Post-Partum Depression, Depression and Living
A year ago, I dragged myself to the doctor to deal with post-partum depression (PPD) which manifested as anger and anxiety. Honestly, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The thought that you’re not in control of your own mind is something else. Coupled with the anxiety, it was a good recipe for now-daily panic attacks.
I knew I was a good candidate for PPD – depression runs in my family. My dad was diagnosed as clinically depressed years ago. He was put on Effexor which helped him, and at that point it was the antidepressant of the day. It’s also one of the strongest ones out there and the one of the hardest to get off. When he found this out, he weaned himself off, saying, “I don’t want another monkey on my back.”
His medication of choice, by the way, is scotch: two drinks before dinner.
Honestly, I think it was more the idea that he wasn’t in control of his own mind that scared him off.
And it’s here that we get to the difference between “mind” and “brain.” The way my doctor explained it was it was largely a biochemical reaction – brain chemistry is out of balance and Zoloft helps regain that balance.
For years, I had suffered “episodes”: I’d have a day, or two, or three, or seven where I just wasn’t motivated, was sad and just couldn’t deal with life. Then I’d go and sleep for about 12 hours and I’d be better for a while. “Awhile” varied: it could be months, weeks, or a day. And I thought this was how people lived their lives – that everyone needed a reset once in a while. Because for me, this was normal – at least since my mid-teens. As I got older, another coping mechanism became wine: for about a year before getting pregnant, it was not unusual for me to have a glass or two, or three at night after work. Once in a while, I expect this is okay – but when it’s every day, it starts becoming a problem.
And then I got pregnant, gave up wine and had a baby.
Until I gave birth, sleeping was my coping mechanism. Diet too, but more sleeping. This was fine and doable when I didn’t have a baby, but with the sleep deprivation of new parenthood, I went into a downwards spiral until one day I was driving home and considered plowing the car into a concrete median just so that the responsibility would be someone else’s. That afternoon I called my doctor.
A month later, the cloud lifted. A year later, I feel better than I have felt in years. I have mental clarity, focus and my drive is coming back. I have the occasional mini-episode, but they’re not debilitating like they used to be and are often fixable with a walk or a swim rather than having to sleep for 12 hours or take a day off work. For me, the answer is one pill, once a day before bed.
So what am I saying? If you think you need help, you might. It probably can’t hurt to go ask. And it’s okay – it’s not your mind. It’s a biochemical reaction in your brain. Like Katie said when I came out about this, “If you were diabetic, you’d take insulin, right?”
Author’s Note: I wrote this yesterday, before this twitterstorm about this article on AOL. The really offensive comment has been removed since the twitterstorm. Basically the expert they asked said that post-partum depression is situational, and people get depressed because they can’t hack their situation. When she was called out she actually responded that all depression is situational:
Generally speaking, I don’t buy the chemical imbalance theory for any depression; I believe people just don’t want to deal with real life issues and the fact that sometimes life is simply depressing and damn difficult. It isn’t about chemical imbalance but tough times and our own issues.
(Shamelessly stolen from Pretty Babies’ post, linked above)
And it is attitudes like that, from other women no less, that make it necessary for us to speak out, and not give depression the power it has had through silence. It’s time to break the stigma, like I said above. Depression is chemical. Some people benefit from counseling, other from anti-depressants, and some people need both.
If you want to read more about this, Her Bad Mother has been far more eloquent on the subject than I ever could be; she takes my “depression sucks, but you can get better and it’s okay to ask for help” and gives it a voice that can be heard all over the internet.
Given it was a year ago yesterday that I finally overcame my own prejudices and asked for help, and this occurred today, I felt I had to chime in. Because I’m fairly certain that for me, it wasn’t only post-partum depression – it was an ongoing depression. That pill I take every night makes me a better mother, and a better person because I’m not so wrapped up in my own misery I can’t focus on anything else.
And for people out there that want to think otherwise, go ahead, think it. But this is what works for me and my family. This is what helps me go beyond existing to living.
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