This post is long and heavy. Consider yourself warned!
Some things creep into your life so slowly you don’t even notice them. You can’t pinpoint the Before and After. One day it just…is, and you find it hard to remember any other definition of normal. That’s how depression entered my life. It crept in insidiously. Unnoticed amongst a host of more obvious changes.
I’ve never considered myself an overly emotional person. This is not to say that I’m an emotionless robot, but I tend to run on a pretty even keel. I didn’t get highs and lows, PMS really wasn’t a thing for me, I was just pretty happily stable. Then BAM! my second pregnancy happened, and boy did things change. Hello hormones! I started feeling irritable, overly-sensitive, moody. But hey, that’s normal during pregnancy, right? Completely to be expected. Fine, ok.
At the end of my second trimester I suddenly developed Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD). If you’ve not heard of this, pregnancy hormones cause laxity in pelvic ligaments leading to excessive movement of the pubic symphysis of the pelvis. So basically your pelvis is a little less stable than is ideal. This causes pain when you walk, when you sleep, when you try to get dressed, when you sit, when you stand. You know, whenever you try to do pretty much anything.
I’ve always thought that I have a high pain threshold, and while I still believe that’s true for acute pain, I learned that I do not deal well with chronic pain. Throw some contractions at me, stick needles in my body and I can deal. Chronic discomfort on the other hand, not my forte. I only had to deal with it until the end of my pregnancy, I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for those who suffer from chronic pain for years, or worse, their whole life.
The SPD forced me to make a lot of changes to my daily life and forced me to give up doing things that I wasn’t ready to let go of, and I found that emotionally very difficult to deal with. I was in pain, full of guilt for not being able to be the mother to Chloe that I wanted to be. I cried a lot. I went to my doctor for help. He had to be reminded what SPD was. When I told him that I thought I had Ante-natal depression, he said he had never heard of that. “Is that something you read about on the internet, perhaps?”, he asked me contemptuously. The implication was clear. I left feeling worse, with no immediate hope for anything to change for the better.
My son was born, the SPD resolved and things were better for a while. But then slowly, things started getting worse, and they kept getting worse for the next year.
To say that my moods were swinging would be an understatement. Some days I’d feel fine. Other days stress would squeeze my chest so much I wanted to scream. Some days I did scream. Rage would boil out of me at the smallest thing and I’d turn into a monster. I’m pretty sure I scared my children. I know I scared the fuck out of myself. I can’t count the number of times I’d find myself sitting on my bed, crying, the door closed. I sent myself to my room to let the rage subside, before I did anything I’d regret. I’ve never felt so out of control. I didn’t recognise myself. At first these days of madness would come and go, but over time they came more and more often. It was becoming my new normal. Months passed in a turmoil of rage, guilt, confusion, anxiety and tears. I looked at myself and I was terrified.
I’m embarrassed at how long it took me to realise that there was a cycle to the worst of the days. A roughly 28 day cycle. But man, this couldn’t just be PMS, could it? Some friends on the internet pointed me in the direction of Pre-Menstrual Dysphoria Disorder, or PMDD. I had no idea this existed, but when I asked Dr. Google about it, PMDD described my symptoms to a T.
- Persistent sadness and/or depression – check.
- Extreme anger and anxiety – check.
- Decreased interest in usual interests – check.
- Very low self-esteem – check.
- extreme tension and irritability – check.
- Sleep disturbance – check.
So I went to see a doctor. Not the one I saw during my pregnancy. I asked for help and thankfully I was given it. I started taking an oral contraceptive pill and all that rage, that anxiety, my inability to make simple decisions – it went away. A bit of hormone juggling and I was my old self again. At least, that’s what I thought.
The most obvious symptoms did resolve, but not all of them. A few hung around, chilling in the background ready to make more noise when my guard was down. They grew while my back was turned and I found myself once again inexplicably crying in the kitchen while washing dishes. Wiping away tears as I tried to explain to my kids that “Mama doesn’t know why she’s crying. Sometimes she just feels sad.” I wanted to be alone. To be left alone, all the time. Explain to your children, who don’t understand why you are escaping into a computer screen instead of spending time with them, that you don’t know how to anymore. I found myself again in a spiral of sadness, guilt and self-disgust at my failures, all the while knowing that my life was good and I had no reason to feel that way. But I did. Reason couldn’t make it go away.
Eventually, after about a year, I went back to my doctor and started a trial of anti-depressants. I hadn’t realised how grey my life had slowly become until I started to feel normal again. I felt a lightness within me that I’d forgotten existed. I caught my reflection in shop windows and was startled to see a different face staring back at me. A softness to my features had replaced a furrowed brow and tight, strained lips. One afternoon I walked home from the supermarket, my arms heavy with loaded bags, as it started to rain. I love the rain. A smile broke across my features. I felt a tingling fullness in my chest and I thought, “So this is what happiness feels like.” I had forgotten the physical feeling of happiness so entirely that I hadn’t even realised until then that I had forgotten it. It was almost overwhelming.
Drugs may not work for everybody. Our complex mixture of hormones and brain chemistry, and their effect on us is no doubt unique. But they sure as shit work for me. The Pill and an SSRI every morning and I’m good to go.
Help was there when I needed it, but I did have to go looking for it. It didn’t come to me. I didn’t feel any embarrassment or stigma in admitting that I needed help. That I was depressed and struggling. But I’m sure it isn’t easy for everyone. That’s why I feel it is so important for people to have conversations about depression and mental health. To talk about it openly, and not as something to be ashamed of. So I need some medication to help me feel balanced and happy. So what? I feel incredibly thankful that I live in a time and place where I have these options open to me.
I wanted to write this post because someone out there may read something that resonates with them, and just maybe it will help them. The more we suffer our depression in silence, the more others suffering from depression feel alone. The less we talk about mental illness, the more the fear of stigma grows, lacing fingers over fearful mouths, preventing them from asking for help.