The cost of obedience to what I believed was God’s will for my life was high. Feeling overwhelmed, tired, stressed, depressed and anxious became my normal right away after getting married and becoming pregnant for the first time.
I had never been a huge fan of being touched or having someone in close proximity to me. I don’t need multiple hugs a day to be happy and thrive. I had never been a big fan of being around people, constantly. I liked to have time alone with my thoughts, time alone to read, time alone to draw, time alone to write. I loved being social, as long as I could pair that with plenty of time alone in which to unwind and let go of stress.
I was never alone, now, and I was being touched, constantly. There were constant interruptions so whenever I tried to read, or draw, or write, the activity would get derailed. It was aggravating and I would often lose focus and become forgetful. I stopped trying to write fiction because I would lose my narrative flow. I stopped drawing because I couldn’t maintain the mood and vision I started with. I read less because I would have to keep rereading the same page over and over, forgetting where I’d left off or what I read before I was interrupted.
Instead for my recreation I played World of Warcraft with the personal understanding that if a child needed my attention I would go afk in the middle of whatever I was doing, even if that got my character killed. I avoided activities, like dungeons and raids, that I could screw up by going afk. I joked about my children assassinating me as the character deaths piled up. Sometimes I’d burn out on the game, it would stop offering me a mood boost, and I would quit for a few months or a year.
I went from mess to mess and emotional crisis to emotional crisis. I cooked, and hated it, and cleaned, and hated it, and took care of my children and hated that, too, even though I didn’t hate my children. I hated cleaning up their constant messes, I hated the constant expelling of bodily fluids, I felt overwhelmed by how much attention and soothing and training and time they needed from me. I felt very guilty for how much I hated the physical and emotional demands of caring for my children. It wasn’t their fault. They didn’t choose to be part of the world, I made that choice for them.
My husband made messes, too. He had become a hoarder, wanting to keep things because we might need them ‘some day’ or because he planned to use them, ‘some day.’ He rarely cleaned up after himself. I threw away a pair of ratty shoes he no longer used, and he was upset with me because he thought he might use them as part of a character’s costume concept one day. We kept every old computer box we had whenever we upgraded to a new computer.
I wasn’t able to keep up with the amount of clutter and mess being produced. After our third child, I found myself recovering enough energy that I thought I might finally be making headway and instilling some order and cleanliness into my existence. Then I miscarried, twice. Then got pregnant and carried our 4th child to term and that was it, all the headway I’d made was undone. Life was incredibly stressful leading up to the delivery and then remained extremely stressful after.
Every baby is different, I’d learned, and my last would not fall asleep until 1 or 2am, and then woke every hour to eat. I had to get up by 7am to take care of the other children. I couldn’t nap when the baby napped because that would leave our older children unsupervised, and they weren’t old enough to be unsupervised. Sometimes I would fall asleep on the couch without meaning to and there was usually some new problem to take care of when I woke up. Usually these short, interrupted naps left me feeling more tired than if I’d simply stayed awake.
I envied my husband getting to go to work and then leave it behind him to come home and relax. His work days were a mere 8-10 hours, while mine were 18 hours, being on call for the remaining 6. It took months to get our youngest to a bedtime as early as 10pm and I grew increasingly sleep deprived. I was grumpy all the time and found myself yelling at my older children whenever they made messes or caused me problems, and felt guilty for losing control and yelling.
When I did get periods of downtime, I couldn’t even listen to music. I would keep things as quiet as possible. I couldn’t tolerate the constant major sensory input and music became just another sensory input adding to overwhelming and mostly negative sensory input. I was constantly anxious and angry and sad and there was almost nothing in my life that gave me happiness or helped me relax. I didn’t do drugs, legal or illegal, I didn’t drink, and I didn’t smoke. I didn’t even have an artificial way to calm my body and brain down.
I knew I couldn’t go through another pregnancy and taking care of another baby. I would crack. I’d probably have to be committed. I was so afraid of an accident I dreaded having sex. My husband didn’t want to get a vasectomy so I researched options for myself and ended my fertility, permanently. I was in my 30s with 4 children, so the doctor didn’t even attempt to argue me out of it. My mom and my sister expressed worry about what I was doing and told me about the things that could go wrong – they didn’t feel this kind of intervention for a body was healthy or natural – but I knew I was at the end of my rope and would break if I had to go through pregnancy, childbirth and infancy again.
