Six months ago, in the middle of my second trimester, I started making preparations. These weren’t the typical preparations of setting up a nursery, buying baby clothes and taking Lamaze classes that usually accompany an impending arrival. Rather, it involved a series of conversations with my medical providers about the very real possibility of a post-partum depressive episode. I alerted my midwives to my history of seasonal depression, talked with my endocrinologist about the importance of keeping my thyroid hormones in check, retained a psychiatrist in case I should need medication and put my therapist’s number on speed-dial. I was taking no chances. Instead of anxiously awaiting a new bundle of joy, I anxiously expected a return of darkness.
I had just emerged from the abyss that is depression when I found out that I was unexpectedly pregnant with my third child. I was lucky that the news didn’t send me spiraling back down. Maybe lucky is the wrong word; I had just clawed my way out and I was too stubborn and scared to go back to that place.
Depression has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My mother was severely depressed after the birth of my youngest sister and had another episode when I was a teenager. I have had seasonal depression every year since I was fourteen. Depression is just the reality of my genetics and brain chemistry.
But I was not prepared for the severity of the major depressive episode I suffered last year. Depression ripped me out of my life, separating me from those I loved and threw me down in a fog of fear and sadness. A shadow of myself silently wandered this barren land. I spent months and months lost in my mind, barely able to move from my bed to the couch, unable to nurture or care for my children. The guilt I felt made me believe that they would be better off without me and I admit that I thought of ways I could make this happen. Even now, the memory of this time brings tears to my eyes.
I am a depression survivor but life has not gone back to the way it was. While some survivors emerge from the darkness with a new sense of purpose, the scars that I and my family bear are so visible that it seems my depression is ever present. My children are less verbal than their peers, probably because their mother wasn’t able to talk to them for six months. They also have a much greater likelihood of suffering from anxiety disorders and depression because they were the victims of my depression, a fact that I try not to dwell on. My husband admitted to me recently that he lives in fear of my psychological collapse. As for me, the specter of depression is close. I have been fortunate to experience little more than some baby blues since giving birth but I can feel my depression on the other side of a closed door, pacing back and forth, waiting to get back in.
Depression changes you forever, changes your relationship to the world. Even when you aren’t depressed life seems just a little harder, a little more fragile. It makes you more wary and much more vigilant. But depression is also a lesson in the nature of the human soul. I am left scarred from the experience but with an increased understanding of the enormity of human emotions and the depth of the soul. If nothing else, there is meaning, beauty and comfort in this.
This hits so close to home for me. I once had plans of lots of kids in a large happy family. Now I have two, and I’m thinking this may just be it. My youngest is almost four and it feels like I’m just now really coming out of the haze of PPD. I’ve been ‘functional’ all this time but everything was just flat. In talking about having another one, my mental health is the deal breaker.
I still like the idea of having a passel of bright happy children (for instance I would *love* to be raising the next batch of ZD’s), but that is something I just can’t do. And it isn’t a matter of not trying hard enough, it is something that I am physically incapable of thanks to my brain chemistry.
I understand that haze so well and how it’s possible to function but not really be there. I’m so sorry about the PPD, I know how difficult it is to say goodbye to old dreams because of the reality that life presents. But if anybody could give two new Ziff’s to the world it would be you, Starfoxy!
What? There’s going to be more of me? And Starfoxy’s going to raise them? Awesome!
Starfoxy will make a fantastic two-Ziff mom. 😉
mraynes, I really appreciate your frankness about your experience with depression. A beautiful, moving post that gives me a glimpse of what you and so many others suffer.
May I ask if going back to school helps? I don’t think I have serious depressive issues, but I do know I feel so much better about myself and my life when I’m working towards something concrete outside the home. Being in my program, while it stresses me out, I think makes me happier overall.
Thank you, Caroline. Yes, going back to school has helped tremendously. What seems to trigger my depression are negative thought cycles and between school and the new baby I just don’t have the time or energy to slip into those. I have found that working towards something concrete outside of the home is an absolute necessity for my mental health.
