I don’t like to talk about this subject.
It’s painful. It’s personal. It’s often lonely and ignored. But I feel like I’ve reached a point that it’s necessary.
I mentioned in the post announcing that we’re pregnant that the first trimester “almost took me under.”
And that it did. A depression unlike almost any I had ever experienced took me down.
It took me to a very, very dark place when I was supposed to be glowing with anticipation and excitement, even amidst the throes of morning sickness and insane fatigue.
I’ve battled depression for over 10 years – probably longer – but was first ‘diagnosed’ in my early 20’s. I was put on the same anti-depressant as everyone else by my primary care physician (who, it should be noted, was more of a psychologist than many in psychological professions I’ve seen since then.) Not much was said about it, and truthfully, I don’t know what it did or didn’t do for me because I didn’t really know the demon I was battling.
I stopped taking it after I felt “better” and spent the next several years on a roller coaster of other medications and “talk therapy” trying to treat a foreign ailment that sometimes seemed like something I just dreamed up or just an excuse for doctors to get me to stop complaining about whatever was bothering me. The only thing that kept me from being certain I was just making this up was that I knew there was a strong family history of depression, so perhaps I was just lucky enough to get some of those genes.
I managed pretty well when anxiety was finally recognized about 3 years ago as a big part of my problem in addition to the depression and I started being able to put pieces together of what caused my depression. Hormonal issues, my personality of perfectionism and need for control, and especially when I physically don’t feel well all can lead me into a dark fog. You may as well drag my emotional health down the river when I’m physically down because it’s a relatively lost cause.
As you can imagine, the first weeks of pregnancy are the perfect storm for me. Hormonal changes every SECOND, being completely out of control of what your body (and mind) is going through, and of course, physically feeling like death spread on a cracker. I was sunk. As the depression worsened, so did the anxiety. Suddenly, I was fretful over every little thing regarding the pregnancy: I would have a ‘good’ day where I didn’t feel sick and would convince myself that must mean the pregnancy wasn’t healthy or viable any longer. I calculated massive numbers in my head of how the odds of miscarriage in second pregnancies was so high that I may as well be prepared. Every pain, cramp, or twinge of change was certainly spelling impending doom. My mind was out of control.
I was hoping for some consolation and perhaps an increase in medication, something – ANYTHING – from my first appointment at 8 weeks but instead was met with none of the above. I saw a nurse practitioner I had no past with for that first visit, and unfortunately, my tears and pleading meant little to her. I completely understand there was probably nothing she could do at that point anyway, but a little compassion can go a long way sometimes. I was desperate. I didn’t want to feel this way, think these things – ESPECIALLY when I would much rather have been living in a place of thankfulness and peace. It was horrifying, knowing there was so little I could do while I waited and prayed for the first trimester to move quickly. Thankfully, I have a husband and family who are more than supportive and understanding and helped me walk through those dreary days.
When Robin Williams died though, it really bothered me as the outpouring of “concerned” bystanders started rolling in. Suddenly along with every news story about Williams, there was a PSA about how anyone facing depression needed to “seek help” or “reach out.”
This INFURIATED me.
The LAST thing a depressed person WANTS to do is reach out. It’s not selfish, it’s just part of the beast. Depression is so isolating anyway that by the time a person actually recognizes that they are depressed, they’re well past “reaching out.” AND, beyond that, chances are that person may have already reached out and been met with far less help than they needed. Like most ER visits, unless you’re crying ‘heart attack,’ you’re not an emergency. Same with depression – unless you’re talking suicide (and even sometimes when you are), it’s not an emergency.
Here’s what I’ve experienced – seeking help for depression usually goes something like this:
First visit, usually with a primary care doc lands you a recommendation for a counselor, which can’t see you for another 2 weeks. If you do walk out with a prescription, it’s for a mild, run-of-the-mill, just slightly better than a sugar pill drug that won’t begin to work for at least 4 weeks, if at all. And during that 4 weeks, you’re likely to have some “mild” side effects that make the whole process more fun. Meanwhile, word may get out that you’re seeking help for depression and your friends may say things like, “what do YOU have to be depressed about??” and your coworkers just think you’re a coward and your family may even go as far as to think you’re just being lazy. And if you’re a Christian, like me, it’s sad how many times you may be told that you’re just not praying enough. Oh my heavens, what a kick in the gut that is because truthfully, prayer is likely the only reason I was still willing to try to beat depression at all. These responses are ALL too common, from what I’ve learned. You diligently attend your “talk therapy” appointment, but your “counselor” may as well have gone to hairdresser school as far as you’re concerned because her half-witted attempts to explain what you’re feeling seem futile and her assertions of “you seem angry…” just infuriate you more. And an hour session every two weeks is not really doing much except draining your bank account. Really, what can you cover in an HOUR?! You battle with that go-around for six months to a year maybe, only to discover that you’re not any more “well” than before.
From this point, it’s a crap-shoot as to what happens. You may continue to seek traditional care, usually winding up at a psychiatrist who will promise not to turn you into a “zombie” when in fact they do just that with their high-powered meds and psychoanalysis. Or, you turn to unconventional methods with herbs or yoga or something you read about on Facebook, usually to no avail. And yet, all the while, you’re hearing that depressed people should “reach out.” A year or two after you REACHED OUT and you’re more desperate for care than you were before, but also more hopeless that you’ll actually find a suitable solution. It’s dark, people. VERY dark.
I wish I could say I found a key, a secret weapon or some way around all of the above so that others didn’t have to face it, but unfortunately I don’t have that. For me, it took getting to that place of desperation and expressing it to my husband in such a way that there was no denying my sincerity of how deep my despair was. Elly was one, and looking back, it’s evident now that I had late-onset post partum that easily overtook me based on my predisposition for severe depression and anxiety. I’m also an excellent actress and can mask my interior like no other. I still had to go through quite a bit of trial and error and more doctor ‘fails’ before finding a relatively simple but effective method of management for me. For now. Because the beast changes, a person with depression (and anxiety) has to stay on their toes – what works today may need to be changed in a year or two or even sooner.
Again, I wish I could say I had learned the trick or even an appropriate argument for all those well-wishers who say “seek help” because while they mean well, they obviously have no clue what a depressed person is really dealing with. I can only speak from my own experience and what that means for me. I know what my depression looks and feels like. I vividly remember what Elly’s first year was like and how I relish in her existence now, where as I couldn’t then. I know what most of my triggers are and try at best to avoid them when possible. I know I need special care from myself, especially while pregnant, to make sure I stay in a healthy place. And even then, there’s going to be some bad days. I know prayer and my faith is extremely important, as is the support from my family and friends, so I do what I can to keep those things in check.
I’ll step down off my soapbox for now, but please. Before you tell someone to reach out, try reaching in.