February 24, 2014

What I didn't know I had lost from PPD

I am amazed at how much a little blue pill, taken once each day, has changed my life, my relationships, and my home.

Probably for five years I was living in a constant state of postpartum depression, which only became worse with exhaustion. As I sit here in a better state I shake my head at myself. Why did I wait so damn long to act?

Okay, I know the answer. Because I was too proud. And I was so vain that I wanted Travis to swoop in and "intervene" and save me.

To be fair I should also say that in a completely non-prideful and non-vain way I was afraid to take a pill. Afraid of the unknown like a child is afraid. I thought of it in terms of the Rolling Stones song "Mother's Little Helper" and I was afraid that if I didn't fight my way back to my old self with a little help from time and the Sacraments I would be taking pills for the rest of my life. And I thought there was something wrong with that.

I've written about how much I have benefited from treatment for my postpartum depression, so the improvement is something I've obviously already noticed. Yet about once a week I am still struck by how different I am now from before I began taking the medication and how much more like my old self I am again.

 As I look how my life has changed for the better it seems that there are five areas where I notice the improvement the most.

Laughter. I used to be known for my laugh. Loud, distinct, and freely flowing - I laughed generously, sincerely, and often. I found humor in all kinds of situations. But with motherhood I lost much of my sense of humor. Spills and accidents and wrong turns were never amusing but always serious and seriously annoying. Imagine my children's relief that they can accidentally spill some flour when they dump it with excitement and I don't flip my lid. Imagine their delight when I laugh it off - when we laugh it off together.  

Peace in my heart and in my home. It used to be that if Travis came home and the whole house was tidy he knew it had been a very bad day. Not any more. Things can get messier and I don't freak out. The super awesome train tracks can be set up for days and I don't fret. I don't fly into a tizzy internally and then act on it. Now if the house is clean it's because we all worked together and picked it up - not a big deal. If it's a mess because I have five kids who play and read and dress up and eat snacks - not a big deal.

Quiet. Once again I can sit in quiet and just enjoy it. When my house is quiet it is not an opportunity to think about all the ways I'm failing - those kinds of thoughts rarely enter my mind anymore - but to take a moment for myself. I don't need to always lose myself in television shows. When the kids nap I can sit and pray or read or just look out the window and watch the sparrows.

The ability to turn away. To turn from Facebook, the newspaper, the dishes, the television and respond to my children. But it's not just about stopping what I"m doing and helping or playing with them right away, although my kids hear, "In a minute," much less now. It's also in that when I turn away from what I was doing I am not put out. I don't treat them like they're a huge inconvenience to my life, because I don't feel like that anymore (except at the end of very long days). All of this means that I now read, snuggle, bake, and say "yes" to my kids much more than I did before and we are both happier because of it.

Clean Laundry, oops! I mean Motivation. The things that were once so tedious, that felt so! oppressive! woe! is! me! I have to do! the laundry! - well gosh, they're just not that big of a deal any more. Now I still have some vices of laziness and being self-indulgent but I at least now have some motivation to do better, try harder, and just get it done. One day I stood in the laundry, having washed, dried, folded, and *put away* several loads of laundry and I thought, "Thank you, Jesus, for that little blue pill."

Until my postpartum depression was treated I didn't realize what all it had taken away from me, how much it had changed me. I no longer feel like a much grumpier shadow of my former self. Instead I am enjoying my vocation and my life - which is a good way to live.

34 comments:

  1. I love that you have addressed this Bonnie! Many people feel that they must be weak (in character usually) if they have to have medication or therapy to help with a problem. In fact, it takes much more strength to put aside the pride and fear and ask for help. I take an antidepressant due to the physically depressing effects that MS does to my body. While my thoughts weren't depressed at the time, my body was. It has helped amazingly with both my thoughts and body. I am still not a pill pusher, and I believe that therapy can do things that a pill never will (bias right?) but pills can have a place and a purpose as well!

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  2. What is this little blue pill?

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    1. I take Sertraline, which is the off brand of Zoloft I believe. My midwife prescribed it for me.

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    2. Whew, I was going to say, Bonnie, Viagra is NOT for women! ;)

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  3. So glad you're feeling like yourself again. I went through a stressful period of time about 18 months ago, before my last pregnancy, where I needed some medication to get through the day. It made a humongous difference.

