Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Having Fun!

Quick synopsis for new (or forgetful) readers: My daughter Pippa was born in March 2013.  I struggled with postpartum depression for four months, culminating in five weeks of insomnia.  I wanted to die and finally went to see my ob/gyn in late July 2013. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and spent four nights in the hospital's psychiatric wing.  

I met my psychiatrist when I was a patient at my hospital's emergency room. I told him that I had had insomnia for the past five weeks and anxious, as if I was being stalked by a serial killer, but I was not depressed. Even though I was exhausted and broken by anxiety, I was very happy and content.

He did not seem convinced and asked if I had been having fun.

It felt like a trick question on a Calculus final exam; but I was confident that I was happy; and if I was happy, I must be having fun. Right? Happy mothers have fun - right? I was a happy mother - right? My life was filled with fun - right? I told my doctor that I was indeed having fun. 

Then he asked, "How? How are you having fun?"

How? WTF? I immediately felt defensive and cornered. The question implied that I was lying, that I was not in fact having fun in my life, that I was a horrible bitter mother who was not enjoying every precious moment with her newborn. If I was not having fun in my life, then I must hate my life; and if I hated my life, I resented my baby; and if I resented my baby, I was the most horrible mother in the world; and I could not bear the thought of that. The possibility that I was not having fun made me feel sick to the stomach. 

Indignant, I started to defend myself... but could not think of a good example to convince the doctor I was having fun. I knew that I was having fun, but my doctor did not believe me. The gears in my head clanged and sputtered, but I could only think of one example: watching t.v. with Nathan. As I explained to my psychiatrist that Nathan and I were new parents and watching television was the most fun we could expect to have, I felt both pathetic and outraged: pathetic that I was a couch potato; outraged that my doctor expected me to be going to extreme measures to have fun when I was busy caring for a newborn.

My psychiatrist and I had that conversation eleven months ago, and holy shit, what a difference eleven months has made! Eleven months ago, I thought that in becoming a parent, I had forfeited the right to have fun. Now I know that having fun is critical to my mental health. Eleven months ago, I thought watching television was fun. Now I know that television can be relaxing and entertaining, but rarely "fun." (I make exceptions for things like Super Bowl and Oscar viewing parties.)

Eleven months ago, I had forgotten how to have fun.  The word had been erased from my vocabulary so completely, that I was startled when my shrink asked me that simple question: are you having fun?

Now I have fun every day. I often find myself thinking, "This is going to be fun!" or "That was fun!" and when the word "fun" comes to mind, I feel grateful. I am so grateful that my psychiatrist did not just prescribe a sleep aid and tell me to lose weight. I am so grateful for all the support I received from my husband, parents, siblings and friends. If my doctor had not forced me to look at my life, if my family had not supported my recovery, I might still think that it's fun to be a couch potato.

So how do I have fun these days?  I started doing Zumba a month ago - Zumba is fun! Now I find myself dancing during random moments throughout the day. I spin Pippa around the kitchen and amuse her with silly dance moves. Dancing is fun!

I took Pippa to a local indoor playground with a huge climbing structure and a big twisty slide. Pippa and I climbed up the equipment together - climbing is fun! - and then she scrambled into my lap and we whooshed down the slide together - slides are fun! Now I am plotting a trip to Raging Waters and contemplating the best way to bribe my sister to hang out with Pippa in the kiddie zone while Nathan and I go down the big slides. (Hey, Katherine, if you are reading this, I'll buy you a Lexus scooter...)

I went on a hike last weekend to celebrate my climb out of the darkness of depression  - hiking is fun! I scrambled over rocks and splashed across a stream - scrambling is fun! splashing is fun! There are lots of splash pads in the San Gabriel Valley and Pippa and I are going to play in them all summer - playing is fun!

Pippa and I are taking swim lessons - swimming is fun!

We had a family trip to the beach - the beach is fun! Building sand castles? FUN! Getting splashed by waves? Fun fun fun!

Every day, I build towers for Pippa with whatever is available - Duplo bricks, wooden blocks, Tupperware, paper bowls - and then she knocks it down and laughs hysterically. Building is fun! Laughing is fun!

Every day, Pippa chases after me, and then I chase after her, and then I hide behind a chair, and then we shriek when she finds me. It's our own version of hide-n-seek-tag, and it is FUN FUN FUN.

Before I had postpartum depression, I took the concept of fun for granted. I did a lot of things that were fun, but I did not deliberately make sure I had fun on a regular basis. When I was stressed at work, I could go days and weeks on end without having any.

Although I started to feel enormously better within 48 hours of starting Zoloft, it took months and months for me to recover. Today, as I type this, I feel as if I have recovered fully; but every month, I feel better and better. So maybe I have not fully recovered. Maybe I am still shaking off the residue of postpartum depression.

But I do know this: eleven months ago, I was not having fun. Six months ago, I was having a little fun... but not much. I was still anxious, and my anxiety made me feel reserved. Two months ago, I was having fun more often, but not exuberant fun. One month ago, I started doing Zumba, and I found myself having fun several times every day. One week ago, I rode down a big slide with Pippa and felt exuberant.

Folks, I am having fun! Life is fun! Postpartum depression stole the fun out of my life, but I have reclaimed it. I feel so energized. Having fun is not just enjoyable. It is INVIGORATING. When I have fun, my skin tingles with excitement, ideas bounce around my head, and my heart bursts with love. The fun of riding down a big slide does not end at the bottom of the slide; the exhilaration spills over the rest of my life. For example, today, while I was stuck in a traffic jam, I did not get frustrated or annoyed and pound the steering wheel, as I am wont to do. I danced. I grooved from left to right, using the steering wheel as my partner, as traffic inched forward. By having fun on a regular basis, I was able to actually enjoy a crappy moment in a traffic jam.

Now you will have to excuse me. I have to go have some fun!