Is it bad that I cannot get through a day in my life without drugs? I’m not talking about some narcotic to give me a buzz or knock me through a loop. I’m talking about a low dose of what my husband refers to as my ‘happy pills’.
Ironically, I was the girl who, even in high school, had to request liquid antibiotics from her doctor because she couldn’t swallow pills. I suffered through terrible sinus pressure and congestion because I didn’t want to take decongestants. Severe morning sickness during my first pregnancy only added insult to injury as I gagged on humungous prenatal vitamins. And deciding on natural childbirth was all the easier for me as it precluded a giant needle being stabbed in my back for the epidural. I often joked with my parents that they never had to worry about me being a drug addict because I couldn’t swallow pills and hated needles.
But all this made my decision to start antidepressants during a bout with postpartum depression after the birth of my third child all the more difficult. I was the woman who rarely took ibuprofen for a headache. Now I was going to take a daily medication altering my hormonal chemistry?
Really, though, the issue was much more about control than anything else. I’d had a hard time coming to terms with my diagnosis, thinking that I was a bad mother because I couldn’t handle caring for my three children. And now the fact that I couldn’t hack it with therapy and lifestyle changes was an even more resounding affirmation of my failure to control things – that I was a failure.
Then a few months of feeling like I’d been dragged through mud and up again changed my mind. I wasn’t able to do it on my own, but I wanted to change. I wanted to stop feeling subterranean. I wanted to rejoin the land of the living. And enjoy the lives of my children.
However, I did always look to the weaning of my one-year old as the end date of my medicinal therapy. I figured my hormone levels would regulate themselves and things would go back to ‘normal’. Nearly three months after that, I was nearing the end of my last refill and decided I wouldn’t request another. Actually, the procrastinator in me decided since I hadn’t reordered in time. I lasted a week. In that one week, which happened to coincide with the week of Christmas and all its resulting chaos, I relived all the instances that had put me on the medication in the first place. Afterwards, I told my therapist that one week reaffirmed my decision and that I never wanted to be there again.
Fast-forward a year. Again, my ninety-day supply of meds was dwindling; again, with no refill. I think my stubborn will to conquer this on my own was still lurking inside somewhere because I watched the pills disappear one by one, the rattle against the side of the bottle getting softer and softer, and yet, doing nothing to secure another script.
“I should be over this by now,” I thought. “Surely I can handle life as it is without a pill.”
As sick as I’d grown of remembering to pop a pill each night and worrying if I’d taken it too long after supper so that it’d rip my stomach apart, I took the last pill with a gulp of regret. Would I be able to do this on my own?
The answer came just days later. Acutely aware of the placebo effect, I wondered how much of it was my own imagining, but I felt myself getting tenser by the day. I found myself jumping on my kids for the smallest infraction. I heard my voice taking on the tone of the beast I’d been in the beginning. I saw my oldest start to tune out my overreactions like I’d seen my former students do when I’d lost it and all they heard was noise, not warnings.
And the crying.
If I can call it that. The sudden, overwhelming urge to cry. Usually when things were too much to handle: a particularly hectic pick-up at school, all three of them fighting and hurting each other. But also at unexpected times: discussing home-heating options with my husband, reading a particularly poignant editorial in the newspaper. That last one gave me pause, as it reminded me of the tears that sprang up after watching a Haagen-Dazs commercial during one of my pregnancies. And though the idea of being pregnant again scared me enough to make me wonder for a second, I knew it was just my emotional response to things getting to be too much.
My husband wondered if I just had a good cry, let it all out, would I be able to then feel better and move on? But the tears wouldn’t exactly come. Just the feeling of despair and my face squinched in anguish, but no tears. It’s not like I was holding it in; it was just a pervading feeling lurking below the surface all the time.
Just like the feeling that I had each night as I wallowed on the couch. I was so exhausted I needed to go to sleep, yet couldn’t get myself up and into my pajamas.
But through it all, I knew God was watching out for me and I knew He had a sense of humor amidst the direst circumstances.
Nearly a week after I’d taken my last pill and wondered daily if I’d made the right decision, I took my two youngest into the basement with me. With one New Years’ resolution being to finally complete a play area downstairs for the kids, I set about cleaning while they played nearby. They played well and stayed right by me until I ran upstairs for something. They followed, but didn’t return downstairs when I did. I noted this and made a mental note to check on them as soon as I finished the task at hand. Then I worked a few more minutes, and a few more, a few more – until I realized I’d taken far too long to finish and leave them alone at some unknown activity. I returned to the main floor and they were nowhere to be found. I continued on upstairs and heard muted voices behind the closed bedroom door. Julia, my four year-old, was seated at her play table, about to open multiple cans of Play-doh, but yet to do any damage. Angela, the two year-old, however, was seated on the counter above the built-in drawers – and above the mounds of toys and books and other things she’d flung onto the floor. Before I finished my tirade, I noticed a slimy blob on the floor, and then another. My hand slid across the seat of the hand-painted rocking chair as I leaned on it to get a closer look at the floor. Angela had uncapped two of her oldest sister’s lip balms and squeezed the sticky substance onto the floors and furniture rather than her mouth.
Part of me raged and another part of me, much less adamant than the first, knew that this was my fault. While it was easier to finish cleaning downstairs without them, it wasn’t smart to leave the two of them unattended with modeling clay and make-up. I really was lucky they had only made a mess and not hurt themselves.
I cleaned a little and then stomped downstairs, figuring it was better to do that than remain and scream bloody-murder (see previous paragraphs). And that’s when I realized God’s impeccable timing and sense of humor. While all I could see was a supreme annoyance, something my kids did that was about to send me over the edge, it was, in fact, a very teachable moment. The answer to my quandaries was right in front of me. Was it better to rain down holy hell on my kids for doing something well within the realm of acceptable for an unsupervised two and four year-old or to take a pill that helps me keep things in perspective? When relating the story later that day, I joked that God was telling me I’d better take the pills so I wouldn’t kill my kids.
It took me two more days before I called my doctor to request the refill. Old, stubborn habits die hard, I guess. I still feel a little weak for not being able to live life as I now know it without one of my happy pills, but life as I know it is not changing anytime soon. And my attitude certainly does need to change if I’m going to be happy and be the best mother I can.