It has been three months since I sought medical help for my depression. I feel it has been a long enough time to gather an educated opinion on my experience in order to share it. If you happened to have missed my post on my Postpartum Depression, you can read it here.
I had a number of reasons for avoiding medical help in the first place despite having a deep respect for the medical field. I try to exhaust every possible preventative treatment before using actual medicine. Also, the sheer number of articles and people claiming to have cured their depression with a gluten free, sugar free, cruelty free diet was staggering. Then there was Spirit Science claiming depression was just a hoax or something. Probably just Big Pharma fucking with me. Cue paranoia.
Now while this great plethora of information called the Internet is a blessing it can also be a curse. I immediately tried to figure out what I was doing wrong, since my already rather clean diet was failing me. I tried harder; cutting more things out of my diet in hopes it would help and just ended up loathing myself for my complete utter lack of self-control. I was a mess.
I was also terrified that if I went on medications, I would never get off. I was scared it would screw up my body’s ability to produce its own neurotransmitters and I would forever be dependent on medications or be violently ill if I attempted to wean myself off.
This misinformation came from family members, as well as an ex. My ex told me, HIS ex girlfriend had been on anti-depressants for years, a high dose, and when she tried to get off them she was very ill, vomiting, bed ridden, and he thought they were unnecessary, evil, life ruining. He cajoled me to not go on them, when I was considering them back in high school to combat the sadness I had then. He convinced me to try St. John’s Wort (I was on Birth Control at the time which can make it ineffective, so I never tried it) to exercise more, it was a natural anti-depressant, didn’t I know that? Just. Don’t. Take. Pills.
So I didn’t. And I became afraid.
After my son was born, and things got really bad I kicked everything I had done for preventative medicine up a notch. I worked out more. I ate ridiculously clean until I would stress so much I would binge on sweets and hate myself more. I started doing yoga and guided meditations. It helped. But I would still feel like a failure when I inevitably would fly off the handle in a rage or have the outrageous compulsion to run my vehicle off the road. I was afraid to drive alone, because if my kids were in the back I knew I would stay on the road.
Reverse to three months ago. I was fucking scared. I was fucked up, but I was going to be more fucked up if I went on something and I would forever be on bloody pills for the rest of my life. I was 23. I didn’t wanna be on this for the rest of my life. How did this happen?
So I asked my doc, whom I trust with my life (she’s saved it a few times now) and this is what she said.
“They don’t know if medications cause the body to stop producing it’s own chemicals, or if your body has this inability to produce its own in the first place.”
She also said, “Postpartum depression is different from clinical depression/chronic depression. PPD is treatable. 6-12 months of medications and potentially therapy depending on the severity, and it is treated. Chronic is different. It’s a condition, which needs long term medication.”
Well that clears that up.
I remember sitting there feeling utterly relieved and utterly idiotic at the same time. I had listened to absolute bullshit from people who knew next to nothing on the topic. But mostly I felt relief.
I had fears that maybe I was just a shitty mom. Why couldn’t I handle the sleep deprivation, and the colic and the tough times? I signed up for this when I chose parenthood, get yourself together. Ridiculous, I know. I had even comforted friends who had said the same things during their struggles with PPD. But I still felt that way when it came to myself.
“It’s not your fault, and PPD doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom. The moms that don’t care, they don’t get PPD. It’s the type A, caring, loving, scheduled, perfectionists, that get PPD.” Doc said.
I sighed. I knew that. Deep down I did know that. I knew I wasn’t a bad mom. I knew my perfectionist tendencies complicated things, but I was that way because I just really care.
It was hard seeing her concern etched on her face; her furled eyebrows, yet soft eyes. She was listening more intently to me than anyone had ever listened to me before. She truly cared. It was hard because she is such a serious person. She is childless; she loves her job, you can see the passion. She takes it very seriously; she’s a genius, I have never had a doctor so thorough. But her intelligence makes her a bit rough, as well as her experience. She sees babies die. She sees depression rip mothers apart and sees medications put them back together again. It’s hard to not be jaded. So seeing the care in her eyes, her face, and her body language. I had never seen her like that and it just about did me in.
