I didn’t know

I’ve adopted a mantra in recent years, brought about by my mental health journey and my miscarriage heartache, and my living a small life full of big joy as a stay-at-home mom: Tell your truth. Tell it all, no matter how hard, awkward, painful, or real.

It’s a scary mantra, for sure, and is not for the faint of heart. I know many a mother, all strong, incredible women, who refuse to admit to more than a select few of their journey with mental illness or miscarriage or hardship. That talking about their truth is scarier than the truth itself. That kind of quiet, though, doesn’t work for me. And so, for me, I tell my truth.

I talk about dark days and low lows. I talk about broken brains and medicated pregnancies. I talk about dead babies and wide chasms of grief. I talk about rough patches and the fight of marriage. I talk. I talk. I talk.

I’m certain there are people who wish, sometimes or all the times, that I’d just shut up. (Sometimes I am those people.)

I also know, though, that there are people who have felt a relief that I’m a truth-sharer. That it gives them licence to share their truth – with me, with their doctor, with their partner, with themselves (sometimes, the hardest of all truth-sharing). That it gives them hope because they are not alone in their scary truth. That they are not crazy. And if they are crazy, then there’s hope because other crazy people walk among us and are living seemingly regular lives. (Note I didn’t say normal lives…there is no hope for that, let me tell you! 😉 .)

In keeping with my truth telling, I have another confession for you: I am suffering weaning depression. 

I didn’t even know such a thing existed.

I know tons about PPD and PPMD, about how they are jerks and liars and life-taker-overs, and how you have to be mega strong to fight and win over them, but that winning is possible and that having more babies after them is possible (See?! CRAZY.) and that life after is possible.

But weaning depression? Really?!

Things have been kind of ridiculous at the Mills’ house lately. A little over a week ago, I cut this guy off from my boobs:

Noodle night, anyone?

Noodle night, anyone?

And it wasn’t as hard as we had feared. And it wasn’t as tricky as it seemed. And in magical turn of events, he sleeps through the night now for the first time in 15 MONTHS. 

Guys, we won the lottery. I weaned Isaac at 15 months and there was uninterrupted sleep waiting for me as a prize. KICKASS.

But then? Then? Then I started to fall apart.

As in, the past week and a bit have been brutal. And crap.

Of course, there’s the sore boob problem. The we’re-still-making-milk-what-the-hell-are-you-doing problem. The we-look-like-we’re-surgically-enhanced problem. The if-Ben-so-much-as-looks-at-me-the-wrong-way-he’s-dead problem. They really, really hurt. I think I’m turning a corner with this, but I can’t be sure because I can’t think straight because MY BOOBS HURT. (Cue all the people who’d wish I’d shut up…it’s okay, I get it. And I still love you.)

But there’s this other problem that I don’t remember happening with Sophie or Lillian’s weaning: depression-like symptoms, rearing their ugly heads, as if I had never fought them and beat them all those months ago. As if I weren’t still medicated. As if I weren’t still working all of the steps and tools and processes that saved my life and continues to save my life today.

As if.

I feel like I’m itching in my skin again – I can’t sit still, yet I can’t do anything because everything is overwhelming and hard again. I want to scream at the babies all the time even though the hijinks and antics they’re pulling don’t bring me to my knees anymore. I want to run away from home and become a writer and a crafter and a knitter and an anything-but-stay-at-home-mom-er. I want to eat all the chocolate and butter and bread the world has to offer (Read: bring me a piece of buttered toast slathered in Nutella and you can pretty much have whatever you want). I want to eat nothing because I’m tired and I don’t want to cook or prep or clean. I want to sleep until there is no more sleep to be had. I hate sleeping because I’m having trouble falling into it and staying in it (cruel irony, here – the moment I’m given full nights of sleep is the moment I lose the ability to sleep.)

I’m struggling. And I hate it.

At first I thought I was crazier than normal, like my period was on its way (SHUT UP, JULIA!) and I was PMSing (apparently, symptoms after weaning can feel like a brutal case of PMS). And then I thought I might be pregnant (I took two tests…no fourth miracle post-tubal-ligation baby for us!). And then I decided to Safe Google (i.e. not random googling, educated googling – I went to sites that I knew did less panic-inciting and more researching and educating).

Weaning depression has not been documented in many studies, but it has a lot of anecdotal evidence behind it. Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress mentions it on her blog and states that through her years of running her website she has “heard from many women whose postpartum experiences were just fine until they stopped breastfeeding.” The Perinatal Mood Disorder Awareness website also covers this topic, saying that “a large percentage of Moms report experiencing mood changes related to weaning, and some Moms dip into full blown depression after weaning their babies.” I also found some fellow truth-tellers (like her, her and them), who bravely shared their stories and gave me hope that I’m not simply crazy and that there are other survivors out there.

