The Momma Bear Protocol

Parenthood — motherhood in particular — comes loaded with a lot hidden programming. Sure, there’s a lot they don’t tell you — I did not anticipate, for example, having my moderately sized 36Bs landing in the 40F range by the time it was all over.

Poor High-School-Boyfriend. He missed out. But at least he's related to the Pumpkin King. Still has that going for him.
Pre special-order bras. Poor High-School-Boyfriend, he really missed out. But at least  he’s still related to the Pumpkin King. He’ll always have that going for him.

Besides boobs more massive than Husband or I could ever have dreamed of, there’s also the ability to diagnose minor ailments by glancing inside a poopy diaper, and the somewhat less desirable ability to hold protracted conversations about what I have found within those diapers.  But there are also things I wouldn’t have believed, things that well up from deep within.

There exists an intrinsic desire to care for every aspect of your child’s well-being, to make sure that they are safe at all costs — it is deep, lizard-brain,  instinctual caveman shit. And if you’re a mom, I speak primarily of the Momma Bear Protocol.

Yeah, I would want to tango with that gal, either.
Yeah, I would want to tango with that gal, either.

As a new mother, you may not realize that you have downloaded this critical programming until after you have given birth. Perhaps not even until long after, not until your child stumbles unwittingly into a situation of some minor threat or danger, and you quite suddenly find that the rational, pleasant, complimentary person you once were has suddenly left the room and a wild, raging animal has taken her place. The Momma Bear Protocol has been activated.

God help you, you poor, unfortunate soul.
God help you, you poor, unfortunate soul.

Perhaps the most surprising this about the Protocol is that there are no caveats or exceptions: it applies to all offspring (it can even apply to children under the care of the Momma Bear but not otherwise related, or children who are in the vicinity of the Momma Bear but not witnessed to be under the care of another Momma Bear) and the Protocol contains no fail-safes or contingencies for the other caretakers of the child or children, nor the inherent integrity of those caretakers — if they fuck up, GOD HAVE MERCY ON THEIR SOULS.

I'm comin' for ya.
I’m comin’ for ya.

Case in point: the night my husband accidentally locked me out of the house while our infant daughter slept upstairs.

He didn’t mean to do it. He works nights and he was running late, so in the rush to get in the house, change clothes, get back outside, and switch cars with me, things got a little hairy. He assumed I had my house keys. I assumed that anyone with a brain would know better than to lock the door with an infant in the house and no adults inside. Clearly, there were some failures in communication somewhere along the way. Be that as it may, none of of that really mattered once I was standing on our porch, listening to my daughter cry upstairs, with no way to get to her.

Momma Bear Activated: I broke the window next to the door, reached in and threw the lock.

Moira was fine, of course. She was already back asleep as soon as I was in the house, but that didn’t mean that I was any less hysterical. I called my husband’s cell phone and, in a voice that was two decibels higher than dog’s can hear, left a message that would have melted his ear off, had he been able to understand me. He called back to apologize, but it wasn’t until he came home the next morning to take in the broken window and my messed up arm that it really sunk in.

The moral of the story: Don’t mess with Momma Bears.

I amend my earlier statment: I wouldn't want to mess with her, unless she messed with my kid. And then I would poleax her, and grind her bones for breakfast.
I amend my earlier statement: I wouldn’t want to mess with her, unless she messed with my kid. And then I would poleax her and grind her bones for breakfast.

I feel sick.

Every time the depression wells back up and takes me, I feel like a failure. This time it took me by surprise in a new way because it didn’t start with sadness, it started with success. Yes, I’ve been tremendously busy, but I’ve been on top of it all – managing my appointments, my schedule, showing up on time, in the places I’m meant to be, and feeling good. I’ve been feeling in control of myself, nigh invincible, as I have taken on more and more, chasing that glorious moment of triumph.

Something you should know about me: As long as I’ve had something that needs improvement, I have had something to prove.

This time, my descent started with an up-tick. It started with the slow, steady ascent of a wooden coaster, as the click, click, click ushers you ever onward and upward toward the peak before it surrenders you unto the nothingness, allowing you to fall.

"STOP THE RIDE, I WANNA GET OFF," she would have said, if she had better foresight.
“STOP THE RIDE, I WANNA GET OFF,” she would have said, if she had had better foresight.

But this time it would seem the problem is not really the depression, but the mania. The mania (and the anxiety and the paranoia), which previously only lasted for a few hours or perhaps a day at the most, has become recurring.

I can’t think. I can’t write. I am distracted by the tiniest of things. Glitter, stuck to my sweat-dampened skin. Moira, exploring my work area. The feel of the air in the room, how oppressively warm it is with the sliding glass door closed and the humidity inching upward each moment as the sun heats the moisture on the pavement outside. The creeping vines of anxiety as each of these press inward on my consciousness, the feeling starting in my ankles, moving inexorably upwards toward my chest, immobilizing me and robbing me of my words, setting a spark to my fight or flight response. It suddenly occurs to me that I can either sit here self-immolating, or I can get up and start pacing, picking, cleaning, starting with a lint-roller all over my body to get rid of that god-damned glitter because FUCK GLITTER. WHO LET THAT SHIT INTO MY HOUSE?!

Satan is a five year old girl with access to fairy dust.
Satan is a five year old girl with access to fairy dust.

The depression which has punctuated these last few stretches of anxious upheaval has been an almost welcome reprieve. As I have mentioned before, the contrast between the two states is, I imagine, like being catapulted from a tub of hot water into cold, and back and forth — not unlike what Inigo experienced when Fezzik forcibly removed him from his state of drunkenness in the Princess Bride.

drunkinigoBut rather than restore me to sanity, the effect has been completely destabilizing. I feel like I have nothing.

It’s in those awful moments I want to do truly terrible things to myself. Still. Even with all the treatment, the therapy, the medications, everything, all the improvements I’ve made, all the distance I’ve covered in the last few years, when I feel the control begin to slip away from me, the urge to harm myself screams back into focus with alarming alacrity. I just know, with deep, chilling certainty, that one simple act of self-harm would immediately, easily end the uneasy, frenetic scratching in my skull – the pain would calm me, my stomach would settle, and I would finally feel better.

My heart wouldn’t be fluttering any longer, and my thoughts wouldn’t be racing. My mind wouldn’t be festering with words and stories that refuse to coagulate into coherent stories worthy of telling. I could sit and enjoy my family’s company, my daughter’s play, my husband’s touch, or the simple miracle of a quiet house.

I don’t typically feel that my mental illness is particularly disabling, or that it makes me especially ill. In fact, as a colleague and I were discussing the other day, we take particular pains to obscure our mental “peculiarities” as much as possible, lest the rumor mill start a’ pumpin’. But this? I hate this. This makes me feel as though I suffer from true madness. I am provoked, then, to spit out the proverbial poison – to remove it from my person as if by force (thus, The Real Sarah C Project was born). Well, now that I think about it, it actually was by force! These 800 words took me two very painful weeks of writing, bitching to trusted friend about not being able to write, trying and failing to write other things, and then trying again.

Reader, the thing that I really want you to know is that I feel like a terrible mess. And despite feeling like a terrible mess, in these last few weeks, I have still felt very much myself – on top of my game, good at my job, able, and confident. I’m not sure precisely what that means in the long run, but in the spirit of keepin’ it real, I just wanted you to know: you can still keep it together while you’re falling apart.