The D word

As I continue to reflect on 2011 and the roller coaster that it was, the most defining thing was really discovering that I was depressed. Depressed? Shelley? I am an optimist by nature. I always think the best of people, that the situation will get better, that God has everything under control and that all things work together for our good. I love to laugh. I love to make people laugh. But there wasn't a whole lot of laughing going on for a good bit of last year.
After the birth of my son, I was on the lookout for signs of baby blues. I did the screenings, which usually consist of questions like, "Do you feel overwhelmed since the birth of your child?"
Um. Yeah. If you took your first child home from the hospital and didn't wonder what the heck you were doing MOST of the time that first month or so, raise your hand.
Right? Getting the hang of breastfeeding, recovering from a return trip to the hospital the week after giving birth, getting absolutely NO sleep, and trying to maintain some semblance of who I used to be about wiped me out during maternity leave. Then  I had to go back to work. I had to leave the sweet blue eyes that had depended upon me every moment of every days for over two months in the arms of a relative stranger and go sit behind a desk every day and pretend that I knew what day it was and that I was competent to earn my salary. All of this while still not really getting much sleep.
I'm not complaining...the fantastic thing about motherhood is that you have a LOT of company in those trenches. People to ask questions and help you decipher the mystery that is "baby." Just explaining that I had all the disorientation of someone who had been dropped off on another planet.
Somewhere between fall, winter, and spring, though, I became increasingly off-kilter. I would be overwhelmed with the smallest tasks. Sometimes just choosing what to eat for lunch would send me spiraling into despair, as I was also coping with a new body and less time in general. Forget trying to get dressed when nothing fit the way it used to. I cried every day. I would usually cry while rocking Shepard to sleep in the evening, lamenting the time that I didn't get to spend with him that day, wondering how he acted in his infant "class." I would either cry or fall asleep myself in the rocking chair.
I had had friends who had dealt with the baby blues. I was on the lookout for it. I just assumed that this overwhelmed feeling was a natural part of becoming a mother. How would I know? I had never been one before; and in a lot of ways, you have to learn a new way to be...putting your own needs aside to care for the littlest member of the household. And I did all of this with the most supportive husband/dad you could ask for. I can't even imagine not having had that.
It seemed that at every turn, I was not enough. I would see blogs for stay-at-home moms who had time to do artsy-crafts worthy of selling on Etsy who made their baby's organic food they had grown from seed in their backyard. Working moms with small waists who could plan the church festival, volunteer at the homeless shelter, and make sure each weekend was packed with educational and fun family time. (perhaps I exaggerate, but realize that this was what it felt like...) I was literally doing well to get Shepard dressed, remember to haul all the stuff I needed for the day, get myself showered and dressed and keep up with my job. There was no way I could incorporate a daily learning activity into our mornings or evenings. Exercise? I mean, how? I didn't have enough energy to sit with my eyes open, much less hit a treadmill.
I remember well the day that I was able to identify what was going on with me. I had just had a conversation the day before with a friend. This friend is the working mom who has a weekly meal plan and seemingly endless energy and a clean house...that I perceived as having EVERYTHING together. When she admitted that she had had a bout with depression after the second child and had to use some medication for a time, something in my spirit just clicked. The next day, as I sat at my desk crying, embarrassed to be crying at work...just wanting to run out and take my kid to the park...I saw the depression for what it was. It was something out of my control. 
It had nothing to do with my faith or lack thereof. It said nothing about my capabilities as a wife, mother or employee. 
It was a perfect storm of NO SLEEP, a dangerously low level of vitamin D (as I found out when I went to the doctor), and some baby blues.
The only was I can describe how I felt is that I was in the bottom of a deep hole. I could see the sky above, but could conceive of NO WAY to get out of the hole. It was a tired despair. I had been fantasizing about stealing Shepard and Jerod and moving to another country (France!). Thankfully, I never progressed to suicidal or anything dangerous to myself or others. But, I had lost all hope. And that is a dark, dark place to be.
Once I went to the doctor, found a medication that would help even me out, and starting in on some hefty doses of vitamin D, I began to feel human again. Oh. There is a ladder out of this hole! Sometimes we need help. Let's not continue to whisper about depression. Let's help each other through life's ups and downs. I still don't have my weekly meal plan worked out or have the gumption to make my first million selling handmade crafts; but I breathe deeply, count my blessings, and thank God for doctors. I also quit reading most of those blogs that made me feel less-than. I am all that God created me to be as long as I follow after Him.


