Sunday, September 9, 2012

The New Normal, part I

I've promised myself for a long time I was going to write about my

depression

anxiety

and medication.

...but, still, I hesitated.  I rarely worry about what others think of me.  It's both a strength and a weakness of mine.  I think it has a lot to do with growing up in a community where keeping up appearances was very, very important to a heck of a lot of people.  It put a bad taste in my mouth and I've studiously avoided caring about the general populace's opinion of me ever since.  Yet, there's just something about sending out my mental health status for all the world wide web to see that made me a little nervous.  It would open me up to judgement.  Judgement that, at times, can be very harsh...especially to a mom of 4 (with hopes of one more) who, some might think, has made her bed and now should just buck up and lie in it.

And then...

Ezra was diagnosed this summer with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Once again, I was worried about judgement.  Judgement that I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill.  I worried that he would be treated differently.  Worried that he wouldn't be treated any differently and, hence, that he would be held to too high of a standard. Worried that people would think I was just looking for an excuse to allow my child to continue being a bratty, picky, hyper-sensitive, tantrum-thrower.

At the end of the day, however, I knew I still had to let this information out.

Because knowledge is power.

And I'd rather wade through the judgement of the ninety-and-nine to help the one who needs to hear what I have to say.

So, this post will be about me and then the next post will be about Ezra.

Now...let's start at the beginning.

Looking back now, from the other side, I can see that my depression and anxiety has been with me for most of my life.  I would lie in bed at night throughout the elementary school years and worry...just worry...late into the night.  I'd studiously plan what I would do in the case of a fire, burglary, ghost-invasion, or earthquake (fyi: I would always run and save my brothers first since I figured my parents and older sisters were able-bodied enough to fend for themselves...just, you know, in case you were wondering and everything).  I would sob into my pillow overwhelmed at the thought of having to get up and live and go to school for 11 long more years (as of 2nd grade, anyway).

Things didn't get better in middle school.  Instead, they got worse.  With the onset of tumultuous pre-teen and teenage years, life got even more drastically up and down.  I was hyper-sensitive in social situations and beyond anxious about everything.  Throw in frequent month-long bouts of depression and it didn't make for a particularly happy girl.  I know so many early teens have high-highs and very low-lows...it comes with the territory...so I can't say mine was oh-so-much worse.  It was what it was...and it only got much, much worse come high school.  I won't get into all the details, but lets just say those were some pretty dark years for me emotionally.  Luckily, things got loads better once I graduated high school and left for college.  I was in a new place at a new chapter in my life and I think, for once, I felt in control of my life.  I could finally make my own decisions and it made the world a much brighter place.  That's also when I decided to give up caring what the world thought of me.  After those socially hyper-sensitive adolescent years, it was like a huge weight lifted off my chest when I realized that I didn't have to care about the opinions of others.  They could think what they'd think and it didn't have to matter to me.

It's funny, though, one would never, ever guess if they were on the outside looking in.  I'm sure I seemed perfectly normal.  I think depression is often that way.  It's something that people often miss which then causes the sufferer to doubt their own doubts about their mental health.  It's like, if one is dealing with anxiety, they might wonder if they have anxiety, but then their anxiety is going to make them doubt their gut instincts and then they'll anxiously wonder if it's just unnecessary anxiety that's making them think they have anxiety.  clear as mud?;)  Really, though, what I'm trying to say is that one never knows what someone's battling behind closed doors and inside their head.

Remember that.

Moving right along...

I went to college, met and married my husband, and life was grand.  I had bouts of anxiety here and there, but they were short-lived and, really, no big deal.  Then...I got pregnant...and pretty much went crazy.  Ok, not crazy-crazy.  But, still, not all that normal, either.  I was so, so irritable and hormonal and, well, crazy-pants.  Things started to slide into depression during the last couple of months of my pregnancy and did NOT improve after Ezra was born.  Ezra was an extremely fussy, gassy, and overall difficult infant.  I was alone with a screaming baby from the time I woke up until Spencer came home from work and school, often late at night in our teeny ice-cold basement apartment.  Even when Ezra wasn't screaming (he was actually a decent napper, thank heavens), I just was so overwhelmed and unhappy.  I never blamed the baby...but I did blame my husband.  Frankly, he wasn't all that fond of the raging lunatic his wife had become either.  It was hard on Spencer and it was hard on our marriage.  Luckily, the post-partum depression fog started to lift by the time Ezra was about 8 months old.  I stabilized and life got a heck of a lot better.  I had another baby (Georgia).  This time, things were normal.  I was normal...which further convinced me that I had had postpartum depression with Ezra, since now I knew what typical baby blues felt like.

