Friday, April 6, 2012

The Depersonalization of a New Mother

Mr. Curry is back for himself and then, for us. I wish I could say the same for myself. Since Ever's birth, a strange and unsettling dissociation has me in it's grips, and I am never- almost- never grounded. My mind, already inclined to flight, has detached itself like a whimsical balloon that floats above everything and everyone, largely unconcerned with the problems of the body below.

The distinguishing characteristic of depersonalization disorder is the feeling that one is going through the motions of life, or that one’s body or self is disconnected or unreal. Mind or body may be perceived as unattached, seen from a distance, existing in a dream, or mechanical. Such experiences are persistent and recurrent, and lead to distress and dysfunction. Chronic depersonalization is commonly accompanied by “derealization,” the feeling that features of the environment are illusory. It should be noted that characteristics attributed to depersonalization disorder must be independent of any kind of substance abuse. It should also be noted that depersonalization as an isolated symptom may appear within the context of a wide variety of major psychiatric disorders. For example, mild episodes of depersonalization in otherwise normally functioning individuals have been reported following alcohol use, sensory deprivation, mild social or emotional stress or sleep deprivation, and as a side effect to medications. However, severe depersonalization is considered to be present only if the sense of detachment associated with the disorder is recurrent and predominant. > Psych Central

I have anxiety disorder, most of you know, and have since I was a little girl. At times, the fever pitch of anxiety snowballed into panic attacks, clawing one after the other their way up my spine and into my soul and brain like crazed cats, spiraling so that every moment of life was filled for me with pure terror, dread. During my pregnancy with Ever, I had taken the smallest possible dose of zoloft until finally I took none, so that when she was born I had none in my blood, my brain. I felt wonderful. I felt wonderful lying down to receive the morphine for my C-Section- the first I have ever had- I was prepared, informed, and had Mr. Curry next to me, holding my hand, telling me a story to distract from the large needle delivering the juice to my spine.  As the numbness began to spread through me, as the morphine moved its way through the river of veins, a slow and terrible anxiety began to grip me. Oh no, I remember thinking so clearly, looking at the bright white lights, the bright white sheets, the bright white room, the gleaming silver equipment, the masks of the nurses, oh no. I sought out Mr. Curry's eyes, large and hazel, flecked with gold, eyelashes long and dark. He looked straight into me, as he always does, and I felt the safety of his love arriving alongside the free for all of anxiety. Flanked, motherfucker. I gripped his hand tighter. He leaned over, seeing my distress. It's OK honey, you are doing great. I love you, we are having our baby. 

Ever was lifted out of me and I heard her cry, that timeless clarion call, like a startled kitten, she meowed in a scratchy rhythm. And still, alongside now Mr. Curry's love, alongside this new love, was the red river of anxiety, burning it's way through my body, setting fires, freeing monsters.
I was in a very bad way for weeks afterward.  From the exact moment my conscious woke in the morning, before I had chance to open my eyes and take in something good, something light, something whole, anxiety was wielding it's bricks and pounding my brain, my heart. The overwhelming terror is impossible to explain, and yet in the midst of it, I try over and over to tell Mr. Curry. It feels like... someone is standing over me with a bloody knife and they have just stabbed you and now they are going to stab me. It feels like... all our children are dying of cancer.  It feels like... we were just told nuclear war is happening and we are all going to die. It feels like... I'm in a car going over a cliff but it's happening in slow motion and no one can save me... I use brutal words. He listens to me patiently, silently, with his body turned toward me. Absorbing what he can for me. 

My entire body vibrates with fear. My hands shake. My stomach is visibly quivering. The skin around my mouth twitches. Small electrical discharges move the long smooth muscles of my thighs and arms without my consent. The first time this happened to me, years ago, I thought I had MS, or Parkinsons, the disease my Grandmother Elizabeth died of.  My face goes numb in patches; a large stretch of skin across my calves burns hot, then freezing cold. My eyes burn, my vision blurs, the tips of my fingers sear with pain. My stomach is coiled into a tiny hard pit stinking with the fumes of fear: cortisol and adrenaline pump like oil rigs day and night. I cannot eat.  I make myself eat for the baby, the breastmilk.  I cannot sleep. I make myself sleep for the baby, the children. I have to use the bathroom a hundred times a day, shitting out the contractions of my gut. At times the terror overwhelms me so that I grip the closest table or counter or thing, just anything solid and stronger than I am, something to hold onto while the wave crashes across me. I breathe. I pray. I use every single piece of knowledge and wisdom I have ever been taught to make it through the day and the night and then again. I wake in the morning, freezing cold every inch, and do what Mr. Curry reminds me every day. Take care of the children. Don't think about yourself. Think about them. And it is the thing that keeps me from flying into a million shattered fragments.

