Have you ever been in survival mode, like real, just make it through the next hour survival mode? (I believe this is the terribly exclusive domain of parents of small or special needs children, caregivers, and the bereaved.) I guess after two months of serious sleep deprivation (and three to five months of mild sleep deprivation prior to that), weeks of uncertainty about Science Guy’s health, and a never-ending state of limbo regarding our next step, I wound up in survival mode without realizing it.
The thing about survival mode is that it makes you mostly blind to the rising background level of stress you’re experiencing, because if you were aware of that stress you might just have a nervous breakdown. When I was teaching, I noticed that I always caught a cold or some other bug immediately after the last bell rang for winter, spring, or summer break. It was as if my body knew that I had to keep going until it was over, and would then crash at the first opportunity.
Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays despite (or perhaps because of) its timing during the shortest and NO VITAMIN D-est days of the year. Everyone comes home, and since I’m one of the few in my high school and college friend groups that have managed to stay put in our hometown through all the years, I feel like a minor celebrity booking visits with people as they filter through town. (Little things, people. LITTLE THINGS.) And for much of this year, I was looking forward to celebrating Fire Monkey’s first Christmas.
But a few weeks ago, after the most exhausting Thanksgiving I can remember, I found myself unable to feel excitement or anticipation for the holidays. In fact, I wasn’t able to feel much of anything at all except for overwhelming tiredness and the sense that I should be more excited than I was, which of course made me feel worse. I looked around at our messy apartment and declared to Science Guy that I didn’t want anything for Christmas because I couldn’t handle any more stuff. I couldn’t find the energy or motivation to do photos or Christmas cards, although now that we’ve received half a dozen or so from friends I am mildly regretting this inaction. I stopped exercising for a week when we passed a cold around like a hot potato and haven’t found the motivation to go back ever since. I figured that the sleep deprivation was catching up with me, and when we started sleep learning I found some hope that maybe things would be better soon.
Instead, as I started getting full nights of sleep again (still early wake-ups, though), my body came out of survival mode and I started feeling again. Only all I felt was more exhausted and less motivated than before. For about a week, I figured I was just catching up on sleep. Then, when Monkey went on nap strike (again), I found myself irrationally angry at him, then horrified by my own anger, and then just completely feelinged out. I realized then that this might be more than just being mom-tired.
Several months after Fire Monkey was born, Science Guy was under a lot of stress from going back to work. It was a rough time, and I remember thinking how fortunate we were that I had dodged postpartum depression. Now I’m not so sure I did. Last year pregnancy hormones protected me from my annual seasonal affective sneaky hate spiral, but I don’t have that this year (which really is a good thing because another baby would do literally nothing to help the situation). I haven’t felt this kind of dulling around the world’s edges for several years, but I still recognize it. Hello darkness, my old friend.
Honestly, I don’t have a nice, tidy bloggily ever after ending for this post. I’ve started taking my vitamin D and magnesium supplements and dutifully parking myself in front of the full-spectrum light every morning. I’m trying to squeeze in as much exercise and yoga as I can. Last weekend I gave myself permission to do nothing but take care of the baby and inhale the book Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. It’s helping, but I think I need to see a counselor to help me process the roller coaster of emotions I’ve experienced since Fire Monkey was born. (I sometimes feel tired by the mere thought of establishing a new counseling relationship, which is probably a good indicator that I need to go. I suppose the advantage of having been depressed before is being able to recognize the signs rather more quickly when it comes around again.)
I feel obliged to end on a semi-positive note, so here’s the best I can do right now. Shortly after realizing I might be depressed, friends got hit by wave upon wave of bad news. (I told you this is the best I can do today.) People lost parents, both after terminal illness and quite suddenly. Marriages were shaken/are still shaking. The last 12-18 months have seen an epidemic of divorces and separations in my circle and it’s hard not to wonder if it’s contagious. For not a small number of friends, this Christmas will be the first without a parent or a spouse, and I’m not sure there’s much you can do to reduce that kind of suckage. All this to say, if you’re not feeling the Christmas spirit this year, I’m with ya. And I believe that the God of the universe became a tiny, helpless, probably screaming baby to show that s/he is with us too.