Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Antepartum Depression

Ever since I was about sixteen years old I've suffered from various degrees of depression. I'm not sure why or how it all started; but I know that I suffered for a little while before I got the help I needed when I was seventeen through therapy. At that time, I was struggling to cope with the idea that I would be graduating and then going on to college. I had no idea what it would be like; I couldn't picture my future like I used to. As a kid you sort of always know what's coming next. Then, suddenly the future was a big white spot and it terrified me. I had many happy moments in that time, but depression isn't an emotion…it's an illness. You can be happy while you are depressed. You can feel sadness while you are depressed. Sadness is an emotion, and sometimes people are depressed feel sad a lot (as a symptom). But when someone says "what do you have to be depressed about?" it sends me into a sort of snit. As I'd said, Depression is an illness where you aren't sad about something. It's not an emotion that comes and goes with an event the way sadness is. It's a collection of symptoms that pull together and make you feel miserable, weak and unable to function in a normal healthy way. I remember I lost a lot of weight; getting down to 87 pounds at one point. I remember feeling a sense of lingering melancholy and constant anxiety. It got so bad that I couldn't sleep; going days and days without sleeping while my mind raced with thoughts both large and trivial. The breaking point came one morning when I felt so overwhelmed that I couldn't even dress myself. I just couldn't decide and began to cry…my Dad ended up choosing an outfit that matched and handed it to me so that I could at least get it on and make it to school on time. Later that day, I visited the school nurse who called my Mom to come in and discuss the issue. Long story short, I ended up seeing a therapist who helped me cope with mild clinical depression, anxiety disorder, and mild Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (where I compulsively thought and thought to try and make myself feel better to the tune of never sleeping). Seeing that therapist really helped give me the tools I needed to change my mindset and help me at least get the sleep I needed to function. She taught me techniques on how to quiet my mind so I could enjoy daily activities again. I carry those skills with me to this day.
I needed them again later on in my mid-twenties when I had a great job but a horrible boss. He was pretty abusive to me every single day…it was a nightmare. I began having panic attacks in the morning while driving to work. I'd be driving along and suddenly my chest would feel tight. My heart would begin to race and beat hard. I'd then get short of breath and I'd start sweating. So, I'd pull over the car until I felt calm again. Needless to say, I was slipping into that place again. A place I hated being. But, a visit to the doctor later found me with a shiny new prescription for an anti-anxiety medication. I'd never felt better! My jerk boss didn't even affect me anymore as I floated through the day on a cloud of content. I still wish I could remember what I was taking. I didn't need it for long.
Anywhoo, I battled different depression and anxiety issues for years to varying degrees. After Paige was born, I slipped into postpartum depression that somehow seemed inevitable now that I look back. I was embarking on another unknown. I couldn't plan for a future I had no idea about. I had a whole new life; turning into a stay-at-home mom and spending my days fretting and stressed. I had the worst insomnia and couldn't sleep even when I wanted to. I slowly felt like I was losing my mind. I became so anxious, angry, and withdrawn. I cried all the time and panicked at the smallest things. I barely showered, I never left the house. I just couldn't "go." Like a broken engine. Needless to say, I knew what was happening and called my OB. She recommended a therapist and the OB wrote me a Prozac prescription with the caveat that I see the therapist regularly. I only took the prescription for a few months, but I still see that therapist. It's been great to have someone's impartial ear. She gives me the suggestions I need when I can't see the forest through the trees.

