Baby Blues: Sometimes It’s Harder To Cope With The Manic Highs Of Motherhood Than The Lows

manic depressiveBaby Blues is a column about raising my daughter in the windstorm of postpartum depression. Though discussing the dark spots of postpartum depression, I also share my successes.

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.

(photo: Axente Vlad / Shutterstock)

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    • anon

      Maybe it’s just generalized anxiety mixed with depression? Mania is pretty severe and has many other associated symptoms.

      Seems like you might benefit from some professional help, but if that doesn’t seem like something you can do now, there’s a lot of research that says that mindfulness meditation can help. It’s hard and takes work, but can be very helpful and is free – there are even guided relaxation apps for iphone

      • bl

        Agreed. Disclaimer-not a mom, so no ppd experience. I do have GAD, but when I’m feeling depressed, sadness trumps worries. Unless you have a bunch of other symptoms, this sounds like anxiety. And I would say that of course motherhood will cause anxiety, but if a relaxing day is interrupted by random cancer fears on a regular basis, that sounds a little more serious.

      • http://Mommyish.com/ Amanda Low

        I actually did try some meditation and it seemed to work very, very well.

    • http://twitter.com/carinnjade Carinn Jade

      I get this. For me I think it goes hand in hand with growing up in a chaotic household. I just learned to function like that. I don’t feel this way about motherhood (anymore?) but I get it in my writing.

      Deep breath.

      Sigh.

    • Cassy C.

      I mean, nobody here can provide you a diagnosis obviously, but it doesn’t sound like what you’re going through is mania that would be associated with bipolar. It sounds much more like anxiety (racing thoughts and pounding heart can be a fight-or-flight reaction and checking over and over is pretty trademark). It’s such a tough thing to go through. I feel for you, not being able to truly enjoy the good times. Real, no-strings-attached good times will arrive again.

    • Amanda

      I don’t have a history of mental health, but I totally and completely get the racing thoughts thing. Just the other night, I fed my 6 month old at 3am, and I”m totally exhausted, but I laid down and could not shut my brain off. It was racing from one thing to the next, and I had to employ every relaxation technique i know in order to fall back asleep, an hour and a half later. It’s more frequent when my babies are young, though. After my first daughter finally learned how to sleep through the night, I had to practically reteach myself to sleep like a normal person, because I would wake up and then having the racing thoughts thing. It’s been easier with my second, but it happens fairly regularly (about once a week). And like I said, I don’t really have a history of mental illness or depression.

    • Justme

      In a Bible study I once attended, the leader talked about how anxiety was an absence of trusting in God’s plan. I know that for me, that statement clicked something alive in my brain. For lack of a better term, it was an “a-ha” moment for me. I wouldn’t call myself “religious” but I am deeply spiritual and I’ve found that the best way for me to calm my racing thoughts is to methodically go through each one and pray for God’s guidance and His will to be done. It helps me to let go of things that I cannot control and focus instead on what is in my sphere of influence.

      But I also don’t think you have to believe in God to be able to do this. Someone down below mentioned meditation and I think that you can definitely get the same results from quiet and serene contemplation and mind-clearing. Get some good smelly candles and a cozy hiding spot in the house…give yourself ten minutes to breathe, sit and slow down. The first time I tried yoga, I absolutely HATED the meditation aspect because as a volleyball player, I’m used to go-go-go work-outs. But for me, meditating was a learned activity – one that required patience and practice. I had to teach myself to quiet my body and my brain and release all the tension that is created by those racing thoughts.

    • A

      This *is* my PPD. Thank you for this, is was so much more helpful for my husband to read and understand than my incoherent ramblings have been, and now I think he understands better what I’m feeling. I’m always so tired, and he gets annoyed when I’m up late watching TV; it’s because I can’t shut my brain off, stop feeling anxious, worrying, feeling that impending “waiting for the other shoe to drop,” and now I think he gets it.

    • Blueathena623

      If you do have bipolar, it sounds more like a mixed episode, not mania or hypomania.

    • http://www.facebook.com/courtney.wooten Courtney Lynn

      I could have written this.

    • ali

      Thank you for this article, and all of your previous articles as well. I
      completely relate to you, and I understand what you mean about your
      brain changing with motherhood. You’re constantly checking your mental
      to-do list and adding more things to it, worrying about everything,
      taking care of your little human and in some cases your partner as well.
      Oh yea, then there is you to take care of. It can be overwhelming to
      say the least. I also find my mind racing when I am in an elevated
      state, whereas when I am low those type of thoughts fade into the
      background. I feel like on most days, I can’t win.

    • Courtney

      I completely relate. It’s like I can’t be “present” in the now, to really enjoy the good moments with my daughters – because my mind is in a fictional crappy future where made up bad things happen. I never worried about the future until I became a mother.

    • http://twitter.com/bethany_ramos Bethany Ramos

      I am so thankful you shared this because I deal with “happiness anxiety” because of a very unstable childhood. My life is going very, very well, yet it’s hard for me to always enjoy the moment because I worry the other shoe will drop. Granted, this has gotten MUCH better as I’ve grown over the years. I also practice relaxation techniques to sleep better. My husband still has to help me through obsessive checking over everything baby related because I don’t want to “cause” the worst to happen. Maybe you can relate?