Today I’m participating in the APA (American Psychological Association) Blog Party! I’m going to take my turn by telling my postpartum depression story and share some thoughts on the general topic of mental health.
Depression Tough To Spot Even For a Professional
First, I am a licensed mental health counselor with a masters degree. Second, I have experienced postpartum depression first-hand for a handful of years. Both have enhanced my ability to help people through my writing work and my direct clinical work. Would I relive my depression all over again? Absolutely not, if I could help it. But mental illness isn’t always what we think it is, even when you are a trained professional.
I had been working at my first counseling job about two years before I had my first child. I had no history of depression, but I knew how to identify it in others. During my postpartum period I found myself facing a sense of emptiness and struggle that I had never known.
Postpartum Depression And Mood Swings After First Pregnancy
My daughter was born with some medical issues – nothing life threatening, but issues that required several surgeries in her first year and some special care. I was constantly exhausted, anxious, teary at times, and so completely overwhelmed – and ashamed. I had lost my entire perspective on what made sense and what didn’t. I was so concerned I would be seen as a fraud and bad counselor for feeling so confused and stressed.
I finally concluded that “being a new mom must just be this hard.” Everyone else just does a better job handling it than I do. This thinking error kept me from reaching out for more than three years.
Once I finished nursing, I noticed more frequent changes in my energy and mood. For a few weeks I would be really energetic and putting way too much on my plate. The next few weeks would feel like swimming through mud – everything was just so much harder to do and keep track of. Tears came easily and I felt like a shaken-up bottle of pop just waiting to burst. Up and down I went like this for months, blaming it all on external circumstances.
Postpartum Depression Happened Again After Second Pregnancy
When I got pregnant again, things evened out somewhat. My second daughter was born healthy, but once again, I started feeling despair. For the first time ever, I couldn’t see a single thing on my mental calendar past that current day. The future was just a blank white sheet, which scared me so much I just tried to forget about it.
Once again, I went through ups and downs in my mood and energy. Shortly before my second daughter’s first birthday, I stopped working and stayed home with my kids. Even though I still had some circumstances coming and going, I realized something else was driving my patterns.
Finally Told My Doctor And Got Help
When I was able to see this clearly enough, I wrote a frantic letter to my doctor describing everything. She saw me in her office, confirmed my suspicions, and diagnosed me with postpartum depression and PMDD. I started taking antidepressants and did some brief counseling. Within a few weeks, I knew I wasn’t going to go through those awful mood changes again. It was relief, joy, and pure celebration that I had finally started to reclaim myself.
It was like an alien monster had taken residence in my mind. Nobody knew it was there unless they knew what to look for. Since I was busy hiding it and pretending it was all something else, I managed to keep most people from digging too far. That was my biggest downfall. My depression scared me and pushed me to believe unbelievable things, like I couldn’t trust my family or friends with my troubled thoughts and feelings. I couldn’t even trust my own opinions and beliefs.
My depression lurked in my mind – even when I had some moments and even days of happiness and brightness, it was never far away. I kept it at bay as long as I could with sheer mental willpower. But a lot of times, it would overtake me.
Mental Illness Isn’t Always What You Think It Is
I thought I knew what depression was and what it wasn’t. Now, I have a different understanding. Mental health isn’t a static one-dimensional thing. It changes during the seasons of our lives. A difficult mental health issue can sneak up on you or it can whack you over the head in one blow. But inside it all, you’re still you.
You are still a worthy human being who deserves to be heard and who deserves to have peace in their own mind. And most importantly, your understanding of mental illness and recovery may not be accurate or well rounded. Educate yourself and be an advocate for those who may not feel they can speak out for themselves.
Thanks for taking the time to read my post and enjoy the rest of the articles in the APA Blog Party.
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From Psych Central's World of Psychology:
APA Mental Health Blog Party 2011 Roundup | World of Psychology (May 18, 2011)
APA Mental Health Blog Party 2011 Roundup | http://cnc.cz.cc (May 18, 2011)
Last reviewed: 18 May 2011