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Antenatal Depression – The One They Don’t Talk About

Depression and I have been dancing partners for more than a decade now. Sometimes it’s a slow waltz, sometimes a spinning reel, and sometimes I get to sit off to one side and take a nice relaxing break from my dark friend.

Over the years I’ve learned to observe my own triggers and put safety valves in place. For example, I go to therapy once a year, even if I’m not depressed, just to keep tabs on the way I’m feeling. As soon as I discovered I was pregnant in 2008, I knew I had to keep a watchful eye on myself. I was prepared – absolutely certain – that I would end up with postpartum depression, and I was terrified of feeling as low as I could go with a baby to look after. When I hit rock bottom, I can hardly care for myself. How was I supposed to look after this tiny new person as well?

So, I lined up a therapy session at 34 weeks of pregnancy, aiming to build myself a nice set of mental defenses against the coming storm.

I went to my first session, wanting to talk about my anxiety over going on maternity leave. I loved my job, and I didn’t know how I could stand to be at home all day every day with a baby. We talked about it. I cried a little.

No, I didn’t. I cried a lot. I cried so much that I couldn’t even talk. I just sat there on the couch, sobbing so hard that my unborn baby started squirming, and the psychologist had to go get a second box of tissues. I did that for a whole hour, all the while trying to gasp out explanations for my behaviour. Hormones, obviously. Stress. Fear of change, of the unknown. I knew all my triggers.

Didn’t I?

Later that night, I was at home when there was a knock at my front door. There was a lady standing there who I recognised, although she didn’t know me. She was the niece of a work colleague – and she was a drug addict who was mixed up in all kinds of bad things that I’d been hearing about for weeks at work. She asked me if I could give her a lift into town. Odd request from someone you don’t know and I blurted out the question, “What for?”

She informed me that she was out of her anti-psychotic medication, and if she didn’t get to the pharmacy as soon as possible she was going to end up really sick.

Yikes. I threw out the first excuse I could think of – I told her I was pregnant and tired, and I couldn’t do it.

Mistake. Her eyes shot to my belly, and she spent the next couple of minutes telling me how lucky I was, and how she wanted her own baby, and… And by that point, my other mental dance partner was knocking loudly on the door of my brain – anxiety. I got her to leave, to go ask a different random stranger for that lift, and then I stayed awake. All. Night.

Convinced, utterly convinced, that she was coming back with a knife, and she was going to try to take my child from me.

By the time my next therapy session came around a week later, I wasn’t just a bawling mess- I was a shaking, hysterical, terrified mess, convinced that some kind of evil was heading my way. No ifs or buts about it, something bad was going to happen – from this girl, random strangers, an accident – I was sure that either my baby or I was in trouble, and no amount of logic or reasoning could sway my reptilian brain centre from this fear response.

And at that point I realised that this time, my depression and my anxiety had snuck around that safety valve, and I was in the extremely intense grip of something they hadn’t talked about in any of my childbirth classes:

Antenatal depression.

Before the baby arrives, you’re supposed to be the glowing mother-to-be, fondly looking forward to the arrival of your new little one, taking it easy, enjoying your last days of freedom. Sure, you might get depressed once you’re sleep deprived, struggling to breastfeed and awash with postpartum hormones, but before the birth – no, that’s all supposed to be sunshine and moonbeams.

I was ever so glad I’d gone to that first therapy session, because otherwise I would have been running up against all these feelings with a baby in my arms. Or not, as the case so happened – it turns out I wasn’t wrong about my dire predictions, and everything did in fact go horribly wrong. But by that stage, despite a crash c-section, my baby being airlifted away from me, a month in the NICU, I found myself able to handle some of the greatest stress I’ve ever experienced without breaking down. By that stage, I was seven weeks into my therapy course, taking antidepressants, and acknowledging my fears.

From the simplest (fear of being bored) to the most complex (fearing that I’d end up being too much like my own mother and would turn my daughter into just this kind of wreck), I had faced down those issues, broken them into pieces, examined them, and found that they weren’t as scary as I thought. I’d come to understand some of the most important rules of becoming a mother; first, you can’t control what happens, so you just have to roll with it; second, your best is absolutely good enough; third, you can’t predict the future, so there’s no point guessing.

