In case you haven’t seen it, Brooke Shields had an op-ed piece in the New York Times today. I’m so glad that she found a way to respond to the ridiculous off-spouting of Tom Cruise over the past weeks.
I never thought I would have postpartum depression. After two years of trying to conceive and several attempts at in vitro fertilization, I thought I would be overjoyed when my daughter, Rowan Francis, was born in the spring of 2003. But instead I felt completely overwhelmed. This baby was a stranger to me. I didn’t know what to do with her. I didn’t feel at all joyful. I attributed feelings of doom to simple fatigue and figured that they would eventually go away. But they didn’t; in fact, they got worse.
I couldn’t bear the sound of Rowan crying, and I dreaded the moments my husband would bring her to me. I wanted her to disappear. I wanted to disappear. At my lowest points, I thought of swallowing a bottle of pills or jumping out the window of my apartment.
I couldn’t believe it when my doctor told me that I was suffering from postpartum depression and gave me a prescription for the antidepressant Paxil. I wasn’t thrilled to be taking drugs. In fact, I prematurely stopped taking them and had a relapse that almost led me to drive my car into a wall with Rowan in the backseat. But the drugs, along with weekly therapy sessions, are what saved me – and my family.
I have been mildly depressed, and I have also survived a severe postpartum depression, complete with the sort of suicidal impulses Shields describes. A mild depression can be influenced favorably by exercise and other non-pharmacological interventions. But a severe postpartum depression, left untreated, can be a risk to the life of the mother, and as we saw in the Andrea Yates case, to the children as well.
One of the keenest memories I have of that period in my life is the shame I felt about taking anti-depressants. I wasn’t supposed to be weak; I wasn’t supposed to need help. My primary care doctor prescribed the meds but did not recommend therapy. Without that extra supervision, and without the aid of a psychiatrist in prescribing the medication, I ended up, after several months taking Zoloft, in a manic episode, during which I convinced myself I no longer needed the meds. I also stopped sleeping, spent money I didn’t have, became hypersexual–a huge shock to my then-husband, who was thinking of leaving me already–and was convinced that I could solve our marital problems if only I found the right song, poem or quotation, something that would make him see things as I did.
From there it was a downward spiral to thoughts of suicide, which I could only describe as “dark thoughts.” When I was finally hospitalized, the psychiatric nurse told me, “When you’re in the car, and you’re thinking of driving it off the road, it’s not just an idea. It’s a plan.”
Zoloft was not a good medication for me. The second time around it made me sleepless without any of the “fun” stuff mentioned above, and I also became highly anxious. But at least this time I had a therapist and a psychiatrist to negotiate the deep waters with me, and when I left it behind I was weak but beginning to mend.
Nine years later, I am still prone to depression, although it has never been that serious again. The big difference is that I’m not ashamed anymore. I know the problem I had was medical, not “just emotional.” I know that if I found myself in such a state I would ask for help, and I could receive it without punishing myself for needing it.
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