By Kimberly Zapata
As I walk into my OB-GYN’s office, struggling to suppress the tears in my eyes and the suicidal thoughts racing through my mind, I wonder why I waited so long. Why had I waited until I was so desperate and so far gone to see the man who knew I had a history of depression? To see the man who spoke to me for several minutes in my third trimester about postpartum depression. To see the man who passed me a pamphlet and a support group list before my daughter was born.
I don’t know; then again, I don’t know anything anymore. The only thing I do know, as I sit here in the waiting room with the chill of fall snaking down my back and then back up through my flip-flop clad feet is that flip-flops were a stupid choice. Not only is it cold, but I need a pedicure. The polish on my nails is all but gone, though a few chips of seafoam green remain: one on my big toe and two disconnected slivers on the middle one. I wonder why I wore sandals. I wonder why I still haven’t taken two minutes to remove my pregnancy pedicure, the one I got just days before my now three-month-old daughter was born. I wonder; I wonder; I wonder. But in truth I already know; I don’t care about feet or my toes or my nails because I don’t care about myself, because I don’t care about my life.
Time jostles now. It has since the birth of my daughter, thanks to sleep deprivation (and motherhood in general), and while some days feel like an eternity, others pass in a haze. I move, I eat, I breathe, I talk, but I don’t know about what or to where. I simply transport from one place — one moment — to another.
“Are you sure?” His voice, smooth and steady with the tenor of an alto sax, pulls me back. I remember arriving at his office. I remember smiling at the nurse who smiled at my daughter, strapped in her car seat and sleeping soundly beneath a fluffy, pale pink blanket. I remember locking eyes with women (and their bellies) in the waiting room. And I remember being called back and scooting my ass across a 16-inch strip of parchment paper — my legs dangling between the stirrups instead of being mounted in them — but I don’t really remember it at all. It is a habitual memory, instinctual but not specific to this to this visit.
He speaks again, “Are you positively certain you’re okay?”
I hesitate. I’m not. I know I’m not, but sometime between my arrival and now, my resolve has broken. I am afraid if I admit to suicidal thoughts — if I tell him I have made plans, actual plans — they will take my daughter away. I’m afraid that I’m going crazy. I’m afraid of being vulnerable; I’m afraid of appearing afraid.
So instead of telling the truth, I nod. I lie through my clenched crooked teeth. I lie with conviction. With certainty. With a smile.
My doctor nods slightly, places his oversized hand on my shoulder, and — with a firm but gentle squeeze — excuses himself from the room, inviting me back to his office. He leaves and I exhale a long, deep guttural breath. But exhaling is easy. It is breathing in that hurts. It is taking that next breath that terrifies me.
I sit for a minute, a minute that feels brief and fleeting but painfully long all at the same time. I force myself to stay. I force myself to sit, my gaze shifting from my ill-fitting pants to the red sharps container suspended from the wall beside me. I force myself to sit alone and in silence (my greatest enemy), and simply breathe. I promise myself that once I am in his office I will tell him I’m not okay; I will admit to the lie.
But I don’t. I sink into an oversized leather chair — the studded kind, with a high back and comical size — and he sits across from me. We are divided by an equally large mahogany desk; a large room, a large man, and me — 5 foot and 105 pounds me, withering away, wishing I could slip away. He asks me, again, if I am okay. He asks me if I am suicidal.
Is it that obvious? Keep it together. He’ll only know what I tell him. And so I deny it. I deny the suicidal thoughts. I deny myself the chance to get help, and instead I reassure him, and myself, of my sanity.
He says something supportive, takes out his prescription pad, and writes down the name of a personal referral before we part ways. I agree to call him if things get worse. I agree to call him if anything comes up.
I will make one, and only one, phone call: When I find out my psychiatry appointment is six whole weeks away. He calls in a 60-day prescription for Wellbutrin to my pharmacy, to get me over the hump, and tells me to come back in two weeks for a follow-up. Again, he asks me to call him if I felt worse or just need to talk.
Sure, I got worse — much worse — but I didn’t call him as the seasons shifted, as I traded my flip-flops for slipper socks. I didn’t call him as I found myself withering away, stripped naked like the trees and consumed in the same grey darkness as the snowy sky. I didn’t call him as the weather shifted from cold to absolutely fucking freezing, as I didn’t get better. Instead I iced over, like the streets of Brooklyn. I cried more; I moved less.
I found myself wanting, wishing, and planning ways to die.
I found myself hoping, praying I would die.
Depression is impossible to explain, and postpartum depression is no different. It is as much a feeling as it is void of feeling. You move and you eat and you breath, so you know you are alive, but you can’t feel — and what you do feel, you don’t understand. It’s confusing, completely illogical, and indiscriminate, and it is part of you. It runs deep in your core and paralyzes you, again and again.
My daughter is three years old now, and it is flip-flop season once more. My toes are still a hot mess, but not because I don’t care. Instead it is because I am too busy chasing her to allow them time to dry. It is because I am too consumed with motherhood to focus on things like manicures and pedicures. It is because I am too busy living to worry about insignificant things like chipped polish.