The other side of the coin

I recently wrote about how I’d rather be manic than be depressed.

Because mania is such fun.
Because mania is such fun.

Well, now I’m depressed, so fuck the me who said that.

What bullcrap.

Depression sucks. Mania sucks.

Mania makes me want to do all the things at once. When I’m manic, I truly, honest-to-God see the madness within myself. Depression robs me of the will to do anything — including things I like to do. Things that make me feel better. This is pretty much all I can bring myself to do:

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This is not conducive to long-term happiness. Or anything, really.

I need a vacation from my own head.

Why I’d rather be depressed

In a perfect world, there would be no mood disorders. I would be a reasonable, emotionally stable person: happy when you’re supposed to be happy, sad when you’re supposed to be sad, and the rest of the time, a contented medium. But I don’t live in a perfect world, and as such, I’m a bloody mess a good portion of the time.

I’m a manic depressive. I cycle through ups and downs not unlike a pendulum that swings back and forth. Sometimes, though, I swing over to one side and the pendulum freezes in midair, hangs for a while in that position, before swinging back the other way. Coping with my moods often means hanging out in either an amplified or a depressed state, just waiting for the switch to get hit. In those moments, I find myself thinking that between the two, I’d much rather be depressed.

Depression is a cool lagoon, contemplative and serene with it’s dark, unfathomable depths. It washes over and caresses me, encourages me to be silent, withdrawn, creative. Depression shuts my mouth and opens my eyes. Be invisible. Observe. It says. Depression makes me tired and encourages me to sleep. To take naps. To lie still with my eyes open and day dream. It is calm, relaxed, and above all, resigned. While I am adrift in these waters, there is nothing to do, nothing to say. There is only the wait (the weight) — because I know that eventually the cowl will be removed from over my mind. I need only be patient and not give in to the sadness. Feel the waves wash over me, and not let the current drag me under. I feel well-equipped to handle my depression.

But then there is the other end of the spectrum. The Mania. The spark, the fire, the catapultic launch from the cool, contemplative waters of depression into the frenetic nuclear combustion of the sun. It consumes me, every inch of flesh suddenly alight and crawling. My every thought transforms into a long run-on sentence, there is a frenzy underneath my skin, in my head, in my chest. A need to go in all directions at once. All of my reactions are on a hair-trigger; one false move and like a match to a trail of gasoline fumes, I go up in flames.

My body trails along like a flag hung off of the back of the roller coaster that my mind is riding. Up, down, side-to-side, whipping in the air currents, fraying at the edges. My mind races and with it my heart pounds in my chest: fight or flight activated but there is no danger. The only immediate threat comes from the beast ravaging my mind.

Mania is an assault on my senses. The frenzy of my mind overtakes and disables me — I need to do everything, and therefore find myself paralyzed, unable to do anything but imagine all the ways shit can go wrong (Oh, hello anxiety disorder, glad you could join the party). In how many ways can I obsessively envision my loved ones coming to harm? How shall I plan and create contingencies for all the ways in which life is about to become up-ended? Allow me now to sit here and wait for the sound of the other shoe dropping.

Mania feels like no end in sight. My mind will continue to race like this, my heart to pound like this, until I hit some proverbial or physical wall that will arrest my ascent. Until then, I’m just along for the ride. But all that energy has to go some where — blood will out. So maybe I clean the bathroom grout with a toothbrush. Maybe I binge eat myself sick. Maybe I take it out on my own self, picking away at nails, flesh, and other offending tissues until the beast is satisfied with her pound of flesh.

Mania forces me to eat myself alive in mind and in body.

When does this ride end? I want off.

I don’t feel all together prepared to manage prolonged bouts of mania. Maybe medication would help, but being a breast-feeding mother of a six-month-old, I’m not willing to take the chance that she could wind up medicated too. Therapy is also only helpful up to a point. I can’t see my shrink every time I find myself flung up into the air by a manic episode. I work my way through the calming techniques, the breathing exercises, the threat assessments that he has trained me on, and I try to remain patient.

This, too, will end. My new mantra: This, too, will end.

