I’ve spent a long time wondering how I got to this exact point in my life… And whilst I believe there are many contributing factors, if I narrow it down to this particular journey I feel I can kind of make sense of it all. Kind of. There are parts of the past 12 months I now know will never make sense, and I’ve made my peace with that. So, in my endeavour to help other mums figure out this minefield of thoughts and feelings, I’ve listed below the questions I’ve asked myself time and time again. I’ve decided to write about these questions in two parts, as there are too many to squeeze into one! I hope you find it helpful in navigating your own journey.
When did it start?
I’m really not sure if there were signs of prenatal depression for me although there were definitely those feelings of spiraling out of control throughout my pregnancy. After a traumatic birth, I held it together quite well (I think). It wasn’t until the LM was just over 6 months old I really started feeling the postnatal depression symptoms in their full capacity. We had gone through quite a bit in a short period of time: LM had developed eczema at 3 months causing his cheeks to welt and bleed; we trialled dietary restrictions to help ease the eczema with no result; I had recurrent mastitis and lost weight; LM had to be weaned at 6 months as a result of the eczema and my mastitis, etc. The good news was that while I had become an irritable, obsessive, intolerant, gangly insomniac, the LM was thriving! Apart from his poor little face looking like a war-zone, that is.
For me, it was my having to wean the LM early which proved to be the final straw. I couldn’t cope with anything further from that point onward. Despite the LM’s eczema improving drastically after switching to a soy-based formula, I was in a world of pain – both physically and emotionally. Christmas proved an extremely difficult period for me and the cracks were really starting to show. Meltdowns became a frequent occurrence and I found I couldn’t be around groups of people for more than short periods without needing “time out” to ease the feelings of anxiety and claustrophobia I was experiencing. It was not me at all.
What pushed me over the edge?
When we were given the option of 10 days away with my HF’s family just after New Year I knew we were in trouble. I bargained with him, saying I would go but he had to accept I was likely to crack and people would really see how ugly I had become. I would go for 4 days, but no more. By this time I knew my limitations and couldn’t handle more than that. As it was, it was our time away that forced me to get help. The whole time we were with his family I felt like I was wearing a mask. I smiled, I chatted, I drank wine, I played with the LM, we went to the beach, we took MANY family photos. But whenever I was alone, or just with my HF, the mask would slip and I’d become an emotional wreck. When we got back I finally had a massive breakdown from the stress of “pretending” and took it all out on my HF – it was unfair to him, frightening, and confronting. Later, I looked at the face smiling back at me in our holiday photos and I felt truly sick to my stomach. I didn’t recognise this person at all because on the inside I was miserable, broken, and falling apart. My life had become an absolute farce! It was a terrible realisation and I knew at that point I would lose my family if this continued.
What was the first step?
I remember saying to my HF, “I need help. This isn’t me and I’m scared of how out of control I feel. I’m going to see Dr J.” Of course he was extremely supportive, and so the next day I went to see our very kind family doctor who had helped me through my mastitis nightmare. Walking into her office, I sat down and immediately burst into tears. “It isn’t getting any better,” I sobbed, “In fact, it’s getting worse! I’m a horrible, bitter person and I need help.” Dr J was wonderful. After completing the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), with quite a high score, she calmly explained I definitely had Postnatal Depression. I felt both relieved and scared at the same time. Relieved because I could finally now define what was going on within me in a context I could understand. And scared because I didn’t know where this journey would now take myself and my family. I could only hope it was to a better and brighter place.
After further discussion, and many tears, Dr J said she thought I would benefit most from a combined approach of therapy and antidepressant medication. It was important, she said, to get my life back to a degree of “normalcy” as quickly as possible. It was only then, after my sleep, appetite, and weight issues were more under control, that I could productively move forward and deal with everything else. Fortunately, I had already been to see a women’s health therapist previously (Mrs D), so together Dr J and I worked on my Health Care Plan for the next 6 months. Walking out of Dr J’s clinic that morning it finally hit me: I have a mental illness.
My antidepressant journey began with Zoloft. I have since learned Zoloft is given first to most people with depression because it is the kindest with regard to side effects. Dr J said we ideally wanted to see me feeling 60% better in two week’s time. So, I began by taking 25mg for 4 days, then increasing to 50mg from then on. The impact on my mood was almost immediate. It seemed I now had breathing room to think things through before reacting, whereas previously I had a zero tolerance limit and would “attack” instantly. However, despite this improvement, I was still experiencing really down days and my sleeping and appetite had not improved at all. My vision was effected for the first two days after each dosage increase, everything would become blurry and I was extremely sensitive to light. To top it off, I now also had constant diarrhea which was making life VERY uncomfortable and not great when trying to put on weight. When I spoke to Dr J at out next appointment, I was disheartened due the side effects and felt only small improvements had been made so far.
So after the initial two weeks, my dosage was increased to 75mg for a week, then to 100mg after that. This increased dosage continued to positively impact my mood, however the diarrhea was getting worse and my sleeping and eating were still as bad as ever. After another two week’s at the 100mg dosage and continued negative side effects, Dr J suggested we look at Lexapro as another option. She said that if this change in medication didn’t work, I may need to see a psychiatrist to monitor the medication, in conjunction with therapy, more closely. I didn’t want that at all, so was determined to see a significant change!
Over the next two weeks my dosage of Lexapro was gradually increased from 10mg to 20mg and I’m relieved to say the difference across all of my symptoms was amazing. My insomnia resolved almost instantaneously, I was finally getting a full night’s sleep again! Slowly the diarrhea eased, my appetite returned gradually, and my mood leveled out to what I can only say was the most “normal” it had been for quite some time. I cannot tell you how relieved I was! Things were on the improve and I found I could cope with life again, it was wonderful (and my HF was was also very relieved!). The only thing I realised, unintentionally, was the need to absolutely remember to take my medication at the same time every day. There have been a couple of occasions where I’ve forgotten and whilst that day itself has been fine, I find the next day almost unbearable as the medication takes time to get back into my system. The next day is a reminder of how dark the PND symptoms can be and it frightens me how quickly they return. Who would have thought the incredible difference just one little tablet can make!
So, over a period of approximately 3 months I went from walking into Dr J’s office a broken woman, to now going about my life with a much more positive mindset. Whilst I’m still a long way from where I used to be, I definitely feel better about my current reality. I’m not sure the science behind each of the different types of medications, but find it astounding to this day how quickly the Lexapro worked for me with regard to my sleep and appetite. Thank goodness!
And so ends Part 1 of the questions I’ve been asking myself… I honestly hope you’ve been able to relate to at least some of what I’ve experienced so far. I’m always interested in hearing how you’ve dealt with your own journey so please be sure to share with me if you feel like it, I would love to hear from you. I hope to post Part 2 over the coming week, so until then please take care.