For the last three months I have done a number of things to heal. I’m not trying to discourage you from attempting a clean diet in the name of a depression treatment, far from it; but this is where my high regard for modern medicine comes in- sometimes you need it, and that’s the really cool part of living in 2015, is its available, if you are willing.
I have taken both a 10mg dose and now 20 mg dose of escitalopram/Cipralex. It is a medication specifically designed for PPD. There were minor side effects listed, but to be honest I have only had one.
I don’t hate my life anymore. I don’t hate my kids and I can actually cope with stress.
I’m not angry anymore. In fact, I’m more patient than I ever have been. I’m able to be the kind gentle parent to my tantruming toddler. I taste my words before I spit them out.
I’m sleeping. This was the kicker in all of this.
“You need to get REM sleep.” She said.
“Well, duh, I know.” I said. “But how do I convince my baby I need sleep, it will be good for both of us? I have already sleep trained him.” I said.
“You might have to quit breastfeeding.” She says.
“That doesn’t guarantee me any extra sleep. I’ll just have guilt over quitting something I know I’m actually for sure good at. It’s the only thing that isn’t a struggle.”
“But you need to sleep. If you bottle feed, someone can help.” She retorted.
I sighed. Justin has always been a great dad and helper, offering to get up with the kids. I’ve always declined because he has to actually get up a work in the morning. Not that I don’t do anything. I do. But I get the liberty of doing it in my pjs. I sometimes get fortunate enough I sneak a nap. He can’t. Therefore I feel bad asking him to get up in the middle of the night with a screaming baby who wants his mom, and her bosom.
“Mothers with babies who don’t sleep longer than three hours at a time have been proven to have a higher occurrence of PPD. Sleep is essential. And if you cannot get sleep, these medications will not work.” She said seriously.
Well that was a possible reason as to why I was in this mess. Asher hasn’t slept since the day he was born. I could bore you with my sleep log, but I will make it easy for you. For the first four months of his life, he slept on me mostly, even during the day. Yes it was brutal. Yes I tried other shit. I tried everything. I don’t believe in sleep training before three months of age. As soon as I could I did though. It helped. For a while. But as they get older they get smarter. Granted he was sleeping in his own space, but after sleeping 8pm-1am, he was up every two hours. I was still only getting two hours of consecutive sleep. And more often than I would like to admit, I was up at 4 for reasons I don’t know, wide awake, eating cereal and watching Paid Programming.
Then my husband’s alarm at 4:30.
And 5:00 because he hit the snooze.
5:10 I’d beg him to turn them off. He did. But his back up alarm went off at 5:50. 6:00. He’d leave for work.
Mila is up at 7:00, just as I am fading into sleep.
Asher is up for the day by 7:30.
I asked for help. This was hard. But I did it, at the request of my doctor. People helped me when they could, it didn’t always work out, but I asked, and everyone did the best they could.
I stepped up the sleep training. It worked. We now successfully sleep through the night, getting up once to eat, and sleeping until morning. (Teething recently has been a bitch, but that’s part of the whole infant thing. I can handle that.)
Call me a bad mom for sleep training or whatever you want to call it; but something I find odd is, we are so adamant about educating our children, yet when it comes to sleep, this is off limits because it is ‘damaging.’
Sleep training is simply sleep education. You are educating children how to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own. Why is it so bad that everyone gets a good night sleep? Why do we make people feel so bad for choosing not to suffer all night? Because Facebook told you, sleep training destroys your child’s brain? Puh-lease. If you’re interested, read the book Bringin Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman; in it she studied French parenting and describes how the entire country of France essentially sleep trains their infants from birth. So if it were so bad, the entire country of France would be fucked up. Granted they do eat a lot of fois gras, and are “rude” to our standards, but I digress.
Anyway, by my personal experience, my degree of suffering and self-sacrifice does not make me a better mom than So-and-So.
Let me repeat that.
Mom martyrdom does not make you the “better” mom.
It makes you a sleep deprived one.
I was already taking time outs for myself; saying eff the dishes and giving myself a pedicure. Having a bath. Essential oils. Reading a book. Doing stuff I loved. This is important as mothers. Don’t leave yourself on empty. Love yourself. Fill yourself up. Do what you love, alone, child free, whatever it may be.
