On Reconciling Depression, Pregnancy, and Ambition
By Dominique Matti
Photo by Femi Matti
I’m depressed. It snuck up on me again, it always seems to. Dishes and unanswered e-mails pile up. Plans slip through my fingers like water. Suddenly, it takes longer to get out of bed, and then it takes longer to get off the couch, and then getting out of the door is a chore.
I sometimes, somehow convince myself that I’ve conquered this disorder, and for that reason I resist admitting its return. It ritualistically gets louder until I relent. This episode, I knew it had cracked through my barriers the day my denial got so bad that I found myself rushing to change out of the previous night’s pajamas at 7:35pm. My husband gets home at 7:45 and I didn’t want him to know that I’d never showered, never gotten dressed in real-world clothes, hadn’t really accomplished anything outside of mothering. I called my therapist to continue the counseling I’d canceled.
I’m 32 weeks pregnant, as well. Like most conditions in my body, which limit my productivity, I spent some time denying the pregnancy, too. I blamed the nausea on coffee, tried switching to substitutes — and when that didn’t fly I blamed sleep deprivation. After nearly three months, my husband convinced me to take a test — and the twin blue lines demanded honest acknowledgement.
Between my pregnancy, my depression, and my duties, I am exhausted almost all of the time. Most days I can’t differentiate between which is causing the insomnia, or which is causing the fatigue, or which is making it so damn difficult to focus. I don’t know which is making every task feel monumental, insurmountable. But I feel every single one of my limitations, in intense and unrelenting ways.
I often become angry at my body for being a body. I become angry at how it consumes me. I become angry at all of its needs, every ounce that it requires of me. I want to transcend this body’s boundaries. I want evolution to advance beyond my body’s inherent humanity. My anger is a prayer to the body gods, that they might bestow upon me the capacity to both make a person and kick off a career, to be mentally ill and still manage to compete with my peers.
But the body gods forsake my will. Beyond my wants, they bless me with my needs. They seek to teach me the art of reconciling self -acceptance with ambition. They teach me to forgive myself for being a human.
It’s hard to be pregnant, depressed, and ambitious. It’s hard to be hungry for success with no energy. It’s hard to feel packed with potential and depraved of your will to fulfill it. It’s hard to explain why you’re missing the thrice- extended deadline, and it’s doubly hard to stop taking on tasks.
I want to be one of those women who does it all. I want to live the shit out of life, with a baby on my hip and in my belly. I want a Chai latte to be enough. I want to cook all three meals, exercise, and keep a clean home. I want to stimulate my kid’s mind, start a career, and a self-care routine. I want a happy, healthy marriage and well-fostered friendships.
But I am bribing my toddler’s tantrums to retreat with mini marshmallows. I am purging all my anxieties into my stressed spouse’s very full lap. The little money I have too often goes to pizza. Between pregnancy brain and depression fog, I’ve failed at two jobs and a fellowship this year. I can’t put a word down of the novel in my head. I’m a phantom to most of my friends, now. And there is not enough self-care in the world to satiate the amount of solitude I need to recharge.
The body gods force me to recognize that the processes I try to transcend during pregnancy and depression are in vain. There’s no benefit to denying my body what it needs in pursuit of what I want it to do for me. I want it to work in ways I can see, work in ways that translate to some kind of income, recognition, or sense of security. But my body is already hard at work — I’m just forcing it to pull doubles and still calling it lazy. I berate it for collapsing while starving it of breaks.
My body is tackling a monumental task by minimizing the Mount Everest of laundry in the closet. My muscles are lifting ten thousand tons out of bed in the morning. My body is dragging the dead weight of me to the kitchen to make my son breakfast, and get him dressed, and make him smile. It takes him to the park when it can and chase him while he chases wily squirrels. My body is fending off a mutiny staged by my mind. My body is building a whole other body inside of it!
And so I am learning to hold on to my lofty ambition without negating my everyday successes. I am learning not to devalue the daily work that my body does in private. I am learning that the most productive thing I can do is listen to my body, instead of insisting that none of its struggles are big enough to warrant meeting it where it’s at. I am respecting the work that it does, and I’m working to ease some of the burden. I’m learning to take pride in myself for the battles I’ve won instead of condemning myself for struggling. I’m thanking it for courageously fighting the civil war inside it, on top of completing a thousand daily duties. I’m forgiving my body for being a body, and marveling at it instead.
Writer/ Ruminator/ Editor/ Cool Mom / firstname.lastname@example.org