On PPD & a PhD

Lady Academics is thrilled to publish our first essay from a guest poster, Carly Lesoski! We hope you enjoy it. As always, please feel free to submit pieces to us at theladyacademics [at] gmail.com!

Sitting my therapist’s waiting room, I fidget with my shaking hands, thoughts racing. My therapist appears in the doorway, smiling pleasantly as always. She asks me what I want to drink. Water, I answer, as always. I settle down on her fluffy new couch, while she gets her coffee and my water. My heart pounds, and I feel the shame starting to well up in my stomach and spill over into my chest. I try to shake the feeling, but it just won’t go away.

She asks how I’m doing. I answer that I’m alright, but it’s been a tough couple of days. Tough? I continue fidgeting, averting her gaze. I’d been visiting her for over a year. She knows so much about me, so it seems ridiculous to be this nervous, but there’s a voice in my head. What if they take Phineas away? I can’t let them take him from me. I know rationally that this won’t happen, but the voice nags at me. She stares knowingly at me, patiently waiting for me to talk. I inhale deeply, the pressure of anxiety pressing the air out of my lungs.

I tell her how Phineas was really upset all weekend. How he’s teething and hasn’t been sleeping well. Neither have I. No, it’s not always because of him. I wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweats, gasping. My husband jumps up asking if I’m ok. I angrily tell him to go back to sleep, embarrassed. When I do sleep, I have strange anxiety-ridden nightmares. She tells me that the appearance of my ex in my dreams is likely just a personification of my anxiety, as is my persistent panicky fear of spiders. This anxiety comes down to my fear of not being able to care for and protect Phineas. She reassures me that he is fine, that I’m doing a good job. Smiling, I show her my latest Instagram video of him.

Anything else? Yeah. I debate whether or not I should answer her. What if they take him? My husband would never forgive me. I tell her that my pervasive thoughts are back. She asks me to explain. I begin to tell her everything. How he cried and cried for hours. How I rocked him, sobbing with him, fearing that I wasn’t good enough. With a deep and painful pang of fear, I admit that I have flashes of thoughts of hurting myself, of hurting him, of hurting my husband. I tell her of the instant disgust I feel toward myself. What kind of mother thinks these kinds of things? I had planned what I would need to pack so that I could sneak away, but only after Corey was back from his night class, so Phineas would be safe and cared for. I wasn’t going to run away because I don’t love Phineas; on the contrary, I wanted to run away because I love him so much. He is so amazing and perfect, and I’m not good enough to be his mom.

My therapist smiles kindly. She reassures me that I am a good mom, and that what I’m feeling is typical for postpartum depression. That these are all just thoughts and that my sudden disgust about these thoughts is a sign that I’m not a danger to my son. These thoughts are not me. She urges me to call my doctor to adjust the dose of my antidepressant. Even after months with the diagnosis, I still cringe at the thought of being medicated. I had gone to therapy for so long, and that had been enough, but my son’s birth changed literally everything.

For the rest of the day I’m so anxious and upset that I can’t get anything done. I schedule an appointment, but it is during my graduate colloquium. My mind races. I have to email the director of graduate studies, the one who runs the colloquium, to tell her that I won’t attend an event that was my idea, as if I don’t have enough anxiety surrounding sending emails. What if she gets angry? What if she feels like I’m not doing enough? What if she knows that I’m not making the progress I want to be? What if these prompt her to notice that I’m not publishing like I should be? What if she finally realizes that I’m not actually good enough to get a PhD?

I hate email. I avoid emails like the plague, even if they’re simple and easy to answer. With shaking hands, I write her an apologetic, yet detailed email. Within the hour she answers me, assuring me that it is not a problem, and not to apologize for this. She tells me that my mental health is important, and that she hopes I’m doing better. I miss my baby, so I visit him before my appointment. His smiling face makes me feel a little better. I have to do this for him.

My PA tells me repeatedly that she’s glad I came in. I tell her about the thoughts I’d had, and that my therapist told me I had to come back in. We devise a strategy to get me feeling more ‘normal’, whatever that means in the wake of having a child and preparing for my comprehensive exams. I ask her what kind of mother has thoughts like these. All mothers do, she says, every single one. I just need a little help controlling them, that’s all. I decide to pick my son up from daycare early. I need his cuddles. When I arrive, he smiles his huge, dimpled smile and throws his arms up toward me, as if to say ‘you’re here! Pick me up!’ This is all that matters. Everything else can wait.

Carly Lesoski is a PhD Candidate in German Studies at Michigan State University. Other than being a wife and mom, she likes edtech, bad puns, and is obsessed with Twitter, Hamilton, and Reese’s Sticks. She is available for autographs, photoshoots, books deals, or conversation on Twitter @motheroftheses or via email at lesoskic [at] msu.edu.

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