Anxiety. Years ago, I had no idea what that word really meant. It is something that I first experienced in its true sense after developing prenatal (a great article about this subject can be found here) and postpartum depression with/after my first pregnancy. In my experience, the two conditions have been very closely related. I knew that what I was experiencing went beyond regular pregnancy mood fluctuations after several weeks of feeling an intense dread to leave my house. I called in to work. I skipped my night classes. I watched TV all day; it was the only thing I could do that didn’t completely wipe me out mentally and emotionally. Anything else was so utterly overwhelming that I would be reduced to tears- laying on my bed, praying for help.
I confided my struggles to my husband, who was as supportive as he could be. Still, neither of us understood why this was happening. I had never dealt with clinical depression before. I was always one of those people who never understood mental illnesses like depression. I wondered why people couldn’t just stand up, dust themselves off, and do what they needed to do. What made depressed people special snowflakes exempt from accountability? Everyone else on the planet had troubles in life but still managed to function. That is what “strong” people did. Depression was for weak people. I soon realized just how wrong I was about depression, anxiety, and many other things.
I knew I needed to ask for help when I walked in on my husband in our guest bedroom, kneeling on the floor in prayer on my behalf. Although we are a faithful couple, seeing my husband silently pray in such a serious manner was somewhat of a rare sight. Instantly, I just knew that he was praying for a way to help me or figure out what was going on. I didn’t have to hear what he was saying; I just knew. Not much ever upsets my husband, and I could see in the lines of his face that his concern for me was deep and real. It instantly struck me to the core. I felt touched and humbled. It was confirmed to me in my mind that this was a big deal, and I needed to do something about it.
I previously had fleeting thoughts that I needed some kind of help, but I brushed them aside due to my prideful thought that seeking help would be admitting defeat. That it would mean I was a failure because I couldn’t handle this myself. That there really was something wrong with me. That I was a freak. That I was crazy. That I wasn’t the way a woman like me was supposed to be.
I asked my husband what he had been praying about, following up with, “Was it me?” He said yes, and that he was worried about me. We both teared up and hugged. We decided that we would talk about it at my next doctor’s appointment. He held me as I cried and grieved the loss of self control that I felt, and tried to work past the accompanying thoughts and feelings of shame and guilt. I felt like this appointment may be one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. I had to admit my problem. This may not seem to be such a big deal to the average person, but in my mindset, this is exactly how it felt. The person experiencing the symptoms of depression and anxiety struggles to differentiate between truthful thoughts and untruthful thoughts that our brain is telling us, as well as the magnitude of their importance.
The appointment with my doctor was, in fact, not humiliating, but liberating. My doctor and friend listened to me and assured me that everything was going to be okay. She validated my feelings and concerns and helped me to understand the biological causes of such conditions and that it was not a cruel consequence of being a bad or weak person. She prescribed me medication and explained to me in detail how it worked, and also the risks and benefits. She also explained that how she was prescribing it to me because the benefits greatly outweighed the risks (backed by scientific research). I am thankful and feel lucky that my doctor was well-educated on this issue as well as compassionate. I often think about if I had seen a doctor who was not compassionate, and how I may have reacted to a negative response to my concerns and symptoms. It is scary to think about the downward spiral that could have occurred if I hadn’t been taken seriously. That is why I feel so lucky.
Gradually I began to feel better. I still had bad days and struggles, but the difference was that I was that I now had to capacity to manage it and live my life instead of being completely debilitated by it. Depression medications don’t “make you happy.” They give you a life preserver that allows you to live. The storm is still raging, but you are able to survive and fight instead of just drowning. That is how it has felt in my experience, however some people do not find medications to be helpful or it takes them a while to find the right type and dosage of medication to be effective.
The rest of my pregnancy was fairly good. My symptoms worsened postpartum, but an adjustment to medications helped with that and things were brought into balance again. Since then, I have been on and off medications, with the majority of changes occuring with my pregnancies. It seems as though hormonal disruptions to my brain chemistry will continue to plague me throughout my life. I have come to accept this, although I do wish I could be completely free from it. However, I do feel grateful that I am more knowledgeable about managing it and I know that I can live a happy and healthy life if I take care of myself and ask for additional help when needed. I try to share that message with anyone I meet that is struggling. I want them to know that I have been there and I have felt that helplessness that they are feeling, but that things can get better.
I am a firm believer in God and that He wants us to be happy and to use whatever resources are available to us to improve our lives so that we may continue to grow and develop as much as we can. There is no shame in asking for help, and in fact, reaching out is one of the bravest things you can do. Asking for help is a defining moment, because you are in a state of complete vulnerability. Getting to that point is biggest hurdle to overcome, in my experience. For me it became so much easier after that. I know it isn’t that way for everyone, but even if things are still rough for a while, at least there is now someone else there to help you carry the burden. The most important thing to remember is to never give up. Ever. Because this world and the people around you need you. I know you may not believe it, but I promise you it’s the truth. Hold onto that.