There was an afternoon maybe 6 months after the birth of my second child. The baby was secured in a little bouncy seat, my 2 year old playing in the sun on the window sill of cinder blocks in the boys’ dorm room that doubled as our apartment. I was wearing, honest to God, a shift. Yes, really. Those of you with Italian grandmas will know what that is. The same shift I had been wearing for several days, I might add. I was still carrying a few stone of baby weight and the after-effects of eclampsia. My father was recovering from a colostomy reversal; my mother had just been diagnosed with the lung cancer that would in less than a year claim her life at 65. My husband was working on campus, a short walk away and yet somehow never available. I was fat, tired, overwhelmed by the responsibilities of motherhood, mourning the loss of my career – I had quit my doctoral program to focus on my family. Nothing seemed within my control. I sat on the couch in the shift, eating doughnuts and watching bad daytime TV.
Suddenly, there was Tipper Gore on the screen. The wife of the Vice President appeared before me, regaling the talk show host with details of her own battle with depression. She mouthed all the usual platitudes: you’re not alone, help is available, there’s no shame. I stared at the screen, recalling being in the hospital after the birth of my first child, while a woman in the next room cried without ceasing. She would stagger to the door and the desk nurse would pop up to usher her back to bed, smoothing her hair and saying “it’s ok – we’re getting you your happy pill.”
I felt a stab of aversion that I was on the verge of needing The Happy Pill. Wasn’t I stronger than that? More self-aware? I had been through rounds of therapy already. I knew what my problems were. Medication is for the weak.
Nevertheless, I called the scrolling number below Tipper’s head for a 5 minute phone screen. Nailed it. I’ve always scored very well on tests. The screener on the other end of the phone had the appointment booked before I could refuse.
In the end, although I credit Ms. Gore, I think it was the shift what done it for me. I mean, who wears one of those? Whatever the impetus, that call set me on a path. Not a straight path by any means, but the first healthy step on the journey to where I am now.