A couple of weeks ago I began to get the unsettling feeling that something was wrong. While it’s true that I have a three-month-old infant, am moving homes in about a week (or more, depending on a whole bunch of stress-inducing paperwork), and have to return to work at the end of the summer, the effect is more intense than all this would warrant.
The effect is quite nasty. What it is: A sensation of being underwater, coupled with a deepening and terrible anxiety. A foreboding sense of absolute doom. As I drive around, the sky seems too bright, the colors a shade toxic. Sometimes something has seemed to shimmer at the edge of my sight. Twice, while at home, I thought I saw someone in my peripheral vision, but when I turned my head no one was there. No one at all. "None of this is real," I thought, and not in that good I-smoked-a-joint-and-now-I'm-a-philosopher way.
The other day I felt so spacey I almost reversed the car out onto our one-way street without looking both ways. Sure enough, some fool zipped by heading in the wrong direction. For the rest of the day I pondered the depth of my near-mistake and which children would have felt the impact first (the two older) and which might have come out relatively unscathed (the baby). Yeah, it would have been the other guy’s fault, but that’s beside the point. Today, I blindly tried to walk in through the Out door at the Stop ‘n’ Shop and was headed off by a woman wheeling a cart. I wandered aside and staggered through the In door like a dumb bovine headed for the slaughter (and Stop ‘n’ Shop’s evil prices at the checkout once again made that simile a reality).
Most nights, I wake up at around 2 a.m. and think persistently about one of my older children running headlong into the street into the path of a car. If they manage to evade this fate, I think, one of them might be snatched. Or drown. Or be trapped in a burning building. But mostly, it’s about cars. If one drives by too fast on my street I itch to throw a stone at it. We’ve graduated from eggs to a hail of rocks.
Then, at the CVS: Christina Applegate has cancer? Good god, I probably have cancer too! Christina Applegate is younger than me, and more successful. If she can have cancer, I most certainly have cancer. Poor Christina Applegate. Poor me! I resist buying the magazine that describes her cancer in livid detail, sure that it will send me into a tailspin. I wander home, stricken with cancer.
Last time this happened I went for several months thinking I was just a tired new mother, until one day my fears coalesced into the awful thought that when The Bomb went off on the Metro North—as it invariably would when I was a passenger—my misery would at least come to an end. I had the good sense to know that this was not a normal thought. I sought the doctor. Medication was duly prescribed.
"Uh oh," says I, this time around. "This feels like postpartum depression again." I still have a lick of sense, after all. Armed with pamphlets from the hospital with titles like "Breaking the Silence," I called the Ob/Gyn office right away. My own doctor, I learned, was away. But Dr. X happened to have an opening. Thinking that I should get in sooner rather than later, I agreed to see Doctor X. I was sure that like all the other doctors in the practice she would be very nice.
I was very wrong. Doctor Cold Fish Face, as I now think of her, kept me waiting for about 15 minutes before she showed up. She had all the warmth and bedside manner of a gutted haddock on ice. Or a lobster slapped on one’s plate, it’s horrid beady eyes gazing up on stalks. Maybe I was hallucinating but this doctor seemed downright evil. I started to describe what was going on while she tapped away at a computer without making eye contact.
“I’m not feeling so good,” I said. “I have terrible anxiety. I know what this is. It’s postpartum depression. I had it before, with my second son. I want it to stop before it gets worse.”
[Disclaimer for those who may be freaked out or suffering from this affliction themselves: I am not going to write about hurting my baby. This is the common assumption when one hears about postpartum depression, but my form of it fortunately excludes the baby from all harm. That fat little fellow will be just fine. But meanwhile, I have cancer and will die within a few days.]
“Well, I basically have experience with some PMS,” she said dismissively. “Not really with this sort of thing.” Ummm…PMS? Was she kidding?
“Isn’t there anything you might be able to do?” I asked.
“I really think you should see your primary care physician,” she said.
“But I don’t know how quickly I can get an appointment. I’m here now. I’m really busy. I am very stressed. I am very anxious.” I wanted to add: Just driving here on the highway was a travail, you awful harpie! But my normal self seems encased in a shroud of toxic opacity. Like the bubble wrap I am using for packing the 1,865 boxes in my home, which I have to vacate in just a few days! You horrid slagmount!
“I suppose I could prescribe you something,” she sighed, looking put-upon. “But only enough for a few days. Then you’d have to see your own doctor.”
“Sure, that would work,” I said, relieved. She might have the appearance of a gimlet-eyed mackerel ready for the skillet, but at least she could stop the progress of this disturbing and escalating anxiety. She asked me to meet her in her office and she’d come in to discuss and give me the prescription. I went into her office, and there I waited.
And waited. I examined the photos of her kids, who seemed charming and fairly un-fish-esque. I eyed the tissue box with interest, as weeping seemed imminent. I heard Doctor Fish Face chatting in the hallway at one point and went out to take a look but couldn’t see her—but she sure did sound jovial. I think she may have been telling a joke to one of the nurses. I thought about escaping several times but stuck it out. “Just get the scrip!” I told myself fiercely. “This cannot go on!”
At least half an hour later she finally strolled in. At this point I had about a 15-minute window to get home before my babysitter had to leave.
“So,” she said blandly as she dropped into her seat. “Anyway, there really isn’t anything I can do for you. I suggest you call your primary care doctor.”
But wait…hadn’t she said she was going to help me? And why the half-hour wait? What, what, WHAT??!!
“Nothing?” I asked. “But I thought—“
“I just wouldn’t know where to begin,” she said, throwing up her hands. “I have no idea of the dosages. Maybe you can call your pharmacy and get them to look it up. As I said, this isn’t really my realm. Good luck!”
I got up and left the worthless bitch sitting there. About to hyperventilate, I staggered down to the on-site café in the building. A nice man asked me what I wanted and I burst into tears. “T-t-t-turkey. And cheese. L-l-l-lettuce. Tomato. With, with, with—“
“Mustard?” he asked hopefully.
“Mayo!” he guessed, and went off to make it. Good fellow.
I leaned against a case containing cold drinks and cried hopelessly. Out of nowhere, a gentle voice said, “Can I help?” I looked up into the face of a woman. She had very blue eyes. I think. Her face seemed soft and genuine.
“No, it’s okay, I just need to eat,” I said pathetically. “I’m breastfeeding. Didn’t eat a good breakfast.” I broke into a fresh round of tears.
She smiled and laid a hand on my shoulder. “Tomorrow will be a better day,” she said, very sincerely.
Thank you, kind woman. She was right. I finally reached my own doctor when he returned to the office a few days later and he prescribed the Big P, the old classic, the traditional fix, in a jiffy. Says it’s safe for the infant. I popped one this morning. I still feel like shit, but there is hope.