Monday, June 2, 2008

my story part 2 (post-partum depression)

i continued to have problems with anxiety and depression off and on during school. i took advantage of programs on campus...the student health center offered counseling (individual and group) and they had psychiatrists who could prescribe medicine. i muddled through and graduated from the school of nursing. looking back, i think that i literally muddled through...i did what i had to do to get a different time, i could have done better. i wonder what i missed while i was treading water. read part 1

while i was home going to the regional campus, an old friend came back into my life. he and i had been friends for years, only to have a falling out towards the end of high school. he offered me his friendship when i needed it most. he did not understand the way i felt or the way i acted (for that matter, neither did i), but he realized that he didn't have to. he did not ask me for more than i was capable of giving. he accepted me as i was. he always has.

eventually, we started dating. over the few years that we dated, i continued to work my way through nursing school. he was there by my side helping me through every sleepless night...when my anxiety was at it's worst, he would drive 2 1/2 hours to spend a brief amount of time, only to have to drive back home for work later that night...he loved and supported me unconditionally. it was just that simple to him.

six months after i graduated from college, we were married. i continued to take the medicine that the doctors prescribed, but i never felt great. i continued to intermittently go to therapy, but i never felt like i knew i could. i still didn't feel like myself.

during the first few years after i began my nursing career, i had less than a handful of panic attacks...always at work...always when it was very stressful for everyone, including me.

then i became pregnant. although we were overjoyed with the news, it presented a few problems...for one, hormone overload + anxious/depressed woman = problem...not to mention that most anti-anxiety and depression medication is NOT approved for use in pregnant or breastfeeding women. so, after talking to my ob-gyn, i decided to quit taking my medicine. i tolerated the change surprisingly well. i had the occasional panic attack when my mind would wander...mostly about the baby and the pregnancy...but i was doing really well, so i thought.

then came baby. a few weeks after she was born, i experienced what i now know to be a mild case of post-partum depression. i think that's pretty normal to a degree...there's a lot of hormones coming and going piled onto an over-stressed woman who now has an extra human being to be responsible for. for lack of a better description, i worked through it.

so, things went well for the next few years. then baby #2 came along...

let me paint a picture...i was working nights (11p-7a) 4 nights a week. my husband was working weekends and was gone every friday through sunday each week. when baby #2 was born, i took around 12 weeks off for maternity leave. when i went back to work, we were short-staffed...somehow i ended up working both day shifts and night shifts each week. i was overworked at work. i was overworked at home. i wasn't sleeping. when i did sleep, it wasn't quality sleep or long enough. i put entirely too much pressure on myself to be the perfect wife, mother, etc. come hell or high water, i was going to breastfeed...even if that meant even less sleep for me. i completely sacrificed myself. this went on for almost 4 months. during that time, my husband went back to school full time and was working full time on the weekends. i was still working full time with day shifts and night shifts each week. we were in total chaos.

then, work asked me to take over a weekend spot while another girl was off for maternity leave. it was every saturday and sunday 7a-7p. i agreed. apparently, that was my breaking point.

i think i had worked maybe 2 weekends when i hit a brick wall. baby #2 was about six months old. i was stretched to my absolute limit. i decided to see a therapist that i had seen in the past...i had one session with her the day before my next shift. i cried when i started talking about how i had been feeling. i felt so out of control with my life. i was more than frustrated because i continually felt like i was husband, our kids, work, myself. i was sad, exhausted, over-worked...i didn't know if i was coming or going. i felt helpless and hopeless. what i really wanted to do was drive my car into a tree...not because i wanted to hurt myself, but because i wanted to stop feeling so crappy. anything would have been better than how i was feeling.

i went to work the next day and lost it. i had a patient who was being abnormally difficult. i was done. i could do no more. not one more thing. for whatever reason, that was the breaking point. i started crying. i didn't stop for 3 weeks. that was the darkest time of my life without a doubt.

i cried from the time i woke up until the time i went to bed. our poor 3 year old daughter had no clue what was going on. she was so upset that i was crying all day long every day. that only made me feel more guilty. i was a terrible mom. i couldn't handle my life. i couldn't get myself out of was i supposed to take care of my kids? nobody understood. hell, i didn't even understand what i was feeling. the littlest things would set me off...i was resentful towards baby #2 for needing me to breastfeed (something i had chosen whole-heartedly to do -- it wasn't HIS choice)...i felt like a prisoner to my kids, my husband, my house, my head...i was one of two extremes-- either sobbing uncontrollably, or raging. i was completely out of control. i knew it and i couldn't do anything about it. i knew it and i hated myself even more.

i have always been one to take care of other people. i felt so guilty for needing some attention and care. the guilt i was laying on myself just made me feel worse. it was a vicious cycle.

after a series of appointments with various doctors and mental health professionals, i was taken off work for a total of 10 or so more weeks. my husband had to quit school and get another job. we had to survive.

a nurse practitioner prescribed a new medication for me...something i had never taken before. it was an SSRI and a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. she also gave me something for anxiety...and something to suppress the rage i felt. i was still breastfeeding at that point...breastfeeding was the only thing i still had control of...i did not willingly give it up. i wanted to wean him gradually. i felt guilty because i had to wean him so early...i wanted to be able to breastfeed him until he was a year old, like i had with his sister. but i finally realized that i just couldn't have it my way. i had constant chaos in my head. i was miserable. after i started taking the new medicine, i honestly started feeling better within a week. i was finally able to start to take care of myself. thank God i had my husband, my parents, my sisters, and friends to take care of our kids.

after a little while, i started getting out of bed each day with less and less effort. i took better care of myself. and eventually was able to take better care of our kids. i still don't know what we would have done if our family did not live in the same town as we do. what do people do when they have no help? we are so blessed!

my husband took me to many of my therapy appointments and all of my med-check appointments with the nurse practitioner. he did that in between cooking, cleaning, working two jobs, caring for the kids, and caring for me. where would i be without him? i am so blessed!

i know that i missed quite a bit of baby#2's baby-hood. i was in a funk. there are less pictures of him during that time. less journaling. to be completely honest, i don't remember a lot of his first year. that's why i rely on family to tell me stories and share their pictures with me. because i don't want him to ever think for even one second that i don't love him as much as i love his siblings. he is a blessing in so many ways. he is full of life (or, as my grandma would say, piss and vinegar). he sees adventure where others don' simple everyday events and outings. he sees the world with eyes full of amazement and wonder. he is captain adventure.


aunt sara said...

Ahh yes, I remember this well. Of all the things I would use to describe you, a bad mother is not one...even during that time. Things happen that we can't control, and sometimes the best we can do is just survive it. As much as it pains me to say, we're all lucky to have your husband as a part of the family.