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  4. First of all, good for you. I'm so happy that your whole life is better because you finally asked for help :)

    I'm one of those people that probably could have used some medical help at times, but didn't want to start a medication that I would have to take for the rest of my life. I think it's because I seem to see people on meds for ADD or anxiety that are not only dependent on them for a long time, but need to keep upping the dosage or changing the medication to get the same results. Are antidepressants something you take for a while and then try to wean off, and how do you know when you don't need them anymore? I'm sure I could google all this, but I would rather hear from someone I know who is on them. Thanks!

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    1. Colleen - I don't know you, but as someone who has been on antidepressants and then weaned off, I thought maybe this might shed some light on things. I was diagnosed with OCD - (the official kind, not the cute "oh I am OCD about this or that that some people say these days) when I was around 10. It would come in fits and spurts throughout my life, but always manageable and I never went on medication. Then I hit a a few years where I was going through what I experienced as soul crushing infertility and was at the end of my rope. OCD can flare up because of stress and this was the perfect combination and flare up it did. It was BAD and was impacting every facet of my life. No joke, it would sometimes take me 2 1/2 hours to drive home from work (which was normally 45 minutes) because I kept turning around as I was convinced I hit someone or something (I never did, but you still can't help think "but what if I did THIS time"). Anyway, I finally broke down and talked to my Catholic Napro doctor about it and she said "I am glad you said something, you know there is medication that can help that." Up until that time I was so prideful that I thought I could just white knuckle my way through this horrible anxiety, but I think I was at my weakest point and well...I started on a generic version of prozac, a low dose 20mg. Within 1 week, I noticed a HUGE difference. I could function, I could laugh, I could live. Coincidentally (or not)...I conceived within 30 days of starting that pill after 2 1/2 years of trying, trying, trying. I talked with my doctor and she and I agreed it would be best to stay on the medication throughout pregnancy given that pregnancy brings on stress anyway and since I wasn't doing well without the medication, it would probably be that much worse during pregnancy. I prayed about it and felt peace. Yes, there are pros and cons and each individual person needs to sort this out themselves, but for me it was the right decision. I stayed on it for awhile after my daughter was born (with no complications) and had 0 PPD symptoms. I loved being a 1st time mom and didn't experience any of the classic depression symptoms. When I noticed that I was forgetting to take my daily dose a few times here and there, I figured I was ready to stop it and I didn't renew the prescription. I figured I could always go back on it if needed. In all, I was on it for about 2 1/2 years (same dosage, never needed to up it) and have been off for about 5 months. I am currently 15 weeks pregnant. In all honesty, since we have had 4 miscarriages - 2 since my daughter was born, there is definitely a lot of anxiety this time around, but it so much different and so much more manageable in terms of not crushing like the OCD was where it impacted how I drove, brought about severe scrupulousity, etc. I don't have any of that now. So, I have decided to not go back on it. My anxiety now is because I am scared of another miscarriage, not how I am going to get into work today, stuff like that. But it is a personal choice. Just wanted to let you know of one woman's story of how it helped them and how they naturally weaned off of it.

      Bonnie - thanks for the post, I think this topic gets swept under the rug a lot and not talked about it is so very important.

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    2. Because I was diagnosed with PPD it is something that I will be weaned off of. Over Christmas I was really sick and didn't take the medication for a couple of days. Out of my routine, I didn't take it for a bit longer but I saw that I needed them again. Joseph is still nursing and my cycles are just now beginning again - it was too early to have stopped. But I will try it again, weaning myself as my midwife directed.

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    3. Thanks Joy for sharing your story. I'm a "new" anxiety sufferer (it's been just over a year) and sometimes I feel like it's getting better and other times I feel like I should try medication (which has already been prescribed by my doctor) but then (surprise, surprise!) I get anxious about taking them and the cycle continues.

      Good luck with your current pregnancy!! I'm pregnant too :)

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  5. I'm glad to hear you are getting a treatment that works for you. Hormones and body chemistry are such delicate things.

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  6. I'm so glad you got the help you need for right now, and that it's working for you and your family.

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  7. I have been on and off antidepressants since high school and I have finally, after this most recent pregnancy, come to the realization that I may need to take this little pill for the rest of my life, and that it's okay if I do. Of course I'd like to be 'cured' of depression (mine is major depressive disorder in addition to PPD, so a little different from yours), but it's not worth the stress and trauma to my family for me to experiment with going off my meds every 12 or 18 months to see if I'm 'normal' yet. Nope, not yet. :)

    The medication is what frees up my brain to be 'normal,' so I've come to embrace the gift of this pharmaceutical technology that has brought me freedom. (It really helps me to consider it a technological advantage; just as someone with heart disease or low vision would have experienced a much poorer quality of life 100 years ago, so would I have.) I'm so grateful you shared this.

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  8. This is so important to share Bonnie! You shouldn't try to just tough out depression any more than you would a broken leg, right? You get it fixed! Good on ya.

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  9. Thank you, Bonnie, so much for sharing this!! I can't imagine how many women you are speaking to today. I think many moms suffer from some type of depression in their lifetime, but are too proud to seek out help, or feel like they should be able to handle all of it with prayer alone. I hope that you set some hearts and minds free today with your positive encouragement. I'm so happy you're feeling better!! :)

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  10. I'm having such a different time of it with baby #2 that I'm beginning to realize I probably had some PPD issues after having my first. I got through it after about 8 months but I have always felt a little guilty about it, guilty about my attitudes and how I felt and behaved towards my son...I'm only just now learning to understand that it wasn't my *fault* and reading stuff like this really helps.

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  11. PPD is real, I have never been on meds, but when I look back at who I was the first two years after my oldest was born, I don't recognize myself (I just didn't know it at the time). I'm glad I'm back to finally be back to the old Jenny! It's a great thing to talk about! Moms also need to realize that they need the support of other moms. This is huge. Having other moms around me helped me to get back to normal. It helps you realize that being a mom is hard and that it's OK. My advise to all new moms is that If you don't have community as a mom then find a community! And not just online! You need to see real life moms around you. MOPS international is a great way to meet moms and other mom groups are all over! Don't be afraid to look for other moms "inorganically" this way! Thanks for sharing your story!

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  12. Hooray for chemistry! I was taking an antidepressant that stopped working and my doc added Abilify. I was soon myself again. I know I will take mess the rest of my life. I take daily meds for thyroid just like my husband foes for diabetes. Thank God we have doctors and medications!

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  13. Yes, yes, yes! I have that little blue pill too, and a little white one, and an anti-anxiety one that you pop under your tongue and it melts. Does it sound extreme? Yeah, let me tell you what's extreme: being so depressed that you seriously consider locking up all the sharp knives in the house. Modern medicine is a wonderful thing. I'm so glad, Bonnie, that you are able to once again enjoy life! It's too short to miss.

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  14. I wish I had been brave enough to get on an antidepressant during my PPD. The first year of my second child's life I was in such a bad place.
    Thank you for your openness. I know it is encouraging to so many women.

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  15. You know, I think it's phenomenal how many of you are also willing to say, "I take/took meds too!" Thank you for chiming in. It's so nice to think you're going to be standing on your own and then look around and see you're surrounded by really good people.

    God bless you all!

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  16. Good for you Bonnie for making the choice to be healthy! Here's to a bright new year!

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  17. Wow wow wow! So enlightened by this post! Thanks Bonnie!

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  18. Bonnie said: "To be fair I should also say that in a completely non-prideful and non-vain way I was afraid to take a pill. ...I thought of it in terms of the Rolling Stones song "Mother's Little Helper..."

    Exactly! This, I think, is really a huge issue for lots of us hesitating to seek help. At least for me, the fear of taking psychotropic drugs to "alter your consciousness" is so great, I just recoil from the very thought of it, which is what you seem to be saying was a factor in stopping you from seeking help. And it's true---who wants to be a drugged up mom, or grandma, or sister, or anybody?

    But when my mom had a stroke, I was thrown into a tailspin: my anxiety so bad I was unable to sleep and I was so overwhelmed I could not focus on decisions that needed to be made, let alone focus on my job. I sought help, and my doctor prescribed Paxil and Clonzsepam, and after about a week, the anxiety abated and I felt alright.. With the medicine, I didn't feel any different than my "normal" self. I remember actually thinking, "I can handle this. It's not the end of the world, and we'll be okay." That's all it was. There was no sense of altered consciousness or escapism or getting high. There was only a sense of getting control back and the flight or fight reaction disappearing. It was like my gas pedal was stuck, and someone released it. With the medication, I was able to function in the way I was used to. I had two refills, and after those were done, I never got more, and I was fine.

    I think there is a huge stigma attached to taking psychotropics, and I think it's because of the drug culture and addictions. You hear about people like Phillip Seymour Hoffman and associate taking a Zoloft with taking a tranquilizer, and fear getting hooked. Because of that many people just try to tough it out, fearing the cure will be worse than the illness. But it's nothing like that. I hope more people will write about this issue so we can understand the differences between self medicating and being under a doctor's care.
    God Bless. Margaret

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  19. As my scientist dad says: "Better living through chemistry!" He means it, and it's true. Good for ever woman here, getting the help they need.

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  20. Bravo for being open about your use of anti-depressants! I took them through both my first pregnancy and my current one, and while nursing my daughter. Unlike you, I hid my use from acquaintances--the few people who I stupidly shared with roundly condemned me for using them. But what they didn't know is that I have suffered from depression most of my life and have been hospitalized twice for it: once as a teenager and once as a young adult. For me, medical treatment (including the use of anti-depressants) is the difference between life and death. I am grateful that it exists. It's not a "happy pill" for me--it just enables me to experience a normal range of emotions.

    Thanks again for sharing.

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  21. I'm also a former PPD/anxiety sufferer, after 3 of my 6 pregnancies. The worst was after my 1st because I didn't know what was happening, I just thought I sucked at being a Mom. I suffered for a year before it resolved itself and I looked back and said Holy Crap I lost my damn mind. I never let that happen to me again. I turned to meds after my 4th and 5th pregnancies and we were all, my family and Mommy, better for it! We all need to share this honestly and without shame so that no other woman has to suffer alone. One of the most insidious symptoms of PPD is that voice telling you you're less than and it is a LIAR. Very often meds will kick that voice in the teeth and let you get on with your beautiful life. Thank you for this post Bonnie!

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  22. Great post, Bonnie! I really smiled at this line, " if Travis came home and the whole house was tidy he knew it had been a very bad day." I thought I was the only one! If my husband came home and saw I been cleaning the floors, he was like, "uh ohhhh . .. ."

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    1. Oh wow. Did you see Simcha's post from today yet? It's mainly about homosexual behavior, but the idea applies to PPD too: It's easy to feel like our issue is just overcoming sin, but sometimes we need medication, therapy, other treatment as well.

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  23. You are so good for sharing this so openly. Had a similar experience with depression pre-kids in my 20s - had slipped in so gradually and so subtly that I had no. idea. what (whom!) I had lost. It took so long to get the help I needed and gradually recussitate "old Lauren" - and although I probably needed meds to speed things up, by the time I realized that I was already mostly out of the hole. It was that light, that brightness and lightness, that allowed me to see how deep and dark and isolating it had been. You articulate it perfectly. I relate to this so well. SO HAPPY for you! And you kiddos and family! Rejoice!!! :)

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  24. Bonnie, I can't say a loud enough AMEN to this post. I don't know how it is among Catholics, but there is a substantial group of people in the Evangelical world who either don't believe in mental illness at all, or do believe in it but think it is something that can be overcome just with the proper amount of faith/prayer/etc. That is certainly not true of all Protestants, but I know a few who would never think of "turning to drugs instead of to God." One relative of mine, when I confessed that I had started taking medication to help with anxiety and depression, said, "Well, I hope the pills don't make you stupid and take away all of your creativity." !!!!!

    Anyway, I probably suffered from some form or other of PPD after each pregnancy, but with the first two I was on a preventative measure dose of antidepressant, so it never got too bad. This time around I wanted to see if I could "tough it out" without any medication…and ended up completely unable to function through my misery and having thoughts of self-harm. Red flag, anyone? It was the impetus I needed to make major (and painfully humbling) life changes like resigning my teaching job, going to see a psychologist and psychiatrist, and getting back on meds. It is helping, it really is.
    Sometimes I wonder "what if I have to take these pills for the rest of my life?" as if that is some horrible fate. But if I can feel somewhat normal and not ruled by fear/despair for the rest of my life, well, that sounds good.
    Anyway, enough rambling in *your* combox, and thank you so much for sharing this…it gives us all permission to share alongside of you!

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  25. So glad you were able to find something that helped you out of it! Such a hard place to be in. It is encouraging to know women are getting the help needed. Because of women like you, I know that journey (if it ever were to come upon me) will be that much easier. Thank you for your courage, humility, and for sharing your journey.

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  26. Oh I loved this post Bonnie. So much so that I linked to it on my blog. I almost cried when I read it because I could so relate to the PPD. I felt like I missed out on the first few months of my daughter's life because it was so bad. Thank you for writing about this subject - I appreciate your honesty.

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  27. Thank you for sharing. I feel that PPD is not talked about or discussed and its such a serious problem why is that?! I was not informed from my doctor or nurses or the hospital when I gave birth. I suffered ALONE because I was not informed. Its 2014 this should be MANDATORY that moms/new moms are informed about it and given the proper treatment. I am sick to my stomach its not talked about more and want to spread the word thank you for sharing your story!

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