Thank you for such an honest and open post, mraynes. With this last pregnancy I was shocked to discover how depressed I was *during* gestation, so it really pushed me to look at what I could do to prepare for and prevent what I assumed would be an even more difficult post partum period. And I suffer from SAD like clockwork most years, so I really tried to get myself in a good place to handle both.
I know it might sound trite and like too simple of an answer, and I completely understand how different each individual’s encounter with depression can be, so I’m not saying this as though I have the answers for everyone else, but I do want to mention my success in case it helps anyone. I was very diligent about taking a high dose, balanced omega oil during my pregnancy, which I think really helped after the birth, but like you said, I could always feel a little something still waiting around the corner. So I started to look into vitamin D supplements for the winter, and found fermented cod liver oil (thanks to Kmillecam!) that I’ve been taking this year. And this is the first winter in years! that I haven’t been fighting the days for sanity. It really has been such an amazing difference. So that’s been my experience. I know it may not be enough for some people, but maybe it could at least help lessen the severity or be a valuable addition to a solution.
But I’m really glad to hear that you’ve kept your head above the water line so far, and I hope that you continue to feel positive about your chances.
Though I wouldn’t look too harshly toward the future of your children’s mental health. I think that yes, we can cause damage to our children in a thousand ways as parents, but we can also repair that damage with equal opportunity. Children are resilient and strong in a way that allows us to turn things around at almost any point I believe. If we move forward with intentions to reinforce after the fact, I think there is hope. I know I felt like I had blown it with my toddler as I neglected her for months, but she got extra attention from my husband and I’ve just tried to make up for it in whatever ways I can now. And I can see the effects of what I had to give up still, but I can also see positive changes and good coming from what I’m being purposeful about now.
Incidentally, a balanced omega oil is also shown to improve the cognitive development and health (mental and physical) of children as well.
I’ll be hoping good things for you for the rest of the winter. Hang in there!
One of my friends had PPD after her first, so after she gave birth to twins she had their placentas dried and put into capsules she could take. She totally thought it helped ease the transition.
This is becoming more widely done it seems, and I’ve heard positive results. I considered it if I found that the other supplementation wasn’t working, but in the end I didn’t feel it was worth the trouble at the time. I also know people that have encapsulated it themselves (or eaten it somehow), but I don’t think I could have handled that 😉
I can’t reply to your reply, Corktree, but yeah, her husband did it for her. She posted video and how-to on their blog (I think they used a food dehydrator and a Magic Bullet blender, and then an encapsulator they got at a health food store). Her husband is a hero for doing it for her.
I think I may actually know the person you’re talking about! Funny.
Thanks for sharing what has worked for you, Corktree. It’s amazing how connected nutrition is not only to our physical health but our mental health as well. I have actually taken an Omega-3 supplement since I was pregnant with my 2nd child when my doctor recommended it for stress and it does seem to help. I’m thinking about adding a vitamin D supplement during the winter months as well. And thank you for the reassurance about my children. This is probably the thing I struggle with the most but I also recognize that I did the very best I could and that they were well-loved even in my darkest moments. Thanks for the well wishes, it means a lot to me.
Thank you for this post. I think there is something about “surviving” anything that gives you a heightened sense of the fragility of life. I keep hoping that time will sap the fear of its power.
I like what you say about how all “surviving” experiences make the fragility of life more apparent. I think you’re right and I also think this is one of the beautiful things about these experiences. They show the complexity of our existence and make it that much more meaningful and sacred. Thank you for your words, SilverRain.
You make a very good point. And I wonder if this is part of why it isn’t necessary for us to individually experience everything in order to develop empathy and compassion for everything.
I have never been pregnant–although 2 years ago my body thought I was. I actually had polyps–that my body basically permanently tried to miscarry for 8 months.
I’ve dealt with other issues (anxiety, depression), and it all runs in my family as well. In fact, I have a sister who has severe depression–including MANY episodes where she basically didn’t function (she has many other health issues as well–and refuses to be treated appropriately for them). Interestingly enough, my great grandmother had severe depression and other “health issues”–and after losing 2 of her children, had a nervous breakdown. Her health problems caused health anxiety in her daughter that still has reverberations in her grandchildren (my father and his siblings) today.
