There’s this misconception about depressed people that we’re depressed all the time. I imagine some of you might think this of me given that I write a weekly column about PPD. But I’m not some kind of depressed murky swamp creature in real life. Around people I like, I’m actually more like an overzealous but loving Yorkie pup, minus the ankle biting!
Like everyone else, I experience moments, even days, of elation – when things just seem to fall into place. The way PPD coincides with these high moments, however, changes the effect on me. The truth is, sometimes it’s even harder to cope with my highs than my lows.
Depression, like many mental illnesses, is a security blanket. In the same way the anorexic person uses starvation to feel in control, my low moments are a familiar place where my PPD is justified. I get to a point when crying actually feels good, and isolation feels right. I’m used to feeling sad, lonely, whatever. It sucks, but I’ve dealt with it before so I know what to expect out of it.
So when things are going well, it’s like suddenly I have this intense vulnerability. I caught an episode of “Reba” where she describes these daunting feelings to her daughter as the “going-good blues,” which I think is a perfect and catchy term for it.
Take several weeks ago, when my husband had his first vacation since our toddler was born. We had a whole week together, a week we used for necessary stuff like cleaning and errands, but also for me getting more alone time and us getting reacquainted as a couple. We spent time just lounging on the floor while our daughter toddled around us. We watched movies and cooked meals. We didn’t do a single extravagant thing—it was the best “staycation” ever.
But during this brief period of rest, I was so completely on edge as I kept waiting for “it” to happen. You know, an unexpected bill in the mail, or a sudden illness. A fight with my husband. My daughter’s first serious injury—a broken arm, or a gash in her leg. Or something completely insane, like the death of one of my parents, or the apartment burning down. Or finding out I have lung cancer/throat cancer/a brain aneurysm. Or all three. I don’t think about this stuff when I’m going through a “down” period, because stuff already sucks, so whatever.
But when things are going well, these borderline absurd worries literally keep me up at night. WebMD doesn’t help. Taking my smartphone to bed for reading purposes doesn’t help, either. But even when I try to distract myself from these imaginary ailments by reading benign or humorous things, I still can’t sleep. For the first few hours I will flicker in and out of the REM stage, my brain constructing and reconstructing sentences about the same topic.
For instance, last night I went to sleep after reading some stuff on a specific friend’s Facebook page. For the next few hours, my friend’s name paired with imaginary activities kept popping up in my head like a live mental newsfeed. And there’s always a song, too, a single song on repeat play that sticks with me until my brain finally “resets” sometime between two and four in the morning. When I wake up with a new song in my head, I know I’ve finally obtained some actual sleep.
What the hell is this?
But I’ve noticed this only tends to happen when I’m going through a “good” period. When everyone in my family is mostly happy and there are plenty of exciting things on the horizon. When I’m down, I kind of just fall asleep and everything goes blank. This actually makes me wonder if I’m more on the bipolar side, and the racing thoughts are a product of my manic episodes.
There’s also the possibility—and this is going to rub many of you the wrong way, I’m sure, but I have to say it—that this is just what happens to your brain when you become a mother. I know a handful of other women who feel like their brains are on overdrive like this, yet they don’t have a history of mental health problems. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it might be about motherhood that triggers this.
I do know, however, that being responsible for the life of a child does make me check and double check things I wouldn’t have paid much attention to in my previous life. And all this checking and re-checking puts me on the defensive and doesn’t give my brain much of a chance to settle down.