I have a perfect baby, but I'm feeling really sad for the first time.

All of a sudden I am extremely tired and unmotivated and having trouble focusing on my job, and playing with my absolute gem of a baby helps but not enough.

A BIG SWEETIE WHOM WE LOVE:

My whole life has been pretty easy and joyful. It's super great. I grew up in a loving family that never had to worry about putting food on the table, have delightful friends I can count on, married my college sweetheart and we are still madly in love, have a job I enjoy that pays well, and now have an absolutely adorable 7-month-old son who is just the best (seriously, put this baby up against any baby in the world and I swear to you he is the cutest and smartest and happiest and nicest and perhaps I am a little biased as his mother but also I am convinced it is objectively TRUE).

And yet (you knew there was an and yet because I am writing in to you), I have been feeling really really down. Last week I woke up to what appeared to be a hellscape or Mars or something because there was no light and the sky was orange. And now we can't go outside because the air isn't safe to breathe. And all of a sudden I am extremely tired and unmotivated and having trouble focusing on my job (which I am also doing from my couch, which probably doesn't help), and playing with my absolute gem of a baby helps but not enough.

And... I don't know how to deal with adversity? I mean I have had minor struggles in the past but have always been able to shake it or find something to do that made me feel better while I dealt with it. I am new to feeling like this! One of my most constant personality traits is contentedness and it has been such a wonderful gift that the gods gave me - negative things usually just don't phase me too much - in addition to the fact that I have had so much to be contented about my whole life. So I feel really dumb and privileged to have spent 30+ years on this earth without learning how to deal with feeling depressed. What do people do?

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SOPHIA:

Hello you sweet brilliant gem!! First of all, congratulations on having the world’s best baby!!! I believe you emphatically that he’s the greatest!!! 💕

There is some good and some bad news about your situation, and I actually don’t think that you’re totally unprepared to deal with this just because your life has been generally good before. Obviously, over time, you will come to learn what works for you in terms of coping and in that sense, you may get “better” at handling this, but you’re a smart capable human and you’re lucky enough to have resources on your side so I’m very confident that you can address this.

Can you fix it? Honestly, I don’t know. It sounds like, to me—AND I AM NOT A DOCTOR, PLEASE TALK TO A DOCTOR FOR REAL—that you are depressed. It may be tied into having a baby, NOT because you don’t love your baby—as we already discussed, he’s the premiere baby in the entire world so it is clearly not about that!!!! There is not a single known cause for postpartum depression (PPD), but many studies suggest that fluctuating hormones after giving birth might act as a “kick off” event for depression, even if you haven’t experienced it before. Postpartum depression is similar to all your great pregnancy hair falling out after birth; it’s outside of your control and it’s normal and it doesn’t mean something is wrong with you—your mind and body are just trying to adjust, and sometimes the adjustments are not helpful!!!!

THAT ALL SAID, it might also just be run of the mill regular-degular depression. It might not be depression at all; sometimes the come down from anxiety swings—and there’s plenty to be anxious about right now—can feel the way depression or sadness feels.

I think (I know!!) you need to talk to a doctor, preferably a therapist or counselor who has experience with new moms—again, the baby is not the problem!!! the baby is great and perfect!!! YOU are not the problem; you are a great and perfect mother!!!! The problem is likely brain chemistry mixed with Being Alive During A Very Stressful Time. Please remember that. Admitting that you might be struggling with a mental health issue does not and will not weaken your bond with your baby nor will it brand you as a bad mother; it will do the opposite in both instances. I know it’s scary and uncomfortable to seek help sometimes, even if you would 100% recommend it for your best friend or sister or coworker, even if you are totally pro-therapy. I know it’s much harder when you actually have to apply that to yourself. But I think you need to for the sake of yourself and your perfect baby. Not because I think the situation is dire!! Going to therapy is ideally for you much more like going to the dentist than going to the ER.

That all said, I think there is some hard work all of us are going to have to do in the coming years as we sort through the grief—and it is grief—of what the world we’re living in is. Between capitalistic greed, wealth inequality, racism and white supremacy, the rise of the far-right and conspiracy, climate change, and a massive pandemic, there is plenty to actually be worried and sad and fearful about. A therapist cannot make those things go away. Climate change is scary. Civilization collapse or civil war or whatever the fuck comes next is horrifying—beyond what human brains are meant to deal with long-term. It’s mega-grief; it’s mega-fear. It’s NORMAL and in fact GOOD to be sad and scared about the future right now.

