It's time for an update on my journey with postpartum depression and anxiety.
While everyone's experience with PPD is unique, over the past several months, my doctor and therapist have said the following things that have really hit home:
1. PPD is really, really hard to overcome due to the many factors that affect mental health, but particularly due to the fact that a mother's body experiences so many fluctuations in hormones.
2. Although overall improvements to mental health may be experienced, there can be, and likely will be, many setbacks along the way (think of a linear chart that trends upwards but has many downward spikes along the way). Those setbacks can be more demoralizing than the initial realization that you have a mental illness.
3. For many women with postpartum mental illness depression and anxiety dance together. They feed off of one another and suffering with one may lead to suffering with the other.
4. When someone suffering PPD feels as though they have "tried everything", often the last piece of the puzzle is a low dosage of medication.
Over the past several months my mental health has been steadily improving, to the point that I have returned to caring for my family and enjoying the many joyous moments that we share together. I am so grateful and elated to have experienced living life "freely" once again. For those of you reading this who have not experienced mental illness, it truly feels as though you have been freed or released from a cage when you check in with your mind and body to realize that the shackles of anxiety and depression are not burdening you.
There are still times, however, that anxiety and/or depression come back for a visit. Sometimes they come for a minute, sometimes a few weeks. The fact that they come at all anymore is really difficult. My therapist is right - it is so hard to endure the downwards spikes when you have already tasted the glorious highs.
"I know that I can feel great so why will my mind just not allow me?!"
This thought is always among the first to enter my mind each time I feel myself heading towards the bottom of that linear chart. I never hit bottom anymore, but my illness has still not unclenched it's grasp completely, which is incredibly frustrating!
The other really tough aspect of this is that most of the people closest to me have not experienced a mental illness and therefore do not understand that just because I seemed to be "myself" yesterday, doesn't mean that I will continue to remain that way for the rest of eternity.
Depression and anxiety are not steady state illnesses. They are not simply overcome one time and then "cured". They are nasty. They fight with a vengeance. They literally have the power to rewire your brain to believe that the depressed or anxious state is, in fact, your "normal" state. That rewiring takes place over a period of time, often when the sufferer hasn't yet realized that they have a mental illness. By the time that they realize what has happened to their brain, the rewiring that has taken place is likely very complex. Needless to say, in order to train our brains back to their "happier" state takes time, patience and persistence. None of which are in abundance for someone constantly being "beaten up" by visits from depression and anxiety.
I've often thought of depression and anxiety as competitors, combatants, if you will, that come to beat up on me. Most days I choose to fight them. I have so much to fight for - my family, my friends, my health and my future. Some days, however, I am totally wiped. I can't muster an ounce of strength to stand up for them or to tell them to "screw off". Those days I cry. I wonder "why me?" I wonder what else I have to "pay" or to sacrifice in order for them to just leave me alone.
Although I feel as though I have come 90% of the way, I know that I need a bit more help. I need a bigger, stronger, more durable wall between me and "them".
I truly do believe that I have "tried everything", aside from the one thing that I have been adamantly against since day one - medication. Yep, the dreaded "m" word for those of us suffering mental illness.
Today, I took my first dose of Zoloft, an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), whose job it will be to increase levels of serotonin in my body and help my brain to rewire the pathways that have been led astray by depression and anxiety. It was literally such a hard pill for me to swallow. There are so many reasons that I don't want to take it - possibility of short-term side effects, possibility of dependency, possibility of trace amounts passing through to breast milk, possibility that I will feel "numb", possibility that they will not help... Seriously, I have done my research. I know how much they can suck.
On the flip side, however, I know how wonderful they can be. I have had multiple friends tell me that they wish they could go back in time to tell their formerly suffering selves how much better they would feel on medication. And that it is only temporary. And that it is okay to need chemical assistance to fix this intricate rewiring of the brain. And that their babies would be just fine. And that you can feel better. And that the feeling of "better" can be long term.
They have given me hope that this is the last piece of my puzzle and a big part of me is relieved that I have finally allowed myself to seek help in this way. At first it felt like giving up, but having written this piece and reflected on my journey, I now feel hope that it will be the final one-two blow to the faces of anxiety and depression.