So, I guess this leads me to a few points about my experience of antenatal depression:

  1. It exists, and it’s not always the hormones. If you feel down, anxious or sad to a degree where it starts affecting your life or your enjoyment of life, go see someone about it. Your doctor, your therapist – it never hurts to talk, whether you conclude in the end that you’re depressed or not. You might end up with post-partum depression and be glad you put those defenses in place nice and early.
  2. I was terrified of taking antidepressant drugs during pregnancy for fear they might cause problems for my child. There are safe antidepressants you can take, and my personal experience was that the pregnancy hormones meant I had greater need for the medication than on previous occasions. My daughter’s problems, FWIW, were most certainly unrelated to the drugs, although when I weaned her from breastfeeding at 18 months, I was still taking the medication and as a result she went through a withdrawal process over about a week. She was a most unpleasant character during that week, but both before and after that, she was/is the same happy, delightful little person she’s always been.
  3. There’s no law saying you have to be delighted about everything baby-related. Birth? Bonding? Nappies? Cracked nipples? Pah! But in addition to those, of course, you get that milky new baby smell, smiles and cuddles, first words and steps and everything else that’s wonderful about kids. Taking a realistic view of the potential downers is important. Don’t expect it all to be utopia, but don’t expect it all to be terrible, either. Parenthood is, of course, a buffet that serves up a little awesome, a little awful, and you never know which you’re going to get.

I Can’t Heal From This

Three years ago, my husband attempted to rape me. I didn’t really think of it that way at the time. I did shove him off me with a hand to his throat, and he was extremely angry. A few months later, he completed the rape.

He’s always been terrible with boundaries and when I would say no to sex, he would keep trying until I gave in. I didn’t like it, but didn’t recognize it as anything more than annoying.

It was a red flag I guess, but didn’t seem like “real abuse” because I wasn’t being harmed.

After he raped me, I slowly spiraled downward.

We did marriage counseling. I did individual counseling. Still, I wound up checking myself into a psych hospital with severe post-traumatic-stress-syndrome, anxiety, and depression.

We have managed to stay together, but, as you’d expect, It hasn’t been easy.

He still struggles with boundaries, which are obviously so important to our relationship. Unfortunately, he will touch me sexually even after I’ve explicitly said that I don’t want to be touched that way (when my anxiety is at a high I do not want to be touched at all; much less sexually).

He’s started having sex with me in his sleep despite me saying no – when he’s aware of what’s going on he stops, thankfully. When he is very much in the mood, he won’t come to bed with me because he’s afraid he can’t control himself. I suppose I should just be grateful that he stays away but I  don’t like hearing him say he can’t control himself. It freaks me out.

He has been (for the most part) patient and understands why I’m like this now. He’d do absolutely anything to make me happy.

I feel guilty because a large part of me hates him. He has told me that he doesn’t think about the rape unless I’m struggling, which is devastating to me. Something that changed me at my core so much. Traumatized me. Destroyed trust, my ability to enjoy intimacy, gave me massive, crippling anxiety and he…?

He doesn’t even think about.

We are in marriage counseling again; but we haven’t yet told the counselor what happened.

We’ve only had two sessions so far, and I haven’t been ready to discuss the rape.

The counselor is giving us all these tools to work on things and I just…I don’t know. I don’t know how to make it work.

I can’t afford to care for my kids alone. I’m a stay-at-home mom, no good work experience, no family to help me out. I MUST make this work.

And my husband really does try to make me happy and I feel so guilty that he can’t.

I will never be the same again.

Part of me wishes to just end it all and escape the constant anxiety and feeling like I will never get better. Don’t worry; I would never do that to my children.

I’m just struggling with so many feelings of anger, sadness, depression, stress, and frustration.

My husband used to be my best friend. We get along pretty well now, but I just can’t see him romantically again.

Can we make this work?

