Fighting Depression

Depression is real. It is dangerous. And it is not always obvious.

Stigma or discrimination attached to mental illnesses presents a serious barrier, not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community.
Canadian Mental Health Association

I’ve gone through plenty of depressive states in my life. Since I was a young adolescent, roughly once or twice a year Depression™ would come barging unannounced through the doors of my unconscious mind. It enters without permission, whispers emotional abuse to me all day, and sleeps in my bed as if we’re lovers—putting distance between me and my family, friends, and husband.

It takes over my brain and my life for a few weeks to a few months at a time. The severity of its stay varies, but its arrival always starts the same. First I become withdrawn, unmotivated, and more irritable than normal. Depression harshly berates me and judges everyone I’ve ever known. It reminds me of all the reasons why I’m such a bad person and why this world is such an ugly place to be.

Symptoms of depression may include the following:

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

WebMD

You see, Depression is a chainsmoker. The air is clogged by a thick haze when it’s near. I’m unable to see, through the smoke, that the things it tells me aren’t true. I’m not even aware it’s here until it’s already well moved-in; its clutter littering the floors and shoved into every corner of my mind. Eventually the feelings worsen to the point where I feel utterly hopeless about my life.

My latest depressive state was recently. I’ve only just cleared out the remaining fog from my mind a short month ago. My physicians are calling it Postpartum and Antenatal Depression.

As someone who already has mental health issues I was at a huge risk for PPD, yet I never expected it to happen to me. Breastfeeding decreases your risk, I told myself. I have an amazingly supportive partner, we’re financially stable, and our baby is in perfect health. It turns out that Depression didn’t care about these points after all.

It’s common for women to experience the “baby blues” — feeling stressed, sad, anxious, lonely, tired or weepy — following their baby’s birth. But some women, up to 1 in 7, experience a much more serious mood disorder — postpartum depression.
American Psychological Association

PPD must have begun its slow development when my menstrual cycle returned about 5 months after birth. I then naturally decreased the amount I breastfed once my son started eating solids. Though I don’t completely understand the biological aspect, I suspect my hormones went out of whack with the sudden increase in estrogen. My moods worsened 8 months postpartum. At this point my son was sleeping through the night, so I knew now my irritability wasn’t from lack of sleep.

When my son turned 9 months old, I got pregnant again. Depression made its presence quite prominent, almost instantly. It lunged cruelties at me, it wreaked havoc on my interpersonal relationships.

kate_juliet_photography_fairfax_boudoir-047062
{photo credit: Kate Juliet Photography}

I blamed my world crumbling on the fact that I had a small cluster of cells growing in my womb. In 9 months the fertilized egg in my uterus lining would turn into a living, breathing, screaming creature who I was primarily responsible for keeping alive. How could we be so stupid? I’d cry to my husband. I can’t even handle one—let alone two under two!

Little things caused me to panic much easier than they used to. My son would cry for seemingly no reason. I was overwhelmed by the needs he was unable to communicate to me. He wanted me to interact with him but I was too lost in my own head to give him the attention he deserved.

Guilt is one of the central symptoms of postpartum depression (PPD) so many women in the throes of PPD will hide their feelings from their family and friends and try to pretend that everything is fine. Imagine the pressure on these women.
Dr. Robin L. Goldstein

You’re a horrible mother, Depression would say. In response I’d have a screaming match with my son. I’d storm out of the room he was in and slam the door behind me. Afterwards I’d crumple to the floor in agony, ashamed of myself for being so selfish. I’d go back to him and kiss his tears away, thinking I could never remove the hurt I’d caused him.

Everyone is judging you. They all hate you, it’d tell me. While making me feel worthless, Depression would simultaneously point out everyone’s perceived flaws. I isolated myself from family and friends, I pushed my husband away. Locking myself up indoors and refusing visitors, Depression convinced me I was better off alone.

You should kill yourself, Depression would suggest. They’re better off without you. The horrifying part is, I wholly believed this. I genuinely thought that my death would benefit my son and husband long-term. Hours were spent searching the web for effective ways to commit suicide without making a mess or suffering through years of physical pain if I failed.

