It felt sudden. Like a switch had been flipped, a dimmer shoved down.
Have you ever been the drunk crazy chick? The type to freak the fuck out? You start an evening upbeat, content with your lot in life; but six or seven martinis in, you look at everything with new eyes and decide to throw out the baby (boyfriend) with the bathwater (job)? I have. But that was a decade ago. When I really wasn’t happy, and I could only admit it with a little help from my friend, Jack. You know, Daniels – who like the fiend that he is skulked away and left me convictionless in the morning. These days that sort of thing doesn’t happen to me.
Until it did – stone cold sober. A few months ago, I suddenly felt deeply disgruntled. Simultaneously overwhelmed and bored. Tired. Put upon by my children. Too exhausted to look forward to anything except bedtime. Especially not play dates or other laborious social interactions. Things that used to make me giggle now grated. I just wanted to sleep. And be alone. To sleep alone.
In my more proactive moments, I tried to isolate the problem. Could it be that all those women who write about the intolerable drudgery and mind-numbing repetition of stay-at-home parenting had been right? That spending your days responding to the requests and whims of toddlers really is like allowing little leeches to slowly drain the lifeblood of your personhood? Could the last three years have been some sort of honeymoon period? I thought my personality and skills predisposed me to relish and excel at my role as “in-house counsel.” I thought I’d found it both rewarding and satisfying. I guessed I’d thought wrong, and started looking for part-time work.
And then, just a week or two later, the gloom began to lift. I felt like reading again! I wasn’t quite whistling, but I didn’t crave my bed like it was a giant basket of perfectly crisp cheese fries. Through sheer good fortune, I picked up a book that mentioned oxytocin and pregnancy – and truly stepped out of the darkness. The light bulb realization: my funk perfectly coincided with weaning my son.
Life as a woman is one long hormonal roller coaster, but certain periods (like pregnancy, miscarriage, and delivery) are more like The Cyclone than the gentle ups and downs of the monthly cycle. I’d never heard of a connection between nursing and mood (and was already so situationally depressed when I stopped pumping at my sick daughter’s six-month mark that I didn’t notice any down-tick), but it makes complete sense.
When I stopped breastfeeding, I cut off the stream of oxytocin – known as “the love hormone” and fairly similar in effect to dopamine – that had been flowing through me for the past year. Basically, I quit taking my methadone and then stumbled around the Lower East Side unable to figure out why I felt awful and angsty. Even before a quick Google search revealed a Huffington Post article classifying the weaning blues as a subset of postpartum depression, I knew, just knew, that Rush Limbaugh and I finally had something in common: we’d both been undone by an oxy.
With reassurance that each passing day spent as a stay-at-home mother would help, rather than set me back further, I determinedly put one foot in front of the other until I was up and running again. Only another few weeks down the line, I’m back to my sunny self – the one who finds full-time parenting as fulfilling as my breasts are empty.