I have been a bit absent lately...
I have officially entered what I UNaffectionately call my Dark Winter.
I have entered my Dark Winter every summer for the past four years. The heat of summer comes and I survive for the first month or so and then it catches up with me. Each year I spend the spring gearing up and doing new things with hopes that the Darkness will be a bit lighter. This year I began running and began to exercise more frequently and with greater intensity. I also released nearly 20 pounds. Unfortunately, it has been the most stressful winter and spring I have ever had at work.
So here I am... In the depths of my fourth Dark Winter...
Four years ago, my life changed forever. I went from being a busy, working mom of two boys and wife to an amazing husband one day, to being riddled with panic, anxiety and depression the next. Literally overnight, my world fell apart and I entered a personal hell so fierce and so scary that there were moments that I wondered if I would make it to the other side. I went 72 hours without more than an hour of continuous sleep and landed in the Emergency Room, believing they would help me. I was wrong, the ER doctor ruled out a heart attack and pulmonary embolism, looked at me and said "Why are you so anxious?!?!", gave me something to help me sleep and a few days worth of Ativan. That was it. Two days later I made David take me to the psych unit at the hospital so that I could check myself in. They wouldn't help me either because I wasn't suicidal or homicidal... Great... the reward for not wanting to hurt myself or anyone else was a list of psychiatrists that all had a minimum 2-3 week wait. As almost an afterthought and really our last hope, we went to my family doctor (the one I had listed on my insurance but had never met).
We walked into the clinic and both kept looking at each other wondering why we were there because no one had helped me yet, but at the same time we both desperately hoped that we soon would receive some answers. THANK GOD, we went. After spending almost 45 minutes going through what was happening and thoroughly through my medical history, the doctor (a resident, mind you...) looked at both of us and said the words that I hadn't anticipated hearing...
"I have no doubt you are dealing with Delayed Severe Post-Partum Anxiety"
What?!?! My baby was eight months old... I had almost no baby blues after he was born... I thought that only happened in the early months... My hormones can cause THIS?!?!?!
He went on to explain that PP Anxiety/Depression can happen anytime in the first year after having a baby. I am a nurse and this was news to me. He said that before anything else, I needed to start medication. The first medication I tried gave me horrible hot flashes, so a week later I started another medication and within another week they added a second medication to offset some of the "dopamine release" side effects I was having. It was another two-three weeks before the "cloud lifted" and I started to feel some "flashes of me".
During this four weeks of medication adjustments and waiting for it to take effect, we moved in with my parents & I alternated my days between laying on the couch in David's office while he worked, unable to sleep because I was so jittery yet really unable to do much else because I was so tired, and going with the kids to their sitter, who took care of me along with the boys. I became utterly dependent on others to make nearly every decision. When I wasn't laying on the couch, I had loved ones making me walk... Walking really helped when the jitteryness increased. I barely ate, and when I did, food really didn't have any taste. I lost 15 pounds in the first two weeks. I could barely interact with my children.
To this day, I have very little recollection of anything having to do with the boys during that month, and because I am the family photographer, I have no pictures.
That was July 2006.... My first Dark Winter.
Things did get better. Medication, exercise, prayer, counseling and loving/committed family & friends literally saved my life. I gained a sense of appreciation of life and physical functioning that I had never known. I learned to rest, to pace myself and to take care of myself in ways that I had never known. I eased back into the work I love. Within six months I was able to take only one of the three medications I needed initially.
For most people with depression and anxiety, the cold, snow, less sunshine/daylight and endless time indoors triggers symptoms. For me, the stifling heat, artificial air (air conditioning), lack of time outdoors triggers my symptoms. Its like the opposite of seasonal affective disorder. I have always struggled with heat and spending any extended period of time in a hot climate, but it has been immeasurably worse since 2006 and every summer I have to tweak my medication or take extra steps to keep from completely going crazy.
This is why I call the summer, My Dark Winter.
I am right in the middle of it. I started to have symptoms about a month ago, getting jittery before having to leave and go home from the cooler mountains where I spend my weekends... anticipating my return to the heat. I have also been abnormally irritable and hormonal. Almost two weeks ago my doctor increased my medicine, so I hope to start feeling a bit more like my best me soon. I also cut my work week (same number of hours) to four days, so I could have an additional day up north. In the meantime, I am exhausted, short fused and really want to eat all of my comfort foods. I have continued to exercise, though my runs in the last week have been grueling. My kids have been making me crazy and the littlest things set me off. I feel like a failure at motherhood and marriage.
My husband told me two weeks ago that we may need to move. I know it is agonizing for him to ride this roller coaster every summer and that he would do anything for me. My first reaction was sorrow because I feel different enough as it is and to make a change that big, causing him to leave all that he has built with his ministry because of my health was too much for me to handle the thought of. We have continued to discuss it and he challenged me to change my thinking to think in terms of the fact that he loves me so much that he would be willing to make any change necessary for me to be as healthy as possible. Wow. That is pretty amazing. So I am thinking more and more about it. For so long, I didn't want to think about living in a different city from may parents, but honestly, now that the boys are getting older, we depend less and less on them and the thought isn't nearly as scary.
So, here I am, trudging through the days... As the clouds lift and life returns to normal, I am committed to continue the discussion of a move, to return to the eating habits I know make me feel the healthiest and to continue my efforts as a competitive runner (can't believe I just typed that...). For now, bear with me as I survive.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to all my girlfriends at The Sisterhood... All of you in your own special way are making the days bearable and your endless words of encouragement, humor, banter and love mean more than you will ever know.