In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, I’m speaking out about my disease and how it has affected me and my family.
I had no history of depression in my life (I’m adopted, so I don’t know about my birth parents’ medical history), and most people would have called me outgoing, extremely cheerful, and anything *except* depressed. But about 5 months after Daughter Person was born, I was diagnosed with post-partum depression – a “major depressive disorder”. Looking back on my pregnancy, it was very likely that I had antenatal depression as well, although never diagnosed.
My depression manifested itself as extreme anger and irritability. I even punched a huge set of cracks in my windshield once (Dad saw me do it). Anger is not the most common manifestation (although it’s a known manifestation), and probably why it took us so long to realize that I was dealing with depression and not just the changes of becoming a new mother. I went through the typical screenings, both at my midwives and Daughter Person’s pediatrician (who also happens to be my PCP), but I apparently had it together enough to “fake” the doctors.
It wasn’t until I reached a point in my birth control pill cycle where I was taking the sugar pills when Dad and I realized that I became a real Bitch (with a capital B) that week. I was mostly fine while I was taking the active hormone pills, or at least better able to control myself. At that point, we knew it was a chemical/hormonal change, and I finally got into see a psychiatrist.
The first drug he put me on was an SSRI at the lowest possible dose. After one pill, I knew that I’m one of the 5% of adults who can’t take SSRIs because they make things worse. And I mean really worse – I went from mostly functioning to not functioning at all. The next day, I was on a different drug (an anti-anxiety drug of all things, but with some benefits to depression). At the lowest possible dose, I was a completely different person. Not quite my old self, but pretty close, and except for that pesky one week of sugar pills, I have zero symptoms. After one and a half years on the drugs and therapy sessions, we tried to wean me off, and that didn’t work so well. I really don’t like depending on a drug for well-being, but I also realize that I’m likely to be taking these meds for the rest of my life.
I felt not good enough to be a mother, and not trying hard enough because I didn’t like being a mother, in fact, I hated it and I wanted to give Daughter Person back. I seriously considered suicide and divorcing Dad and leaving him with Daughter Person because of my disease. He stuck by me through it all, even when he didn’t understand what I felt, he took up taking care of himself, me, a newborn, and everything else around the house while I was going through the worst parts. I am lucky.
Research has shown that depressed mothers affect the development of their children, and honestly, I’m scared that I’ve “done something” to Daughter Person because it took so long for me to reach out for help. And it’s *hard* to reach out for help, especially if you’re like me and don’t want to accept help from anyone for any reason. It’s especially hard to reach out for help with a mental illness which is stigmatized in current media. I don’t know if I’ve hurt her, but I know that I’m on my way to recovery and try my best to keep my disease from affecting her youth. I’ll have to tell her about it when she’s older, as she now has a family history of PPD, but I hope that by teaching her about it ahead of time, she won’t wait as long as I did to reach out for help if she needs it.
I am sorry that you are going through this. I hope you get some relief. I have never had children but I know how this feels. much luck to you.
When I’m on my meds, I feel like I’m a healthy, “normal” mother. I’m just finally coming to terms with having to take them the rest of my life.
I think people don’t talk about depression enough. I never had post partum (no babies), but I have experienced lengthy episodes of depression on a couple of occasions and went to therapy (group and individual CBT) to work through it.
Thank you for talking about this. The more we normalize it, the easier it would be to diagnose since we’d feel less obligated to hide it away.
There definitely needs to be less stigma about all mental health issues. When we first suspected it was depression, I really didn’t want to seek help, because I didn’t want to be seen as weak or not “normal”. A lot of my therapy recovery has been with coming to terms with having depression. At first, I didn’t want anyone other than Dad and my mom to know. Now, I try to support groups that educate about PPD and have my name on a “call me anytime” list for others in my area.
“I even punched a huge set of cracks in my windshield once (Dad saw me do it).”
Holy crap, that is pretty intense, but I really appreciate you sharing. PPD is something I’ve never thought much about in the past, but from this point on, if I ever hear a relative mention it or think I may be noticing it, I won’t sit idle.
I’m also very thankful that my wife didn’t suffer from this.
In any case, stay strong, It seems like you’re nearing the end of your battle, so good for you.
Do you plan to have more children? Did this change your mind? Also, does PPD come back with every child?
We don’t plan on having any more biological children, and the PPD is a big part of that decision. It’s not guaranteed that PPD will come back with every child, but having previously had it, it raises my risk of getting it again significantly. Going through it once was hard enough for me, Dad and our marriage – we don’t want to chance it again. And now we have a toddler to worry about as well, we don’t want her to have to go through it as well.
We’ve also decided that we don’t like babies, we’re just not “baby” people. We are still open to the idea of adopting a slightly older child, but the more we talk about it, the less we want to go through that process, and I feel that if we don’t feel that strongly about it, it’s better to let a family that does really want to go through that process have their chance.
“Do you plan to have more children?” I should have just read your blog URL. Doh.
“We’ve also decided that we don’t like babies…” My children are older now (6 and 3) and I find them a lot more enjoyable. I was never a baby person either.
Sounds like you’ve thought things through. It’s much better to err on the side of having less children than more.
Oh, my dad had boughts of depression to when I was a child. It was pretty horrible for the family. I can’t imagine what it was like for him. I think he may have even attempted suicide (some skeletons I’d prefer to leave in the closet).
Again, thank you for shedding a little more light on depression.
Thank you for having the courage to share this.
Thank you for sharing this. My sister had postpartum depression, which I didn’t know until my 13 yr old daughter started having intense anxiety and depression. She is doing better now and has been off her Xoloft for maybe 3 weeks. She continues to see a therapist which is so important. She seems ok except for sugar pills week which is still iffy. She is switching to a 3 mo. version so hopefully that helps. We didn’t have a choice about talking to our families about it bc there was clearly something seriously wrong. Suicidal ideation, inability to stop worrying enough to go to sleep, etc. very, very scary. I feel bad that the stigma is such that my sis still hasn’t told our folks or her in-laws. I do think society is getting more of a clue about depression and anxiety.
The pills are just a tool, just like if you had high blood pressure or allergies. It may not feel like it, but they really are. Best of luck!