By Kelley Allen
I have always struggled with depression. It runs in my family and, at 14 years old, I was diagnosed with it. I have managed it since with medication. Once my husband and I began talking about starting a family, we went into pregnancy knowing of my increased risk for postpartum depression. We met with a specialist before I got pregnant and made the decision that I would stay on a low dose of a well-researched, safe antidepressant throughout pregnancy. Once my daughter was born, I felt the hormonal fluctuations, stress, and exhaustion of motherhood, but was able to manage. After 3 months passed, I relaxed a bit about PPD. After 6 months passed, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
My PPD didn’t hit me until my daughter was 9 months old, and seemed to coincide with weaning her from nursing. It felt like I changed overnight. And for me, the hard part wasn’t the depression, but the anxiety. I had never experienced it before. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I literally wanted to crawl out of my skin. I paced rooms. I couldn’t catch my breath and I couldn’t stop crying. My heart raced and I couldn’t sit still. I felt like I was in withdrawal. I couldn’t be in the same room with my daughter, not because I was afraid of hurting her, but because I couldn’t calm myself down and I didn’t want to her see me that way. I remember feeling so completely overwhelmed all of a sudden. I truly believed that I needed to go away, that my husband and daughter would be better off with someone who “knew” what she was doing. My lowest point came very early one morning, as I shot out of bed and felt like I could not breathe. I went out and paced the kitchen and my husband found me, curled up on the floor in front of the kitchen sink, sobbing. I told him I didn’t want to live. That day I went to an urgent care clinic and was prescribed a higher dose of antidepressant, along with a medication for my anxiety, and something to help me sleep. I was told to check back with my family doctor in a week, and I vividly remember thinking that I wouldn’t be around in a week to attend the appointment.
Thankfully, I was also connected with a program through the hospital that specialized in postpartum depression and anxiety. I saw a psychiatrist and began attending a weekly support group with other moms who were experiencing PPD/A. My husband took over most of the childcare, housework, and caring for me. He was incredible. My only request was that he look after our daughter and make sure she was okay. I was eventually going to figure myself out and needed him to keep her okay until then.
Every single day I tried. I tried so hard to get out of bed, take my medications, be present for my daughter, attend my support group, and be functional. I wanted things to get better as soon as possible, but I also knew that the only way it was going to end was to go through every single day. My mantra became “The only way out is through.” I expected to wake up one day and feel like my “old self.” I remember someone in my support group saying it didn’t work like that, and I left feeling so disappointed. Recovery, she said, was not a straight line, but one with ups and downs, generally heading in the right direction. It has been 18 months since I hit my lowest point, and I can now say that I agree. I don’t have a certain date or time that I can remember feeling better. I just know that there were good days and there were bad days. Eventually the good days started to outweigh the bad ones. There were times I felt like I had made such progress and had setbacks, which were frustrating and scary. But I was always heading in the right direction.
My daughter is now almost two and a half. She is absolutely the love of my life. There are still days I struggle with depression, and I think I always will. When those days come I have the tools that I picked up during my PPD/A recovery that I can put to use. There were weeks I lived only to attend my support group, in order to reach out and feel connected to other women who were experiencing the same thing. Nobody seemed to talk about PPD/A in my larger life, and I felt so awful and isolated for feeling the way I was feeling. The group provided structure and support. Support that, at the time, felt like it wasn’t doing much to make me feel better, but over time was one of the biggest pieces of my recovery. I still think about the stories, advice, and moments from those groups and the women I met, and I see the strength in all of them. Many of my supports and people in my life told me, during my worst days, that it would get better. I didn’t believe them at the time, but they were right. It did get better. And it will get better for you, too.
Kelley lives in Vancouver with her husband, daughter, and two dogs.
If you want to receive more information about the support groups offered at Pacific Post Partum Support Society please contact us by telephone at 1-855-255-7999 or via email at [email protected]