With my current pregnancy, depression has come back and hit me very hard. Harder than it ever has before. It started out as feeling tired all the time. I didn't really think anything of it since I was pregnant and caring for a toddler. Of course I was tired! It got to the point that I was ready to go to bed by 6:30 or 7 at night. Soon, I was tired all day even after all that sleep at night. I would lay and stare at the wall during Paige's naps. I would feel so over-stimulated and overwhelmed by the simplest tasks. Wash the dishes? Hardest thing ever!!! Wipe the counter? UUUGGGGGHHH! Paige spilled her drink? Might as well just pack up the car and drive away forever and ever. Soon, I began to feel so melancholy and anxious my heart would race and race. I began to have a hair-trigger temper where I would yell all day long about nothing in particular. I felt so guilty yelling at my beautiful girl when she was just being a typical toddler. I yelled and felt angry constantly. Next, I never wanted to eat. I stopped showering and caring for myself. It all seemed too much to do. On top of this, I felt so much fear about having a second baby. How would I cope if I could barely function NOW? I felt so worthless; a horrible wife and mother who couldn't even wash the dishes or do laundry anymore. I stopped spending time with my amazing husband as I just wanted to sleep or be alone at every chance I got. He began doing the lion's share of the housework, the cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing tasks. AND he worked full-time. This just made me feel even worse. But, when you are sick…truly sick…many things slide to the bottom of your list as you focus on survival. The problem with depression is that you can't really see it. The person seems fine on the outside; so it can be hard to understand why they can't just get up and function. I wouldn't expect someone who is sick going through chemo to jump out of bed and wash the dishes, do the laundry, etc. I would expect them to be rest and heal. But depression is a separate beast entirely and I never realized how bad one could really feel. I was alive, but unable to function much more than getting the necessities done at minimal levels. The rest of the time found me laying in my bed, staring, voices of constant thoughts chattering through my head. After some time, I began to scare myself with thoughts of hurting myself. I began to think that perhaps my family didn't really need me; my husband was so great at doing it all without me there. Every time some little thing would go wrong, I would cry, panic, and just want to drive off a bridge. I needed a way to express my distress and there just didn't seem any way to do that and do it justice. I felt so lonely, isolated, and scared. Many moments found me about ready to dial 911 so I could go to a hospital for help. I told my OB about it; asking about possible medications and was basically told that nobody would prescribe depression meds to a pregnant woman due to the risks to the baby. I even looked into herbal remedies only to find they aren't for pregnant women either. I was suffering from "Major depression" and couldn't get the help I needed. I was told to exercise and eat right and to try meditation. Well, I couldn't exercise due to my horrible sciatica issues and injured hip. All the constant pain I was in didn't help matters. And, to be fully honest here, the idea that exercise can help when you feel like shooting yourself in the head seems so trite and silly. I felt so defeated; I wanted to protect my baby. But I also felt like I was hanging off a cliff by my fingernails. I felt like I was in a fight for my life. And nobody could help me. I felt like nobody WOULD help me. I wanted someone to notice how much I was hurting. To come save the day. Ultimately, I guess I wanted a break so I could sleep, collect myself, and push forward. But that break just wasn't coming. I was just too sick to ask for extra help. Too guilty. Too embarrassed to impose on anyone. My husband was already doing so much. I just wanted to get in a car and go sleep in a hotel by myself and avoid the world for a week or two. I just couldn't bring myself to ask for what I needed.
And then…we went on vacation. I had a week where I was able to rest, get away, and break the normal routine. My husband did the bulk of the child care duties while I sat in a lounge chair and stared at the ocean. He played with Paige in the waves; laughing and giggling. And it all made me feel so much better. It was a little like hitting a "reset" button. Not that I felt perfect when we returned home, but I felt like I could cope with daily tasks again. Load the dishwasher? OK. Do the laundry? Ok, but only one load today. Clean up the spilled milk? sigh. No biggie. My engine was starting to go again, even if weak.
That was now close to 4 months ago.
As I write this, I'm still in the battle. But it is not NEARLY as severe as it was back in August. My doctor mentioned that the pregnancy hormones were causing havoc and that time was what I needed to feel better. I'm able to achieve the basic tasks on my daily to-do lists and if I can't, well, I don't fret. I know that these feelings are fleeting. They aren't set in stone. They WILL go away, they always improve. But you can bet I will be calling a psychotherapist the second I have this baby. I'm eager to get onto a set regimen of medication that someone will monitor. To be watched by an expert who can truly help me manage this thing…to help me keep my anxiety at bay and my feelings on an even keel. Ongoing and everlasting. To help me live a healthy normal life. For people who don't believe in Antepartum depression, I can tell you for a fact that it is real. Truly real and truly terrifying. I've honestly never felt so horrible in my entire life as I did this past summer and I vow to never let it get that bad again. I feel lucky that I knew what this "thing" was and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

As for my husband: he is my treasure. My rock. My everything. I can never find a way to thank him enough for all that he has done for me and our family during this hard time. What can I possibly do to express how grateful and lucky I am for his understanding and tireless efforts? I wish I knew. Words just aren't enough. I just know that when I get better, I will spend every day doing my very best to be all that I know I am. To be the wife and mother I always dreamed I'd be. I would give him the sun, moon and stars in thanks but it would still not be enough to express my gratitude. So, I will spend my life doing my best to be the most happy, content, and healthy wife I can be. Getting the right help from the right people will get me there. I'm still learning. I guess this story, like any other in our lives, is to be continued.
***UPDATE*** Please note that just because the doctors who I spoke with wouldn't prescribe to me doesn't mean that it's the standard of care. I've heard of other doctors who would do it. If you are suffering, please check with your own doctors and see what is available to you or go elsewhere should you need more help. If I'd kept on trying, I'm sure I would have found what I was looking for. But in all honesty, I was quite scared off from the idea when I learned what could happen to the baby. I don't think I could also handle the guilt if something went wrong. But that's a personal choice; not one that fits for everyone. There are plenty of cases where the benefits of the medication far outweigh the risks and you gotta do what you gotta do; bottom line.

