At this point, I’m sure your feed is filled with survival hacks for the COVID quarantine or DIY haircuts that are definitely bound to piss off your hairdresser, I thought I’d go another direction and talk about a taboo topic no one wants to talk about because it makes them way too vulnerable… mental health.
Why doesn’t anyone talk about this topic? I mean when a free bleeding runner makes headlines because she refused to wear any sanity products while she ran a marathon you’d think mental health would easier to talk about, right? (And for all you shit starters, I did not purposely choose the runner for a blog about mental health because I think she’s crazy, it was literally the first controversial headline that popped into my head.) I feel like society as a whole has become far more accepting of taboo conversations, but mental health is still one that doesn’t get brought up in a casual conversation. Why? I feel like the more we talk about mental health the more “normal” of a topic it will become. When you look at celebrities who have been upfront about their mental struggles you feel bad for them, right? (Well, some of them.) You think “I guess I never realized their lives were that stressful.” Robin Williams is the perfect example. It was almost as if the world died right along with him. His voice, his characters, his humor, and his smile were a huge part of an entire generation’s childhood. For me, when I found out Robin Williams had suffered from depression I felt almost guilty, like I didn’t do enough to let someone know something was wrong. I never met the guy but he was a big part of my life growing up and I felt like I should have known he was struggling before he took his life. I know that all sounds super weird, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that mental illness doesn’t come with a giant red arrow pointing at your head telling everyone you have depression. Part of it’s evil plan is to make it seem like everything is a-okay! Until one day it’s not.
Seven months after my daughter was born, I was diagnosed with severe Postpartum Depression. I required medication and therapy if the medication didn’t work on its own. I hate to say I’m one of the lucky ones, but I really am. I had an amazing support system with my family and one of my best friends (who happens to be a nurse) texted me over and over and over all day every day until I finally called to make an appointment. I kind of expected to get PPD based on everything that has been going on the past year, but when four and five and six months went by, I figured I was good. When month seven came around, I knew something didn’t feel right. I have had a day or so in the past where I felt down and just wanted to veg out on the couch, but this felt different. This was like really down. Taking care of my baby (who was in a full body cast at this time) felt like a chore. I was just moving through the motions to keep the baby alive. After four days of zero improvement, I called my OBGYN. (Sidebar: If you’ve never experienced depression, this type of action, calling to ask for help, takes so much strength and energy out of you, you’re done for the rest of the day.) During that time, my doctors office was in the middle of a merge with another doctors office and I can only assume I didn’t speak to anyone who was familiar with my case, because the nurse on the phone said my baby was “too old” for them to treat me and said I needed to see my primary care doctor. After I told her my PCP retired while I was in the hospital and that I didn’t have a new one yet, she suggested I go to the ER or an urgent care… but not before asking me if I wanted to hurt myself or my baby. Because obviously she’s a super compassionate person, right? Wouldn’t want a depressed new Mommy out in the world untreated now would we?
After I was told to go elsewhere for treatment, I could barely say goodbye to this women without already being halfway into a full cry. I think I cried for 45 minutes after that. I was really sad (obviously), hurt and definitely not emotionally prepared to have been turned away from the doctors who had monitored my (high risk) pregnancy less than a year ago. (Sidebar: I don’t blame my doctors. I blame the system and the guidelines that are not always the right course of action for every patient. I feel like they would have made me an appointment right away, but since I didn’t actually talk to either of them they likely never even knew I called.) So, now here I was trying to find an urgent care or PCP who was accepting new patients, all while trying to go through the motions of life and motherhood with a 10 ton boulder strapped to my back. Since the phone call to my OBGYN really set me back, courage wise, I couldn’t even make the phone calls to the new doctors, my husband did. We found a doctor that was close and got an appointment for later on that day.
I had never in my life been so nervous about an appointment. On top of the depression I was already feeling, I was hit with all this anxiety about what to expect. I was scared they would put me on a psych hold or give me a medication that would make it impossible to care for my baby. When we got into the room, I was given a couple forms to fill out with questions about how I was feeling, aka a depression screening. This was the only test I didn’t want a high score on, but unfortunately for my over-achieving self, that just wasn’t going to happen. I ended up scoring very high on both screening forms (definitely not the perfect score I was looking for) and was diagnosed with severe postpartum depression. Wait, what? Severe? I’m pretty sure the only display of emotion I had all week was in that room when she said the word, severe. I have no idea why adding severe to the front of my diagnosis had me into hysterics, but it did. I remember telling the doctor, “Severe postpartum depression? Really? But I don’t want to hurt my baby.” She explained to me that when mothers feel the need to hurt themselves or their babies, they have gone far passed severe. They have either ignored or didn’t recognize the signs of depression early in their illness. She explained that depression doesn’t just get better on its own, it gets worse if left untreated.
