My Story of Motherhood & High Functioning Major Depression
Now this is a story all about how
My life got flipped turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there
I’ll tell you how I became a mom with depression right here.
OK, so I’m no Fresh Prince, but I’ve told my story in person a few times, and for some reason that line from the 90s rolls around in my head every time I do so.
Let me introduce myself. I’m a 34 year old writer, mom to one 3-and-a-half year old boy (half is important when you’re three), a reader and a wife. On paper, my life is good. I’m self-employed, with lots of time to spend with my little boy. I’m happily married, and we live in a nice house in a good neighbourhood. We have enough to eat, clothes to wear and we do fun things together. We even travel!
And I was just diagnosed with major depression.
Now, I’m a born researcher, and I’ve been looking and looking for a story that looks like mine, but I don’t know whether I’m looking right, because I can’t find one.
I read a lot about postpartum depression, about being diagnosed with depression before becoming a mom, about feeling down and depressed when you have kids.
But I’m not finding the stories of high functioning moms who pack lunches, work, take care of their kid(s), and feel so bad, and so sad that everything they do takes all the effort of will they have. Hey, maybe they just don’t have the energy to write. I get it. I’m that mom.
I’ll backtrack: I had a… messy childhood. Parental emotional and physical abuse, divorce, several emigrations, sibling drug abuse— you name it, we had it. Yeah, it could have been worse, I am always well aware of that. But one thing I’m learning is that life is not a competition about who has experienced worse things. Sometimes things are bad, and it sucks.
And no matter where on the scale of shit your shitty lies, it can affect you.
Anyway, I came out of all of that relatively unscathed. OK, I have a bit of an emotional eating problem, but generally my 20s were pretty cool. I felt good. I got a degree, I even got a postgrad. I fell in love, got married (something I never expected to do, given my family history of marriage). I was happy. Genuinely happy.
And then when I was 29 years old (just a few weeks before my 30th birthday) I fell pregnant. Now that I know more, my reaction to pregnancy should have been the warning bell clanging in my ears. But instead of taking my extreme anxiety and neuroses about pregnancy and seeing a doctor, I buried it and ignored it. Right up until I had my sweet boy, and my eyes started leaking and wouldn’t stop for what felt like months.
My family expressed concern. The nurse I took my son to for weigh-ins and vaccinations expressed concern. But I was (and still am) extremely stubborn. And unfortunately, very high functioning. I took what medications were offered, I took as many anti-anxiety herbal supplements as I could afford, and I carried on.
You see, there was never a time when I crawled into bed and stayed there for days or weeks (although there were definitely hours, really bad hours). There was never a time when I couldn’t pull it together most nights to make dinner, put my son to bed and tidy the kitchen after he went to sleep. Sure, there were days and nights when I felt bad, but I thought that was just the way of things with a small child. Yes, there were weeks I didn’t think I’d ever feel good again. But I didn’t know that there was any other way to feel. So I just got on with things.
I did end up quitting my full time job. After a year of trying to balance a full time job and a child, the stress of being off work frequently to be with my son when he (inevitably) got sick, feeling so exhausted I couldn’t see straight, and having to be with people all day even when I felt horrendous was more than I could take. That helped. In the beginning. I even had time to start seeing a psychologist! Things would surely start to feel better soon.
Throughout these years my health deteriorated. I know now that my health was at its peak in my late 20s. I was young, I had learned how my body worked for the most part, and I was learning how to take care of it. Pregnancy ravaged me (and it was mostly pretty easy!), but early motherhood broke me.
My son is a darling, sweet child. He is the very best person I know. But he has always been an incredibly shitty sleeper. He didn’t sleep through the night regularly until he was about 3 years old. For at least the first 6 months, he woke at max every 2 hours (sometimes more often). He didn’t nap properly until after he turned 1. That’s more than 3 years of broken sleep (pregnancy insomnia is a real thing) for whoever’s counting. But the problem was that the insomnia I had struggled with off and on throughout my teens and 20s became a huge burden. Even when my son slept through the night, I would wake up every 45 minutes or so. In case you’re wondering, it’s the worst.
I saw my GP. I started taking medication to stay asleep. It helped, but over two years or so, wore off. By two weeks ago, my daily supplements (all aimed at reducing anxiety and helping my insomnia) were close to 10 pills a day. Sure, most of them were herbal (and who knows if they were working). But it was a lot.
Throughout all this, I had been going to therapy for a little over a year. I went from weekly sessions to bi-monthly. I thought I was getting a handle on the things in my head that were holding me back.
And then I fell apart.
It all sort of coalesced. I had to switch sleeping meds, because mine weren’t working. So I got tireder and tireder. My consistent fatigue and low mood just got worse the less I slept. The sleeping pills made me feel foggy and exhausted all the time. And then suddenly, it was like the thing in your head that prevents you from crying all the time was just gone. My coping filters and mechanisms were suddenly ripped out from underneath me, and I sobbed for two days like my heart and mind were going to break.
And so it was that I saw a psychiatrist for the first time yesterday. I had one hour to tell her my potted history, to her to give her the context for my state of mind. In a tremendously affirming way, she confirmed that what I was feeling was not just the way people feel. That I had suffered a lot, and the fact that I had coped so well was amazing. And that I should start a course of medication to give myself the chance at experiencing what life is like without crippling anxiety and depression.
For context, major depression is diagnosed when certain symptoms are present for a period of two or more weeks. Mine have been present to a greater or lesser degree for closer to four years, and to a slightly lesser degree for the better part of my life since I was a teenager.
I tell this story not to garner praise, pity, concern or comments, but simply to share. If one person reads this and realises that what they are feeling is similar and they are prompted to get help, that will be enough. Hell, just writing it all out is cathartic, so I’ll take that, if it’s all I get. And I’m publishing it here, rather than on my own blog, in the hope that someone who needs to see it does.
You read a lot about asking for help when you feel depressed, but one of the problems I’ve found is that it’s extremely hard to know when you are feeling depressed when that’s just how you feel. There are no ups and downs, just the odd glimmer of happy feelings that drain away almost immediately. And you’re left wondering why you can’t feel properly. But when you’re a mom and you have other people to look after and work to do, you just wade through the quicksand of life and keep going. It’s hard to find the time to get the help you need and deserve. Take it from me, it took me falling apart to know that I needed help.
One of the best things I have ever done for myself was get into therapy. But the next best thing is starting medication. Sure, I’ve taken one dose (and, of course, last night my son was up half the night so I feel like actual hell this morning).
But for the first time in years, I feel hopeful.
I will continue to work through my history and my reactions to it in therapy. I will continue to research and learn new ways to cope. But my hope is that my medication will lift me out of the pit of despair I’ve been in, and allow me to see the light of day. I hope that by feeling normal, I can learn what normal people learn. To cope with the daily stressors of life without feeling completely overwhelmed. Well, here’s hoping.