Get outside; for at least a half an hour. Feel the sun on your face. Bundle up the kids and yourself and feel the cold winter air. It will do you wonders. It tires out the kids. Fresh air and nature are essential in healing; just as much as medications.
Exercise. This can go hand in hand with outside if you decide to go for a walk. Exercise does not have to be at a gym, or be intense. Walk to get the mail, or groceries instead of drive. It doesn’t have to be hours of your day. Simply incorporate it into your life. And if you love the gym or running, well bonus. Do that.
Meditate. I think that our opinions of this are very jaded. If you think meditation is for yogis and monks, you’re wrong. You don’t have to chant OM SHANTI SHANTI OM SHANTI SHANTI- to meditate. But you can if you want. That’s actually a good mantra. You don’t even have to sit cross-legged, or join an ashram, or smell like patchouli (love patchouli, just an FYI). You also don’t have to do it for hours a day, although there is a quote that if you think you don’t have time to meditate, you should do it for an hour.
Meditation is as simply as connecting to your breath, as I have mentioned before in another post. Do it for one minute. Right now. Focus on your breath, going IN and going OUT. For one minute. That’s easy. Do it on the train, at a stoplight, while you’re out for you walk. Just be present. Wash the worries away, the to do lists and the fears and think about your breath.
Sitting not working for you? Do walking meditation. Be aware of where you are stepping. Take in absolutely everything you see around you. If you think you are already present, I will ask you this.
When you go for a long drive, can you recall absolutely every moment from the time you left to the time you arrived?
That’s because you’re in your head. When we go for a walk, we often do the same thing. So when you go for your walk which gets you outside for your 30 minutes a day, be present for it. Look at that, just killed three birds with one stone.
Do Yoga. Yoga is a moving meditation. People feel energized after doing yoga because of their presence involved with the activity. You exercised, you meditated, and you feel good. This goes back to killing two birds with one stone. Three if you do it outside.
Eat well. Nourish yourself by eating straight from the Earth. Quitting sugar did not fix my depression, but it sure does help my body function at a greater capacity. You feel and look better when you don’t eat these things. Avoid empty foods; highly processed foods, fake foods with high sugars, salts and fats. You are doing zero benefit to your body or your condition. We all know we can make better food choices.
I made a lot of choices when it came to treating my depression. I didn’t just meditate. I didn’t just try holistic or medicine. I did it all. And together, it integrated into this amazing support network that has helped me cope with this.
I don’t feel ready to go off medications yet; although possibly in the New Year, depending on what my doctor says. Honestly, I feel okay being on them. I feel really good. I’m hopeful, I’m clear headed, and most importantly I am the mom I’ve always wanted to be to my kids.
After going on my medications, I realized that I am that mom I always looked up to, the one I dreamed of being. It was shortly after starting my medications I sat down to play a game with Mila. I was patient, present, kind. I realized in that moment, that I couldn’t remember the last time I had done something to this capacity with her, not trying to catch a nap, gazing into my iPhone trying to fill my mind with something, or trying to become one with the mattress and disappear. I had to bite back tears because I couldn’t remember the last time I had played with her, yet here I was, playing Little People and even enjoying it.
I was 100% there, loving every minute of it, Asher at my side gnawing on a toy.
And by God, she was too.
So in summary,
If you think you are suffering from Postpartum Depression, depression and anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, please do not to hesitate to contact someone; your doctor, therapist, a family member, a friend, or me. You can contact me ANYTIME. The door is forever open.
I found the following literature helpful in the decision to seek help. This was forwarded by my best friend, my ‘soul sister,’ fellow mamma, and nurse, Laura. Much love to you L.
I’m pissed off. I’m irritable. I’m anxious. I just want to run.
It’s not anyone’s fault, but its easy to blame those close to you. The children that need so much of you, your spouse, whom you’ve promised yourself to, the life you’ve signed up for. I love it all, yet my mind can make monsters of these beautiful things my life has been blessed with. And, I just want to run. Taste freedom. I just want my mind to be quiet.
I don’t run away, not exactly.
