Depression Is Ugly
I donít know why anyone thinks depression is romantic. I guess technically the Romantics had it. (By that I mean Shelley and Keats and Coleridge and all, not the 1980s pop bandóthough who knows how theyíre feeling these days?) I guess we have these images of tormented loners weeping on moors or whatnot. I feel more like Stuart Smalley, Al Frankenís badly sweatered Saturday Night Live therapy cliche. Spare me the laudanum; Iím more likely to medicate myself with Benadryl and half a dutch apple pie.
I moved all my black clothes to the bottom drawer when my son started ralphing breastmilk on them, and my lipstick (Urban Decayís Roach) doesnít stay put after compulsive eating, so maybe the problem is me. Maybe Iím not attractive enough to be a Tragic Melancholic, nor a Wise Fool, nor a Free-Spirited Flake on the Run From Herself or whatever the hell sexy depressives are. Iím more like Schlumpfy Hausfrau in Sweatpants on Paxil, and nobody wants to be that person.
I tried to be a sexy depressive when I was younger. It didnít work. I tried to write poetry for the litmag. I have no ability with meter. I smoked cloves, but it was too inconvenient to buy them at head shops, and once, in a fit of postadolescent pique, I locked myself in my bedroom and listened to The Smithsí "Girl Afraid" on repeat. I lasted about twenty minutes, and then I had to come out to use the bathroom, and no one had noticed that I was missing.
I was even less successful as a political depressive. Political depressives are really hot stuff. I love this argument, the Shouldnít We All Be Crazy When the World Is Insane? bit, the One Flew Over the Cuckooís Nest version of mental illness. One of my heroes, Ariel Gore, advances this opinion in an essay entitled "60 Tablets of Wellbutrin (May Cause Drowsiness)": "No use changing the world, after all, when we can just change everyone's brain chemistry." She warns, "One side effect is that [antidepressants] can make you politically cooperative." Maybe this is a risk if youíre really truly fighting The Man, and I get how people get worn down from shit jobs, shit relationships, shit housing, shit air, shit water, prepackaged blobs of frozen shit food, shit government, shit lives, shit brains, shit hearts, shit in our blood, blood in our shit, shit drugs, shit in our lungs. Isnít it logical to be depressed? Verily. Isnít it better for us to "feel our feelings," as Iíve so often heard, instead of blunting them with pharmaceuticals? Sure.
But it didnít work for me. Iíd still be slumped over in the corner. So I called my obstetrician and told the nurse I was depressed. I was humiliated. I was actually wearing pants and shoes; it felt strange. I sat in a straight-backed chair in a tasteful pink examining room with back issues of Womanís Day in a Lucite keeper and I told the nurse the deal. I couldnít stop crying. I couldnít get the baby to stop crying. I was a horrible parent. I couldnít sleep. Iíd be listening for any sound I could hear. Iíd hear my eyelids open and close. Iíd get disoriented. I stood on the top floor of the library looking for the 600s, at the north of the building, which way was north? What direction was I facing? Where was the river?
Iíd have to put the baby down in the bassinet screaming and Iíd walk to the front of the house and close a door and yell every obscenity I could think of and dig my nails into my arms. And there was the cutting and the things I wanted to do to myself. It never stopped. There was never a good day. There was never a different day. It went minute by minute. I was up all day and up all night. I couldnít make it stop. It would never stop.
I tried to be very precise in explaining my symptoms, evincing that I had the presence of mind to understand my situation. I was intelligent and concise and used terms like suicidal ideation to prove that I was a good patient. I wasnít psychotic. I didnít see things or hear things that werenít there. But I had thoughts that surprised me, which had never happened before, when I generated all my own thoughts consciously for myself. Now it was like a surprise party was going on in my brain. I was meeting new people in there. Was that a problem?
The doctor and I talked about the baby. The nurse hugged me. "Weíve all been there," she said. Why is there a special term for it? Why do we describe this experience as if it were unusual?
"Is motherhood just like this?" I asked my mother. My mother is the most even-keeled, Girl Scout-troop-leading, van-driving soccer mom in the universe.
"Sure. I think itís like this for everybody," she said.
"Did you hate me? Did you want to die?" I asked.
"Oh, honey," she told me. "I used to sit in the rocking chair and just cry and cry."
So I started taking the Zoloft, which made me feel like a plucked string. I can remember literally pogoing up and down in my pullman-style kitchen, keenly aware of every blue swirl in the tile on the floor. Jim and my mother looked on with concern.
