After my son was born, I was deliriously happy for a few weeks. His first night at home, I remember feeling happier than I ever remember being in my life. It was if we had known each other before, and only recently found each other again. He completed us — we were a family at last.
Then I started into a slow decline – so slow that neither my husband nor I realized what was happening in the confusion of caring for an infant. I ended up in the hospital after complications from gallbladder surgery when my son was six months old. He got a very nasty virus from visiting me in the hospital. He was sick for a month, and my decline spiraled out of control, compounded by my own struggles to recover from surgery and too many sleepless nights. The official diagnosis was postpartum depression. All I knew is that the world felt bleak and hopeless. I glimpsed the void that caused my mother to take her own life. For a few nanoseconds, I understood.
My husband made an appointment for me with my doctor, who put me on Zoloft and recommended a therapist. I hated going. And I’m not sure I would have if my husband didn’t insist. But he did, and I went. The Zoloft help stabilize my mood, and the therapist helped me work out some issues that parenthood brought up.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do – I resented the time and the expense. However, with hindsight, I now see that I really needed to address some major issues, mostly around my parents. And it was important that I break the cycle – my mother was also prone to depression as well as bipolar. I was beginning to repeat her patterns, and I wanted to be a different mother to my kids. It’s still a constant battle, but I feel like I’ve made some progress.
I’m off the Zoloft now, but we’re all watching me very carefully, as the stress of parenting two small children could trigger another round. Motherhood, particularly when it involves small children, does not provide many opportunities to care for yourself. Yet as the family member of someone with a serious mental illness, I know how important it is for the ill person to seek care. It was far harder than I originally thought it would be, and I understand at some level why mentally ill people resist their own treatment.
I tell this story because I believe two people were key to ensuring I got the care I needed. The first is my husband, who went so far as to make the initial appointment with my doctor himself and ensure I had babysitters so I could make every appointment with both my doctor and therapist. The second is my ob-gyn, who took action immediately — getting me quickly to the people who could help me. They did the right things.
If you are the depressed person, and you don’t have a partner who is as proactive as my husband is, know that doing the right thing for your health is HARD. You will have to force yourself to make that first phone call. And you’ll have to force yourself to keep the appointment. And you’ll have to resist the excuses to back out or not show up or stop your medication.
But I’m here to tell you that you are worth it. Whether you are the ill person or the family member of someone struggling with mental illness, take that first step. Pick up the phone. PSI Postpartum Depression Helpline: 1.800.944.4PPD