Every Part of My Life was Touched by Postpartum Depression. Antidepressants Helped Me Find Myself Again.
As humans, we have this desire to slice and dice ourselves into neat little boxes and categories. We place our body in one box, our emotions in another, our mind in the next (where do we place our soul?). Headache? Take a Tylenol. Heartache? Have a good cry or talk to a friend. Bored? Pick up a book or flip on the TV. Tired? Take a nap or turn in early.
We like remedies that are simple and tidy, and fit easily into simple and tidy boxes. But the thing is, postpartum depression isn’t neat and tidy. It doesn’t fit in a box. Is it physical? Emotional? Mental? Spiritual?
Postpartum Depression is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
On my very bad days, I had flu-like exhaustion. But even though I was so tired, I struggled for hours to fall asleep at night. Napping was impossible. My body literally felt heavy, like I had sandbags on my shoulders. I had headaches almost every day. I felt tense all the time and experienced surges of adrenaline throughout the day, like when you’re going up the stairs, miss a step and nearly fall — that feeling in the pit of your stomach, all day, every day, for months and months.
Emotionally, I was checking out of my life. I didn’t want to be around my kids. I felt trapped by my life. I would blow up over stupid things; my nerves were stretched so tight that the slightest blip in my day made me snap. I would forget conversations and to-do lists. I got lost driving to familiar places. I often felt overwhelmed making trivial decisions. I would pray for peace, for joy, that I could find contentment. I prayed every night for sleep, sleep, sleep. And yet the peace, joy, contentment, and sleep eluded me.
I was doing all the right things: changing my diet (cutting sugar, more veggies, more protein, more water), exercising, reducing stress, doing yoga, taking vitamins, practicing all the self-care I could muster. Outwardly I was still functioning well on a day-to-day basis. I read to my kids. I supervised homework. I made meals for my family every day. I shopped. I did menu planning. I laughed with my husband. I spent time with friends. I mentored college-age women. I ran errands and helped with renovations on our house.
Outwardly I was functioning; but inside, I was drowning.
Despite fleeting moments of joy, I was miserable, and it was getting worse each month.
I was apprehensive about taking antidepressants.
You can’t see the mind or put your finger on a mood. You wonder, “Is this really real? Get over yourself! Do better! Eat better! Exercise! Pray more! Be happy—you have so much to be grateful for!” There’s such a stigma involved, despite a strong cultural push toward acceptance of mental illness and treating mental illness with medication.
Going on antidepressants was the BEST decision I could have made.
It took about three weeks for the medication to start smoothing out my ragged edges (just like my midwife told me it would).
The first few days I had a range of mild side effects: nausea, dizziness, the feeling of being “drugged.” I wondered if it was even going to work. But I dutifully kept taking it, skeptically hoping that it would start working in a few weeks. The first two weeks were a roller coaster of mood swings: I had good days where I started to see the light (I wrote this post on a good day) and very bad days, where I spent hours in bed.
After several bad days in a row (plus all the months of bad days before this), as I was lying in bed, I overheard my sons talking:
Aaron: You need to help Mom out right now. She doesn’t feel good.
Benji: Mom never feels good!
I cried into my husband’s shoulder that night when we talked about how my son’s words wounded me. “You’re taking steps,” my husband Aaron reminded me.
“It’s going to take time. But you’re going to get better.”
Every week before my counseling appointment, I would think through the previous 7 days and prepare a summary for my counselor. And by the third week, I realized that I hadn’t had any “bad” days that week. The minor side effects were long gone. I wasn’t so exhausted. I wasn’t hiding in my room every night after dinner. I didn’t feel as overwhelmed and stressed (I even did a yard sale that week, which was stressful but I didn’t succumb and give up). The overwhelming, visceral panic I felt at the mere thought of Aaron leaving for his Air Force training was fading.
The medication is helping my body make the serotonin that my brain was starved for, that my body was lacking, that my emotional well-being desperately needed. Today, it’s been a month since I first filled the prescription and I had a check up with my midwife. “I’m doing a lot better,” I told her. “I can tell!” She agreed.
It’s been a month of new steps, the medication, the counseling, painfully honest self-awareness that I need help to get well. But I’m getting there. I’m getting better.
Are you struggling with postpartum depression right now?
If you are struggling with depression right now, don’t be afraid to say it out loud. Tell someone and take a brave step to get help today. This is not who you are. You can get better. There is goodness and joy in store for you in the future.
You are not alone.
Brittany Meng is an air force wife, mom of 4 wild boys, twin mom, special needs mom, former English Professor, reading lover, a writer, and a woman who is striving to love God and love people each day. She is the writer behind The Bam Blog as well as the creator and editor behind Mothering Beyond Expectations.