"You feel zingy?" my doctor asked. "Okay, letís see if that stops and levels off."
It did. Then I was taking a blue prescription M&M in the morning. Nothing.
I wrote: I hate this child. Becoming a mother was the worst fucking mistake I ever made. I want to put this kid in a fucking tree, send him off with the carnival. Everything I've ever done for this fucking kid hasn't been enough. I want my fucking life back. I want to be able to take a shower and have a job. I want to be able to make a sandwich without somebody hanging on my legs screaming at me. You could give me electroshock and Thorazine but not a fucking thing is going to change until my kid starts acting like a fourteen-month-old instead of a colicky infant.
I saw a therapist who had framed pictures of her dog. She tried to talk me out of my depression by confusing me further.
"I feel completely miserable in every moment. Iím miserable now," I told her.
"I see. Well, youíre in a bad situation. Why wouldnít you be miserable?" she said.
I didnít get it.
"Wouldnít anyone in your situation be miserable? Why do you think you should be happy? Letís talk about your expectations."
"So I should accept being miserable? Isnít that the opposite of therapy?"
"Well, I think weíll start by making a list of all your Ďshoulds.í You Ďshouldí be happy. You Ďshouldí want to have sex. Why do you have these expectations?"
"Arenít people supposed to want to be happy? So we go to therapy for that purpose?" I wasnít clear on what we were trying to accomplish.
"What do you think would make you happy?"
I hesitated. I thought about it. I wanted ice cream.
"So stop and get some ice cream on your way home! Do some special things for yourself."
The Zoloft went up to 100 mg. New doctor.
I caused this person, this baby, to exist. I couldnít kill him, I didnít want to hurt him, I didnít have Mr. Peabody and the Wayback Machine, so I couldnít stop myself from having conceived. What could I do? There was nothing. I was stuck. What if I left, just left?
I had a panic attack while driving down the freeway. I made myself breathe out of my mouth until I could take the next exit, find a gas station, call my mother, get her to talk me down.
The holidays came. I wrote: All I ever do is BABY BABY BABY and I'm going to get all Courtney Love crazy on the first one of my idiot relatives who makes some dumbass comment about how the baby "should" be sleeping and I "should" be getting back to work because, fuck, it's just not happening. I'm not sending any Christmas cards (sorry, all y'all that sent them to me) and I'm not cooking and I'm not doing any editing work and I haven't had sex in months and I don't even have time to go to therapy because the Perpetual Crying Machine that is my child can't be without me for ten minutes. It's a glorious fucking day if I get Zoloft in my mouth and pants on my ass. Everyone will receive their holiday gifts via the "close your eyes and hold out your hands" method, and we will truly be the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nut house. Hallelujah, holy shit, where's the Tylenol?
"I donít think Paxil we be different," my doctor said. "Itís in the same class of drugs. You should consider weaning."
30 tablets of Paxil, 37.5 milligrams. I insisted.
I wrote: I am a shitty parent.
See what I mean? How sexy is this shit? Not very. Nor could I be accused of not feeling my feelings. I was fucking feeling my feelings, all right.
My mom sighed. "I think itís just going to be like this for you."
"For how long?" First theyíd said colic would last three months. Then they said reflux would last eight months. Then they said the eczema would last two years, if we were lucky. There was some evidence that kids could outgrow peanut allergy, or that a new experimental therapy could lessen the likelihood of anaphlactic shock.
"Until heís in school."
"Donít have another one."
I tried the Lysistrata technique. No more sex until Jim has a vasectomy. He shrugged. We werenít having sex anyway.
I kept taking the Paxil. I started writing and here I am. I woke up to a rash and a screaming kid this morning at 3:30. Itís more manageable most days. You could say itís better.
I sure wish I could be sexy or political, though. I wish depressive mothers could have alt.fan Usenet groups. I wish people would write graphic novels about depressive maternal superheroes who manage to get out of bed and floss and resist suicide. I want to have wannabes sporting my Look, the barfed-on, yogurt-crusted bra tank, the baggy shorts, the Chapstick and bare feet and mosquito bites and orange-juice breath. I wish people would write fanfic about me: When I get to the house, Marrit opens the door in a bathrobe of ratty pink chenille. She is finishing off a lemon pie and listening to Ministry. I have her Paxil and egg-free doughnuts. I see her eyes flash and her lips part slightly, gratitude flowing from her skin as she takes my hand.