Diapers and Dragons

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Facing the Dragon: The What of a Tale

Those of you who pay attention to these things and read certain blogs are probably already aware of reactions to Time magazine's recent article on the Mothers Act. If you aren't familiar with this proposed legislation...well, I would recommend Googling it, except that all you'll see for pages are the negative reactions, all of which seem to believe that this legislation is designed by the evil pharmaceutical companies to force "dangerous" anti-depression drugs on unsuspecting mothers. Several of them go so far as to suggest that women would be essentially brainwashed into believing they have Post-Partum Depression when they "simply have the baby blues." Some are downright vicious, such as the disturbing Unite For Life website, which calls the act a "Disease-Mongering Campaign." (I found the polls on the side very interesting. Especially the first one. Anyone else find the wording more than a little biased or impossible to answer?)

On the other side are a slew of women who have suffered from PPD, as well as a slew of highly respected organizations such as The American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the March of Dimes, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Nurse Midwives, the National Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition, and the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, to name a few.

You might have guessed where I stand on this subject. If you want an excellently written post specifically responding to Time's article and the issue as a whole, check out Catherine Connors' post, which is brilliant as usual and more accurate than most of the fearful anti-Mothers Act sites I examined. For example, the act would NOT, as many opponents would have you believe, mandate PPD screenings for all pregnant women. Nor would it mandate any specific treatment, anti-depressent or otherwise. What it WOULD do is make screenings, treatment (of varying kinds), and support more widely and readily available to all women. Which, to my thinking, is all to the good.

But that's not really why I'm writing.

Reading the various posts and articles and websites stirred up some mixed feelings in me. The subject of PPD and depression as a whole is very real and rather raw. So I'm struggling to even write this post. Odd how what I can talk about with my friends and family becomes difficult here.

I am, in fact, shaking a little while I type.

It's about image, you see, that stupid obsession with seeming. Seeming strong, seeming capable, seeming confident and happy and together and Super Mom who can Do It All. The seeming that led me into a life of masks and deception and manipulation and secrets for over two decades until the maelstrom spun me right down into a pit from which I could not climb.

(I sometimes feel like there should be an anonymous organization for people suffering from depression like there is for alcoholics and other addicts. A place where one could go without fear of judgment and say "Hello, my name is _______, and I am Depressed." Where one could get sponsors and support, and perhaps be pointed in the right direction, enough so that one could finally get over the shame enough to admit the truth to a doctor or a friend or a family member.)

I was, comparatively speaking at least, a high-functioning depression-sufferer (Or whatever you call us. Nutcase seems harsh.). People who knew me better than most knew I had depressive tendencies, that I'd struggled with it from time to time; they even knew the last three years that something wasn't quite right. But no one knew just how bad it was. Not even me.

I was just as good at lying to myself as I was to anyone else. Because if I really admitted the truth to myself, I wasn't going to be able to keep it together.

And I was in trouble.

I won't go into all the details of twenty-plus years of depression, which varied in degree quite a bit over time. Instead, I want to share a little--just a touch--of my experience with PPD. If I can ever get through typing this post and actually hit "Publish."

I had what I thought were the baby blues after DramaBoy was born. I wasn't plunged into despair; I didn't imagine harming my child any more than I figured any parent would when surviving on occasional catnaps and walking around a room for hours with a screaming infant. I didn't feel like I was fully up to the task, but then what new mother really does?

As time went on, however, things started going subtly wrong. Where once I had rushed from work to pick up my precious baby and take him home, I started delaying my arrival. I'd find excuses for staying at work longer. I'd come up with errands that just had to be done and would be easier without an infant. Finally, I stopped finding excuses and just started heading home after work to sit for a few hours, staring at the TV screen, before getting back to daycare shortly before they closed.

Work people thought I was still heading over to pick up my baby.

Daycare people thought I had numerous meetings and obligations filling up my afternoons.

My husband only knew that when he arrived home around 6:30 or 7, I was there with our child and I seemed tired, worn out, a bit dulled around the edges. Only what one would expect from a working mother, right?

And then, when DramaBoy was barely eight months old, I became pregnant again. Completely, totally, absolutely by surprise. The idea of terminating the pregnancy never crossed our minds, but neither of us reacted well. My husband became convinced we would be ruining young DramaBoy's life by bringing in a competitor for attention. I became convinced that I simply would not survive being the mother of two babies.

I was, on the surface, mothering well. I took care of my baby, fed him well, nursed his frequent illnesses, cuddled and loved him. I knew, deep down, that I wasn't doing well. I found reasons to get away any time I could. I fantasized about clearing out the bank accounts and flying off to live the life of a Mystery Woman in the Caribbean. I lived for the hours at work, for his naps and bedtime. I loved him, I missed him when we were apart, but I could hardly stand being with him for more than half an hour.