BUT–here’s the bright side: I saw this reality in my family–and did something about it. When I nearly “broke down” I refused to just “sit there”–and did as you did–created a support system to get me through. I still do this–and my recent severe bought with SAD has been the same. After testing, I’m now on Vitamin D–and finally am glad to say that people can’t just tell me ‘it’s just in your head” or act that way anymore!
What bothers me the most, I suppose, has been the debilitating attitude many in my father’s side of the family still has toward mental illness. It’s an obvious part of their lives, because of their grandmother–but they all walk around like it’s not there. I’ve observed this type of attitude in the Church culture as well–and find it annoying–sometimes offensive. I’m grateful for prominent members and General Authorities who have pushed some issues to the forefront–and tried to get others to stop walking around the issues (now, if they could just do this with disabilities…). But, as I’m yet again pulling myself away from the abyss that is depression (for I too felt it knocking at the door, as you analogized) and am literally feeling the Vitamin D working in my brain (such an interesting feeling), I’m grateful that I have had the strength to stand up for myself and seek the help I’ve needed, rather than stay in the world of denial and avoidance–and fall further into the abyss standing outside the door!
Thank you for your post!
Thank you for sharing your story, prairiegirl. Good for you for recognizing the pattern and getting the help you need. It is unfortunate that there is still such a stigma against mental illness and I’m sorry you have to fight that in your own family. I know that being honest with myself and others about my depression has really helped me heal. I’ve found that as I’m more open, the power of this illness slowly gets stripped away. I’m so glad that you’ve been able to empower yourself and have found a way to deal with your family history and your own experience.
I didn’t know you faced this, mraynes. I’m so sorry.
Thank you for writing about it as it really was. Between your post and another from an old friend (read it here), I re-broached the topic with my husband tonight. He knows to be on the lookout for this with me, given my family’s history with depression. My encounters have been relatively minor, but siblings & parents have faced major episodes . . . so I very much feel like “there but for the grace of God go I . . . ” I plan on talking to my OB in advance and having a couple of extra friends on watch — in case I have a hard time recognizing it in myself (?). For those who have experienced PPD, did it come on gradually (as depression sometimes can)? Did it hit suddenly? How did you differentiate it from new baby fatigue? At what point to you recognize it was something more?
I can’t really speak to the PPD experience since I’ve never had anything more than just minor baby blues. I took similar precautions with each pregnancy to the ones you have taken. I have wondered if maybe that in and of itself didn’t help. Being self-aware to the possibility of an episode and asking for help are really powerful actions. Hopefully PPD won’t be a reality for you but I know you have plenty of people watching out for your well-being. You have all my hopes and best wishes for a continued healthy pregnancy and a joyful post-partum.
Deborah, I’ve probably already posted TMI but I’ll add this just in case it’s helpful. I think for me the difference between PPD and just the normal stress of having an overwhelming life change like a new baby was the difference between having bad, stressful, miserable days–and bad, stressful weeks, even–which of course everyone has–and being in a sort of flatliner state in which I could no longer experience any pleasure at all or look forward to anything. Now in my non-depressed state after a bad day or a bad series of days I can tell my husband, “They’re all yours!” run out of the house, and go do something I enjoy. I can look forward to a book, a movie, a hot shower, a good meal, getting out of the house with a friend, or a nap, and find pleasure in those things, even if in the moment I’m wondering why on earth I had kids and going crazy with their screaming and the disaster that is now my house and feeling frazzled and overwhelmed and miserable.
When I was depressed there was no relief. There was no prospect of relief. Being awake was bad, but sleep–or trying to sleep–was bad. Eating was bad. Books and movies I had once relished just made me more miserable; I could hardly concentrate on them anyway. For me feeling like that–like nothing is ever going to be good again, that you can’t even imagine enjoying anything again–is a definite sign of depression.
