My psychiatrist put me back on a low dose of Risperdal and I weathered the pregnancy as best I could. At some times I did actually feel happy and strong, and I started imagining what my son would look like and what it would feel like to hold him for the first time. I toyed with baby names and looked at nursery décor online. But sometimes I wondered if this was a big mistake. I wondered if my son would be mentally ill and what I would tell him when he figured out his mom was sick and that she would take pills every day of her life. I worried that the sleeplessness that awaits all new moms would send me over the edge, never to return. I was very scared.
My husband and I worried about me being on Risperdal during the pregnancy. It is apparently a class C drug which means the medical field doesn’t have enough data to know whether or not it is harmful to a fetus. What we did know was that the low dose allowed me to regain some mental stability and that the baby would only be as healthy as his mother. All of my doctors kept singing the same chorus: the mother has to be healthy first. That was our number one priority.
I delivered River Chaney on June 20, 2008. All was well, and he turned out to be the delight of my life. I didn’t figure that out until December 2009, because I suffered 18 long months of post-partum depression. My psychiatrist put me back on Lithium and Risperdal after I had the baby. It never quite worked like it was supposed to.
After I had the baby, I started seeing a neuropsychologist. She introduced me to a new method of therapy: neurofeedback. I can’t describe it clinically. I just know it had been used effectively in seizure patients and those with head trauma. It involved pasting receptors on certain parts of my head and wiring me up to a computer. I would then watch various simple games, much like Pac Man, and the computer would reward my brain for positive behavior. It was attempting to build up the healthy parts of my brain that would ease sleeplessness, anxiety, and mania. This procedure was quite effective for some time with managing sleeplessness. But there were two times during neurofeedback sessions when the stimulation of my brain was too penetrating: my emotions absolutely overwhelmed me. I burst into tears as childhood memories of my father surfaced fast and hot in my consciousness; my rapidly swinging emotions were dealing blow after blow to my psyche in quick succession. Wrenching feelings had never caused me physical pain before....this was new territory and it scared me. I cried out to stop the game. Neurofeedback was expensive and I wasn’t making enough headway to keep up the treatment, and after the two emotional breakdowns while in session, I wondered if this manipulation of my brain could actually do some harm in the long run. So I quit neurofeedback.
The worst time for me was January 2009, when I was often suicidal. I was panicked and anxious all the time and could not figure out how to get out of bed and brush my teeth in the morning. I cried constantly and could barely keep it together at work. I felt paralyzed by fear and am sure I had a panic attack at work when I could not breathe and wanted to crawl under my desk and hide. I was afraid of losing my job and losing my child and losing my life to a mental institution. I was afraid I had fallen off the ladder into the black abyss of mental torture.
Taking care of River was a blur. I don’t even remember taking care of him at all. I know I dropped him off at daycare and picked him up each day. I knew how to change a diaper and that’s about all I could do. Nathan carried us then.
My father and I have always had a deal that if I feel like I will commit suicide, I need to call him first. I was so upset in January 2009 that I could not even talk on the phone to my parents. I felt I would be swallowed by my grief if I even opened my mouth to them. Hearing their concern and hearing my own despair as I talked to them would just rip me apart. So for a period of 48 hours, in my most critical condition, I refused to talk to them. I just let their calls go to voicemail. I remember feeling a visceral tug at my heart when I listened to one of my dad’s messages. He sounded plaintive and scared for me. He tried to keep the worry out of his voice but he betrayed vulnerability, which is something I don’t think I have ever seen in my dad. He knew he could do little for me 1000 miles away. I wonder if he thought I had broken our deal.
When it got to be intolerable, I switched to Abilify based on the recommendation of my psychiatrist. After months of Abilify, I no longer felt suicidal, but I still felt tired and sad and frustrated. One bright spot during this difficult time was the entrance of Marie Wood into my life. She was a licensed counselor in Fayetteville who let me be exactly who I was with her, and she told me all that had been revealed to me was beautiful. She’s the one who urged me to keep writing, and she engendered real discussions about the possibility of writing a book. She soothed me and championed me, and though I only met with her a handful of times, she really opened the door to the next, and best, chapter in my life. She helped me understand that my illness was an organic part of me, and that I simply must stop trying to exterminate it. Marie finally gave me license to love all of me, even the sickest, saddest parts.
In spite of the brief buoyancy that these Marie-moments offered, in that first part of 2009 I was still miserable. I was withered and bitter, beyond despondent. Nathan and River hung in there as best they could, and Nathan was heroic in his dedication to making our marriage work in spite of how sick I was. My mother talked me through the most basic steps to get through every day, but nothing could ease my fears and frustrations. I was not even treading water at work, and I felt no connection to my son at all. I didn’t even feel any remorse about this. My mom would say, “Motherhood is the hardest job you’ll ever love.” How preposterous, because I hated every minute. I knew abstractly that I had a perfect, precious, brilliant little boy, but the tug of the heartstrings was nonexistent. I resigned myself to a long life of obligation.
Things got desperate. The job sucked, motherhood sucked, all of my relationships sucked and there was no relief in sight. I had to do something to change the game. I finally told my boss in Fayetteville that I was Bipolar. It was a great relief but my stressful work situation did not get any easier. I quit my job to salvage my health and we moved to Arkadelphia, Arkansas in June 2009 to be closer to Nathan’s parents.
I just needed a break. I needed a timeout from life for a minute, or a month.
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