And now I was going to feel it with two. My incompetence, my failure, my brokenness would be doubled, and I was more frightened than I'd ever been in my life.

My mother flew back to the States and essentially lived with us for a month after The Widget was born. I was able to survive with her there to keep DramaBoy happy and to provide me with companionship and love. Then she had to return to the Ivory Coast. Facing the first day I would be On My Own with both boys...well, that was facing a Dragon that filled me with despair and an overwhelming fear.

I survived. I got by. No one really knew how dark things were for me. My husband saw the most of it as he returned to a wife who was obviously stressed, angry, and full of nothing but negativity. But he couldn't fix it, couldn't save me, so he also became full of anger and despair. And he turned away--or at least, that's how it felt to me.

Meanwhile, I was still working, mothering, dealing with DramaBoy's enormous list of food sensitivities, his ongoing respiratory illnesses, The Widget's chronic eye infections; and people were praising me, calling me amazing, so strong, SuperMom, and I smiled deprecatingly and inside a voice was whispering If they only knew...

I won't go into all the sordid details. My denial over what was going on spread and grew and I started making choices that were incredibly destructive, all the while lying to myself about what I was doing and the immediate as well as potential consequences. My marriage, already troubled, began crumbling.

Finally, the lies fell apart. My marriage fell apart. I fell apart. And I couldn't hide from the truth about myself any longer.

Being more honest with my doctor and my therapist led to a diagnosis of PPD, layered on top of chronic depression. Yes, I was put on Zoloft. No, it wasn't the magic pill that "fixed" me. In fact, things got worse before they got better. A lot worse.

So what was the answer? Well, you see, there's no simple one. Zoloft, eventually, did help bring me out of the pit. Therapy was and is important. Friends and family--an incredible support system--was and is crucial. God was and is essential.

Perhaps I'm wrong. There IS a "simple" answer.

Simply? I couldn't do it alone.

I consider myself "cured" of PPD now, though not of depression. I still struggle. I still have dark times, sad times, hard times. But I no longer have that massive void inside. I no longer descend into despair. I faced that dragon, and I won. But the key was truly facing it, naming it, fighting it--and doing so with support.

I'm still learning how to mother my children the way I would like to. I have some catching up to do. What's different is that I believe I can do it, even though it's going to be damn hard along the way.


This isn't the whole story. Especially, it isn't truly the story of Why: Why, when I was at the forefront of decrying the idiocy of Tom Cruise and declaring my support of all women struggling with the darkness of PPD, I could not admit that I was struggling with it myself.

I've had a hard enough time just telling you the What. I'll have to save the Why for another day.

15 bits of love:

Todd J. List said...

Let me start by saying that not only is the content/wording on the polls on the Unite for Life site slanted, the layout is also poor. But that's an issue to take up with their web designer.

You really hit the mark on one of the issues: "that stupid obsession with seeming." It will be a glorious day when people are brought up with enough security that asking for help is neither an admission of inadequacy nor a socially stigmatized failure, but simply an expected and revered acknowledgement of being human.

Although I don't know all the details of your situation, I'm guessing that even asking for help in your condition would have been a stretch. If the societal awareness had been stronger it might have been easier.

The human brain is a complex system. Despite the many scientific advances in the last 15 years I don't think we really have a solid understanding of the effects of various medications. I'm not in favor of doctors and/or psychiatrists suddenly prescribing antidepressants willy nilly where they are unwarranted.

However, a better educated and more supportive society will go a long way toward helping the women who really do need chemical interventions get it.

Women know that they should have mammograms after a certain age. Once PPD screenings become as reliable as mammograms (I doubt that any mental health screenings are that accurate), why wouldn't society accept that as well?

I still don't know that there is a simple answer, but knowing that it's OK not to do it alone would go a long way toward helping one face the difficult questions.

Thank you for sharing your story so eloquently. I acknowledge and appreciate the courage it took to do that.

Kathleen said...

TeacherMommy ~ Thank you for being so transparent, honest, and...vulnerable to us, your faithful blog readers. I don't believe I have met True Depression, but I totally get your comments about receiving the accolades from people while deep down you're saying, "You have know idea what you're talking about..."

Meghan said...

Hey Sis,

You know I'm right there with you. Thanks for your openness. I also have struggled with depression for most of my adult life; that's why I was vigilant in the days after Ellary's birth. They were worse than I expected. I was anxious, constantly crying, wracked with guilt. Sure, I could have white-knuckled it, as I'm sure many women do, and get through it. I'm afraid, though, that I would have been much worse for wear on the other side. Emotional damage happens in life, and we're so vulnerable as we become mothers, particularly when delivery is painful (as in your case and mine).

I was feeling insecure about this the other day when talking to a friend with two toddlers and a colicky newborn. I asked her if she'd consider something like Zoloft, just for a time, for the sake of those synapses. Just keep them firing correctly until your body can do it on its own. That's what I was thinking, but she seemed to shirk the question. Not sure why, but it's easy to feel bad about it.