Another Bloggernaccle resource that might be useful to you or others is this old thread at Times and Seasons by Julie Smith. She gives excellent advice that really hits all the bases, and the ensuing discussion is very useful too.
I was really scared about PPD when I was pregnant with my fifth. I knew I was already depressed when I got pregnant, and it got a little better with pregnancy, but I was scared about what would happen afterward. I was vigilant about having my thyroid checked. However, I messed up when I decided to see a new doctor, and he told me to stop taking my thyroid medicine (because I was in the up part of postpartun thyroiditis). When I crashed, I crashed HARD. But, going back on an increased dose of name-brand Synthroid made all the difference, and I finally emerged after two and a half years of depression (post-partum for my last 2 kids).
The thought of being pregnant and going through postpartum thyroiditis again makes me want to curl into the fetal position. I had a scare a month or two ago when my period was late, and my husband couldn’t sleep from worry. I think that we are still suffering a little PTSD from the depression. That was a horrible, dark time in my life, and I am just grateful that we all seemed to survive as well as we did.
At the same time, I am so grateful for the lessons I learned in compassion. I feel that I am less judgemental and more forgiving. I feel I can mourn with those who mourn a little better. I pray that I never, ever experience depression like that again, but I really hope that I have come out a better person because of it.
Wow, Stephanie! I’m so sorry for that experience. I suffer from thyroid issues as well and I know how frustrating and scary they are to deal with. I hope that you never have to experience that again as well. It’s so powerful for me to read the accounts of other survivors who have made it through with grace and gained something from the experience. Thank you for sharing your story with me.
No PPD here, but with a family history of bipolar disorder and major depression, I talked to my husband and OB and got a psych eval before I got pregnant for the first time. Even then, once my mental status started going down the toilet, I was unwilling to seek help. My depression manifested as anger and aggression, and it did not come on gradually. When I was about five months pregnant, my husband insisted on coming to my OB appointment. He agreed to sit in the waiting room, but told me we weren’t leaving until I got a referral to either a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Counseling worked for me. I visited with my psychologist every week until I delivered my daughter–and then I was fine.
Four years later, when I found myself pregnant with my son, my first order of business was getting a prescription for an antidepressant from my GP. I never ended up filling it as my mood stayed stable.
Jesse, thank you for sharing this. I’m so glad that you had a husband that was aware of the situation and was able to get you help. What a blessing to have supportive people in our lives.
I’ve watched a dear friend go through a bout of major depression this year. It’s really opened my eyes to how very difficult this is. In my eyes, she’s such an intelligent and athletic and socially adept person. It’s so strange to see her struggle with the self-doubt and anxiety that seems to go with this. For those of us who aren’t predisposed to it, it’s very hard to understand. It’s good to see women talk openly about this issue that effects so many. If even one person feels less alone, or is encouraged to seek treatment then you have done a good thing in sharing.
Thank you for your kind words, Rebecca. I have to admit to feeling vulnerable about sharing this experience but I believe that depression gets its power from the silence and fear of those who are affected by it. I agree, it is so wonderful to see women sharing their experiences openly in this forum. It gives me so much hope and strength.
I’m sorry about your friend. I’m sorry that she has to go through it and I’m sorry that you have to witness it, I know that is a hard place to be in as well. I’m sure that your continued presence in her life means the world to her and makes this experience just a little easier. I know this because I had friends who did the same for me.
I am so glad you shared this.
As for the shame and guilt about your children, and developmental delays, you can only do the best you can do and go forward. My LDS energy worker told me: Worry doesn’t do any good to anyone. It just tires you out more. Instead, replace it with love for those people. Would you rather have a bunch of worry directed at you, or Heavenly Mother’s love?
I love the words of your energy worker, they are definitely something that I need to work on. I do feel a lot of guilt but I know that this is not productive and is detrimental to my continued good mental health. I will work on replacing my guilt with love. Thank you for sharing this thought with me.
