It can happen to anyone

When my son was born we were poor.  We're still poor but that's not the point of this story.

To keep our costs in check we didn't send him to daycare, instead I would spend the day at home with him. In the afternoon I would high five my husband, and then race to work in the evening.  I was always tired and only had energy to accomplish life's most basic functions. 

I was operating on empty at all times. But it felt normal and necessary due to our circumstances. I had so many excuses:

Of course I'm tired, I was up all night with the baby. 
Of course I'm exhausted, I work all the time. 
Of course I don't want to play with the baby, I can only make him happy when I'm nursing. 
Of course I don't want to see friends, I never even get to see my husband. 
Of course I don't want to run, I'd rather take a nap. 
Of course I don't want to cook, I'm not even hungry. 
Of course I don't want to read, I can barely keep my eyes open.
Of course I don't want to go out, I hate how everything fits. 
Of course I'm sad, I'm so lonely. 
Of course I can't make a decision, I'm too tired to think straight.
Of course I'm anxious, I'm responsible for keeping this baby alive. 
Of course I'm irritable, everything is going wrong and it's out of my control. 

My husband never said anything about how distant and hollow I had become. He never complained about the chores he had to pick up or the social events he missed. I think he too was operating under the assumption that this was just part of the transition into parenthood. In spite of his unwavering support I felt like I had failed my family and knew they deserved more from me. 

We functioned like this for the first year of our tiny babe's life.

Then my union went on strike. For six weeks. 

The first week we were on our summer vacation trip. The next week I picketed with some enthusiasm a couple of times. After that I laid on the couch watching Gossip Girl on Netflix. Everyday I would shower, put on a clean pair of pajamas and get back to the couch. I took my meals there and slept there most nights because I was too tired to walk up the stairs to our bed.

This is when I realized that something might be wrong. 

Yes, a whole year later. 

Yes, after a whole year of teaching the SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION to new moms and their partners. 

I no longer had my excuses. What did I have to be tired about? What did I have to be stressed about? Literally nothing and yet I felt exactly the same as when I was going to work and living my busy and stressful life. 

Postpartum depression will look different for everyone and surface on its own timeline.

My depression looked like this:

I would get really pumped up about something, say going to dinner with my husband. I would think excitedly about it all day. I would take a shower and then that's as far as I could get. I couldn't put on the clothes I had picked out, I didn't have the energy to blow dry my hair or put on makeup. I would get out of the shower and get back into bed still wrapped in my towel, telling my husband I just wasn't feeling well and maybe we could try again tomorrow night. 

My body felt unusually heavy. I would be asked a question or my opinion on something, my brain would formulate some insightful answer, but it was too much energy to verbalize the words out loud. I felt like my thoughts were trapped in my body. 

I lost the ability to do activities I once enjoyed. I isolated myself from friends and family.

Normally I'm a pretty go-with-the-flow kinda gal but I would rage. Like the hulk. I would get irritated by the littlest thing and actually scream and break shit. 

 

I started doing yoga again thinking that could quell my anger. 

It really didn't help with the anger but I did get introduced to a great therapist. (Insert plug for Blooma)

Life got better. Like a lot better. 

I actually started going to therapy for something different, not self-diagnosed PPD, because I was still denying all the signs that I had it. I went to several sessions before my therapist looked me in the eyes and said she thought I had postpartum depression and could benefit from an anti-depressant. If I remember correctly at this point I started sobbing. When you're in that hole you feel like you'll never be out of it again. It's your new normal. Having someone tell me I had depression was kind of a relief because I knew I could get better from depression, life didn't have to be this way. 

Depression can happen to anyone, but you won't get better by just living with it. Sometimes you need help. I got started on Zoloft the day after my therapist recommended it and was feeling myself again within a month. When I updated my primary care provider about starting on an SSRI she said, "oh yeah, I noticed you did score pretty high on the PHQ and GAD the last time you were in the office". (PHQ-9 and GAD-7 are two tools to measure the severity of depression and anxiety).

WTF. Not to point fingers at my PCP but you had good evidence to make a tentative diagnosis of depression and said nothing? Same to my midwives that were "screening for PPD" at those postpartum follow up appointments. Well, that's the American healthcare system for ya. 

I don't know where I would be without Zoloft but I know I missed a lot of life when I wasn't on it. Would I prefer not having to take something? Not really. It works for me. 

Am I cured? No. I have flare-ups like you do with any chronic condition. But now I know how to navigate them. 

And I own it. I don't want anyone else to go as long as I did without seeking help because they too think, "this is just the way life is right now". 

If you're googling the symptoms of depression or postpartum depression and think, "well some of these sound like me" or alternatively you're thinking, "this doesn't sound like me" but you know something just isn't right, you need to talk to someone. You deserve it. 

 

Christine Hicks