Then I had Scarlett and the same thing happened again, although not quite so bad.  This time I had 3 kids, 3 and under (Ezra turned three 5 days before Scarlett was born).  Things were crazy and, frankly, so was I.  Again, things started to stabilize around 8 months and by a year things were mostly back to normal.

The whole time all this was going on I would question and re-question myself about the possibility of being "officially" depressed.  There was this underlying idea that even if it was depression I should just deal with it because, as I mentioned earlier, I had made my bed and now I was going to have to lie in it.  I'm the one who had chosen to have kids and I'm the one who chose to have my children so close in age (at least for 2 of the 3).  If I was overwhelmed, well, that was just too dang bad.  I considered going to a doctor to discuss it...but when one is in the fog of depression everything just seems so...hard.  The idea of setting up a doctors appointment (an overwhelming task on it's own) and then go, bare all, and be told it's all in your head was just much too scary of a thought to pursue.

Anyway, moving on now...

2 years ago this fall, I found out I was pregnant with Oak.  I was super-duper happy about the pregnancy and couldn't wait to have another baby.  However, it wasn't very long before the old depression red-flags started flying.  I know when I start to tell Spencer that I'm "not coping well" that things are nicht so gut.  I was working with a new midwife during this pregnancy and discussed my high risk of postpartum depression with her.  She was the one who first brought up the idea of medication, even during my pregnancy, to help take off the hormonal edge, especially during the highest-risk time right after birth.  At first I was a little scared.  I mean, I'm not even allowed to have ibuprofen during pregnancy, for heavens sake, how could it possibly be safe to take an anti-depressant? Well, as the pregnancy progressed and we discussed my mental health more and more each visit, I started to feel strongly I should give medication a try.  I would occasionally ask Spencer if he thought it might be depression and anxiety and he would throw the question back at me and ask if I thought I was depressed and anxious.  You see, Spencer had a hard time with the idea of mental and hormonal issues like depression.  It's not that he didn't believe in them, per se, it's just that he's so unemotionally driven himself that he had a very hard time understanding how one would not be able to control their emotions and, instead, be controlled by their emotions. So, he wasn't exactly supportive when I decided to go on zoloft (which is the safest anti-depressant to be on during pregnancy and breast-feeding) about 2 weeks before Oak was born (he was 16 days early).  Regardless, he was supportive of me doing what I felt like needed to be done and that was that.  To say that zoloft made a difference is the understatement of the year.  For the first time in a very, very long time, I remembered what it was to feel truly normal.  To feel like bad, overwhelming, not-very-fun stuff happens, but that I could cope...that I would survive.  Here I was with 4 kids, ages 5, 4, 2, and 0, (none of which were in school that summer, to boot) and I was having the best, most laid-back time of my life.

I felt like I could finally breathe.

I've had some ups and downs since then.  We've had to adjust my medication when my hormone levels changed and what-not, but overall, things have been so. much. better.  The best thing is now that I know what normal feels like, I can tell when things are not normal.  Sometimes, (as Spencer likes to point out to me :P) it's because I've forgotten to take my medication, but often, it's just a reminder to step back and re-group.

So, I'm here to tell y'all that it's ok to ask for help.  I know, I know, it's a cliche, but it's so true.  It's ok to go to a therapist or take a medication.  It doesn't mean that you're a bad mom or wife if you just can't handle life on your own.  I used to think that if my depression/anxiety was hormonal then that was somehow more worthy of attention than if it was environmental.  That, after all, I had done this whole pregnancy and baby thing to myself.  But, that's just not true.  Hormonal, environmental, whatever...depression is depression is depression.  And it ALL deserves attention.  I take medication not because I'm a bad mom but because I'm a good mom.  I simply didn't want to be the screaming mom who couldn't cope.  Who couldn't stop fretting and freaking long enough to enjoy her children, her husband, and her life.  If I have to take a little blue pill for the rest of my life to be a happier version of myself, then I am completely ok with that.

I much prefer this version of me.

19 comments:

Jenny said...

I loved reading this Whitney. I'm not loving that you have had this adversity, but I do love to hear women talk about real life and dealing with and overcoming real struggles. You deserve a big HI FIVE for having the guts to talk to a doctor. Some of the best medical help I have received as well has come at a time when it was extremely difficult and embarrassing to talk face to face about private issues. But when they are able to HELP and provide solutions it is all very much worth it and prayers are answered. So glad to hear you are enjoying your new normal. I love that phrase, "new normal." I use it all the time - it seems like the definition of normal changes constantly. Love you!

cooper said...

