Writing about my postpartum depression last summer was extremely freeing. If it’s one thing I’ve learned through this journey, it’s that being open about my struggles with motherhood, depression, and anxiety gives me power over them. When I stuff these issues down and try to hide them from the people I love, it’s in essence saying that my identity will be tainted by taking on a label of being depressed, etc. I am so much more than that.
So, it was with a clear head and a wonderful therapy session under my belt that I looked ahead to Bea’s birth with a goal: I would take emotional pulse-checks throughout the early days of her birth and I would be the self-actualized individual that would raise my hand and say, “Hi! I need help here!” I would be open to taking medication. I would be the first to admit that I needed something to help me get through the adjustment of a newborn and mothering two children.
Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that will prevail – Psalm 19:21
As seen here and here, even my basic plans (like carrying Bea to term and bringing her home immediately) imploded. Through the time in Jackson- my own hospital stay and while Bea was in the NICU- I was taking my emotional pulse-checks and I was pretty darn proud of myself. Yes, it was a dark time, but I wasn’t depressed. I was able to sleep at night. I was able to eat well. I could talk about the situation without coming apart.
Friends, that’s called being in shock.
It was also God carrying me through a situation that I couldn’t even begin to understand and His grace covering and protecting me.
I moved back home. Gracie came home from Memphis. Bea was moved to the NICU at our home hospital. I was still doing well. I was so proud of myself.
Then my husband texted me one day. He said he spoke to our pediatrician, and Bea would be able to come home two weeks earlier than we had planned- she’d be home in four days!
Having a child in the NICU is hard, but it was also comforting to me in a (possibly) odd way: my child was sick, so thank goodness she’s in a hospital where she could get better. The NICU is a controlled environment where if something happens, a trained physician is just steps away.
But bringing that baby- that barely 5 lb tiny human- HOME? Ha! Gone are the nurses, the oxygen monitors, the special environment. Bringing Bea home to reality, where I had a rambunctious toddler, meals to make, and a house to clean. And two weeks early? I hadn’t even bought diapers or bottles for her.
Remember that pulse-check I was doing? I flatlined. And you know the thing about someone who’s pulse flatlines? They can’t tell someone that. They can’t go, “Hello! Excuse me! I don’t have a pulse! Can someone help me, please?”
Because I had been open about my past struggle with depression and anxiety, I had people looking for the signs of it happening again, even when I couldn’t see it myself. That’s the thing about depression- it sucks everything out of you, sometimes even the will to get help. This time around, I kept telling Mom that I just needed another nap and I’d feel better. I didn’t need to go to the doctor, I just needed a good night’s sleep.
But my husband and mother dug their heels in, and despite my anger at them, I made an appointment with my OBGYN. Sitting in the waiting room with my husband, I felt such a sense of defeat. I remember wanting to curl up in a ball in the chair and not look at anyone, let alone smile or make conversation with people. I had thought that I would be able to get through this without help. I didn’t want to be the Mom on Medication. Antidepressants scared me.
Let’s talk about those pills. I assumed that when someone was on an antidepressant, they were at the end of their emotional rope- they were just steps away from suicide. I assumed that these medications made you an emotional zombie; you no longer felt any major emotions and you just functioned at a basic, feelingless level. I assumed that I would lose my sense of self, my ability to cry with my friends, to laugh at my toddler’s antics.
Before writing my prescription, my doctor educated me thoroughly on what antidepressants really are (my Zoloft helps even out my levels of serotonin). We had talked about it extensively in my prenatal appointments but she went over it again… treating mental illness in a hypothetical situation is completely different than making a plan of action while you’re in the throws of it.
The best analogy I’ve heard is that it’s like taking insulin when you’re a diabetic. There’s a chemical imbalance that keeps your body from functioning at its best, so you take something to even it out. When your body is unable to process glucose, you have a physical reaction- shakiness, dizziness, etc. Where the analogy breaks down is the stigma attached to mental illness. People talk openly about being diabetic. There’s no sense of shame about being one. It’s simply a medical condition that needs to be treated. But when there’s a chemical imbalance in the brain? We immediately have visions of asylums, straight jackets, and voices in someone’s head telling them to hurt others (or at least I did).
It took a week for the Zoloft to start working; just in time for Bea to come home. How to describe being on an antidepressant? I feel like me. I feel like me on the days I used to only have very infrequently- you know, those days where at the end of it you don’t cry in the shower. Where you see a problem for what it is- a problem, and not something that rocks your world, consumes your thoughts, and removes all the color from your life.
I still cry. I still lose it with Gracie (we’re potty training now, Lord help us). And I laugh, just more freely now. Before, I felt like I was walking through life on a tightrope, and just about anything could make me lose my balance. Now, I’m walking on a wooden beam. It’s still a balance, but it’s doable. And the hands of anxiety that used to grip my throat until I couldn’t breathe- they’re still there, but I’m able to reach up and pull them off my neck.
But now, I struggle with the misplaced guilt. I feel shame that I need a pill to help me do something that “most” mothers are able to do.
But you know the truth is? And what I have to tell myself day after day? That my identity is not based on what pills I have sitting on my bedside table. I am so much more than a person with a chemical imbalance (just like a diabetic would say they are so much more than a person who needs insulin!). And despite how inadequate I feel at just about everything, I am seen as perfect in God’s eyes. Because Christ took on all of my mental illness, fear, anxiety, and anger (sin and the effects of sin), took it to Hell with Him, and then left it there when He conquered death. So even though it’s hard to get through the chapters of my life that are still tainted with sin, I know how the story ends. Right now, it involves taking Zoloft. Not sure for how long, or how involved, this medication will be in my story, but it’s ok. Because in the end, everything in me will be made perfect. So it’s what Christ did (and is doing) in me that makes me who I am. And I’d much rather rest in that fact, than a 50 milligram pill I take every night.