9 comments :

Nikole said...

Oh honey, sending you SO much love and strength. How brave of you to share this. Major depression is the hardest thing I have ever faced - and on top of caring for a toddler and being pregnant - my heart hurts to think you have been going through this. Sending you lovelovelove.

Meghan said...

You are so brave to share this. Thank you for your honesty. I am so happy to hear that you are feeling much better. Here's to a new, fresh, and joyful year ahead.

Sarah said...

Thank you sharing this - how brave and strong of you! Bravo! I'm so happy to hear that you are in a good place and advocating for yourself. Of course, hats off to your husband for the support. What a good man!

I can really relate to your story. Depression is a void that I slip into, and you're right, it happens so quietly that's sometimes you just don't notice until you're in the trenches of it.

What always helps me? If I may? A change of scenery - of any kind is invaluable. And, while I still keep a "to do" list, at the end of the day, I focus on my "I did" list. Sitting and eating breakfast at my daughter's table with her? Done, and invaluable. I simply forget about the clothes still sitting in the washing machine. And like you, I have a hubs who helps steer the ship.

Wishing you all good things! Happy holidays to you and yours. :)

amy said...

I can't relate to either major depression or being a mom...but I struggle with anxiety/panicky junk and my heart just aches for you! I've left a comment or two in the past when you wrote something similar. I love following your blog and watching your beautiful family grow :) I do think you have every right to take the time that you need...you want to be strong and healthy for your kids! Do not feel alone, I work in a psychiatrist office and see people like you every day...bright, sweet, beautiful people that just happen to struggle from time to time.

My faith is what gets me through. Knowing that God gives us struggles to bring us to a better place...and there is a promise that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that He will get us through. Baby steps :) I will be praying for you!!

Colette said...

Thank you for sharing this- your description of depression is spot-on. I've battled with anxiety and depression and have found that when I start having overwhelming anxiety, I let my husband know I need a night in a hotel. 24 hours of quiet and no responsibilities give me that little 'reset' to get me through a few more weeks.

Kerry said...

Thinking of you. Even if the depression wasn't an issue, life with a toddler, pregnancy and your health problems (and accompanying pain) would be too much for anyone to bear without complaining. I'm sure your husband is happy to take on his fair share, because you're more than carrying your own. Hope things get better soon (and they will!).

alicia said...

hugs...love the honesty here....love your heart. i have only had small bouts of depression and panic attacks and found therapy so helpful, but wow such a hard time in my life. breaks my heart that you are struggling with all of this, for so long and in such intensity. it is good you know yourself so well and are doing the things that are best for you and therefore your family. love ya and your blog :) hugs

Julia said...

Thanks for sharing. I am happy to hear you are in a better place now. I also had a lot of anxiety with my pregnancy with my daughter. I had never had issues like that before. I assume they were a result of the pregnancy hormones and the unknown of what was to come with a new baby. Once my daughter was born I had a bad case of the baby blues where I just basically cried a lot and felt very alone even though I have a wonderful, supportive husband. My daughter developed colic at the age of three weeks which did not help matters. At that point I was maybe getting three to four hours of sleep daily, which made matters worse. I had so much anxiety that I could not even walk outside and take my daughter on a stroll. At my six week postpartum visit my doctor put me on a mild antidepressant, which I am still on today and made an appt. for me to see a counselor. Time, a lot of prayers and the medication have definitely helped to heal me. My daughter will be three in March and things are so much easier now, thank goodness. I am so glad I went through all of this because my daughter is so worth it! You are in my thoughts. Take care of yourself!

Erin McCall said...

Hi Megan - I haven't checked into your blog for a while but I decided to catch up today. I totally know what you're going through - my anxiety/depression started in college (my first panic attack prob had to be during my first year calculus exam) and it has always lurked in my life since then. After I had my daughter (and a rough start with her birth) I sunk into a deep depression to the point of also thinking people in my life would be better off without me. I avoided seeing the doc because I was breast feeding, and honestly I thought it would all get better once that stopped because of hormones etc. to make a long story short I put off seeing the doc until she turned 1. My doctor put me on Effexor and it was like I felt "normal" for the first time in my life. I could manage the anxiety, let things go, not analyze things into oblivion, sleep (!) and stop crying everyday. After being on it for a year I had to wean as we are planning to try for our second soon and I just hate how I feel again now. When you have a chemical imbalance, there isn't much that helps - especially when everyone just tells you to "snap out of it" like it is some kind of choice. Anyways, I'm prepared to go back on the meds if I need to but I know your struggle well - especially when you have no choice because you can't risk the health of your baby. You're not alone Megan - all we can do is one day at a time I guess :)

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