hands. I knew, without question, that I was dealing with postpartum depression. We searched to find an OB I could see to get some help. Appointments were available in August and October--it was June. I finally broke down and e-mailed a random woman from a random website about postpartum depression. She sent me the name of a psychiatric nurse practitioner who was specially trained in postpartum mood disorders.
The first time we sat down with Sheila, I didn't know what was about to happen. She reminded me of a grandma. Not the kind of grandma who bakes cookies and knits sweaters, the kind of grandma who narrows her eyes and tells you sternly that you need to shape up. So really not a grandma at all, more like the lady who runs detention. Yeah, that's who I'm thinking of. She looked like a grandma anyway. It took about 10 minutes of meeting with this woman to realize that something was different about her. She wasn't like the big frog who told me how terrible I must have been as a child. She didn't remind me of Creed from "The Office." Sheila just "got" me. For the first time since I started feeling down, there was someone who seemed to understand what was going on with me. I didn't know what to do with myself. Relief poured over me. My eyes stung with tears of hope for the first time in nearly 8 months.
During the appointment, she had Christopher step into the hall for a few minutes so she could make sure he wasn't abusing me. I confidently told her that he would never in a million years hurt me. She responded, "I know. I could feel his love for you pouring through the phone when he called me. And you can't feel that, can you?" Tears filled my eyes as someone finally brought to light the darkest part of my depression. I was free. At last! Someone knew what was happening inside my head, and wasn't going to judge me for it. She was going to help me.
She prescribed a "pediatric dose" of a medication called desipramine, vitamin D, fish oil, 3-6 days of exercise/week, and ordered me to never say no to a social gathering of any kind. After months of isolation, it was time for me to build my own safety net of support people.
So here we are. Lots of pills every day. I still gag a little bit every time I remember I'm swallowing a pill of fish oil. Um, ew. That's disgusting. But things are getting better. Slowly. It's painstakingly slow. Some days, I still stay in my pajamas. Some nights I still sob and cry. Sometimes it really hurts that I missed almost an entire year. But I don't want to die anymore. In fact, I want to live.
It's been a long time.
And hey, now I remember how to bake cookies.