Thursday, January 12, 2012

Taming the Beast

(I was inspired to write after reading this post by the Bloggess and this post from Moms Who Drink and Swear.  My battle is far from epic, but depression and the use of anti-depressants are such dirty little secrets that I wanted to give them some fresh air and sunlight.)

About four or five months after my second child (T) was born, I went on antidepressants for post-partum depression.

And I’m pretty darn sure that I suffered from PPD around the same time after my first (J) was born although, at the time, I thought that what I was experiencing was just, well… me being me.

To be honest, that I might have PPD didn’t even occur to me until after T’s birth.  When my hair started falling out (another pleasant post-partum surprise), I noticed that I had absolutely no patience with J’s completely age-appropriate behavior. 

Thinking back, I realized that I had similar feelings when my hair started falling out about four or five months after J was born.  It wasn’t as obvious the first time around:  J was my firstborn and therefore my sole focus, so I just chalked up my moodiness (aka frequent periods of extreme bitchiness) to lack of sleep.

It shouldn't be a surprise that I had PPD.  I saw several therapists during my twenties and thirties for generalized anxiety disorder, and (brace yourself, because this is a really shocking revelation) I have a tendency to overreact and be somewhat of a drama queen.  Plus, my grandfather was treated for agoraphobia and depression during the final years of his life, so I had genetics going for me, too.

Once I figured out that blowing up at a two-and-a-half year old for acting his age isn’t exactly (a) appropriate or (b) healthy for either parent or child, I called my OB.  She referred me to a psychiatry practice that accepts pretty much any insurance plan out there.  (Since they’ll take money from anyone whose check clears, I’m sure you can imagine how attentive they are to their patients.

I met with a psychiatrist who (I swear this is true) perused other patients’ charts during my appointments.  He prescribed me sertraline, the generic equivalent of Zoloft.  (Zoloft and its generic equivalent are the only anti-depressants compatible with breastfeeding, so it was the only choice available to me.

I held onto that prescription for about a month before filling it.

Why?  Oh, I had my reasons.  Reasons like:

  • I was embarrassed that I wasn’t “strong enough” to handle this on my own.
  • I was embarrassed by the stigma of taking an anti-depressant.
  • I didn’t know of any mom friends who admitted to having PPD, much less taking anti-depressants.
  • I felt like a failure as a mother because I couldn’t “snap out of” my moodiness.
  • I worried what my friends would think if they knew I was taking medication to treat depression.
  • I worried that my husband would think that my taking anti-depressants was an excuse not to “handle my problems” on my own.

    In other words, I felt a whole lot of fear and shame.

    And then (with help from a beloved and trusted neighbor) I realized something:

    • If I had insulin-dependent diabetes, I would take the medication.
    • If I had high blood pressure, I would take the medication.
    • If I had asthma, I would take the medication.

    I think you see where I’m going here.

    I finally filled the scrip and went on sertraline.  And do you know what the ultimate, twisted irony of it was?  Only 25mg of the stuff - the smallest dose you can take - made me so horrifically nauseous that I went out and bought a pregnancy test to make sure that the nausea was caused by the meds and not a pregnancy.  On the upside, it did its intended job and took the “edge” off my moods – I didn’t have such a hair-trigger temper anymore.  But feeling queasy 24/7 while nursing a newborn and minding a toddler was simply unacceptable.  I ended up quitting it cold turkey.

    So…  Did I kick my depression as easily as ditching the meds?  Unfortunately, no.  A few major things happened, including the birth my third son (S), which caused that monstrous beast to rear its ugly head once again. 

    But once I weaned S, I discovered something that kinda rocked my world:  after six years of trying to get pregnant, being pregnant, or breastfeeding, my hormones (and therefore, my moods) began to stabilize.  Oh sure, I still get bitchy the day after I ovulate and then again the week before my period, but this is nothing like before. 

    I also discovered that regular exercise keeps my mood elevated, especially when said exercise occurs while my kids are in the safe, loving environment of Child Watch at the local YMCA.  (Why did I not join the Y sooner?)

    Like everything in life, learning to deal with my moods – with my depression and my generalized anxiety disorder – is a journey, a process.  Those were six long and frustrating years, it was a real struggle, and I questioned everything about my abilities as a wife and mother.  I still struggle, and I still question my abilities, but nowhere near as often or as harshly as I did during that time.

    Life will not stop throwing me curveballs.  I will likely still get down on myself.  I still need to change how I handle certain situations.  However, I am no longer ashamed that I have a tendency towards depression, or that I needed anti-depressants to help me through a tough stretch. 

    need to help and support each another, especially during the difficult times.  God knows there are a lot of them. 

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