Best laid plans

I guess you hear it all the time, but until you’re neck-deep in motherhood you never quite realize how irrelevant all of your plans are. I have daydreamed about becoming a mom since I was a teenager — I knew what names I liked, what kind of clothes I wanted them to wear, how I was going to care for them. I had visions of sweet, cherubic faces dancing in my dreams like proverbial sugarplums. Courtesy of college family resources and psychology courses, I knew how to facilitate every stage of their development. I had every intention of a doing prenatal yoga, undergoing natural childbirth, being an unapologetic breast-feeder. And then I got pregnant and realized that life doesn’t give a shit about my plans.

If you want predictable, you're better off with the board game.
If you want predictable, you’re better off with the board game.

I didn’t even know I was pregnant until I almost lost the pregnancy. Unbeknownst to me, I was 6 weeks pregnant when a gush of blood signaled that something was very wrong. In the emergency room, they confirmed I was pregnant, then told me not to get my hopes up: “At this point, if your body is going to spontaneously abort the pregnancy, there’s nothing we can do about it.” So we went home and prayed. We prayed for three straight weeks until I went to first ultrasound and saw the heartbeat. Finally, I was able to breathe again — my body hadn’t betrayed us and killed our baby.

The rest of my pregnancy was smooth sailing, though not entirely what I had expected. I was way more tired, my body under way more strain, than I had been prepared for. Forget about yoga, walking the dog, or getting up off the couch — I’m willing to go from bed, to work, and back to my sofa, and there’s nothing you can do to convince me otherwise! Forget the well-rounded pregnancy diet, too. If it smells good, I’m going to eat it, and I can’t be held responsible if animal proteins aren’t on that list.

It turned out okay though. We made it to November without incident, my OBGYN complimenting me on being the easiest patient on his roster. Having read about the correlations between epidural use and increased likelihood of complications leading to Caesarian section, I was hoping to experience natural childbirth. I read everything I could get my hands on, interviewed friends, developed a birth plan with my doctor, and practiced breathing exercises. I drafted my friend as a doula. We stocked up on calming essential oils and packed my bag to allow for a quick departure to the hospital. As we approached my due date on November 9th, I felt we were pretty well prepared for the inevitable. Baby had been locked and loaded since the end of October and all signs pointed to a timely delivery. I did everything the Big Book tells you to do in order to help things along: had sex, walked around the neighborhood, exercised on one of those gigantic balls. Short of puncturing my own water bag with a knitting needle, I tried everything. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be: at two weeks past my due date, we threw in the towel and acquiesced to an induction by Pitocin drip.

You know what happens when you go into labor under Pitocin?

Hint: It ain't pretty
Hint: It ain’t pretty

Well, first of all, your contractions tend to be twice as long and a million times as intense as those caused by the natural labor-inducing horomone, Oxytocin. Try managing six hours of teeth-gritting, horrifyingly protracted spasms in your gut — I couldn’t do it, so I opted for the epidural. It made the pain go away, but not the long, arduous contractions that were squeezing my baby every three minutes. Her heart rate dropped from 120 beats-per-minute down to 60. Turns out my daughter couldn’t handle the Pitocin, either.

I bet you can guess what happened.

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Yeah, that’s me, crying tears of, “Oh my God, what the fuck? One moment I was in the L&D room and the next I was rushed into surgery, holy crap, they’re cutting me open.” The whole time I lay strapped to the surgical table, arms spread out like Jesus on the cross, I kept thinking, “Ok. Well, so I didn’t get to labor the way I wanted. And now my delivery is going to be very different from what I had planned. But she’ll be here soon. And then we’ll cuddle and do the skin-to-skin thing that everyone’s always going on about, and everything will be fine.” Even after Moira was born, though, things went a little off-plan: she spent the night in the NICU, and I spent in the night in recovery. Once we were reunited, we had to learn how to breastfeed, and that didn’t come easily either. As we struggled, Moira and I, to hit our stride, those last visions I had of myself as Earth-Mother Incarnate went out the window. This was the big leagues. It was about survival, by any means necessary.