Tell your mind, Mr. Curry coaches me, every day, every morning on the phone and every afternoon on the phone and every afternoon when he comes home and then again at bedtime. Tell your mind, There is no war. There is no dying. This is not happening. But it could be, I plead, it doesn't matter, it might happen, it could happen!  It DOES matter, he says firmly, our life matters, we love our children, we love each other, and every second we have alive and together matters to us Maggie. It matters. If tomorrow something happens we would look to today to see if we had been glad for what we had. Focus! And I cling to his words which I believe and he believes and they keep me moving. I cave quickly after three days of this, I take the zoloft, a high dose, for me, and I weep and fear for my breastfeeding. Mr. Curry and I talk it over and I discuss it with the pediatrician at Ever's checkup and I decide to keep nursing her. 

Time passes.

I get better. But I am nursing Ever, and co-sleeping, and so I am wakened many times a night, and although this lessons as she gets older, still, I never get more then four hours of sleep at one time. I am better, I eat wonderfully, I take the important fish oils, the b-vits, the multiple, I move my body, I get sunshine, and I get better. But I am consumed with  my infant daughter and her tiny, new body and soul, and the sleepless and four kids and working and laundry and husband and moving and money and constant notenoughmoneynotenoughmoney and work/homework/dinner/bath/write/sleep repeat and through the blur of this time I push my hands and part the curtain and realize that I cannot feel myself inside this story. I am telling the story, and I am watching the story, but I am detached. 

I have, at four children, one a nursing baby, met my match.  I am overwhelmed to a degree that I never predicted when pregnant with Ever, never having worked with a baby before.  I had no idea what the pull of a full time job and four children would feel like, and it is feeling like a balloon head, floating over the body and soul of a person who I recognize, somewhat as me- unshaven, hair a messy bun, bags under my eyes, notes scribbled in ink on the back of my hand as I hopelessly try to keep up with the VIP TO DO LIST, ten pounds overweight, out of shape, clothes ill fitting and sporting the occasional hole, a distracted and possibly pissy look on my freckled face.  I had sunglasses, but I lost them. Again.  I am doing. I am making. I am working. I am mothering. I am even having sex with my husband. But I am not all here. I am not all me.

Petunia Face said...

You nailed it. The description of anxiety. I once said it was like a tantric panic attack in that it just goes on and on...

Anyway, thinking of you and your family.

Ms. Moon said...

It is past time for YOU to see someone. You cannot go on like this. This is now what life is supposed to feel like.
I know.

Petit fleur said...


I know what this feels like. Although my threshold for hitting the wall of dissociation is much shorter than yours. I only have one kid and no full time outside job, so... you are kicking ass in my book.

I do know that feeling though. I like to take deep breaths and tell myself to be here now, be here now. It doesn't always work, and I don't always remember to do it, but I've noticed improvement with practice.

I hope you find some voodoo to help ease you fully back into here and now.

Love you to pieces,

Chrissy said...

I agree with MM. You need someone to talk to, someone objective and not related to you in friendship or blood.

I have anxiety issues and depression, too. It's like a black tornado that eats up everything pretty in my head.

My suggestion, would be to go to a university mental health teaching clinic. They will not try to give you medicine, if you do not wish for it. That was always my fear. I never wanted to be medicated (though it does work wonders for so many, I benefit more from talk therapy).

Sending love your way. You're so brave to share your heart this way.

Maggie May said...

Hi friends xo Just to be clear, most of this post was about how I felt after Ever was born, NOT how I feel now.

Now I feel a sense of dissociation that is unpleasant but not miserable, and it's largely brought on by lack of sleep. I know from past experience I will feel better once E hits about two years old. I am taking zoloft now, a small dose. THank you for reaching out xo

Elizabeth said...

Oh, Maggie. I am so sorry, feel such dread when I read your writing, beautiful as ever despite its content. Go see someone. Stop nursing Ever -- she is as connected to you as your bones. You must sleep more. You must.

Chrissy said...

Good!!! If you weren't sure you had a bunch of mother/sister hens around you here, you know it know! xoxo

6512 and growing said...

This sounds so hard. Glad you have such a stalwart rock by your side.

Frances said...

Your writing is very moving, like others I feel compelled to reach out. You are strong even if you don't always feel it. I have stage 4 cancer with limited time. My two children, husband and I don't know how to handle it. So we take it day by day and try our best to laugh often. You think you have hard times until you recognize that others suffer and handle it. I do a daily perspective check, it actually makes me feel grateful for all I have.

Caroline said...

I read this a few days ago and interpreted it (my first impression) more like a chronicle of your feelings at times and not necessarily how you feel always or now...

My dad is a therapist (PhD) and always says the determining factor that we need to talk to someone is this: "do your feelings affect your ability to carry out DAILY life activities?" And I say--shit sandwich--by that criteria EVERY mother needs to talk to someone!

Love you, Maggie May. Love you to pieces. And it's obvious your readers all love you to pieces too.

Summer said...

This is an amazingly perfect description.

~from my front porch in the mountains~ said...

Ms. Moon is so right.
I have been there, too.

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