This is a story about insomnia and depression. And how I’ve journeyed through it. Please don’t turn away. I want you to read it.
It Started with a Baby
My son was born in January 2007. I had read all the books and had done my preparation but I truly had no clue how one little person could change your life so much.
I was a full-time hard-working stay-up-late-and-get-it-done kind of person. You could always reach me by phone or email (this was before Twitter was around). I never said no. And then everything came to screeching halt.
My son was born and although I knew he was an incredible miracle, I didn’t feel instantly bonded to him. I just didn’t feel like a mom. It was a bit surreal and I was hoping that after I recovered from my C-section and returned to the comforts of home, everything would feel like bliss.
We got home and everything just felt different. It was clear to me that nothing would ever be the same again. Part of me, almost right away, just wanted to go back to the way things were. Why had I complicated such a good life?
My husband made a wonderful celebratory dinner the night we came home. My mother was there and we sat around trying to eat steaks off the grill. I remember my son crying as soon as I sat down, something that every mother knows just seem to happen at every mealtime. I felt stressed. I wanted to eat. I wanted to relax and this baby was interrupting that.
I sat at the table finally for dinner and felt like the odd man out. Felt so different than my mom and husband. There was a new baby to be happy about. But my life was completely different.
Then the waterworks started. I sat there crying at the dinner table. When they asked me why, I could only say “I don’t know.” I felt embarrassed and weak.
I put my newborn on the floor under his Baby Einstein discovery mat. He was a few days old. He didn’t need to be on the floor. I had no clue what I was doing. I felt embarrassed and stupid.
Here I was, this career woman, that was now staying at home temporarily and I felt like a failure. I wasn’t enjoying my time. I hated every minute of breastfeeding. I was stressed out from that and from the lack of sleep. I watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s more times than I can count simply because it was on. I don’t think I had the energy to figure out what else I should be doing with myself.
It’s Just the Baby Blues, Right?
I really didn’t know anything about the baby blues but I was pretty sure I should be feeling a lot happier. I started searching online for parenting support groups. I just needed someone to help me. To make me feel like I wasn’t the only one that felt like this. All I could find were postpartum depression groups.
I wasn’t depressed. I just needed help, guidance, and reassurance. I was pretty sure I didn’t belong in one of those groups since I didn’t want to throw my baby against the wall. I loved him. I wanted to be a good mom. I just felt stressed out all the time because I didn’t know what to expect and I couldn’t control the situation.
Thank God I found a local group called Baby Steps, a parenting support group sponsored by WakeMed Health & Hospitals. It was there I met three other women.
We were from all walks of life but we clearly needed each other. They became my lifeline and also my baseline. I loved having a support group to socialize with and get advice from. But I also found myself constantly comparing my baby to theirs. My mothering to theirs. It was ridiculous.
After four months at home, I was ready to return to work. I was going to miss my life and my lunches and my support with these women. It turned out that going back to work was a good thing for me. I felt like a smart, somewhat attractive human being again. I could go out to lunch and not worry about bottle feedings. I could have intelligent conversation.
I was only working part-time and certainly felt my share of guilt over not being with my baby and jealousy at not living the free and easy life of my friends. Life continued on anyway and when I did get to see my friends, we always talked about one thing: when to have another.
When I got pregnant, my husband immediately started talking about having two kids. What? He said, and I quote, “if we’re having one, we’re having two.” He wanted to make sure our child had siblings like we both did. I agreed. Nobody wants a miserable, lonely only child who turns into a spoiled brat and acts like a little adult.
Since I’m no spring chicken, I planned to have my kids one right after the another so they would be about 2 years apart. As we started nearing my son’s first birthday, I felt the dread. It was getting close to the time to start trying to have another. I wasn’t ready. I felt stressed about work, about the holidays (it was December), about having to go through this joyous and extremely difficult first year all over again.
I will admit that much of the stress was self-imposed. I had to be in control on everything, which of course is nearly impossible. And then depression reared its ugly head in the most unexpected way.
Insomnia and Depression
I had family come to town for the holidays and pretty much everyone in my household was suffering from some sort of coughing ailment. And I would hear it. All. Night. Long. I’m pretty noise-averse. When I was pregnant, it was noise, not smell, that made me nauseous.
