Oh, the paths God leads me down. Never in my life would I have expected to be a stay at home mother to three kids and a blogger who shares her inner struggles with the whole world. But, since God has a plan for all of us, I am open to his will and I am so excited to see where this path will lead.
It is becoming increasingly clear to me that this blog has a purpose – namely, to show others my struggles so they don’t feel alone in theirs. Sometimes these topics can be heavy, so I try to be lighthearted about them. But don’t be mistaken – they are very real and they affect a full spectrum of people. Society puts a stigma on certain topics, but it is not until we discuss them openly that we can grow and reach out to help other people in need. So let’s break down the barriers! I’ll go first. There has been a monster hiding under my bed for years. Its name is depression.
Actually, I have both anxiety and depression. I’m not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg, but I do know that they are related. For the sake of simplicity, I am going to focus solely on depression in this post. Maybe one day I’ll write a post about the roller coaster ride of parenting with OCD.
I first started to suspect that I had depression when I was a sophomore in high school. I was too young to consider doing anything about it, so I just let it sit in the background for about a decade. Medicine might have helped, but since we know now that antidepressants can make teenagers suicidal, being unmedicated may have been a blessing in disguise.
Through high school and into college, there were times that I just felt different than other people. I felt socially awkward and too tired to come up with interesting conversations. I’m sure part of that was my introverted nature. I have come to enjoy being an introvert, but when you are hard wired to enjoy being alone and you feel different than other people, it can leave you feeling socially isolated. My emotions were so strong at times that I felt the best way to escape them would be to die. My faith in God and my support network (especially my incredibly supportive husband) were strong enough to keep me from harming myself, but those thoughts did cross my mind. I’ve been blessed with an amazing life, but to depression, that doesn’t matter. It just wants to beat you down until you feel like you can’t handle the emotions anymore.
Depression is also sneaky. It masquerades as various emotions – anger, stress, sadness, jealousy, and mania, among others. My battle with this monster continued through college and followed me into my adult life. It wasn’t until I became a mother, though, that it started its full blown attack.
When Clara was born, I developed post partum depression. Women who are already depressed are more prone to PPD. To make matters worse, Clara had colic, I was exhausted and stressed, my marriage was adapting to parenthood, it was winter (I also have winter SAD) and I was terribly lonely. I went back to work part time and loved it because I could spend my days with adults. My days off were rough. During flare ups, caring for Clara made me want to put a bag over my head and yell “Mommy’s not here!” Or run away. The thought of escaping the overwhelming responsibilities of motherhood was tempting.
Fourteen months after having Clara, I decided that I had had enough and finally went to the doctor. There was a little voice in my head telling me that when the doctor found out I had issues, Children and Youth Services would take Clara away from me. Thankfully, that fear was totally unfounded. I started taking my first medication and did pretty well for a while. About six months later, when we were trying to conceive our second child, the doctor suggested that I wean myself off of that wonder of modern science so the baby wouldn’t be affected by it. Hello mood swings.
After I finally got pregnant with Will, I went back to work full time. Money was tight and I was lonely, so working full time was my life-saver. After a long nine months, Will was born and I went back on my first medication. My tolerance level must have increased, because it eventually stopped working and I had to add a second medication to my daily routine.
Over the next few years, I changed medicines several times, briefly saw a therapist, and eventually found a psychiatrist that clicked with me. Finally, after some trial and error, my psychiatrist helped me find the right combination of effective medicine and correct dose. I was happier than ever, but that depression monster was still lurking out there. During flare ups, I still found myself wanting to bring out that bag and yell “Mommy’s not here!” But with the help of the medicine and some prayer I worked through those moments and felt that I was doing pretty well.
And then BOOM. I got pregnant with Frankie and had to wean myself off of the medicine quickly…really quickly, actually. Word to the wise – if you need to wean yourself off of antidepressants, work with your doctor to find the right pace. If you do it too quickly, it can be an awful experience and you will temporarily suffer more than before you started taking the medicine.
⇒ I mentioned in my post When Winter SAD Attacks that I use lightbox therapy to get through the darker days of fall and winter. My trusty lightbox was a huge help in surviving the mood swings of pregnancy. I was blessed to be given my lightbox as a gift, but even if I had to buy it, the improvement in my mood would be worth the expense.
For several reasons, this pregnancy was really rough. We made it through, but I would never wish that kind of pregnancy on any woman. Or man for that matter. So after that rough 40 weeks plus 10 days, we were blessed with our third bundle of joy, Frankie.
I had already informed my doctors and the hospital staff that, come hell or high water, I was taking my medicine the minute Frankie was born. And I did. That experience gave me a new appreciation for my medicine and how it helps me. Things are more under control now and through some experience and hindsight, I found that I am really enjoying Frankie’s babyhood and first toddler months. What a difference from my first experience as a mother. My husband and I weren’t always sure that we wanted a third child, but having a chance to experience and actually enjoy these precious baby years has really been a blessing.
Some people claim that antidepressants are evil and that you should only manage your depression naturally. I know that the natural route works for some people, but it is not an option for me. My family would have been miserable if I spent the last eight years unmedicated. I take the medicine for myself but also for them. They deserve a wife and mother who can care for them.
While I have come a long way in the 18 years since I first suspected that I had depression, I am still working through one day at a time. Depression is insidious. You think you have it under control – the sun is shining, you’re having a good day, you’ve been patient with your kids for more than two seconds, and then wham! It hits and you’re wondering when the black cloud is going to leave. These days are going to happen, but the key is to recognize it in yourself and get the help you need, whether it is from doctors, family, friends, or even a lightbox.
Here is what I want you to remember. Having depression does not make you crazy. It makes you a person with out of whack brain chemicals. It is NOT your fault. Often it is genetic, like mine, but it can also be caused by life circumstances. Or it can have no apparent cause at all.
If you have even the slightest suspicion that you might have depression, get professional help. If you need a little hand holding, just remind yourself that psychiatrists are really brain doctors in disguise. Even though you can’t physically see what is happening inside your brain, depression is as legitimate as any other medical condition.
Once you’ve made that first step, congratulate yourself. You just took a huge step toward reclaiming your life. You are awesome. You are unique. You are loved.