I pack up my dogs, bundle up and take off for a walk in the night. I peer up at the skies and realize it’s a nice, clear night, the stars are glimmering, but I don’t have time to look at the stars because I just really need to walk and I need to do it as fast as I can. I pick up the pace, and I’m doing the awkward Olympian speed wobble-walk.
I’m struggling to logically think my way out of this one. I just need something to do, something to keep my mind from driving myself crazy, from pointing fingers, so I just walk and walk and walk. I’m on the home stretch and I feel this voice, my own, but not my own because of how calm it is, how loud it is, booming, it creeps into my head.
And it said,
Could you get through this night, and tomorrow, and the next, if you knew this was temporary? Could you handle two years of this situation, if it meant everything you ever wanted was going to come true and you were able to live a life beyond your wildest dreams?
Yes, I thought. Of course I can. I can take two more years of this.
Then just get through tonight.
“Ok.” I say, “Ok.”
And then I’m running. I’m running as fast as I can. My dogs chasing after me, their legs stretching out into a full sprint, my feet pounding cement, our breath little clouds in the night air. I get to the top of the hill outside my house and feel compelled to do one more lap.
This time, its just for enjoyment, its just for the walk.
I’m thinking of this voice, how familiar it sounded, yet how strange it was. I felt like I had talked to God, and all at once I feel kind of crazy. And, yet, I feel kind of amazing at the same time, because after attempting for so long to connect with this inner guide, this spirit, to the Universe, to God…I finally got an answer back.
Before I know it, I’m on the home stretch again, and I’m not thinking of anything. I’m just thinking of putting one foot in front of the other, and I am just soaking in the starlight, feeling the brisk autumn air, and enjoying my walk late at night in the middle of October. My dogs are panting happily beside me and I just feel really all right with the world.
We get home, and we sink to the grass. I take off my shoes and plant them in the dewy green and slide them across the freezing earth. I feel like I’m vibrating, and I’m looking at all the light dotting the sky. I just lay there awhile, thinking of nothing, just breathing it in. I realize, I’m not where I want to be, in a tiny hamlet in the middle of no-where, far away from the worlds I want to be exploring, but that this is exactly what I needed, at exactly the right time, and there is no where else I’d rather be than here; this perfect night, watching stars streak across the clear sky, feeling the heat from my pups, the cold earth against my feet, hearing my own breath.
In, out, in, out, in, out, in.
(Image, courtesy of Athena, at Broken Curfew Photography.)
I’ve been struggling to write. Probably bad timing since I shot gun decided to launch a blog and typically writing content is important in that situation.
I’ve tried. I have sat down in several occasions and attempted to write but it stutters and won’t flow. It’s robotic, I can’t find my voice.
The last few weeks have been hard. Like, really hard. I could say the last few years have been hard with many highs and lows; but its just like everyone else, you just ride the waves. There are highs and lows and sometimes the lows are really low, and the highs don’t cancel them out. But eventually things get calm again, you pull yourself together, look back and pat yourself on the back and say, “thank god that’s over.”
Except, what happens when things are calm and you get anxious, and you can’t seem to pull yourself together? You’re frantically sewing together the seams but it’s unraveling faster than your hands can handle? That’s what it has felt like dealing with this illness, condition, monster, whatever you want to call it.
I have postpartum depression.
This diagnosis hit me hard. Not because I was in denial, because I considered I was affected by it for a long time. In fact depression was always a discussion at the family dinner table growing up because of how many of my family members have been affected by it, there was no stigma for me. Why was it so hard for me to say something then?
It is because as a mother I hold myself up to an extremely high standard. I’m not trying to outdo anyone else. It’s just who I am. I have always been a perfectionist, impossible to please, always room for improvement. It’s not even a trait my parents instilled in me. I have just always challenged myself, or risen to the challenges presented before me.
So, the fact I was unable to meet my own standard, even a mediocre attempt at my own standard, I felt like a failure. I took it as a sign to try harder.
Except I had nothing more to give.
All that was left was frustration at my own shortcomings. And that turned into frustrations for everyone else’s shortcomings. My expectations on a good day are pretty unrealistic at times, and now they were even higher.
I was also angry. All. The. Time.
And then I feel nothing. I laugh because it’s the punch line. I feel as if I’m walking in half way through a conversation, I’m so disconnected. I wasn’t crying all the time, consumed with sadness. I was angry. I was just a bitch. A failure for not being able to handle the sleep deprivation. A shitty mom.