Both my husband and I come from families where depression and anxiety disorders are rampant, but it was never discussed. When our son first started struggling with depression and anxiety as a teenager, we completely missed the signs. It wasn’t until after his mission , when he became suicidal, that we finally found help for him. He is now (13 years later) doing very well and has a family of his own and a good job, but we went through such nightmarish years that could have been so much easier had we recognized what was going on earlier.
I myself suffered from severe PPD after both my third and fourth pregnancies, but at that time (70s and 80s), I was just told to “buck it up.” It was just called the “baby blues.” I’m so glad that you are all so willing to talk about it now. After I finally came out of it after the fourth pregnancy, I was so terrified of getting pregnant again that I would only let my husband get near me for a few days of the month, and then we used three different forms of birth control. After four years of that, I had a tubal ligation. That may have saved my marriage.
Corktree, I have a son-in-law whose psychiatrist recommended cod liver oil and vitamin D just a couple of months ago. He says it they have really helped him. Wish I had known these things thirty years ago.
I have such a fear of getting pregnant again that even with a vasectomy, we are using back up for another 2 years 🙂
Thank you for sharing your experiences, Catherine. I’m sorry that you had to go through them but it means so much to me and other survivors of depression to know that you and your family were able to make it through and that things turned out okay. I’m glad that we live in a time where, although there’s still a stigma, more people are willing to talk about their experiences.
Thank you for sharing your genuine experiences. Depression is so debilitating for so many women. I admire you for taking the necessary steps to potentially prevent/lessen PPD. Generally most women, even those with prior history, wait and see and are then often ambushed.
I liked how you expressed that depression “changes your relationship to the world.” So true.
Thank you for your kind words, Hydrangea.
I want to respond to all of you but first I want to say how grateful I am to all of you for sharing your stories and thoughts. I am truly humbled. Thank you all.
Thank you for sharing this story, mraynes…I’m so impressed that you could go back to a place of such pain to write this.
Wishing you continued good mental health, my friend.
Thank you, mraynes, for addressing this.
I’ll add my story in the hopes it’s helpful to someone.
For me PPD came on hard and fast (although of course everyone’s different, and from what I understand it can hit anytime in the first year after birth). In retrospect I can see that with both of my kids I was in it within 48 hours of delivery. But even with all the episodes of depression I’ve experienced before, even with the preparations I made for the possibility, even though my daughter’s pediatrician screened me at her two-month checkup and told me I was depressed, I still had a very hard time recognizing it the first time around.
I had a lot of trouble breastfeeding that led to consultation after consultation with the pediatrician, my ob/gyn, lactation consultants, prescriptions, herbal supplements, and endless, endless pumping. I got really obsessive about it, since we all hear so much about the benefits of breastfeeding, and I attributed all of my misery to my breastfeeding failure. It’s hard to describe the visceral sense of failure I had at being unable to feed my own baby. And I kept thinking if only I could get the breastfeeding worked out, everything would be fine. I also didn’t realize how depressed I was because I just figured, oh, I guess this is how motherhood really is. They certainly talk a good game at church, I thought, but I guess the big secret is that it’s actually horrible. 😉 I remember thinking the next 18 years of my life would be a living hell. I was almost 37 years old when I had my first (after years of infertility), and I looked around at everyone else in my ward who I thought was coping beautifully with their four or five, and thinking that I must be some sort of freak since I was barely hanging on and could not manage one. The first time I went to church with my daughter was, seriously, one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life–way harder than years of Ph.D. coursework.
I also had constant, intrusive, obsessive thoughts about something happening to my baby. My doctors would ask me if I had thoughts of harming the baby, and I would think and say, very slowly and dully, as you do when you’re depressed, no. Which was true–I didn’t think about harming her myself. I was just constantly petrified of something happening to her, and I found the anxiety over the possibility crippling. Horrifying scenarios never stopped playing out in my mind, but I didn’t share them with anyone because–well, because who wants to open her mouth and let the loony bin going on in her head out her mouth for others to see?
Having been through this experience, I will never look at the Andrea Yates of the world in the same way. I can completely see how tragedies like that happen. There but for the grace of God go I.