The procedure was a success, overall, except for the part where I had to prepare by using a form of birth control I’d never been on and had a reaction so rare it wasn’t listed as a possible side effect. Instead of my periods becoming lighter or going away, the bleeding increased. I was bleeding three weeks out of every month. The reaction lasted six months and I was anemic by the time it was over.
In 2015, I hit the lowest low I’d hit since the first bout of major depression I’d had after my parents separated. I would cry in the shower, or hide under the covers and cry, hoping my children wouldn’t notice while they sat at the foot of our bed and played games on our PS4. I fantasized about waking up one day and discovering that every single person on earth had vanished, except me. If every single human was gone, no one could expect anything from me. No one would need my help. No one would be upset because of me. No one would want anything from me. No one would touch me. I’d be able to just… just be.
That fall we decided to put the children in public school now that we were in a good school district. I was struggling with getting our 3rd to read, and our oldest was nearing an age when I no longer felt confident that I could teach him what he needed to know. I’d always known I’d hit the limits of my education and that I’d need to let professionals take over if I wanted my children to get a decent education. Plus, I didn’t want them to stay friendless the way I had been. I was gratified to learn I hadn’t completely screwed up teaching them myself.
As I had many times before, I talked to my husband about the stress I was under and this time, he seemed to have a better sense of how bad things were and agreed to take over the cooking. I largely gave up on trying to keep the house clean or the clutter organized. I’d talked to my husband about how much the clutter and mess bothered me over the years, and nothing had really changed. He’d started to work on eliminating a few things, but at such a slow pace that it made no real difference.
Doing one chore always required doing other chores just to get the first one done. In order to vacuum I would need to empty the vacuum into the trash, but the trash would be full, too, and need to be emptied. The floor around the trash would be covered in trash, too, and I would have to sweep. The floor that needed to be vacuumed would be covered in messes from the kids and my husband and I’d have to move things around or put them away. I’d need to collect laundry and wash a load and there would be a load in the washer and another in the dryer and baskets full of laundry that had already been washed and dried.
It didn’t matter how nice I could make the house look. In a day or two, it would revert back to its original state. Cleaning always left me tired, and sore, and cranky. I hated seeing how thoughtless everyone in the household was and having to clean up everyone else’s mess. We started having the children help with some chores around the house but of course the truly nasty messes and hard jobs were left to me. The kids wouldn’t be able to handle them and my husband wouldn’t do it. If things like washing floors and scrubbing shower tiles and baseboards and the stove and the fridge were going to get done, it would have to be me.
I was spending my life on chores I hated, chores I would have to do the rest of my life, chores that prevented me from doing things that actually made me happy or that might benefit me long-term, chores that were made infinitely harder and longer by my husband and children’s hoarding, endless collecting of stuff, and thoughtless, messy ways. I couldn’t follow five people around and nag them to take care of their messes. I would hate that, and they would hate that, and we’d just be constantly angry at each other.
I knew it wasn’t right that I was never happy and always anxious. I read that children that first experience severe depression in their teens are more likely to develop chronic depression as an adult. I figured that was what had happened. My brain was deteriorating and this was worse than everything else, because my brain was the most valued part of my existence. It was my favorite part of me. I made stupid mistakes in spelling and grammar that I always used to catch. I forgot even more things than usual. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t enjoy anything.
In 2016, when the depression lifted for a time (an enormous surprise to me) I finally screwed up the courage to talk to my doctor about what had been going on, and she recommended two different psychiatrists, with a special recommendation for one even though she was out of network. When I looked up the specially recommended psychiatrist, I found out she specialized in co-morbid mental disorders. The thought that my doctor believed my symptoms indicated more than one mental illness was too much for me and I never contacted either psychiatrist.
I knew I needed help of some sort but I couldn’t work up the energy or the courage to seek it. I was terrified of being put on medication when I was the sole caregiver for young children. What if I had a reaction to the medication and there was no one around to help? What if I had a psychotic reaction to anti-depressants and attacked my children? I knew psychosis was a rare side effect, but I didn’t want to take any chances. My depression was severe, but I wasn’t suicidal, I wasn’t self-harming, and I wasn’t hurting my children. I could suck it up and continue being sad to avoid the risk of psychosis.