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