I sit here stunned. Stunned that this crappy brain of mine is giving me a crappy experience again. That the life I was kicking ass at is crumbling a little again. That my ability to handle things with little-to-no help has all but disappeared and I’m left reaching out my hand to Ben, asking him to forgive the anger and crazy that’s pouring out of my mouth all the while begging him to let me lean on him (he said yes, by the way…because he’s awesome…and a life saver).

I didn’t know this existed. Had no idea.

But, now, it’s part of my journey. It’s part of my truth. And it is in this vein, this spirit that I share this with you, even the ones that wish I’d stop being an oversharer already.

Feeling low after weaning happens to a lot of women. There is a theory that it is related to the dropping levels of oxytocin, the happy-hormone that is at an all-time high while breastfeeding. The low can feel as awful as a mega bout of PMS or as bad as depression. It should be treated with grace and seriousness and help, as all mental health issues should be.

And it’s happening to me.

If you are experiencing this, or have experienced this and didn’t know what it was, or are thinking about having babies or breastfeeding babies, or if you know someone who has boobs who might use them one day to feed their babies, I’m sharing my truth in hopes that it will lend relief, understanding, and support to the person who feels lost and needs it, just as those brave women that I found as I Safe Googled my way through yet another gift of motherhood. I’m hanging in there, so have other women, and so can you.

~ Julia

Bad citizen

I have an anxiety disorder.

Yes, yes I am.

Yes, yes I am.

This means that I am an exemplary worrier, fretter, and all around ball of nerves. It also means that I’m medicated and that I’ve done years of therapy to manage the crazy in my head, because while pills definitely help, I need to be in charge of the runaway train of fear or it will definitely be in charge of me.

Simply put, I’m the queen of inflating any situation into a hypothetical nightmare. For example, if Ben is late getting home from work, I immediately envision him dead, I start freaking out about being a single parent, a widow, and the fact that I have to plan a funeral, get a job, and deal with everything forever by myself.

Welcome to my world, Ron.

Welcome to my world, Ron.

It also means that I have to be very careful, selective, and downright anal about what I consume mentally. Television shows, books, movies, even conversations, all have to be carefully monitored and I have to be ready to turn them off, shut my eyes, or leave the room if things get too dicey.

It’s a key to my self-care and my mental health, but in truth, it makes me a crappy citizen because the very tragedies that draw people closer, bring people together around water coolers and Facebook posts and Twitter feeds, are the poison that will derail my control over my nutty brain. For me, watching the news, reading online articles, following comment threads, delving into the gory details of an accident, a homicide, a plane crash, a suicide, a child molestation/abuse court case can make it too easy to go down the rabbit hole of the worst (and least realistic in my life) what-ifs out there.

This past week we had two tragedies in Canada involving our soldiers, where two servicemen, on our own soil, were killed with no war or battle or extremist circumstance near them. This is the stuff that makes our nation stand up, show solidarity, and inspires people to line the overpasses of highways to give a fallen soldier a hero’s return home.

So moving and fitting.

So moving and fitting.

It’s also the stuff that makes me curtail my online prowling and consuming so that I only view or read on the periphery, the barest of details, and avoid the in-depth commentary, the poetic waxing on the soldier’s sad dogs or grief-stricken little boy, and the replay of the security footage leading up to and including the murders. It makes me hide when everyone else is seeking insight and discussing the situation at every opportunity.

It gets even harder when something happens involving someone famous. Celebrities these days are uber accessible and prominent, and that makes any horrific or prolific situation involving them feel like it’s happening to someone we know. When Robin Williams died from suicide, I had to shut down my social media consumption extensively – everyone was talking about it, retweeting it, Facebook posting it, sharing and becoming a community of mourners. I had to halt the thoughts of how awful it must have been for him, how awful it must be for his family and friends, because had I continued to think about all of the horribleness of the situation, I probably would have found myself immobilized by a grief that wasn’t mine in the first place, or worse, in a position of wondering where my life fit on his spectrum for what’s unbearable and what I can live through. It’s a dangerous, dangerous thing for me.

And I’m not alone. This ‘don’t invite scary thoughts in your head’ tactic is used by many, many people who suffer from mental illness. It’s the first thing on the list of things to avoid when you’re suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety by Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress, the world’s most widely-read blog on mental illness related to pregnancy and child birth. The Calm Clinic, an online blog specializing in anxiety disorders, states clearly that you should minimize your exposure to anxiety stimuli. What is more anxiety-filled than the evening news?

People are often surprised that I don’t know about current events, like the Ebola virus, or what the status is on those poor girls who were kidnapped, or the current war being fought. I’m a smart person. And I thrive on researching things (I’m the queen of googling). But when it comes to scary things beyond my control, things that will just worry me and fill me with paralyzing fear, things that I don’t have to deal with right now, or probably ever, I simply don’t think about them. I don’t learn about them. I don’t read, comment, write, or discuss them. Because at the end of the day, even if I am a bad citizen, at least I’m a healthy Julia, and that I can control.

~ Julia