I was an overly-dramatic emotional child. We still laugh about the time we were taking a hike while camping and I begged my uncle to carry me. I was probably fourish at the time. When no one would, I threw my head back and moaned, “WHOA IS ME! NOBODY LOVES ME! MY LITTLE LEGGIES ARE GOING TO FALL RIGHT OFF!!!” I did this the entire walk.
I vaguely remember it, but I am reminded of it all the time.
I am quick to react to something if it upsets me. I also worried a lot.
Growing up I yelled and shouted and cried a lot. I had night terrors. I made myself physically ill worrying about the worst case scenario. I hated spending any time away from home without someone who felt like home with me.
It was my “quirk” and was generally made light of.
But I remember not thinking it was funny at all.
The surge of sweaty nausea I got when I had to start something new like a job or college prevented me from asking questions or creating relationships until I had become comfortable.
Once I was comfortable, I would talk to anyone. I would make friends with an empty chair if there was no one else to talk to, so not many people realized how crippling my anxiety was. I didn’t even realize it.
When I know what to expect and I have a plan, the anxiety is so small, I forget it’s there.
That is what happened when I became a mom.
My husband and I had been married for four years when our oldest son came along. I had been in the same job for six years. Although we had been pitched some curve balls with miscarriages and losing my father-in-law to cancer, we were comfortable. There wasn’t much anxiety that we couldn’t manage–that wasn’t normal for where we were in our life together.
We happily prepared for Eddie’s arrival in June of 2009. We created a cute nursery, we read the books, we took the classes, we talked with all of our friends who had already had kids. Like all new parents, we knew how this was going to go. We even knew it could go a different way, and that would be Ok.
Having an emergency C-section was something I was actually prepared to have happen. But the reality of it–the trauma of it and the pain resulting from it–I was most decidedly not prepared for.
I was also not prepared for a baby who cried for hours and hours every single day. I thought babies slept a lot! Not Eddie. He cried more than he did anything else.
I was not prepared for the rush of hormones or my milk coming in or a baby that needed to be switched to soy or how useless I would feel as my incision healed and I couldn’t soothe my own baby.
Even after the first four months past and Eddie mellowed out, I was still vibrating with the after effects.
It never occurred to me that any of it had to do with my already present anxiety issue. I wasn’t overly worried about leaving my baby. In fact, when it was time to go back to work, I almost ran.
I never thought I was depressed either. Commercials for antidepressants showed people who were sad and ho-hum about life. That wasn’t me either.
I was mad all the time. And overwhelmed. So overwhelmed and angry. I want to slap my husband and then go to bed and stay there for a million years. I didn’t want to deal with life. I fantasized about driving my car at 80mph off the expressway during my commute and into a tree. But really, it wasn’t so much that I wanted to die, I just wanted to not be part of life.
I didn’t know how to verbalize this without freaking people out. I was an educated, successful high school teacher and college adjunct instructor. I had a great marriage. And now I had a cute baby. I had people commenting on how I was doing so much and so well.
But I wasn’t.
I wanted to scream that. “I AM NOT OK!”
But what would I say after that? I had no idea. So I pushed on trying to ignore the crappy stuff going on in my head, telling myself it’s totally normal since I am a new mom–and hating being a new mom.
One evening after a nine-month old Eddie was tucked into bed, I started crying and couldn’t stop. My life sucked! Why was this so hard? Why did I hate everyone? Was I never going to be Katie again?
My husband gently suggested I call my doctor and because I was too worn down, I agreed.
That was five years ago. In the past five years, I have been working my way back to myself. My official diagnosis is Postpartum depression and anxiety (which are now just depression and anxiety), post-traumatic stress disorder (from the miscarriages and emergency c-section), and obsessive compulsive disorder.
I’ve also suffered antenatal depression with my second baby and postpartum depression after he was born. Both of which I was quick to notice and quick to get help for because I knew what I was watching for.
I’m still a successful teacher and writer. And I have mood disorders and mental illness. I am a great mother and wife. And I have a chemical imbalance in my brain.
I take medication every day and I go to a therapist, but I am not afraid to have more children or whether or not I can continue to be successful.
There was a time when I asked my therapist when I would be “done”, when I would be “better”. She gently told me that living with my mental illness was like my best friend who lives with diabetes. There is no “done”. There is maintenance.
I can live with that. Because I have to. And it’s Ok.
Katie Sluiter is a full time high school teacher, part-time college adjunct instructor, and sporadic writer. Her writing has appeared on Borderless News and Views, Imagine Toys blog, BlogHer, Bon Bon Break to name a few. She has been published in a variety of publications including: Everyday Poets Anthology, Baby Talk Magazine, Three Minus One, The Language Arts Journal of Michigan, and the upcoming HerStories anthology. Katie is one of BlogHer’s 2014 Voices of the Year. She lives with her husband and two sons in West Michigan. She blogs at Sluiter Nation (http://sluiternation.com/).