I hope those that read this post know that PPD is a real issue, and we're privileged enough to live in an age when there is help. Can you imagine what it must have been like for new mothers in other eras?

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Thank you for sharing this with us. It must have taken so much courage to write about such a senstive and difficult issue.

Was this the reason for the title of your blog?

Take care of yourself, you are amazing. x

Mwa said...

Thank you for sharing that. Such a brave and beautiful post.

I've been there, in that pit, and I was lucky I managed to get to it before I had children. I can't even imagine how hard it would be if you can't just hide in the duvet for a while if you need to.

Love from Belgium

sAm said...

Thank you for sharing. I'm glad you have been able to face the "dragon" and are on the path to recovery. I, too, suffer depression - the weird thing for me is that you don't really realize you're depressed - it feels normal and you just hate the feeling. Stay strong, and I hope you find the same peace in writing about this as some of us do in reading it.

your word verification was whellyto - (well you too) - as in I hope you are well, too. :)

Arby said...

Tom Cruise has the intellectual capacity of a thimble.

Amazingly honest post.

melissa said...

you are amazing.
and it shows true strength to be able to share this story with us.
thank you!

Monica said...

Thank you for this post: I'm sure there are many, many people, myself included, who can relate and who benefit from your being brave enough to write about this.

I find the hardest thing is to STOP taking care of other people at the expense of taking care of myself. That's a recipe for depression right there, and a very hard habit to break.

I'm working on it.

mom said...

I just wish I had known. But I've seen you move out of that slough of despond, and you are, indeed, becoming what you most want to be: honest, whole, healthy, and able to express the deep love in your heart. You know I'm for you all the way. And it was good to read all the supportive comments. I think people just haven't heard enough of the truth that ignorance of a danger can lead to long, unnecessary suffering. You would think, after all the issues like this that we've had to face in America (dangers of smoking, AIDS, STD's, drugs, lead poisoning etc. etc.) there would not be this kind of semi-hysterical opposition to information. Sigh. You're one of those getting out the news!

TeacherMommy said...

I've come to believe that the key difference is whether the condition is "purely" medical (as in the body itself) or has to do with mental illness. There is such a stigma attached to mental illness, such a tendency to discount such a thing as valid or even real, that the same people who can't understand why someone would refuse medical treatment for something like diabetes or AIDS will turn around and scoff at anyone seeking treatment for PPD or the like. There's an attitude that one should just straighten up and stop being "silly" and stop being weak.

Stone Fox said...

four years ago, i watched my best friend spiral into depression and hit bottom, then work like a dog to pull herself out of it. WITH therapy. WITH drugs. WITH hard work. she had twins a year and a half ago and suffered with PPD and is still working her way out of it. WITH therapy. WITH drugs. WITH PPD support groups.

having only had minor baby blues myself, i can't tell you 'i know what you're going through' because i don't know. i do know what it looks like from not-in the situation but right-next-to the situation. scary stuff, my friend. thank you for writing this post because the more women who come forward and say, 'yeah, i tried to pretend this wasn't happening to me, but it did and this is what i did about it,' the more women who will seek help before things get really bad.

i looked at the Unite For Life website, and i think before they start telling me that i better keep quiet about PPD lest a pharmaceutical rep break down my door and start shovelling anti-depressants down my throat, they ought to Unite For a Brain and give women a bit more credit than that. the overall impression i get is they believe that women are stupid and will take any medication handed to them by a doctor or pharmacist. how rude, i say.

Draft Queen said...

This post made me cry.
I know how it feels to try and pretend you are fine, struggle to be a good mom when it's all you can do to get out of bed. I remember those days all too well.

I hope you are finding your way. I hope you are getting the support you need.

Rachael said...

What an amazing, truthful, and most of all helpful post. I think a lot of women suffer from what you have gone/are going through and also feel alone. By having the guts to lay it out there you are going to reach many women and in help them connect.

Thank you so much for sharing.

merideth said...

oh man. i need to read your blog every single day, i miss so much important stuff! (hard to do in summer b/c we're outside all day. sigh)

ok, i just erased a war and peace sized comment. boiled down? childhood tragedies, broken family, troubled marriage, ppd, anxiety? idk if there was one cause or if they cumulatively contributed, but i had always had what i can only describe as a a burning ball of black aching inside. that i hid from everyone.

eventually, over about a year's time, i sat in my dr's office unable to stop crying & was prescribed effexor, told one best friend a deep dark secret and responded to God's calling my heart. idk if one thing "fixed" me or if they cumulatively worked, but i suspect the key for me was/is God.

honestly, if this hadn't all happened (or began happening, at least) before i had my 4yo? i think i might have not survived.

thank you so much for writing what you write (and the way you write-you've got some skillz :D).

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