And it continues to be. I’m definitely not a crunchy-granola kind of hippie earth-mother I thought I’d be. Despite what I learned in FAM-R or Childhood Psychology, I don’t actually manage to pick her up every time she cries. There are even times when I leave the room and make her fend for herself while I run to the bathroom to pee (gasp!). Now, we’re on to solid foods — will I manage to make everything from scratch and eschew store-bought baby food? Only time will tell. I still have moments of panic when my plans go awry, but then there are certain things I can’t bring myself to get huffy over. It’s just much, much easier to go with the flow. From conception, to gestation, to delivery and beyond, nothing happened quite the way I had intended it to. I think I’ve made my peace with that.

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She looks pretty well-adjusted, after all.

The state of things

Sometimes things happen in the world that throw my own struggles into very hard relief. I was going to write this morning about the impact that this book has had on me in the last few days. Then I read the news, and I just couldn’t write about anything else.

Yes, I am a motherless daughter, the child of an alcoholic, and a sufferer of mental illness. But I don’t live in fear of being kidnapped, or having my child kidnapped and sold into slavery or worse. I cannot begin to fathom the horror and complete desolation of those parents — those daughterless mothers. Picturing myself in that scenario so cripples me, my flesh begins to crawl and I have to forcibly redirect my mind away from such a monstrosity.

This needs to stop.

Bring back our girls.

And after that is done, keep our girls safe.

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A roadmap of grief

May is a crummy month for people without a mom. More than at any time of the year, there is a constant reminder that you have lost that most influential person in your life.

Thank you for that fine offer, Pandora, but no. I'm not sending anyone flowers this year. Again.
Thank you for that fine offer, Pandora, but no. I’m not sending anyone flowers this year. Again.

Even as I worked in my office today, there was a Mother’s Day Craft Fair going on outside. Nope, no thanks. I don’t want to look through the various trinkets and see what she might have enjoyed.

For the past several years I’ve been quite happy to celebrate my mother-in-law on Mother’s Day and leave it at that. But I’m a mother this year. There are a multitude of new layers to my usual Mother’s Day grief that weren’t there before.

In a case of bizarre synchronicity, I found myself having a meltdown over my motherlessness just earlier this week in reaction to something that had nothing to do with Mother’s Day approaching and everything to do with needing to talk to my mother. It’s possible that subconsciously, I was feeling a little bit off-center already due to the holiday coming up and was therefore extra sensitive, but whatever the reason my desperate need to speak with Mom coupled with my despair at leaving my daughter in the care of others while working and my umbrella fears of inadequacy converged to create a big, unholy mess. At the end of the day, I sat down with M in my lap and thought that all of it, all the tears I had cried that day, were actually about my need to be reassured that I’m a good mother — and the person I needed to hear it from isn’t around anymore.

Truthfully, I don’t miss her with my whole heart every day. Most days, in fact, I’m practically normal. But sometimes — and more often since becoming a mother myself — there is a day when I need her input. And what I’m learning is that this is normal. Particular to the loss of a mother, the grieving process doesn’t end at acceptance — it doesn’t end at all. It is a process, and ebb and flow of sadness and peacefulness, that continues for a lifetime. This is a comfort to me, as there have been several exasperating moments over the last six years when I’ve wanted to bang my head against the wall — “Why aren’t you OVER it already?!” Well, because I’m never going to “get over” it or “past it”. “Moving on” really isn’t an option for those experiencing this kind of grief. Our roadmap of the grieving process is really a curriculum of coping techniques and emotional management. And then being kind to yourself when you have days during which coping is unmanageable. As Hope Edelman says in her book Motherless Daughters: A Legacy of Loss, there will be days when you are just as sad as you were on the day she died. And that’s okay.

I suspect that this Mother’s Day will be both the same, and a little different, from years past. I will miss Mom anew this year, because I’ve joined her ranks and she isn’t here to share that with me. I’ll give flowers to my mother-in-law and my hanai-mom, because they have graciously mothered me in my mother’s absence. And I’ll finally experience Mother’s Day from the other side of things — a side that hopefully includes a little bit of sleeping in and breakfast in bed.

Yeah -- that looks like my kind of party.
Yeah — that looks like my kind of party.