Good for you, Whitty. Thank you for sharing your personal struggles to help those out there that may be in the fog of depression/anxiety. I know all too well how that suffocating fog feels like and how it could help to hear someone say, "you can do it, there is help out there, you're not alone". I appreciate that you're trying to put a face to anxiety/depression and let others know what it looks like, because it's not always easy to detect. I truly believe that knowledge IS power and that learning about mental illnesses can only help because for so long they have been, unfortunately, taboo. There are so many misconceptions out there and learning about them is a healthy thing. This post could be just what someone needed to hear to help them understand what they or a loved one is dealing with. I sure love you and think you're wonderful.

Kristin Hanson said...

Yes! Yes! Yes! Medication, the right medication, is a blessed thing and a gift from the Lord.

Most depressed people dont know that they are depressed, as the foggy doubt clouds your memory and dulls your perceptions of reality. Sure, i dont feel the extreme high when Im happy now, I even have to work in a different and sometimes harder way to feel the Spirit, but im no longer on a horrible roller coaster. I am content and happy with life 90% of the time now.

I am lucky to have such a perceptive husband who knew, after a few months of marriage, that his wife was clinically depressed. lying on the couch at two am, wondering if anyone would care if you died is NOT normal. Nor is cryirng for days over a bill you cant pay right this minute, but can in a week.

My medications and dosage has changed a lot over the years, but I will never go with out meds again. I dont believe you can truly over come clinical depression and anxiety with out them.

Alaina and Mitchell Dooley said...

Thank you SO much!!! The best things I ever did for my anxiety and postpartum PTSD were 1) get help and 2) VOICE what was going on! I am an extremely open person and I got the most wonderful advice and help when I decided to voice what I was going through online. It has been great. If I remember, YOU were instrumental in the advice you gave me and how much it helped! So THANK YOU! Good luck to you, little lady! I hope you have good doctors, counselors, or whatever you need!

The Scorse Gang said...

Oh Whit! I freaking love you!! You have a way of saying things, that just makes my heart happy! I'm so glad we are friends! And if you ever want to go off your meds...I know a guy who will support us getting weed instead!! hahahaha jk! I love you! Thank you for sharing your trials, it really is so comforting to know that other women are just as "crazy" as I am! xoxo

Felicia said...

Whit! Thanks so much for your courage to say all of this. There are mental health issues in my family, but everyone's too afraid, embarrassed, or doubtful to talk about it! I definitely had PPD with my first, but was never willing to acknowledge it--even when my doctor would ask those PPD questions! Thankfully, I didn't have to face those issues with our second, but my husband and I had created a plan of action in case I started to show those tell-tale signs. You're awesome, Whit! I'm so glad you're doing better!

L said...

Thanks Whitney. I feel like most of us are too embarrassed to share our struggles leaving everyone in a constant state of feeling like we're the 'only one'. I find this especially prevalent in our church. You're great. :)

sharon said...

Never be ashamed of what you are going through or to talk about it. I too suffered from PPD really bad with both girls. It wasn't until I was diagnosed with breast cancer that I actually got help. Ask Aub, she'll tell you about her "crazy" mom. :) I'm really glad you are talking about depression because someone is going to read your blog and find comfort from it.

One day in Relief Society we were talking about children and what a blessing they were and everyone was painting this happy little picture and I could tell there were some who felt uncomfortable, that is when I raised my hand and said That there were times I couldn't stand my children and I wished for another life. At first everyone was stunned and then I went on to tell them about PPD. After the meeting I had two women come up to me and thanked me for speaking up because they thought that they were the only ones who didn't "love" their children at times.

Thanks for saying what so many women are feeling! love you whit!

Kaui said...

Whitney, that was so heartfelt and had me tearing up. Thank you for sharing that, it couldn't have been easy.

Adi said...

*hugs* You are awesome! Thank you for your bravery in sharing that with us. It makes the world a less lonely place for those who struggle with the same sort of things. We aren't alone. *hugs*

Marilee said...

And my dear this is why I love you! I miss coming over and getting to see first hand that indeed other wonderful moms are going nuts too despite trying to keep sane. And I will attest that taking about it helps so much. My best friend I just visited is my best friend because she didn't judge when the poop hit the fanand I had severe ppd with Isa. And after a trip to the er and almost loosing my dear little Isa I got help. And after that I realized talking about you're struggles only helps. There is no shame. Life is made up of broken and imperfect people all trying to make it on a rough road back to somewhere. I am glad I have wonderful women like you to remind me i'm not alone and that that somewhere we are headed to is worth it all.

Marilee said...