 

#MeToo Many, Many Times

The first time I was molested, I was 6 years old. My step-dad was a controlling, abusive asshole and had been grooming me over the few years he’d been married to my mom. It started as tickling, then moved to a touch here, me touching him there, and everything you can imagine in between.

At 6, I had no idea this wasn’t normal interaction. He was the only dad I knew.

At 8, I knew how to give a blow job, at 10 he was attempting penetration (poorly), at 12 when I got my period, I got worried. A substitute teacher covered a chapter on sexual abuse in health class and I realized that this wasn’t normal at all. I told my mom that afternoon, he moved out that night, I got lots and lots of counseling.

At 14, I was raped by a 21 year old that was my “boyfriend.” We met through a mutual friend, he got me drunk on Everclear and told me if I didn’t let him put it in one hole he was gonna put it in the other, whether I liked it or not.

I thought it was a compelling argument.

I remember he had big speakers under his mattress and he put on something with a shit ton of bass and it made me so nauseous that I spent 20 minutes puking on his back porch. I didn’t tell anyone. In fact, I continued to date him for an additional 6 months.

During that time he fantasized about moving to Alabama (where 14 is the age of consent) getting married and having babies with me. At the end of those 6 months he nearly got arrested for threatening a secretary with bodily harm for not allowing him to bring me flowers to my class… in middle school.

My mom found out and then I spent 4 weeks as an inpatient at a juvenile psychiatric facility. I started my long journey of anti-depressants and self-medicating.

At 15, I walked over to a boy’s house that I had a crush on to “hang out.” We were making out and he got my pants off. I let him know I wasn’t interested in having sex so he decided that putting his belt inside me was a better option? I was known as “belt girl” (probably still am, honestly) for a number of years after that, to our group of mutual friends.

At 31, I got locked into a hotel room with a smooth talker (stalker) who had me convinced we were in love. The next 8 hours were filled with things I never want to remember and that my brain won’t recall. I left sore and mentally broken, but I never told a soul (until now).

These are of course only the major offenses. I’m not including the literal hundreds of unsolicited dick pics, “accidental” gropings, catcalling, and unwanted sexual advances that occur from randoms quite often.

Why didn’t I report it at the time?

Well it depends on the occurrence. The first time I didn’t know any better, the second time I was in love, the third I was embarrassed and ashamed, the fourth I was terrified of ever seeing him again. I definitely didn’t want a court case. I never filed charges on any of them. Even the long-term ones.

I remember vividly talking to a counselor who warned me of the long court process to press charges against my dad, how it was my decision (AT 12), and whether they should file charges with the DA. Seems like something an adult should’ve decided, no? That stayed with me through all of my assaults. I felt powerless and guilty. I blamed myself for my poor decisions. Surely, I mean, it was my fault, right?

So now PTSD is a real thing I live with every day as a survivor of multiple sexual assaults. The triggers are never expected or convenient. Depression and anxiety go hand-in-hand with that. Once, a psychologist mentioned her surprise that I didn’t have a personality disorder, so there’s that, I suppose?

This is why the #MeToo movement is so vitally important.

The shame, the bureaucracy, the headaches, the guilt, it’s not worth reporting. This is what I’ve been told time and again as a victim. Maybe not in those words, but certainly with that intent. Someone didn’t want the paperwork and i didn’t want the trauma of retelling my story time and time again.

It Scares The Hell Out Of Me

What is an addictive/dependent personality?

I don’t mean someone who really grows on you, I’m talking about someone who is easily influenced and can become readily addicted to or dependent on mind-altering substances. It can be drugs like cocaine, meth, and heroin. It can be prescription drugs like Oxycontin, Xanax, or a plethora of pain killers and muscle relaxers.  Maybe it’s alcohol that interferes with or has to be part of everyday life. Now take that person and throw in the occasional, and now more frequent, anxiety and panic attack.  What do you get?

You get the hell scared out of you!

Let me tell you first hand because dependency has been in my family for as far back as most of us can trace, and we are now finding out that the anxiety and panic issues have been in the family for quite awhile as well.

Have you ever been there?

I have and it scares me.

