The Reinvention of Me: Music Dies Slowly

They sing about a day the music died, but music doesn’t die all at once. It dies little by little, so fractional that you might not notice until it is long gone.

As some new mothers, I was hypervigilant in the media my precious little one consumed. I eschewed popular music, and there’s only so much instrumental music I could stand. I began singing. All the time. I sang when rocking to sleep (no, we did not cry it out; no, I have no regrets about it). I sang when driving. I sang all the time.

During that first brush with postpartum depression, I even used singing to recenter myself. No matter how scared I was that I might hurt my baby, I believed I could never hurt him while singing, “baby, mama loves you, baby, mama cares for you, baby, mama loves you more than you’ll ever know.” And I never did hurt him, though I don’t recommend that as a primary method of healthcare. Past that months-long depression, I kept singing it. I added all the people in his life who loved him.

As he grew and a little brother came along, I sang. We sang our address for Eldest to learn it. We sang our phone number. We sang about creation. We sang the books of the Bible. We sang about our love. We sang all the time.

While pregnant with Third, a new and dangerous depression settled upon me. I didn’t think of it having anything to do with the pregnancy itself. Postpartum depression is post partum, right? My boys were younger than four and two. My pregnancy was huge. I had a terrible cold that turned to bronchitis and separated my ribs by coughing. The pain. It seared when I inhaled, when I lifted a boy, when I reached for anything, when I rested in bed, when I stretched. The pain impacted my depression, which I didn’t yet call depression.

Then Third emerged into this world, bouncing at 9 pounds 9 ounces. While we were still in the hospital, our long-time babysitter was diagnosed with cancer. I mourned her, though I had no idea how much I would need to mourn her in the months that followed. A number of months after his birth, I planned a suicide thwarted by the same babysitter calling in sick one day. That day I called my obstetrician’s office. I needed help.

The triage nurse instructed me to go to the ER. I laughed the most derisive, hateful laugh and said, “I cannot do that.” And I couldn’t. Load my three children younger than four years old into my van and drive myself to an emergency room alone? It was what I should have done but what I could not do. What if they took my kids? What about my husband at work, who knew nothing of this and had no transportation? It was too risky.

My obstetrician got on the phone and said, “I told the nurse, I know Amanda. She would never hurt her kids or herself. You’re not going to do that, are you?” By this time, I was loading the car so that I could pick up my husband from work. I lied to her and said, “No, I guess.” She prescribed the minimum dose of an antidepressant. I picked it up that night and then called my sister.

“You can’t ask me any questions because I can’t talk about it, but my doctor prescribed 25 mg of this antidepressant and I’m scared to take it. Will it make me worse? Will it hurt my baby?”

She told me we’d be okay. That if we needed it, it would not harm us. So I took it.

I remember so clearly the day, a few weeks later, that I felt the scales falling from my eyes. That was what I said to myself in that moment, while driving across town. Scales falling from my eyes. Colors were more colorful. The sun continued shining. But my fight was far from over.

Through our move to a new house and the abrupt termination of our once-beloved babysitter, my depression deepened. My prescription increased under the care of a primary care physician. But I feared sleeping. I feared I might harm my kids while I slept, and that was my worst fear – harming my boys. I should have been hospitalized. Instead, I took medicine to help me sleep.

Just as I thought things were leveling, Eldest began pre-k and I began falling. Syncope, they called it. It was two years and many doctors before conversion disorder became my diagnosis. I began a blog called The Disease is Me. But so much had happened.

During the worst of it, my parents moved in to take care of me and the boys so my husband could work. I don’t know how Middling potty trained. I don’t know when Third began sleeping on his own.

It was months of recovery before I realized that Third was silent. He didn’t babble. He had no words.

In time, I connected his quietude with my own. At some point I had stopped singing. No alphabet. No address. No loving lullabies. The music had died. And I hadn’t even noticed.

My tough climb back from that darkest of places has been intervened by life. Death of a nephew. Mother’s liver transplant. Father’s quadruple bypass surgery. Uncounted other near misses and struggles.

Finally. Finally. Finally, I wanted to be well. I wanted to give up my old selves. I wanted to give up anxiety. I want to be whole.

That’s when the music reanimated. When I wanted to be whole. I’ve worked with meds and counseling. I’m reinventing myself. I’m reinventing my music.

I’m singing in the car. I’m singing at my desk. I’m singing in the shower. I awake with song on my heart. I catch myself singing at odd moments.

The music died slowly. It’s come back just as slowly. Both without my noticing until it was completely gone or nearly completely back.

Perhaps I didn’t reinvent music. Perhaps it reinvented me.

The Reinvention of Me: Reinventing Summer

This morning as I write I feel the most anxious I have felt in a while. With two hands clamped tightly about my heart, I struggled to get up and take my morning medicine along with the antihistamine prescribed for moments like these. Through shower, drinking water, and eating breakfast, the anxiety remains. But I must keep going; littles are here.

A couple of weeks ago, I warned the boys that I am a different mom than they left in January when they began brick-and-mortar schooling. They are also different. I’m not the mom who is barely hanging on. I’m not the mom who relies on videos and naps to get through the day. I’m not the mom on edge.

Then days like today crop up and it all feels too much. The difference is that the days don’t happen every day. It gives me a reserve that doesn’t feel too reserved at first.

When I say that summer curriculum is a thing, what I mean is this: I must plan to be active in the summer because my default is to retreat. It’s a survival mechanism as much as anything else. It gives me a pattern to follow so that on bad days I can get up and follow a map. Do one. Do two. Do three. Until you feel better or the day ends.

Already, today, I’m feeling a bit better. The antihistamine is doing its thing. The water, maybe, too. Perhaps writing this. A hug from a boy. The panic is diminishing rather than rising.

This is a big change for my boys. They are not yet acclimated. Yes, they saw me every day during the last semester but only before and after school.

Last night, Eldest said, “Don’t you get it? We just want to have a normal summer!”

I do get it. Now there are expectations and rules. There are places to go and things to do. There’s a system of points gained and lost that governs free time and screen time. Still, a big part of me wanted to reply, “Don’t you get it? That was never normal!” It was their normal, though. So I hugged him and saw him to bed at a reasonable hour and hoped he would find something today to fill his cup.

I don’t blame my people for thinking the bottom may fall out. They’ve been vigilant too long to give it up easily. Relapse is a real danger. It always will be. But today I am able. Today I have reserves and tools. Today we reinvent summer.

If you like, you can follow our summer curriculum at Indelible Words in a series called Summer Dreamin’ with My Boys.