A couple of years into my mental health journey I was listening to NPR and heard this interview by Andrew Solomon. He was talking about the prevalence of peri-natal depression and anxiety. One of the things he mentioned was that most of the women experiencing depression and seeking help are so afraid to tell their husbands that they text (instead of call) their therapist because they don’t want their husband or partner to overhear them on the phone. What the fuck? I mean, really? Women have so much shame about how they are feeling they cannot tell the person they are creating a child with.
In a typical healthy marriage if you are sick with any physical ailment most likely you’re going to tell your partner. Your partner is going to suggest some type of antidote to treat the condition. Except when it’s a mental health problem then we keep it a secret, hope it goes away, or are told, “can’t you just not think that way?” Obviously, if I could just turn it off (‘like a light switch’- name the musical) I would. You think I want to feel this way?
With each of my subsequent pregnancies I took an anti-depressant for OCD and later in the pregnancy anti-anxieties. I did EXTENSIVE research about the safety of these meds while pregnant. I have OCD, of course I researched the shit out of it. I spoke to midwives, OBs, Perinatologists, and my PCP. I read research studies. Don’t get me wrong, if you can avoid meds while pregnant, great! But not all of us can. And my need for medication was not going to stop me having kids if I wasn’t putting the fetus at risk.
I remember one particular encounter with my perinatologist (they are the doctors that work with high risk babies.) I was asking, repeatedly, about my use of a benzo later in the pregnancy. She assured me it was safe. I mentioned my experience with my first pregnancy and how it came to me using meds while pregnant. Betsy, briefly explained her role in the whole process and the perinatologist commented to Betsy, “You should give a talk on how to recognize signs in your partner and how to be a better support for those struggling.” She proceeded to tell us about how many women don’t have a supportive partner. They live in fear and shame about telling their partner if they don’t feel absolute love for their new baby.
Part of the reason I was able to get my mental health crisis under control so quickly was because I was completely honest about what I was experiencing with Betsy and my parents. During my first week of therapy the therapist suggested Betsy not be part of the sessions because it might influence what I shared. I instead she was involved knowing that I would not be able to tell her alone what I was thinking and feeling. She needed to know and I was willing to tell the therapist with her present.
Betsy, and the rest of my support network (few knew the severity of my situation) were amazing. But this isn’t the norm. Lying to our partners and trying to get through it alone is the norm. And it should not have to be that way.
I have sleep anxiety. I mean, I have all kinds of anxieties but sleep is one of my more common ones. Apparently this isn’t uncommon for moms. I have three kids, one of which is an infant, he wakes up a lot. Plus, I never really know when I’m going to get a good night of sleep. Noa came in the other night at 3AM because she had a bad dream about a tiger in a bathtub. What do I say to that?
I’m frequently tired. And if there is one thing that makes anxiety worse, it’s lack of sleep. As soon as I lay down for bed I think about all the shit I need to get done. I’m super productive at making mental lists of things that need doing. Less good at doing them. Eventually, I start calculating how many hours of sleep I might get if I fall asleep right now. Or now. Or now. I could do this for hours.
I have anti-anxieties that I started taking at night to help me not obsess about the playhouse I REALLY want to build, or the five thousand dollars I just spent to keep my dog alive (she’s worth it.) However, I noticed I didn’t need a full pill so I began breaking them in half. This was still too much so I further broke the pill in half. Betsy calls it my ‘nibble.’ It’s the smallest fraction of a pill I could take. I could lick the powder off the bottom of the bottle and it would equate to how much I take. But it works. Most likely placebo, but if I don’t take it, I obsess. Betsy will wake up, notice I’m still awake and tell me to, ‘just take the damn nibble.’ And so it is, I take a nibble and doze to sleep.
It all started with my mom. She had a lovely Spring decoration on her door that had some cute eggs. She decided to tell Noa that the eggs would hatch. Daily, Noa wanted me to call Yai Yai and find out if the chicks had hatched yet. We thought she would forget eventually but the concern over the hatching of the eggs continued.
My mom, my wife, myself, I’m not sure really who to blame at this point, decided that we should get some chicks. I was on board, I liked the idea of fresh eggs and my kids learning a little about homesteading. So I researched the best egg producing breeds and with the support and enthusiasm of my wife, we got chickens. Four, in fact. Noa named them, Lilo (yellow), Stitch (yellow), Scooter (red) and Hei Hei (‘boat snack!’)
Except with chickens comes salmonella, and with salmonella comes OCD and hand-sanitizing and ‘don’t kiss the chickens,’ and ‘Atticus, why are you naked on the chicken coop?’ And then I realized I had a newborn and four pooping, salmonella producing chickens. I bought a giant bottle of hand sanitizer, every time the kids were within a foot of the coop we sanitized. I sanitized the door handle. I made sure Betsy sanitized and washed after handling the chickens.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the chickens. Although I feel like I’m competing with them for my wife’s attention. She LOVES the chickens. In a way that one might love their dog. An animal you can kiss and cuddle and don’t typically have to worry about getting a disease from. And they love her. She can get them to follow her to the coop while the rest of us literally chase them in circles. They’re alright, although I’m still waiting on the eggs.
Update: I recently spotted hawks on the roof of the neighbor’s house. I mentioned this to Betsy in passing. She now counts the chickens multiple times when they roam the backyard. Obsessed I tell you.