Imagine a spiral staircase. You are at the top, and you descend down, compelled by some unseen force. Round and round you go, circling the same point. Depression takes an issue, any issue, and draws you to think in circles around it, in much the same way. Once you are in the spiral, it feels like there is no way out. Faster and faster you circle and the end never seems to appear.
Though I wasn’t officially diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD) until after my second child was born, I know now that it has accompanied me since the third trimester of my first pregnancy. As I’ve shared my story with friends, I’m often asked what depression feels like. Since I have recovered with the help of medication and time has passed, I admit it’s been hard to remember. But lately, I’ve been given a fresh reminder as I have weaned off antidepressants and my body has struggled to readjust to produce its own hormones again. It is with this fresh struggle that I offer you a glimpse of what depression feels like for me.
Anxiety – Spiraling Thoughts
The anxious, spiraling thoughts appeared first as I approached the due date of my firstborn. What I didn’t know at the time was that this was indeed a sign of perinatal depression. After Jed was born, the intensity of my spiraling thoughts increased as I fixated on his feeding schedule and sleeping schedule. When a nurse friend of mine listened to some of my experiences as a new mom and the way I interpreted them, she suggested that I might have PPD. Unfortunately, I blew her off because I thought, “I’m just trying to figure this out. And besides, I’m not sad.”
Most people probably think of this when they think of how depression might feel. And it’s true, but really this is just one symptom out of many. When I got pregnant with my second baby, I cried a lot and felt not only sadness but a deep emptiness as well. At first, I simply wrote it off as normal pregnancy hormone fluctuations. But as my pregnancy progressed, I consulted with a counselor, who, knowing my story, collaborated with me to watch for other signs of PPD.
After Addy came, it wasn’t long before PPD crashed into my world with rage. I felt rage at my poor, helpless, hungry newborn who needed to eat, again! I screamed at my son for the way he curiously or mischievously found trouble. I blamed my husband for not doing enough, piled resentment and bitterness high because he could escape to work and I felt stuck at home, alone providing for the constant needs of two little ones.
Inability to Cope.
There were days that Steve came home and I would literally hand him the kids, lay down on the couch, and go mute. I literally hid under a blanket, turned my face toward the back cushions of the couch, and refused to respond. The thoughts on auto-repeat went something like, “I can’t handle this anymore. I don’t care. Leave me alone.”
I had an appointment with my therapist and bravely shared these thoughts, feelings, and actions with her. We agreed that I needed help. Above all, I wanted to avoid taking medication. But enough was enough. I reluctantly received a prescription for antidepressants. This is about as much as I remember about then.
Depression Then, and Now
Fast forward two years – the time advised by my psychiatrist to stay on the antidepressants to allow them to do their work. Did you know they actually change the highways in your brain? It’s seriously amazing!
Getting off the medication has been no easy ride in the park, and I’ve had some really bad days as my hormones have learned to rebalance themselves. Lately, on the bad days, the days that depression rears its ugly head, I’ve been reminded of other symptoms:
I hate my life
On the bad days, first thing in the morning, I feel a sense of dread, fatigue, and even a feeling of hating my life.
Every little thing
Interruptions, whining, even reasonable requests from my children feel huge and often causes an eruption of anger.
Ordinary tasks overwhelm me
Even my hobbies feel like chores.
I start to generalize that the way I’m thinking, feeling, and acting today is how it is all the time. I’m afraid that I’m scarring my children. I wonder if this is how they’ll remember me.
All these feelings culminate in an overwhelming sense of guilt, shame, and self-hatred. And the worst part is feeling like I can’t change the way I feel or how I perceive the world on days like these. I feel like I can’t connect to God and even though I remember his love for me, it doesn’t help me feel any better. I feel helpless and hopeless.
Better Off Dead
Life feels so difficult and devoid of joy that death actually begins to look like a better option.
Beyond Our Control
Depression is so deceptive because it feels like it should be within our sphere of control. We feel like we should be able to snap ourselves out of it. I often feel like there is a rational person tied up inside me, telling me the truth, but unable to reign any power over the crazy person that is driving my thoughts and actions.
Please, take it from a very dedicated, hard-working and tenacious person, you cannot fix yourself. It is a chemical imbalance, much like if you were vitamin deficient or allergic to gluten. You cannot change the way your body is feeling unless you give it what it needs, in the case of depression, it needs hormones, such as serotonin or dopamine.
That said, if you resonate with any of the symptoms I’ve shared, please talk to your doctor. You can feel a whole lot better. It’s okay to need help. You are simply deficient of a chemical that your body needs to function optimally.
Part of discovering and embracing the truth of who we are includes owning, not denying, the deficiencies, mental or otherwise that are a part of our lot. You can regain the ability to be the person you want to be. Sometimes, we just need a little help.