By Kimberly Poovey
Mental illness has always been a part of my life. I have suffered from OCD and chronic anxiety for as long as I can remember, but aside from some sporadic counseling and an array of half-baked natural remedies, I never received any real, consistent treatment.
For the most part, I functioned quite well; I could go to school, hold down a job, and keep up my personal relationships. I was happy. But potentially crippling anxiety always existed right under the surface. Panic attacks were a regular occurrence. Scary intrusive thoughts were a part of my everyday life. Anxiety stole my sleep. Irrational worry was just par for the course. But I survived and managed and even thrived because it was all I had ever known. When you have only ever seen through your own eyes, sometimes it’s hard to know how sick you really are. You carry on, you make it work.
Then, my first child was born. It was extraordinary. Life-altering. He was perfect and healthy and we were completely in love. But after the dust settled, I didn’t feel like myself. At first, I believed this was normal. Of course you don’t feel like yourself after pushing a 10 pound child out of your body. Of course you will cry every day when you’re desperately sleep deprived and having to keep your child alive via exclusive pumping around the clock. I vividly remember standing on my creaky old back porch in a milk-soaked nursing nightgown, looking out at a summer downpour, gasping while tears poured from my eyes. I told my mom through hiccupping sobs that I just didn’t feel like myself. I had no idea what to do next.
The baby stayed downstairs, and I crawled into bed and wept into my pillow for two solid hours. I felt so desperately fragile, and so very, very alone. It took me a long time to tell anyone how I was feeling, and even longer to start getting help.
About a week after the birth, my in-laws came over with dinner to see the baby, and I couldn’t bear to see anyone. The baby stayed downstairs, and I crawled into bed and wept into my pillow for two solid hours. I felt so desperately fragile, and so very, very alone. It took me a long time to tell anyone how I was feeling, and even longer to start getting help. A full four months later, I started seeing a counselor. Two months after that, I finally decided to try medication. And the difference it made was extraordinary.
Honestly, I wish I had been brave enough to try it fifteen years ago. After it took full effect, (which took a little over a month), I was a new woman. I was myself, completely, but I didn’t get overwhelmed as easily. That cold sense of panic that used to run through my veins at the slightest provocation was finally tempered. The intrusive thoughts that were my near constant tormentors receded and receded until they were gone altogether. I could sleep. I could take a breath. And I could finally juggle being a new mother and a wife and having a job with some sense of ease and balance.