The other day while leading a discussion on Postpartum Mood Disorders in my prenatal class I made a comment about how one of the risk factors was a family history of postpartum mood disorders or mental health issues, and that after I was diagnosed with postpartum depression, it was brought to light that my father suffered from depression, but at the age of 34, this was the first time I was hearing about it. But that is the problem with mental health issues, especially years ago, we hide it. It wasn't discussed, and that is so wrong.
At the end of the discussion, one of the participants asked, very kindly, if would mind sharing my story. And as someone who has never shied away from my depression, I had no problem sharing. So here is my story:
After the birth of my daughter, my third child, when she was about seven months old, I was on line, on a yahoo group for moms, reading someones story about their depression. I was taken with the fact that the way she manifested her depression was not through sadness and crying, not through being unmotivated and never leaving your bed. She manifested it with anger and frustration. Having an explosive negative temper.
This was not how I saw depression. It forced me to examine my own behaviour over the previous few months and I saw that I had gradually become very negative, I wasn't going out anymore, everything was exhausting and overwhelming and I had no motivation for fun. I had lost my smile. I had lost my light and joy. I had become an angry bitch. But it all felt normal. I was work at home mother of three, of course I was frustrated and exhausted, that is what being a mum is all about. Right?
One day as I was trying to get my kids ready to go out to school I noticed one of the boys was wearing socks that didn't match. I lost it. I yelled a this little boy, made him scared and cower from me and my rage, all because of socks. At that moment I knew I needed help. I spoke to my partner and my mum about what was going on with me. My mum encouraged me to see my doctor and after some discussion with her, we had a plan. It took awhile to get on track and there were lots of slips along with way. But I was trying.
But how did I get there. Just having one risk factor wasn't the only thing that caused my depression. There was more to it then that. I was a work at home mum of three. I had other kids I was watching, I was working toward being a doula, I worked part-time at a drug store so I was contributing to the household income, I had a husband who never understood what I was going through and he did everything he could to avoid being with me. He was very helpful with the children and the house, but that wasn't what I needed, I needed someone who I could lean into emotionally. Sadly for him, I wasn't the perfect housekeeper, wife and mother that he signed up for. I could never live up to what he had grown up with. I was under tremendous pressure to keep up appearances and at the same time I was struggling to put one foot in front of the other and all the while, doing it with a smile on my face.
After I started treatment I found the initial medication didn't work. I went through several different medications. Some simply didn't work, one made me gain a lot of weight, and one, the last one, helped me calm my anger and I was able to function at a level that got things done, but it made me numb. I got rid of the anger but it was replaced with a kind of nothingness. I had no more anger but I also had no joy, and I had no sex drive on top of everything else.
Instead of searching for another medication, or even something alternative to make things better I kept pretending that everything was okay. I felt that my family didn't want to deal with my depression any more. I felt like I needed to fake happiness so they would love me and stay with me. Unfortunately I was wrong. Too much damage had been done and while my depression wasn't solely to blame for the dissolution of my marriage, it takes two, it did play a part.
In the past five years I have managed to find ways to help myself through my depression without the use of medication. (I'm absolutely not recommending you do this without meds, I'm just saying this is what helped me.) Music, exercise, writing (I have stacks of journals that will need to be burned before I die) and supportive friends who are the loves of my life and have wisdom for emotional support, beyond their years.
When high profile people take their own life, family and friends and the public are left wondering how they have killed themselves? They wonder what they could have done to prevent the suicide? Was there anything they could have said? For me, while I never contemplated ending my life, when I'm having a bad time, I need people to listen and hear me, those closest to me to just be there for me. To understand that sometimes things are hard, and I need the time to work through the hard times and to encourage me to keep moving forward. Basically to not give up on me.
So while I encourage you to reach out to anyone when you are struggling in the postpartum period, I also encourage your loved ones to recognize that you may be struggling and to help you get help and to support your needs. Speak to your family care practitioner, your public health department will also have resources. Naturopaths may be able to help if you are wary of prescription medication. But I also encourage you and your partner to go through talk therapy. It is important that all those affected by postpartum depression get support and someone to talk to.
My story is my personal experience, you may experience things very differently, but know, however you manifest your depression, help is available and things can get better. You can find some resources on our Resources page.