I have battled depression for many years. I can’t honestly tell you where it came from initially, but I know when it flared up.
In my junior year of college, I had a good friend who became my boyfriend. We were inseparable. My parents warned me, as he was Indian, and I am white, that our mixed races could be viewed poorly by our society (they are VERY old school). In the end, they saw just how amazing he was, and supported us from there. In my senior year, I lost a close friend to suicide in the fall. My boyfriend stood by me throughout it all. In the spring, I was accepted to graduate school and he was still partying hard and not sure what to do with himself beyond that year. We parted, but remained close friends (a first for me and the men I dated). A few months later, while out at an internship in Boston, I got a call from my dad. He hesitated, and then broke out, “He died.” I immediately broke into two. My entire life changed.
I began therapy, as I was crying all the time and inconsolable. Although this was my second loss in a year’s time, I still felt like this was earth-shattering. I couldn’t fathom my life without him, even as a friend. I was making poor decisions, trying to forget about him and move on. Therapy turned into psychiatry, to try and balance out the negativity that continued to course through my veins regardless of what my therapist tried. Shortly after regulating my medication and my sadness somewhat, and leaving my therapist and psychiatrist behind, I met my future husband. I was still up and down, and very extreme on many fronts. Volatile at times, even. Through it all, he stood by me, calmed me, helped me through the toughest of times. He encouraged me to go back to therapy and psychiatry when he felt that he could no longer help me on his own, and I listened. I was still up and down at times, but the medication changes I made and therapy sessions I participated in made the bad times seem more bearable and the good times a little brighter. Around the time we married, in 2007, I felt well enough to be off of medication and monitoring things on my own. This went on for the next several years.
When we decided to have children, I remained off of meds but maintained a close relationship with my psychiatrist in case there was any issues along the way. Strangely enough, the hormones that were associated with my first pregnancy leveled me, made me happy, giddy even, and I stayed as much throughout my entire first pregnancy. I followed my baby’s development every step of the way, and was excited for every little hiccup and kick. After I gave birth, I was tired, but happy, and managing well even on little sleep. Life was still exciting for me, and my baby brought joy to my life.
Cue second, unplanned pregnancy. This was a little bit more of a challenge. Although I was excited again, and anxious, I remembered the endorphins I felt from my first pregnancy, and hoped they would come back again. This time, however, I had a two year old to contend with. It brought a lot more to the mix. Still, I felt okay, I managed. After birth this time, things went quickly downhill.
Sleep went first. Even when I was exhausted, I couldn’t sleep. I anticipated my second child waking as soon as I fell asleep so I hyper focused until I couldn’t sleep at all. My first child was a good kid, but with lack of sleep, little things set me off. I started to be unable to handle minor situations like making dinner or bathing my children, and it led slowly up to neglecting my own needs. I began crying at everything. I flipped out on my husband when he was minutes late getting home from work, and screamed and ranted and raved when he didn’t help me do something small, like clean up dinner. I began to sense some similar symptoms from what I had when I was depressed before, like avoidance. Rather than tell anyone how I was feeling, I stopped returning phone calls, avoided text messages, laid down in my bed when I didn’t have to care for my children rather than spending time with my husband. Seeing the warning signs, my husband urged me to talk to my doctor. At my six week check-up with my OB GYN, I had to bring both children. My doctor took one look at me, and I started to cry. She listened. She nodded. She diagnosed me immediately with postpartum. She prescribed me meds to start sleeping again, and offered me an extra 4 weeks of maternity if I thought that would help. And she put me in touch with a therapist who specialized in postpartum. She scheduled another follow-up appointment so she could see if I had made any progress and give me time to think through my offer of extra maternity leave.
I was a lucky one. I had a great OB GYN who followed up with both my husband and myself. Yes, she called my husband to talk to him about what was going on with me. I had made a great connection with my therapist, who connected me with a psychiatric nurse. I got back on meds and spent weekly sessions with my therapist to discuss the horrible thoughts that I had during this dark time. To admit the things I did and felt, scared me. I hated the way I felt about motherhood at that time, and yet, I knew by hiding these feelings, it would continue to get worse. Finding time was also not easy being a career mom and trying to put myself through my second graduate degree program, but everyone was super flexible, including my husband who made it a point to get home to be with the kids when I needed to go to these sessions. Together, they both made me see that I shouldn’t feel bad about how I was reacting to motherhood the second time around. Given my past with depression, it was easy for it to come back and root again.
My youngest is two, and I feel like over the past year or so I have leveled out. I gradually stopped seeing my therapist, but I still see the psychiatric nurse for “maintenance”. I am still on meds, but the chemical imbalance that I have made me realize that I need to be. I have come to terms with where I am as a mom. I have also put to rest any regrets I might have had during that dark time, with the thoughts that seemed to take up my life. I don’t view these as times I missed with my kids anymore. I feel like I can look ahead now. My kids are my joy, my loves, my life. I can fully appreciate it now, and the little blips on the radar aren’t so big anymore.