Have you ever felt your temperature begin to slowly rise for no apparent reason?

I have and it freaks me out.

Have you felt your breathing begin to get a bit shallower, each breath becoming more of a gasp than a serious breath?

I have and I just want it to go away.

Have you felt your throat dry and then begin to close, slowly sending you into panic mode?

I have and will hate it when it happens again.

Have you had to wonder what the hell this was all about when life really is not to bad?

I always wonder.  And really, what the hell is this all about?

The medication prescribed to combat such issues to me are often very addictive.

Now you have me.

I freak out for no apparent reason, then think about the little pill I am about to take.  If I continue to have to take them, it’s very likely I will be dependent on them.  Not taking them wreaks havoc.

I don’t mind the occasional sleepless night.  But when it happens, I pace around the house, then into the yard and then in the car with no where to go because it is 2 in the morning. Then I go back in the house. I don’t want to wake others up because I feel it’s wrong.  I don’t want the medication, but without it sleep, and a productive day, will be out of the question.

Shouldn’t I feel positive about the fact that there is a medication to help me through such time?  I don’t want to become dependent on the medication, but I really do want to sleep and enjoy my sanity.

One is just feeding off the other and it is just wrong.

Have you ever been there?

Are you there now?

Where do we go from here?

Hi, I Used To Cut Myself

Clench my teeth
brief sensation of pain
Wait for it to come
it takes a second
Bringing with it relief
here it comes
Pain flows out
trickling down my arm
In little red rivulets
so warm and wet
I have no problems

That cheery little poem is mine. Oh, it’s from many years ago. Back when I was still living with my parents, in fact. That last line? Is total crap. Yes, the blood brought relief of some feelings, but the guilt and anxiety that was left every time I looked at the scars….yeah, sometimes even THAT was enough of a trigger.

I’ve been pretty up-front about dealing with Postpartum Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and major depressive disorder.

But, to add to the list of things that I don’t talk about, I’m also a cutter.

I probably ought to say “was”…..because I haven’t actually cut myself in years. But you know how some people say that they will always be a recovering alcoholic, and never recovered. It’s like that.

The urge to give in is there. It’s not my first reaction to bad news, anymore, but when I’m at my lowest, or most anxious, I still want to.

There are certain movies that I couldn’t watch all the way through for a long time, like Thirteen or Girl, Interrupted because they make me want to cut myself.

This is a big step for me. Other than my parents, one or two friends from way back then, and my husband and now half-the-freaking-internet, no one knows this. Come to think of it, I don’t know if I bother to tell my therapists. Yes, I know. I’m a horrible patient.

After I decided to stop, which wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first, AND it was totally selfish at first; too many doctor’s exams that required getting naked. I kept waiting to outgrow the feelings. You know, the way I outgrew angsty poetry, and emo-ish music? But I’m still waiting.

Still fighting.

Still coping.

Kinda.

Diagnosis Carousel

“Teenage hormones”

Depression

“Chemical imbalance”

“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”

“Postpartum Depression”

“Seasonal Affective Disorder”

Bipolar

“Generalized Anxiety Disorder”

Since I was 15 years old, I’ve been diagnosed with one thing after another.

It’s like a revolving door. Or a carousel of diagnoses. Like a really bad carnival ride, where you just want off, but it seems like it won’t end. Ever.

Usually I get a new label because we’ve run through the gamut of medication that is supposed to “solve” one problem, only to find that none of them work.

Or I have changed providers.

So I fill out another 500 question sheet of paper, which of course has answers that are completely dependent on what day of the week it is, what time of the day it is and whether or not I got any sleep the night before.

Then after this highly scientific deduction process, I’m given a new prescription to go with my new label and sent on my merry way.

Only to fall flat on my ass at some point (and I do mean fall, like rock-bottom), and have to start all over again.

This is why I’m a big fan of saying that medicine alone is not enough. I fully believe medicine is a hugely helpful tool. But I also think that it needs to be in conjunction with some form of therapy.

Of course, that doesn’t explain why I haven’t managed to make it to my appointments with my therapist in the last couple months…