And some days it will paralyze you. It will hold you hostage. Some days are going to be doom and gloom. That’s ok. That’s part of grieving. You’re not supposed to be ok with the world going in the direction it’s going; that would be callous. It’s perfectly normal to look at the world outside right now and feel depressed.

But you’re still alive, so the question becomes (for you and for all of us) how to live as well as survive. How do you find small moments of joy? How you live in a world that is grieving and dying? How you continue to live and be alive when the prognosis is middling-to-bad? And: how do you keep your brain as healthy as a brain can be right now? If you imagine that the air outside diminishes lung health capacity and you cannot have GREAT lungs if you live in a smoky area right now, imagine that this world does the same thing for your brain. Maybe in order to have the healthiest possible lungs in the current climate you don’t smoke cigarettes (as an example). The question is, what can you do to have the healthiest possible brain in this setting for you? Is it working out? Is it set scheduled time each day without the baby for you to do your own thing? Is it meditation? Is it long baths? I don’t know the answers yet, but you can find them out.

Your baby cannot make you happy enough to undo the grief of this world. He is perfect but he is not omnipotent. That is way too much to put on him or yourself. Set down the expectation that you are going to be over-the-moon happy all the time, or even, I’m sorry to say, content. The world is hard right now and you have good reason (not that anyone needs a reason!) to feel malcontent.

I think your general state of contentedness will actually help you in the long run, but I do think you need to set it aside for a minute and let yourself feel and grieve. This probably isn’t how you thought your baby would enter the world—in a pandemic, in wildfires— when you were dreaming of starting a family. How are you going to grapple with that loss of expectation? How are you going to frame what comes next?

As you do all of this work, ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED—or even what you think you might need. Not just from a therapist—whose help you must seek, please!!!—but also from your husband and your coworkers and your boss. If you feel comfortable and it’s safe to do so, tell your boss that you’re struggling a bit with a health issue (you can be as specific or vague as you’d like to be) and that you need a day off. Or that you need to stop work at 4pm every day. Ask for support! If he’s not already, insist that your husband have alone time with the baby where he is the only adult responsible or even around. If you have parents or friends in the area, ask them (when the sky clears) to come outside and drink a glass of champagne with you to celebrate being alive right now. Ask for little things that would make you feel better even 1%. People would love to help you right now. Helping people feels great.

In fact, it often feels so good to help people that it might be a way to help with your sadness about the world. I ONLY recommend this to you if you have time/energy. (DO NOT ADD TO YOUR PLATE IF YOU ARE OVERBOOKED!!! YOU ARE ALREADY CARING FOR YOUR BABY!!!) If this seems like something that would make you feel good: Write sweet cards to your parental figures and put them in the mail. Help your husband with a task he hates. Drop off a pan of brownies at a friends.

Some things that help *a little* for me when I get really sad and scared about the world and climate and if I can have children: Reminding myself that no matter what, I was always going to die. I wasn’t going to live forever no matter what. I was not owed or promised a good, pain-free life. The meaning of life is not to be as happy as possible; it’s to do good where and when you can. That will mean grief and sadness. Big picture, most people seem to want to be good to each other. Overwhelmingly, the story of humanity is people helping and loving one another.

Please be gentle with yourself. You are not dumb or bad for not having been depressed before. Being sad is not a penance that you owe. No one is mad at you for not having had a hard life. It’s your first time being alive (as far as we know) and your first time being a mother and your first time dealing with climate change and on and on. You’re doing amazing. Sometimes you’re going to have to take a four hour nap on the couch!!!! It is ok. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling sad on top of feeling sad. It will never make you less sad. BE SAD!!! Be like, “Ok, Self, you’re right. Today is hard and I’m sad and I’m going to do three things that might help me feel better and if they don’t work, I’m going to try again tomorrow.” You have to keep showing up and that’s all; that’s the job right now. You do not have to be content or happy. You do not have to be unaffected. None of this means your life is going to forever feel this way. I promise you’ve got this.

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