My worst fear. But not depressed.
Get your fucking shit together
I would tell myself this everyday. All day.
How can I have depression? I thought I meditate. I do yoga. I take my vitamins. It has been nearly six months. I exercise. I cut out sugar; can’t that give you symptoms of depression?
I plaster my walls with affirmations. I read more and more self-help meditation books.
I am enlightened.
But it’s not getting better. I think, maybe this is it? Maybe this is just the way it is, you’re unable to change; this is just your personality.
I’ve always been a little hot headed, outspoken, but I saw that changing with maturity…but I think I don’t want to be this angry for the rest of my life. This is not okay.
I started imagining myself packing my bags and getting on a plane and running away.
Some days the own walls of my house were so confining I would be so anxious I would run out, a kid tucked under each arm. I would drive until I felt better.
Some days I had to force myself out of bed. I would get dressed half an hour before my husband was due home, in work out clothes no less, throw some mascara on and start dinner, coming alive, just so he didn’t know I literally stayed in my pajamas laying around all day; incapable of leaving the house, doing laundry, or vacuuming.
I just couldn’t find the energy to care.
For anyone that knows me, you’d know how off this behaviour is for me.
I am extremely motivated, I always keep to a loose schedule, I always get dressed, I always do my hair, I always do my face, I absolutely adore getting done up, I struggle to stay inside all day, usually getting out at least for the morning…but now I was asking Justin to pick things up on his way home so I didn’t have to leave.
On a particular bad day with my toddler I covered my face with my hands, palms digging into my eye sockets and I thought of my grandmother, pouring everything into her children. She had five children, each 13 months apart, one in August, September, October, November, December and then a sixth a year and a half later in June. I think of my own struggles while pregnant, the close age gap between my kids; how I could never fathom it even a month closer, how they are both so little, demanding so much from me. She had that over and over and over. That’s what happened when you’re Catholic in the sixties I guess.
I think of how she must’ve felt needing to work to support her family, yet still required to be a housewife and a stay at home mom. How she must have felt when her children were taken from her.
How she must’ve felt, her poor broken soul, how bad it had to have been, for her to take her shoes off at the edge of the Bow and walk into the water, never coming out again.
She thought her children didn’t love her anymore. Having been taken away, being mothered by someone else. She didn’t know the lady was burning her letters. She didn’t know her kids didn’t get to read how much she loved them. She didn’t know they loved her back. All she knew was the darkness in her heart; all she knew was the water was more inviting than the emptiness and crushing loneliness.
And I wept for her. I’ve felt such an intense connection, an intense love for the grandmother I never met. And now I felt an intense understanding.
I also know the end of the story.
I know my son will be that little boy pulling out a tiny mustard sweater, running his fingers over the fabric; it is ugly to anyone else, but beautiful, absolutely priceless to him because it was the only new piece of clothing he had ever received, and it was given to him by his mother. That little boy was my dad.
I know my daughter will run her fingers over my jewelry, tiny pearls and wedding rings and mala beads,
“That’s so beautiful, where’d you get it?”
“It was my mothers.”
I cried for my Grandma and all her children and all their sadness. I cried for all the people who lost their loved ones to suicide and had to feel the weight of the questions for the rest of their lives.
I took a deep breath.
I’m a writer. And I choose to rewrite the ending.
I choose to ask for help. I choose to try medication until I find one that assists me in making things right again. I choose to keep meditating, eating right and exercising because I know it will help. I choose to at least try and find the positive, the love, the light, in every situation, no matter how bad I’m feeling that day.
I choose to give myself grace for the things I cannot change, for the shortcomings I may have, but that aren’t the end of the world. I give myself grace for the days where pajamas are my attire, topknots are my hairstyle, and hotdogs are for dinner. Because that’s okay, I’m okay, and it will be okay.
I’ve accepted this hardship as an assignment for change, one that will brighten, and smooth my growing sense of self. Not something damaging, a victim, an identity. I have chosen to forgive the shitty things and instead of be angry, or sad or make it my place to make someone feel accountable. Instead, I bow my head and I say thank you.