And my dear this is why I love you! I miss coming over and getting to see first hand that indeed other wonderful moms are going nuts too despite trying to keep sane. And I will attest that taking about it helps so much. My best friend I just visited is my best friend because she didn't judge when the poop hit the fanand I had severe ppd with Isa. And after a trip to the er and almost loosing my dear little Isa I got help. And after that I realized talking about you're struggles only helps. There is no shame. Life is made up of broken and imperfect people all trying to make it on a rough road back to somewhere. I am glad I have wonderful women like you to remind me i'm not alone and that that somewhere we are headed to is worth it all.

Marilee said...

And my dear this is why I love you! I miss coming over and getting to see first hand that indeed other wonderful moms are going nuts too despite trying to keep sane. And I will attest that taking about it helps so much. My best friend I just visited is my best friend because she didn't judge when the poop hit the fanand I had severe ppd with Isa. And after a trip to the er and almost loosing my dear little Isa I got help. And after that I realized talking about you're struggles only helps. There is no shame. Life is made up of broken and imperfect people all trying to make it on a rough road back to somewhere. I am glad I have wonderful women like you to remind me i'm not alone and that that somewhere we are headed to is worth it all.

Caldwell Family said...

Whittney,
You are so amazing, and such a strong woman! I'm proud of you and happy for you that things are moving in a better direction. I have often felt myself that I'm out of control. One week I'll be gung-ho and happy and excited to take on the challenges of life and then next I can't seem to find energy or excitement in anything I do. If the hubby is ever late coming home from something I drudge up thoughts and images of him in a car accident or dead, not that I mean to. I have been doing it my entire life. Though I would often times remind myself that I needed to think positive, the negative, worst possible outcome would be at the fore front of my mind. There are days when I feel confident and I am very able to control what I eat and eat healthy, and then there are days like today where I feel that no matter how hard I try and force myself into obeidence it just won't happen. I see the times where I get uncontrolably upset at the smallest and studpidest things, but for some reason I feel as if I'm only a bystander to my reactions and feelings. My mother always told me it was my fault I felt the way I did, that I needed to change my attitude and be happy, and in some ways she may be right. My hubby, though I love him more than anything else, doesn't understand me when I have those days where I feel that all I want to do is cry uncontrollably. He'll ask why and when I don't have an answer he gets frustrated with my lack of an answer. I know he just wants some physical way to fix the problem, but I can never seem to give him a solution.

Needless to say, THANK YOU for telling your story. I needed to hear it more than you know. I've contemplated the idea of talking to a professional, but always end up thinking "how can they help?" or "I don't have time for me I need to take care of the kids." Maybe this will give me the push I need to search for some answers. Thank you and good luck. I'm ALWAYS here for you if you need me. Who knows, if you call and talk to me, you may actually be helping me just as much as you help you. :)

Alabama Apples said...

As always, sweetie, your blog touches me and others. Thank you for putting yourself and your laundry out for people to see. I struggle with what is best kept private and what would help others/myself to let others see . Thank you for taking the opportunity to help others who might need it. Love you--from one crazy to another! ;)

Megan said...

Great post, Whitney...thank you for sharing! I think it's so wonderful when women share these important parts of themselves with each other. You have no doubt done a great service for someone in writing this. I applaud your courage, and honesty!

Lot's of love and hugs!

Aubrey said...

You're great Whitney and thanks for always being there. Although, I do like to think I helped a little bit through high school, right? Seriously my dear, I love how open you are and willing to share your trials to help others. Which is obvious through all the comments. :)

holyoak said...

One thing I know for sure is that a loving Heavenly Father has given all of us struggles to overcome. Some are tendencies for addictive behavior, others have personality traits and tendencies that lead to other behaviors (some of which are touted as alternative life styles, while others are classified as abarant), some have unseen trials and others have very open struggles. All of us are in need of help. What is a common need is to feel loved and supported. We have a Father who does both and an adversary that wants us to feel alone and doubtful of that love and it's source. To doubt ourselves and our capabilities to overcome. If writing about your struggles will help another then it is worth it. I have often thought of the tremendous humility Alma the Younger had to have had to write about himself in such detail and then to write about a son who had open struggles. in such detail. Their love was so great for us that they were willing to leave their struggles out there in the open for millions and millions to read and even scoff at, instead of covered by the sands of time, in the hope that they may be of help to those of use who came along many centuries later. Those of us who hope to leave our struggles in private conversations with our Father or at most with our Bishop.

Well done Whit, we loved you then in your struggles we love you now in your struggles and we'll love you forever.

Smiley Family said...

Beautifully written! I'm glad you listened to yourself and did what was best for you. It's true that you never know what people are struggling with which is why it's so important to not judge. I never would have guessed you struggle with depression, but I'm glad you are happier now.