It was a short phone call, really, really short. When I finally got up the nerve to call a psychiatrist I already knew what was wrong. But I needed confirmation, and medication.
I was terrified of both.
Our daughter, almost 6 months old, was asleep in the backseat as we careened along I-10 on our way to my in laws. I almost never left the house in those days. It was either to Hermann Park to frantically push the stroller around the duck pond and pray she’d fall asleep, or church. And church, unless I was singing, was seldom.
I was isolating, burrowing deep down inside myself. Self- loathing and criticism were constant. It was like having The Red Queen for a subconscious. “Aren't you going to MAKE her baby food!?" she shrieked, as I browsed the Gerber’s, hoping solid food might help Sydney sleep through the night. "Off with your head!"
I didn’t want to join Prozac Nation, I thought haughtily, though I knew medication was likely the only way out of the cycle of fear and anxiety.
I rattled off my rehearsed list of symptoms as the doctor, who also happened to be my best friend's father, listened patiently: Heart palpitations, insomnia, sorrow. I turned to look at my little girl as guilt rushed in.
She didn’t deserve to have such a basket case for a mom. “Zoloft,” he offered, “and you can continue to breastfeed.”
I knew he was conservative in this area, and I was grateful.
“Are you sure?” I whined.
“Yes,” he replied, matter-of-factly, “just see how it goes. If it doesn’t work, we’ll find something that does.”
It was my brother who diagnosed me months earlier, on his way out my front door to join his bandmates, The Damnwells. They were on tour with The Fray and it seemed like every radio station in America was playing, “How to Save a Life." I wanted to stow away with the band, escape what I saw as my obvious failures as a mother, but I decided to settle for an invitation to sing background vocals that night.
My husband Matt graciously agreed to stay home with Sydney so I could go to the concert. It was a magical night — a sold-out show with more than a thousand people in the audience singing along.
When I got home both Matt and Sydney were asleep on the couch — a sight that should've warmed my heart. But it didn't, it inspired a full-blown anxiety attack.
Why isn't she in her crib!?
She'll wake up if we move her and I'll never get her back to sleep!
What kind of mother goes out and leaves her husband to put the baby to bed!
Coming To Grips
The next morning as my brother packed his bag I confessed I hadn’t slept a wink the night before, but spent hours staring at the ceiling fan, trying not to have a heart attack. As I walked him to the door I crumpled in tears.
“You have postpartum,” he said calmly, having seen my waterworks several times already. “It’s not a big deal, just get some help.”
I t was like having The Red Queen for a subconscious. “Aren't you going to MAKE her baby food!?" she shrieked, as I browsed the Gerber’s.
I didn’t want to join Prozac Nation, I thought haughtily, though I knew medication was likely the only way out of the cycle of fear and anxiety. I berated myself for not praying hard enough. It was my mind that was running away with me after all, shouldn’t I — as a Christian — be able to control it? Self control is a fruit of the Spirit! I declared to my friends, as they prayed over me for the 1000th time.
Shame, that old familiar nemesis, inched up my spine.
My anxiety was mostly around sleep — the fear of not being able to fall asleep — but anything could trigger it. Changing her, burping her, putting her down — all of these activities gave me cause to rate my performance like an Olympic gymnastics meet. I always scored well below a 10, though a perfect 10 was all I was wiling to accept. My inner monologue was toxic and unrelenting.
One night as I lay in bed next to my perfect infant and sweetly sleeping husband, I yelled at God. It was three o’clock in the morning and Sydney, her angelic face bathed in moonlight, had been asleep for a record four hours. But I was panicking — heart pounding, sweating, reciting the Lord’s Prayer, trying to get my mind to disconnect, to sleep. Nothing worked, not the Lord’s Prayer, not counting backwards from one hundred (then five hundred, then one thousand), nothing.
“What could I possibly be learning from this?!” I spat through gritted teeth into the darkness.
I’d spent hours talking with others, and studying the scriptures about the God who Saint John called Love incarnate. I’d chuckle when people described Him as a slightly pissed off Santa Claus keeping record of our missteps and meting out appropriate punishment. That image couldn’t be further from who I knew God to be. I knew He loved me.
One night as I lay in bed next to my perfect infant and sweetly sleeping husband, I yelled at God.
Despite innumerable failures on my part, I had everything I was always afraid to want — a loving husband, a beautiful child, community, direction. But why wouldn’t He heal me?
A half dozen years later, I can see why there was no answer to my early morning accusation. My words had revealed the nature of the image I was carrying of God. I can see now that it wasn’t God I was fighting in the dark that night. It was me.
After a few weeks on medication, the fog dissolved. One night I slept five consecutive hours and awoke with new clarity; my understanding of God would never be the same. My pride had stood squarely, like a linebacker, between me and that phone call. For six painful months I suffered, and so did my family, because I insisted on my own understanding of how God would, or should, heal me.
One evening, as Sydney snored in her crib, “How to Save Life,” played on the kitchen radio.
“You don’t get to decide how God heals you,” Matt offered. “Just accept it, and be grateful. I am.”
Cameron Dezen Hammon writes the blog HipsterChristianHousewife