Over 800,000 people die due to suicide every year and there are many more who attempt suicide. Hence, many millions of people are affected or experience suicide bereavement every year.
— WHO

As shocking as that sounds to someone who’s never been suicidal, you must try to understand the logic of Depression. It made me feel evil, like I had to be removed from this world for the wellness of my family. What kind of emotional damage was I doing to my son every time I had a breakdown in front of him? What sort of wife thought of her husband with contempt? What use was I when I couldn’t bring myself to cook a meal, clean the bathroom, or be mentally engaged in our shared lives?

Depression physically, chemically, changes your brain. It latches onto your unconsciousness and leaks into your conscious thoughts. It doesn’t allow you to see things clearly, much less positively. To me the only means of escape from my pain was to remove myself entirely from the situation—the “situation” being my life. I reasoned that it would better for everyone.

mechanism-of-depression
{photo credit:The Jackson Laboratory}

To be honest, it was the fear of myself that forced me to admit there was a real problem. No one wants to think about this, but PPD is dangerous for children in the affected household. It doesn’t matter if you think you’d never hurt your precious baby; we may all capable of monstrous things when our minds are sick.

We can thank my willingness to seek help—and the doctors who provided it for me—that I never reached that point. After a few cases of self-inflicted-harm to my own body, and the impending threat of divorce in my marriage, I finally began treatment for depression. A few weeks later I watched Depression pack up its shit and walk out the door.

I’m happy to report that I’ve been a better person lately. With the help from therapy and antidepressants, I’m able to look at life more objectively. I’m an active mother and a caring wife. I’m an important staple in our family, and not just because I cook and clean. I also laugh and I love, which is equally as important, if not more.

Laughter stimulates both sides of the brain to enhance learning. It eases muscle tension and psychological stress, which keeps the brain alert and allows people to retain more information.
University of Kentucky

It’s like a night-and-day difference in our household these days, though we all still get frustrated from time to time. Some of that is normal in parenting and in marriage. Some is even healthy.

If you ever start to feel like I did, then I beg you to seek help as soon as possible. It’s not enough to vent to strangers on the Internet or to your friend who possibly understands because she has children of her own. If you have severe symptoms, you must seek professional intervention before someone gets hurt.

512-black1
{photo credit: stopstigmanow.org}

It would have felt nice to stand at the doorstep and smugly wave my depression goodbye, but it may be back again someday. As I’ve said before, Depression’s visits are a recurring event in my life. Now that I am more aware of it I hope I’ll see the warning signs sooner, or perhaps I’ll be carefully medicated for the foreseeable future. I don’t know.

All I can do now is take things one step at a time. All any of us can do is improve ourselves, bit-by-bit, day-by-day.

Remember, there is no shame in asking for help when you need it. The real shame would be allowing an otherwise healthy family to crumble apart due to something that is not your fault and not within your control.

I promise it can get better for you, too.

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9 thoughts on “Fighting Depression

  1. “All any of us can do is improve ourselves, bit-by-bit, day-by-day.” –> I love this. This is exactly where I am at in my fight to overcome anxiety and fear. Just taking it one day at a time and remaining hopeful that it will keep getting better!

    Thank you for sharing your journey with the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am very grateful that you have reached out for help and pray that you will continue to do so as you are very important to many people!!! I am as always overwhelmed and amazed with your genuine and raw honesty and very proud and inspired by your quest to help others. Love you more than you will ever know. Keep fighting the battle!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been suffering from depression and anxiety for many years. Every thing you mentioned in this post touched my heart because it is so familiar. I also think we should talk about it freely, because people need to understand that it IS a disease and that it should be taken seriously. People keep telling me to quit my medication and I usually answer “would you tell a diabetic to stop taking insulin?” it’s the same damn thing. Now I’m able to be open about it on my blog, but for many years I was ashamed of what I had, afraid that people would think I wanted attention or was just lazy or spoiled. Now, if someone doesn’t understand, that’s their problem. We’re together in this! I will be following your journey. There’s someone who understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the compliments on my post, for the follow of my blog, and for sharing your own experiences. I’m glad you’re able to be open now. The world would be a better place if we could all feel that willingness to talk openly about our struggles.

      Liked by 1 person

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