Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond


Back in May, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression.

I spent a week and a half on my couch. That was all I could do.

I found a therapist. It took all the energy I had over about three days to set up an appointment.

Therapy -- specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT -- is working for me. Working wonders, in fact. Three months later, I started feeling like myself again, like a normal human. Perhaps not fully functional, but appropriately functional.

This isn't just a problem for me. 1 in 7 new moms gets PPD or some other form of postpartum anxiety, and new dads/partners can be affected, too. And contrary to popular belief, PPD can hit anytime in the first two years after your baby is born, not just the first few months. If it hasn't happened to you, you probably know someone who's been affected.

  • Wil Wheaton talks about his depression and anxiety a lot. Start here.
  • Hannah Hart made a video about what depression looks like to her.
  • Rob Loukotka, a friend and kickass artist, has been detailing his struggle with depression and work on Twitter.
  • Fellow dancer and Rochestarian Nicole Peltier has started writing about her own journey to fight the stigma associated with mental illness.
  • Here's PPD 101.

Work has looked really different for me over the past few months. Publicly, not much has actually changed. Sure, my blog went dormant for a little while, but that's happened before. And I was still posting on Facebook sometimes; Twitter, less often, as usual. I was a bit slower to respond to emails, perhaps. (Definitely.) From the inside, though . . . I was in survival mode.

Survival mode means nothing extraneous, nothing that's not absolutely necessary. No blogging. No emails. No pitches. No short stories. No submissions. No taking on new projects. Just pick one thing and make that deadline. (Or don't. Every single one of my deadlines over the summer was adjusted -- generally for several reasons, but my mental health didn't help.)

One thing at a time.

This includes final edits on the most important book I've ever translated.

My expectations for myself had to be radically altered. Expectations of productivity, of the division between work and family and home and personal, have changed drastically. But as I've progressed with my recovery, these altered expectations have actually proved useful. I've learned how to balance the work I want to do with the time I want to spend with my family, so that I don't feel guilty about one while doing the other.

I'm slowly, so slowly, so so slowly, letting go of perfection. This has been the goal for my entire life -- worshiped, idolized, fought and striven for. But practice doesn't make perfect, and perfection is unattainable. We are all human. Me, most of all. Slowly, slowly, self compassion is taking its place. Each day, every one of us does our best. And maybe my best today isn't as good as yesterday's best, or your best. But it's the best we can do. It's the best I can do.

For the past couple of months, I've had these grand plans of how eloquently I would describe living and working with PPD. But it's fracking hard to sit down and type out an announcement to the entire world that you're sick. That something's wrong. That you can't be a diligent worker bee at the moment. It's terrifying to admit that you have depression. I avoided telling people for weeks because of dumb, anxiety-brain reasons. I avoided telling people during the time when I needed the most support. And then it took me even more time to write this for you, my readers, the world, the Internet, to see for the rest of time.

Depression sucks.

But it gets better.

Talking about depression with people means that they talk about it with you. It's been staggering to learn just how many people I know deal with depression or anxiety or both. And it's been equally staggering to realize how many of those people are role models for me, in terms of the work that they produce. So, the realization follows: I can still produce amazing work. I can still be an admirable person. I can still be me.

A friend and colleague of mine has depression, and he's managing it very well. He's explained to me about his "mental colds", those mental health equivalents to getting a cold: you take it easy for a day or few, and you're back to normal in no time. And recognizing that mental colds are a good reason to take it easy can be . . . life-changing.

Depression does suck. But it really really does get better.

In the early stages of therapy -- i.e. once I could actually work again -- I got edits back on a comic book that I'd translated and delivered just as I was sliding into full-on severe PPD, maybe a day or two before I realized I needed help. I appreciate how good of a relationship I have with that editor, because they made only a passing comment on just how many changes they had to make. There were a lot of changes. The translation was awful. Forced, hackneyed, French sentence structures retained in English, several blatant (and easy to spot) mistranslations. Pretty close to the worst thing I've ever produced, very probably the worst thing I've ever delivered to a client.

The most recent graphic novel I did for them earned a separate email of compliments from the head editor. I've still got it.

Looking for help? Try these resources: