This is a scary blog post to write. I have a secret, a big secret. If you knew, you would hate me. You would think I’m a terrible mother, they’d probably take my kids away, and I would be rejected and alone forever. And it’s no more than I deserve, really. I’m a terrible person, a failure as a wife, a mother, and a human being. Fatally flawed, broken… and no one will understand or offer compassion, because I am the ONLY one, ever, to go through depression.
Yes, I have struggled with depression and anxiety for the past five years. And what you read above is what goes through my head when I’m depressed, or when I think about sharing my struggles with someone else. I fear rejection, misunderstanding, condemnation… and so I don’t speak up. I try to hide it, I say “I’m fine” and hope no one notices. Then I feel abandoned and like no one cares – but no one knows.
But something has changed, and that’s why I’m writing this today.
This summer, I went through an extremely stressful period that triggered a return of my symptoms. It started off in May with a child in and out of the hospital with mystery breathing problems that were probably allergy induced asthma, and came to a head in early August with the Stomach Bug From Hell. 5 of our 6 family members, plus the in-laws (we shared, aren’t we nice?) were sick on and off for about 3-4 weeks. Before, during, and after our vacation to the beach. All of the things I had been doing to manage my depression went out the window. It was too hot to be outside and get much-needed sunshine unless we were at the pool, but with sick kids I had to stay home. Likewise with the running 3 times a week that help keep my mood stable. Healthy balanced meals were out because I had to make soup and crackers for everyone – and wasn’t always able to make it to the grocery store. And getting out of the house to connect with my friends wasn’t happening either, because I had to keep my possibly contagious kids away from other kids.
I began to spiral into depression and anxiety. I got scared to eat much of anything in case it came back up later so was only eating the caloric equivalent of one meal a day. I lost 10 lbs in a month, which is not much on my 5’3, 120-lb frame. My hair started falling out, and the fatigue kept me on the couch for hours every day. On bad days, I would break down crying 3 or 4 times. And I started having anxiety attacks, made even worse by the fear that I was really very ill and just didn’t know it yet.
It wasn’t until my husband put all my symptoms together and suggested that I might just be having a relapse into depression that I began to calm down. I talked to my doctor and together we made a plan of treatment that involves adjusting my medication, reading a book called Learned Optimism, and following up with a counselor.
So you want to know what changed? As I continued to try to keep Babies Bottoms and More open during this several week ordeal, there were times when I would have a panic attack in the middle of store hours. A few times I realized I was acting very strangely and felt the need to explain to people in the store what was going on. And you know what? Not once was anyone upset, impatient, condemning, or even indifferent. EVERYONE was gracious, compassionate, and encouraging. A few women even contacted me via email or text later in the day and shared with me that they were so glad I shared what was going on with me, because they too struggle with the same things and frequently feel like they are the only one.
If this is you, if you feel like you’re the only one who understands what you’re going through, if my story sounds like yours, please know that you are not alone. Depression does not define you, and it is treatable. It doesn’t mean that you have a character flaw, it means that your brain is not working right, just like if you are diabetic it means your pancreas isn’t working right. And there are lots of ways to treat and manage depression.
Here is an article by the Dallas Association for Parent Education about Postpartum Depression: http://www.dallasparents.org/depression.html
If you want to find a counselor who works on a sliding scale, you can find one through Catholic Charities. They serve people of all faiths (or no faith) and didn’t even ask my religion when I called – and the counselor they connected me to was actually Jewish. Catholic Charities of Dallas can be found at www.catholiccharitiesdallas.org and phone numbers for specific locations are here: http://www.catholiccharitiesdallas.org/who-we-serve
If any of you have other resources you’d like to share or words of encouragement for anyone reading this who might be struggling with depression, please share in the comments.
We need to watch out for each other. The second time I went through depression (there have been three) it was not nearly as bad as the first because I had been spending a lot of time with a friend who herself had been through depression and knew the signs, and she noticed that I was exhibiting symptoms of depression – AND TOLD ME. I was able to get help months earlier than I otherwise would have, and get better much quicker because she was watching out for me.
If you are depressed or even just having a bad day, please know that you can come by the store even if all you need is a hug and don’t need to buy anything. We are all moms and we’re in this together.