This is the list I made for myself titled “Shit I’ve Been Dealing With” to give myself perspective on why I might have had a panic attack on Feb. 22:
In chronological order, as far as I can remember, since November 2016, I:
- Got pregnant. Then was pregnant, for nine months.
- Moved in with SJ, giving up the most amazeballs apartment I ever had, a decision I fought so hard I actually floated the idea of parenting from separate cities, SJ in SF and me in Oakland (no dice).
- Got married.
- Became a stepmother.
- Went through childbirth.
- Became a mother I’M SEPARATING OUT GOT PREGNANT, WAS PREGNANT, WENT THROUGH CHILDBIRTH, AND BECAME A MOTHER BECAUSE THESE ARE SEPARATE THINGS THAT DESERVE SEPARATE PARADES.
- When the baby was a few weeks old, I had what I can now call a mild to moderate panic attack, believing I had nearly killed my son by laying him on his back on a soft pillow.
- When the baby was three months old, I figured out that the waves of depression and exhaustion and inability to focus I felt each time I breastfed (at the time, 12 times a day) was a physiological condition called D-MER, dysphoric milk ejection reflex.
- When the baby was five months old, someone accused SJ of a laundry list of crimes — the worst ones you can think of. That one? Yep. Whoooooa. What about that one? Yep. WAIT. WAIT WAIT WAIT WAIT WAIT. ARE YOU SERIOUS. Yep. — necessitating an intense five months of legal defense, including 11 court appearances, at one of which I testified (and at which a total of 30 people testified), and tens of thousands of dollars of debt, starting five days before I went back to work after maternity leave.
- For the first two weeks I was back at work, I got an errant strain of the flu, even though I’d had the flu shot, and worked from home during the day and through the night on SJ’s legal defense, feverish, breastfeeding, and unable to breathe through my nose.
- In addition to my full-time job as a copy editor, I took on (happily! Luckily!) a part-time job writing a parenting advice column.
- One night I walked into something someone I WON’T SAY WHO BUT IT WAS SJ left in the middle of a hotel hallway and broke my toe.
- I was involved in a car accident I still can’t talk about for insurance reasons.
- I got a cold that lasted six weeks IT’S NO CHILDBIRTH BUT IT SUCKED.
- After SJ and I finally had sex for the first time in MUMBLE MUMBLE, I got a FUCKING URINARY TRACT INFECTION ARE YOU KIDDING ME.
- Three people I knew, including two family members, died.
- I was told I probably had ovarian cancer, which turned out not to be true.
- I had surgery that didn’t go as planned and a recovery that knocked me off my game.
When I went to Kaiser two Thursdays ago to meet with a psychiatrist, she listened to my story, then folded her hands on her desk and said, “Any one of those issues [PROBABLY SHE WASN’T REFERRING TO THE COLD] would have sent someone in here.” She praised me repeatedly for my resilience and, charmingly, told me my coping skills would help me “’til you die.”
So now I’m medicated, with 10mg SO FAR THERE’S ALWAYS TIME TO INCREASE THE DOSAGE of Lexapro. I spent lots of time two weekends ago in my stepdaughter’s tree house, looking at Oakland across the bay and watching the last of the plum blossoms flutter in the breeze, feeling hopeful. And it’s started to work: The painful stabs of anxiety I usually feel all day have been tamped down.
Which means now I have plenty of time to think about 20 MONTHS AFTER HAVING A BABY WHO AM I.
A friend — at my baby shower, no less — warned me that having a kid would put my identity “in the juicer.” I didn’t understand what she meant, supposed I was immune. And these past 20 months certainly I’ve been drunk on love for my kid GOD HE’S SO CUTE AND HE KEEPS GETTING CUTER. Then the surgery knocked me on my ass, and the toil of parenting — the drudgery of the routine, the utter lack of spontaneity — became the focus, because I became incapable of participating in it. Twice during the last month I looked at my son — whom I love more than everything else in the world combined — and thought, Thank god I didn’t have a second one.
I thought this sort of drift, if it happened at all, happened right after birth — postpartum anxiety or depression, explained by hormones. But this is 20 months in, and it’s been a slow drip that suddenly flooded with the surgery. Every day the same: Wake up to my son, who needs me until I leave for work, where I work until I return to my son, who needs me until I go to bed. Skip the rinse. Repeat.
So now what? I have a plan, which includes the Lexapro, and my primary thought these days (besides WHEN IS MY ENORMOUS SON WITH HIS ENORMOUS THIGHS AND ICE-CREAM-AND-SPRINKLES LAUGH GOING TO GO BACK TO HIS FORMER SIZE) is GO SLOW. This weekend may have been the start of something new, or the start of going back to something old: I went backpacking — a laughably low-intensity trip, but backpacking nonetheless — with one of my closest, oldest friends, a friend with whom I’ve gone on seven backpacking trips, with whom I’ve gone on all my backpacking trips. Our beloved spouses, both of whom were able to procure family help, stayed home with the kids for two nights. It was my first night away from my son, who is now officially weaned (and I have the temporary Giganti-Boob to prove it). My friend carried the heavy stuff, and we hiked to the top of a hill. On the second day, I literally — LITERALLY — stayed in one place facing a lake for almost 12 hours, alternately reading and closing my eyes and only twice getting up to pee. And that night, I had the best night of sleep in over two years: 11 hours of bliss on a 10-year-old Therm-a-Rest, falling asleep to the sound of frogs and waking to the sound of red-winged blackbirds. Today I looked at the selfies we took with my digital camera and thought for the first time in a long time, That looks like me.
To make this wholesome-looking dinner:
I didn’t make this. I don’t make anything anymore. SJ made it, because SJ, my hero, my man, continues to do everything as I slowly recover, and it was good. I could try to tell you how to make it but I’m too tired. You’ll figure it out. It’s fucking salmon.