Currently, I have been taking medication for my postpartum depression for a little over a year now and still don’t feel like I can wean off it just yet. I used to think taking medication for depression was an awful stigma and I didn’t want to admit I was taking it. So, I made a deal with myself that I was only going to take the antidepressants for no more than six months, tops! Too bad mental health doesn’t work that way. I remember starting my antidepressants and counting down the days to when I can come off them. When months seven and eight went by, I realized I needed to stop putting a timeline on something that doesn’t even know its own timeline. If depression worked with everyone’s life and social calendar we would all be a lot happier. I realized being a healthy, happy, engaging Mom who takes some medication everyday is a better fit for me than a Mom who struggles to get out of bed everyday.
I feel some of the things I’ve learned about postpartum depression shouldn’t be kept secret. I feel like we should be sharing these things with other women because you never know if something you are comfortable talking about publicly is something someone else has been trying to keep inside for fear of being a pariah. I only started thinking about PPD after watching another friend talk about her experience with it, and how she never thought it would happen to her. Her experience was eerily similar to mine but I wasn’t feeling bad so “I didn’t have it.” Yeah, about that…
(Please note: the following information is based solely on my own experience with postpartum depression. Signs and symptoms of depression may vary depending on the person. I have to put this disclaimer in here because some of y’all are out there drinking bleach and Lysol to disinfect your insides. So, clearly it’s necessary.)
“Normal” new Mom behaviors:
- Tiredness due to baby’s sleep/eat schedule.
- Forgetfulness (Welcome to Motherhood! You’ll never remember anything again!)
- Mild stress.
- Anxiety… from reading too many articles on motherhood.
- Mom guilt.
- Low energy.
- Feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing (Hate to break it to you, that doesn’t go away either!).
Not “normal” new Mom behavior:
- Fatigue with excessive sleeping. Not feeling rested upon waking.
- Mood swings.
- Difficulty bonding with baby.
- Feeling like you’re not meant to be a mother.
- Extreme sadness.
- Feeling like your family would be better off without you.
- Unable to engage in social gatherings.
- Uninterested in previous hobbies and/or desires.
- Unwilling or unable to provide care for the baby.
- Loss of appetite.
- If working, uninterested in performing job responsibilities.
Those were just some of the things I was feeling before my diagnosis. Since I was new Mom, I just figured all those things were normal for motherhood. While some of them might be normal, the severity of them is what’s important to notice. Being tired is totally normal for a new Mom but still being extremely tired after a full night’s rest and a 3 hour nap, may be cause for concern. My first symptom was extreme fatigue. I assumed I wasn’t getting enough sleep at night and went about my day. I found out later that excessive sleeping is one of the major signs of depression; which meant I probably had PPD much sooner than I was actually diagnosed. I share my story about pPROM (premature rupture of membranes) and PPD (postpartum depression) because when I was first going through this I found someone who’s story I related to. Their stories about overcoming these obstacles and coming out on the other side have helped get me through some pretty rough patches during my journey; feeling like you’re not alone makes a huge difference in the healing process.
If you’ve made it this far and are thinking my story sounds awfully familiar I urge you to get the help you deserve, if you haven’t already. Being a Mom is hard! Especially if the only thing you’ve managed to keep alive is a dog. Moms are under a significant amount of pressure these days. It’s a constant internal struggle with… Am I teaching my kid enough words? Am I feeding her all the right things? Is she eating vegetables with every meal? Is that too many Goldfish crackers for a snack? Why isn’t my one year old walking yet? Are we going to need physical therapy now? Is this car seat in properly? Is the crib safe? It’s overwhelming, stressful and frustrating to be a mom in a world where everything you do for your child is going to be scrutinized based on the opinions of other people, regardless of what decision you choose. My best advice, if you’re currently struggling with depression get yourself right! Make the appointment. Take the medicine. Go to therapy. Do what you need to do so you can be the kind of mom you want to be for your baby, because your baby deserves that mom!
A happy mom is the only type of mom you should strive to be.