Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Let's Talk About Depression, Baby

Hey guys, what up? So I have this insanely cute three month old baby, who, sheesh, acts like a baby sometimes. Okay, I don't know what it is, but in all honesty, there is something so cute about Wallace that I just want to eat his chubby baby cheeks. Like it is a literal biological desire inside of me to gnaw on his cheeks. I can't help myself. But good grief that boy is a lot of work. Bria was probably the world's easiest baby. I think this is because her soul is approximately 80 years old, so everything in life she's like "meh, nothing fazes me." Wally's soul is brand new, I think. Everything in life he's like "what. the. hell." This is an overstatement. If you compare anyone to the World's Easiest Baby (Bria), they're gonna seem like a colicky monster. So I'm mostly just kidding. Wally falls in a completely normal range.

This is to say that I'm really glad I'm in a better emotional place this time. What is it about emotional issues-- "mental illness"-- that we feel like it's weird to talk about? I'm going to talk about it a bit. I wrote this draft several days ago, and I have debated whether or not to post it. This stuff is hard to talk about!

When Bria was born I launched into a dark haze of postpartum depression. I didn't know how much was normal, and I had no idea how to get help. I feel sad knowing I didn't enjoy that time as much as I could have had I addressed the problem, because it lasted a year. A whole year of my life and Bria's entire life up until that point.

This time around I was on alert going into things. I took some precautions to ward off depression, and Sam and I talked a lot the first few days. The labor and delivery were 8000% times better this time around, so I wasn't coming off any trauma, but we were both cautiously surprised when I felt fairly stable and happy at first.
Then the anxiety started settling in. I have a long history of intense anxiety-- mostly social-- though this was a kind I had never experienced before. All day long I had a constant pit in my stomach. When I thought about anything, it would make me feel incredibly nauseated. I really mean anything. It could be "Bria has school tomorrow" or "I'm going to watch an episode of New Girl while I feed Wally," and this wave of nausea would make me cringe and sometimes double over. I felt sick with anxiety all day every day. It created this static separating me from reality. You know when you're hands are freezing cold so that you can't move them properly-- they almost feel like they're moving at half speed? That's how I felt emotionally. Though I felt constantly panicked and frantic, I also felt paralyzed. And though I was so exhausted I would be near tears by 8 or 9 every evening, I would lie in bed at night and just stare at the wall, wide awake. I would also wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to go back to sleep, sometimes for up to an hour.
The other thing I was dealing with is actually pretty hard for me to talk about. In addition to anxiety, I also have a history of OCD, and after Wally was born, I noticed a return of obsessive thoughts. I am lucky I haven't had to work through any compulsive behavior recently, but obsessive thoughts can still be incredibly intrusive. As I walked around the house holding Wally, all I could see were potential dangers. I had incredibly vivid thoughts of things like tripping, where I could see myself fall and Wally landing on his head, or smashing into a corner. Even sitting down I would panic about potentially dropping him. All day long I just had these detailed images of Wally being injured in various accidents. It was as disturbing as it sounds.
After a month I knew I needed some real help, but I wasn't sure how to get it-- which was part of my problem the first time. Looking back, I should have lined up a therapist before I had Wally, just in case. I didn't know if I should call a doctor, find a therapist at that point, or what. I waited until my 6 week follow-up appointment with my midwife and explained the situation. She gave me the names of a couple people to call, including the Five Trimesters Clinic at GW. This is an amazing place that offers short-term counseling and psychiatry services to women who are trying to get pregnant, are pregnant, or postpartum. The services are significantly discounted so that anyone has access during such a potentially fragile and unstable period of life. They will meet with you a handful of times to establish a plan (recommending support groups or counselors, prescribing needed medications, etc.) so that you can take the reins of your own care after a couple months.
I set up an appointment to meet with one of the psychiatrists and met with her at the very end of January. After going through my history and discussing everything I was experiencing, she prescribed an SSRI to me.
The first ten days or so of taking it, I was so anxious I thought I was going to die. But then there was one day that I realized I felt normal. I didn't feel anxious. And the next day. And the next. After a week I realized my obsessive thoughts would only poke their heads in occasionally. I have felt more stable over the last month than I have felt in who knows how long. It's amazing. I was worried taking an antidepressant would make me feel flat or fuzzy, but I actually just feel like myself. And far from fuzzy, I feel like I've come out of an anxiety fog. Luckily I've also connected with a therapist who is helping me work through some issues that keep getting me stuck. The sleep thing is coming along. I'm still not sleeping great, and though it takes me a long time to fall asleep at night, I don't wake up on my own (other than with Wally) anymore. So that's a relief. I hope this will continue to get better.

There is so much stigma that surrounds depression and anxiety, and if you've never experienced it, I think it can seem nebulous or dramatic. If you feel unfamiliar with depression and anxiety, I recommend watching this TED talk. His description of anxiety is the most accurate I've heard (at least how I experience it). I haven't spoken much publicly about my own experiences, but I think it's time. That stigma is part of what kept me from getting help six years ago. I am so happy that this time around I have the help I need so I can enjoy every moment of Wally's first year, gobbling up those chubby cheeks.


  1. Courtney! I'm so proud of you for sharing this! I've felt some depression during pregnancies, as you know, but I have no real experience with anxiety or intrusive thoughts. I HAVE heard and read from other women who experienced the same kind of thoughts about harm to their baby. Understandably! After all you've gone through to get him here and how much you love him.

    I'm listening to the TED talk while I type, and you were right about his description of anxiety. Feeling like you're about to hit the pavement, at any second, for months on end. I can't imagine.

    Anyway, that center for women to get help sounds amazing! I definitely think one of the biggest battles is just not knowing where to start (or how to pay for it). That's awesome. I'm so glad you're on the up side, and I'll keep you in my prayers!

  2. Hey, I'm really glad you posted this. You're awesome.