Anxiousness runs in my blood. Like sap from a 100 year old tree, it flows through my roots and limbs, waiting to be spilled and free. I spent most of my adult life waiting for the anxiety to spill out. I always just assumed that there was no escape from the familial obligation.
Anxiety is like a tradition in my family; eat grandma’s cranberry cake at Christmas and then be anxious the other 364 days of the year.
When I was in my early twenties, I wasn’t really experiencing anxiety other than the normal newly-college-graduated-finding-my-way-in-the-world variety. But like a train whose horn I could hear around the bend, I knew I was about to be hit with it. I just didn’t know when it would happen or what would be the trigger. I made an appointment with my doctor. I told her I was worried about “becoming anxious.” She recommended a book, some vitamins, exercise, and said we’d reassess soon. This seemed like a fine enough plan. After all, I wasn’t anxious yet.
Or was I? Was my anxiousness about being anxious making me anxious? Or was I only anxious because I was anxious about becoming anxious? It was a crazier labyrinth than even David Bowie himself could devise.
Somehow I made my way through early adulthood and tried not to acknowledge the umbrella of doom looming over me. I learned to ignore and deflect. I got my first adult job. I got married, and eventually, pregnant. My pregnancy was awful physically, but the anxiety stayed hidden. The labor and birth were incredibly traumatic. I’d never been more ill or closer to death.
When we finally got home from the hospital, it took three months for my body to heal. But then, even after I could walk and feel human again, my brain felt broken. The birth of my daughter opened the floodgates of anxiety into my body. My heart ached every day. I couldn’t sleep, imagining all of the ways I could die. I knew our house was going to explode into fire. I imagined it every day.
While holding and nursing my fragile child, I knew that any moment she would slip from my hands in such a way that she would break in half. I would have to put her into my husband’s arms just to catch my breath. Driving across bridges sparked horrible anxiety attacks and visions of driving my car off the side into the dark water below. Horrible visions intruded into my thoughts; such horrible things that I don’t dare to even type them. I was filled to the brim with more anger than I thought could fill my body. I was so sad and so terrified.
And yet, somehow, I didn’t realize anything was wrong. I was dealing with the emotional upheaval of trauma and birth, getting very little sleep, and riding the waves of fluctuating hormones; I thought that it was what motherhood was supposed to look like. It wasn’t until I answered the Postpartum Depression questions at a doctor’s appointment that I realized I was possibly depressed or anxious. My doctor asked me questions about hurting myself or others, about being angry or sad, and as I spoke the answers, chills of acknowledgment ran through me.
I knew that anxiousness was coming for me, but it had hit me harder than I could have ever imagined.
My doctor was surprisingly nonplused when I told her all of the horrible things I had in my head. She prescribed medication and gave me a referral for talk therapy. I cried a lot. I felt relief. Guilt. Exhaustion. My imagination was overwhelmed with what would happen to my baby daughter during all of the time I was away at therapy, and almost didn’t go to my first session. Luckily for me, my husband convinced me and sent a picture every 30 minutes to appease me. Even more lucky, the medication I was taking started to work fairly quickly. I know this isn’t always the case, and that it can take a while to find the right medication balance, but I started feeling like the ice was melting off of me. I could take a deep breath again.
These days I’m usually floating in the waters of anxiety instead of drowning in it. I built my boat with medication and therapy. I surround myself with supportive people and doctors. Square breathing. Sitting in sunshine. Singing. Re-watching British baking shows. Writing poetry. Learning to say no. Giving time for my hormones to settle. All of these things have brought some peace to my anxious brain and let me sail instead of sink.
I wish I had known ahead of time the ways in which Postpartum Depression could manifest. The anger. The horrible visions. The terror. I wish I had known the ways in which hormones could control my body after giving birth, and the ways I would feel so helpless to the waves of sadness. I wish I could have told myself that the loneliness and guilt I felt was a lie.
If you’re worried about experiencing Postpartum Depression or are in the murky waters of it, I want to tell you these things so you know. I want to tell you that you aren’t alone. I want to tell you that the currents don’t have to leave you gasping for air. There are ways to build your boat.