My journey into mental illness is very recent. I have always been an advocate of taking medication for depression and other related illnesses. I’ve had family members who have struggled with mental illness. I believe in the power of good talk therapy and good psychiatric treatment. And yet, armed with this history and knowledge, I didn’t fully understand how much of a mind fuck depression is, until I experienced it myself. I didn’t grasp that depression actually created an alternate reality where the strangest things to others seemed perfectly logical to me.
It wasn’t until I got pregnant that I experienced depression.
I had prenatal depression for the entire duration of my pregnancy. At the peak (or rather the valley) of the prenatal depression, my thoughts turned suicidal. Suddenly I was obsessed with trying to figure out a way to end my life, all while keeping the baby alive. I considered the possibility of driving my car into one of the overpasses in the crowded DC metropolitan area. Don’t worry – I even factored in rush hour and figured I’d have to do it outside of traffic prime time.
That’s when I knew that I needed help. Paralyzed by fatigue, focus on my Master’s degree and misery, I had my husband call therapists to make an appointment. I finally saw a therapist about two weeks prior to delivering my baby boy. We made plans to meet up once again after the baby was born but both of us suspected that the depression was simply circumstantial. I was working full-time, doing my Master’s degree and it was a hot, muggy Virginia summer. The conditions were ripe for me to be miserable or depressed.
After I had my baby, I was focused on surviving the next couple of weeks. I was too anxious to try to plan to meet up with the therapist. I couldn’t figure out how I would get out of the house and see her.
Time lapsed. The prenatal depression went dormant. But what I couldn’t have foreseen was that I had only awoken the sleeping dragon. Postpartum depression reared its ugly head, slowly and in strange ways. I became angry, all the time. I couldn’t stand the idea of anyone coming to the house. I was sleeping 12 hours a night, while my husband cared for our baby as he woke for his midnight feedings. Probably most telling, and a bit chilling, was my lack of connection.
I felt nothing for my baby. Here was this strange little being that I had nothing in common with but who was completely dependent on me. I was supposed to love him. I was supposed to feel this consuming, higher emotion for this tiny little squalling mouth.
I gratefully returned to work. Not once did I miss my son. Moreover, I was terrified to leave work and be faced with that screaming baby.
The hopelessness and despair set in. My depressed mind told me that, this was it, Molly. You’ve made the ultimate mistake. It’s an 18 year sentence with no hope of parole. Your life is over. You will enjoy nothing…ever again. I’d voice these thoughts aloud to my husband and he’d look at me with concern. As the hopelessness and despair seeped in and became more firmly rooted, I found my mind turning toward suicide again.
I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to end my life. But I just couldn’t see how anything would get better. Suicide, it would seem, was the only way out of this horrific nightmare of getting up, taking care of the baby, going to work, taking care of the baby, going to bed. Repeat. Repeat until you’re dead. Suicide gave me hope. It gave me relief that I could jet out of this horrible life.
As these thoughts became even more invasive, my survival instincts set off warning bells in my head. They told me, “See? You don’t want to do this! There are other options!”. My depression responded with, “Maybe for others. But you want to kill yourself. You’re not treatable. This is reality. There is no hope for YOU.”
Seeing my decline, my husband gently pushed me to call my therapist. I made the appointment and went in. Those tiny survival instincts and the help of a good friend going through postpartum depression, helped push me to be honest during our sessions. It was that honesty that helped my therapist see that I needed help.
I stopped breastfeeding. I went on antidepressants.
A week after the prolactin (the hormone that your body needs to lactate; in order to produce this hormone, your estrogen plummets) was out of my body; I went to bed and suddenly woke up. Literally and figuratively. My depression was gone. I realized how powerful the brain is and also how it sits at the mercy of unrelenting chemicals and hormones. I understood how depression truly creates a different baseline. I could appreciate just how depressed I was during prenatal and postpartum depression.
I was myself. I had been a shell of myself for far too long.
I slowly weaned off of antidepressants and it became clear to me: breastfeeding and pregnancy had created a hormonal cocktail that my poor body just couldn’t handle. I was in awe of how powerful that cocktail was.
Experiencing that alternate reality has completely changed my perspective on depression and suicide. Always an advocate, I now understood just how commanding depression is. It lies. It creates an alternate reality. It tells you that you’re hopeless, that nothing can help you. It tells you that a permanent solution like suicide is the perfect fit for a temporary problem.
I was profoundly impacted by my prenatal and postpartum depression. I have stripped my privacy naked as I share my story with others. I don’t want anyone to go through what I did. I don’t want anyone to feel so hopeless that suicide seems the only way out. I want all people to be able to get access to the good drugs and therapy that I had. My great hope is that by raising awareness through my pieces and my connections with other mental health entities, we can save lives and get effective care available for all. Imagine that.
Molly James lives with her husband and son in Arlington, VA. As part of her recovery from prenatal and postpartum depression she blogs at www.postpartumworld.com in her spare time.