The coughing would keep me up. Or wake me up and then keep me up. Then I started running on empty. I got into the habit of not sleeping. I could fall asleep at 10pm – no problem. A glass of wine was my best friend. But when 2am rolled around, I was wide awake. Like, insomnia awake. I didn’t stir. I bolted awake and couldn’t go back to sleep.
After a week of this schedule, I decided to see a doctor. It was a new doctor and I was primarily going to him to get some antibiotics for my dreadful cough. While I was there, I mentioned that I was having trouble sleeping, described the pattern, and asked for some Xanax.
I don’t like taking medications, especially those that mess with my state of mind. It took a lot for me to ask but my sister assured me that a very small dose of Xanax had done wonders to take the edge off of her anxiety.
It did nothing for me. Neither did Lunesta, Ambien, Ambien CR, and Restoril. I was never going to sleep again. I was going insane. I had that rare disease of fatal insomnia.
My doctor had asked me if I had had any significant changes in my life. I told him no. Well, not really. I mean, I had a baby but that was a year ago. I had to put one of my precious Lhasa Apsos to sleep. I had reunited with my father after 7 years. No, nothing really.
He mentioned that I might be suffering from “the Big D” as he put it. Poppycock. I wasn’t depressed I was simply tired.
I had to hit rock bottom, which involved an all-nighter, a frantic visit to the doctor, and a megadose of intravenous valium in his office, to really understand that I was depressed. It turns out insomnia, especially the type I was suffering, was a classic hallmark of depression. I agreed and admitted I needed help.
I spent time seeing a therapist and finally finding something to help me sleep (heavy dose of Klonopin, in case you were wondering). Turns out that after I started sleeping again, the classic symptoms of depression presented themselves. I couldn’t care for my son. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t be alone (thank God for my mother who dropped everything to spend a month with me). I couldn’t leave the house. I just wanted to sit on the couch.
I cried for the wife I had become. I cried for the mother I wasn’t. It was my baby’s first birthday and I had failed him. I still hosted his birthday party at my house. Most people will tell you that I was there physically but that’s about it.
I continued to work with my doctor. We found the right dose of Zoloft and I slowly started feeling like myself again. My therapist didn’t really need to see me. She said I had my head screwed on straight but that my body had become chemically out of whack.
Making It Through Depression
It took about 3 months before I was back at work and people were treating me normally. I confided in a few co-workers because nobody really had understood what had happened. Much to my surprise, they were all on something. They all took anti-depressants. They all took something to help them sleep. Is this destined to become the plight of mothers everywhere?
Looking back, I was never diagnosed with post-partum depression. I know that I clearly suffered from the baby blues. It took about 3 weeks before I literally snapped out of that. But looking back on what led to my “episode,” I can’t help but think I was suffering since the day my son was born. I loved his milestones. He was an adorable baby. But I always felt like there was something under the surface that left me looking at every mother I met wondering “how is it so easy for them and so difficult for me?”
It’s been 2 1/2 years since I went through my bout with insomnia and depression. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed. I still take very small doses of both my anti-depressant and something to help me sleep. I’ve come a long way. I’m proud of myself. But in my own true style, it’s never enough.
I can’t get pregnant while I am on these medications. And I spent years wondering how I would get off of them so that we could have that second child. Now I am at a place where I understand these medications make me a better mother to the wonderful son I have. And would it be fair to him to have another child if he lost a piece of his mother again in the process?
For now, he is my one and only. I am finally in a place of acceptance and understand that this is my journey through depression. I’m on the other side of it and I don’t ever want to go back.
Thank you for reading my (rather long) journey. My hope is that my story might make at least one person feel like they are not alone. PPD is not a nice neat box that you can be put in and taken out of. I believe strongly in raising awareness and reaching out to other women in need.
UPDATE: It’s been 10 years since I wrote this post and I refer to it often. Sometimes to help someone who may be struggling with the same thing (and not always with a baby). And sometimes it is to remind me just how far I’ve come. I’m now the mother of a 13 year old son. He’s still my one and only and although he occasionally longs for siblings, I know my choice has made me the best mother I could be. And I’ve also learned a tremendous amount about my own mental health along the way.