I didn’t know there were voices in my head until they went away.
If only the ones that keep telling me “Macaroni and cheese is a perfectly acceptable breakfast” would also go away.
I didn’t actually have voices in my head. I don’t think. What I had were intrusive thoughts, obsessive thoughts of doom. Last Monday, I sat with my computer on my lap and tried to write something. Nothing light and funny would come to me. I generally write about what is on my mind, and I couldn’t think of a funny spin to put on “SIDS.”
I closed my computer and called my doctor. I made an appointment for the very next day.
I hesitate to share the details. I’m terrified to share. It’s sharifying.
Since the birth of my oldest, my thoughts have been occupied on an almost constant basis by images of my daughters being hurt. Not by me, nor by anyone specific. When I am not making up my own nightmare scenarios, I run scenes from movies and books through my brain. Episodes of “Law and Order: SVU,” “The Prince of Tides,” “A Cry in the Dark.” I check in on blogs written by mothers of dead children.
When I was pregnant, Odie was carrying Viva to the car to take her to school. She was sad to be leaving me and as he carried her away, I saw her tearful face over his shoulder, her arm reaching for me and heard her mournful, “Maaaamaaaa!” My brain flashed to the scene in “Sophie’s Choice,” when Meryl Streep’s character watches helplessly as a Nazi soldier carries her daughter away. I squeezed my eyes shut tight, as if that would make the thoughts go away. I even tried to start singing a song under my breath to distract my mind. It was all for naught. The feelings of grief and helplessness were so intense that I started to cry. I thought obsessively about this for not just for a few minutes, but for days, and weeks. Every time my husband walked in front of me carrying our daughter and I could see her face over his shoulder (happy or tearful, it made no difference) I flashed to pictures in my mind of a Nazi taking my screaming daughter away from me to be murdered.
Viva would do something sweet and innocent like ask me for more milk, and I would picture her in captivity with some pedophile, asking if she could have more milk. This part is harder to explain. I walked around with this sense that my child was a kidnap victim and I was watching a movie of it. My heart was always heavy with fear and dread. When she would cry or say “No,” my head would go to the ugliest, most terrifying places. When I changed her diapers or her clothes, I thought of everything I’ve ever heard or read about child pornographers. I couldn’t make my brain stop it, no matter how much I begged it.
I honestly felt like I was going crazy.
It wasn’t a normal, healthy fear that something bad would happen to my children. Those are thoughts every good mother has. You push them to the back of your mind and you take reasonable precautions. What I had was the feeling that bad things were happening to my children and I was witness to it. My brain would show me every horror a mother could imagine, over and over, relentlessly. And I couldn’t stop it. Couldn’t find the off switch.
I took 50 mg of Zoloft around 11 a.m. on Tuesday. About five hours later I felt extremely groggy. I took the same dose at 8 the next morning and had the same side effect. I resolved to start taking it at bedtime instead.
On Wednesday, I noticed that the thoughts were gone.
Gone, baby. Gone.
I did not realize I was mentally ill. Maybe some of you did, but I was in the dark.
Truly, I was in such darkness, and I didn’t know. I had some idea, but I thought that this was my mind: take it or leave it. When I started the meds, I believed that it would get better, but I never dared to hope it would GO AWAY. If I had known, I would have started so much earlier.
I don’t know how it got so bad. I’ve always had a tendency toward depression, but I resisted taking medication. That all changed when another weekend went by and I felt so relieved that it was over. That Viva was at day care, Odie was at work, and Pringles was asleep. What? The three people I love more than life itself and I wanted them all gone? Yes. I did. And Pringles had a yucky Monday. She wouldn’t nap. She was tired, fed, changed, and swaddled, but she would not sleep unless I held her. The third time I put her in the swing so I could write, and she started crying, I felt so overwhelmingly angry that I just wanted to leave. It was a physical craving. I wanted to run away.
That made me a bad mom, by my definition. The desire to leave my child when she was crying for me erased all the ‘good enough’ from my mothering. I pictured the mother who shook her three month-old to death because she wanted to play Farmville on Facebook. I never had any desire to harm my child in any way. But I wanted to scream “Shut the fuck up!” at the top of my lungs. Maturity, education and resources were my allies. I called the doctor.
I feel free. I feel sane. I didn’t know I was crazy. Recently, I saw a rerun of “Law and Order” where a schizophrenic man goes nuts and kills a bunch of people he thinks are Russian spies. Then the assistant D.A. compels him to take anti-psychotic medication and he becomes a completely reasonable human being. That’s how transformed I feel. Such a burden has been lifted from me. I don’t have to go to bed tonight and imagine the brutal rape and murder of my family in front of me. It won’t even occur to me. Before last Monday, it was a given that it would be there, like a vicious current, running under every other thought I had, day and night.
Thursday night, I tip-toed into our bedroom to wake Odie. Lately, he puts Viva to bed at 8, which involves reading her a story, then lying with her for about an hour. At 9:30, I go in and wake him so he can grade papers until midnight. On that night, I looked down at my sleeping Viva, and I was no longer in my mind-movie of a pedophile looking down at his captive. I saw my precious, sleeping daughter and felt nothing ominous. I felt love and tenderness, not the cold grip of terror.
I’m on anti-depressants for postpartum depression.
There goes my Scientology fan base.