Finally, when my daughter was five months old, I got on antidepressants. They helped a lot, but it was a year before I really got over it.
The second time around, I was better prepared. I had a prescription in hand when I went to the hospital. When I found myself sobbing convulsively in the bathroom a couple of days after giving birth, and when my husband was driving me home and I found myself staring out the car window in a fog of misery and terror, completely overwhelmed by the thought of having to converse with anyone when I got home, I sent him to the pharmacy to get it filled. Even though my second child is temperamentally much more difficult than my first, and even though I now have two in diapers, it has been WORLDS better this time around. It’s night and day.
If there’s anything I could say to someone who thinks she might have PPD, or fears she will, it’s to get treatment ASAP, at the very first sign of trouble. It’s so hard to do when you’re depressed–so hard to think hard enough to decide whom to call, pick up the phone, dial a number, write down an appointment–but you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. (And if you can’t do it yourself, get your husband or a friend to for you.) I lost a year of my life–and far worse, the first year of my daughter’s life–needlessly.
Thanks for writing this, Eve. I’m so glad it’s been so much better for you this second time around!
I was fortunate not to suffer any PPD after the birth of my son. However I do live every year with Seasonal Affective Disorder, and my husband and most of his entire family all have depression to a greater or lesser extent. I worry for my child(ren). And I wonder if it’s selfish of me to think of ways we might move to a climate like Arizona – away from every single family and friend I have – where my SAD would be less of an issue.
Thank you for sharing this. Many people suffer from severe depression. Thankfully the stigma is lessening in our culture. And with treatment, therapy and possible medication, people’s lives can get better. I found that depression was both something I could control and could not control. There have been things I have done to make it less severe, and to be content with my life(what I can control). There were other things about it that I have no control over, which I accept. Much like a person with high cholesterol (genetic) or type one diabetes has no control over whether or not they are diagnosed with those illnesses.
I”m sorry about your troubles, mraynes. My sister had to be hospitalized about 4 months after her 2nd child was born with debilitating anxiety. They had to wrap her breasts, and she couldn’t figure out what was going on–she’d forgotten she’d even had a baby. She recovered after a brief stay there, but it was so scary.
Thanks for writing about this topic so movingly, mraynes. If you haven’t already heard it, you may enjoy the Mormon Stories podcast on postpartum depression that just came out.
I’ve had depressive tendencies since high school, but those paled in comparison to the PPD I had after my twin daughters were born. I wanted to kill myself, and even tried once, reasoning that I was such a horribad mother that they’d be better off with a stepmom or something. To make matters worse, I had a huge hemmorhage a month after they were born that nearly killed me, and I struggled with PTSD issues for a long time afterwards. (Imagine having flashbacks every time your period starts, or when you try to make love with your husband. SO TOTALLY [not] AWESOME.)
I’m so thankful for modern medicine that brought me back from the abyss. Even with anti-depressants, though, it remains the darkest time of my life. I can hardly remember anything about my girls’ first year and a half or so of life. And like your children, they lagged behind developmentally. I could blame it on them being preemies or being twins, but I know that it was in large part because I wasn’t talking to them like I should.
When the girls weaned, I noticed a huge shift in my moods in attitudes. It seems that nursing hormones literally make me crazy. Same shift happened when I weaned my son last year (though to a much lesser degree since I was on a much better cocktail of antidepressants). It’s kind of comforting, in a weird way, to know that my depression issues are in a large part chemically-based, and not because I just don’t have the strength to suck it up like some rude people told me.
Even then, I didn’t bounce back right away. Thanks to a difficult pregnancy and then the PPD, I had basically spent the last year and a half of my life in bed. It was really difficult to get back to a normal life when I had been used to being unable to do anything for so long. I felt like I was trying to scale the sides of a glass jar – whenever I made any upward movement, I’d just slide back down again. I didn’t feel like I made any real progress until we moved to a new house and those triggers and memories were left behind.
[…] they have all been meaningful, this one was special. I had been suffering for some months from a major depressive episode and was in a very dark place. While I was never in immediate danger, I longed for and sometimes […]