The Fussell Family said...

I'm proud of you for realizing what you were dealing with and taking steps to manage it. I lost a good part of my second child's first year plus to depression. I had the signs before then, and had a lot of baby blues with my first, but thought I could just deal with it. I finally sought help while pregnant with my youngest, During that time I began earnestly journalist. I was mortified to see how low I had allowed myself to get before seeking help.
Anyway, I just wanted to say that I'm glad for you.

Rebecca said...

Preach it, sister.

tc said...

I had to come upstairs and weep as I read this. The hospital & my nurses prepared me for this over and over. However, having my face glued to the D word is unacceptable in my mind. Hey I got what I prayed for. I'm even staying home. But I get nothing done. Little sleep . Very minimal contact w/ friends or any adult for that matter. I used to be the woman with 3 jobs. I resent having to get up when they cry most of the time. My phenomenal husband said he was burning out bc he was still doing everything after my hellacious pregnancy.
I'm in the hole with no ladder and wishing I had the guts to tell my husband just how deep I've fallen.

Shelley said...

tc-You know when you fly and the emergency instructions tell you to be sure you get your own mask on before helping others? You will be a better wife and mother if you can face what's going on. If you are an "achiever" like I am, and so many others I know who have faced this, it seems like you should just be able to overcome it by force of will or more faith or by tweaking this or that. It's hormonal and chemical. You are NOT a failure!!
And, your husband knows. He may not be able to put a finger on it or identify it, but he knows. He just doesn't want to add to any grief by telling you. He doesn't want YOU to think that he thinks you're incapable. He knows you're capable and loving, and need help. He just can't win by telling you. It will relieve him to know that you know that something's off. Trust me. I have never felt so hopeless in my life. I have always been able to accomplish and fix things. And here I was, unable to be the mother I knew I could be. Unable to be the wife I wanted to be, and unable to make it through a day without crying. I have not often been faced with "unable" in my life. And that was part of the depression.
There is hope. There is not only a ladder OUT but another ladder called UP. I am now on a half-dose of my medication, and do everything I can to make sure I get rest. Please seek some help. Take care of yourself so you can take care of the rest. You are worth it.
Message me if you want to talk.
Praying for you.

Anonymous said...

When Z, the "long awaited one" arrived everyone kept telling me how happy they knew I must be - what an amazing miracle we were blessed with, and while I knew this to be true (and it was/is)- at the the same time I was holding onto him for dear life - something tangible to keep me feeling like I was alive at all. I know now what the doctors didn't get then, I was not to young for menopause. My hormones were all over the place and I was like a zombie for Manda's senior year of high school and Zach's first year (or more) of life. Depression doesn't always mean you want to die, it may just mean you've forgotten how to live.

Rita Keen

andrewyp said...

My wife went through the same thing. Got some medicine and was fine afterwards. It really can happen to anyone.

Susan V. Smith said...

I always get this warm, glowy feeling when "one of my young people" does something courageous and beautiful. Having a baby and going back to work fulltime is courageous and beautiful enough, but writing this blog takes the proverbial courageous cake.

Untold numbers have written about depression, but there's always room for one more...especially when your sphere of influence needs to hear what you have to say right NOW.

Some of us live with depressive episodes that aren't necessarily childbirth related. I've persevered through two humdingers...one in 1994/1995 and another in 2010/2011. It's part of who I am and has been since my earliest emotional memories. I continue to learn about self care but still don't like the exercise part |o: Can't we just do this thing sitting down?

Thank you, Shelley, for stepping out and offering tangible encouragement and hope to young mothers and shedding light on "The D word." I admire you.

joy said...

Thank you for sharing this, friend! I'd say more, but I'm attempting to work from home with a baby in my lap...