I believe I have suffered two nervous breakdowns in my life.
The first was the day my mom dropped me off at college. You mean I’m staying here?!? The thought of that much freedom, that far from home, made me woozy.
My more recent breakdown came in the weeks after my second child was born. You mean we have to keep them BOTH alive? Somehow the responsibility didn’t feel like it had doubled — it had exploded into millions of tiny needs, each of which was wriggling away from me no matter how hard I tried to contain them, like the magic green seeds in James and the Giant Peach.
I know we actually had it very good. I had an involved husband who wanted to help out. We had money to hire a sitter. Both kids were healthy.
It’s just that it felt like there was so very much to do, all of it essential. Breastfeeding. And naps. And vaccinations that I wanted to space out so as not to expose either of my kids to overly high levels of preservatives, which meant monthly doctor visits. Oh, and laundry. Plus eating.
In my sleep-addled brain, each of these things had equal — and utmost — importance. Everything was priority number one.
My overwhelm grew to the point that I decided the only sane thing to do was give up my 15-year mind-body practice cold turkey so I would have more time to puree cauliflower and freeze it in ice cube trays. I thought I was going to make my life so much easier.
That’s when things really went off the rails. With no other means of relaxation, I started relying on carbs and wine to take my edge off. The wine further impaired my already pitiful sleep. The pasta and mashed potatoes made my belly grow ever jigglier, which only made me feel worse about myself.
Because I was wound so tight, I started picking fights with my husband. Mostly about the dishes. Or about his diapering technique. Or pretty much anything I could think of.I thought I had only written the book for other people. Turns out, I had also written it for myself.
Dinner became both my reason for living and my nemesis — my raison d’etre because it was a tangible accomplishment I could hang my hat on; my nemesis because so much of it ended up on the floor. It was also the first piece of bedtime, a rodeo of jammie-wrangling, book reading, breastfeeding, bouncing and lullabies that I barely allowed my husband to participate in. Because I was convinced I was the only person who could do it right. Plus, I had the boobs. And because I worked from home and couldn’t handle the thought of adding one more task to my daily to-dos, I wasn’t pumping.
I’d finally emerge from the baby’s room (which was really a closet because we lived in Brooklyn) and walk past the kitchen, noticing the pots soaking in the sink and the un-wiped counters of my husband’s signature cleaning style. Then I’d see him lying on the couch, watching TV. Or worse, working on his laptop, which I’d barely been able to manage all day. I’d be aggravated by the injustice of him not participating equally in a process that I basically forbade him from participating in, and so I’d start picking.
The worst part of all it, though, was that I lost any greater vision I had for myself. The biggest goal I could muster was to cook a decent dinner. I took whatever freelance gigs I could, but since this was 2010 — the height of the recession — and my regular markets were closing seemingly every other week, it was a mélange of $50 blog posts and seeding new websites with fake reviews. I had published a book the year before, but my plans to parlay that into a speaking career never got past the flickering stage.
I didn’t even realize how far off my path I’d fallen —I figured all new moms were miserable—until I talked to some writer friends about our goals for the following year, and I realized I had none. I just wanted to survive.
That was when I knew that something had to change.
My way back from what I can now see was postpartum depression was to count my exhales each night while I nursed the baby to sleep. I was already sitting in a dark, quiet room for 15 minutes anyway — why not make the most of it?
Those breaths were the tiny hinges that swung open the gates to my recovery.
The irony is that the book I had recently written, The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide, was all about how to steady yourself during stressful situations in mere minutes. I had written the book because I wanted people who thought they were too something to try yoga or meditation – too time-crunched, ADD, inflexible or stressed – to see that they didn’t need two hours to go to a class to get the head-clearing benefits of these ancient practices. Yet there I was, thinking I was too busy.
I thought I had only written the book for other people. Turns out, I had also written it for myself.
Now, when I walked out of my son’s room, past the kitchen and in to the living room, I could actually start a conversation with my husband instead of picking a fight. Those conversations ultimately led to us moving out of Brooklyn and up to Providence, Rhode Island where we have a yard and a porch while still being able to walk to two different Indian restaurants. Best of all, we can see a large swath of sky—and that’s a mighty fine sight.