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The Short Story

The older I get, the more I realize how common hormone-induced depression and anxiety are in women my age. It is something seemingly everyone is affected by, but very few are talking about. While prescription medications are at an all time high and largely working for many people, I found that they were not ideal for me. This is why I continue to be on a quest to treat my mental and emotional health with as many natural solutions as possible.

The Long Story

I have been medically treated for depression exactly three times in my life. Six months after my first daughter was born, I finally sought help for demonic psychosis what was ultimately diagnosed as postpartum depression. I was prescribed Celexa over the phone and took it until Eliott was a year old.

Three years later my second daughter was born. My doctor thought it best to preemptively strike against a recurrence of postpartum depression, and put me on a low dose of Zoloft. I’m guessing it was effective; I never experienced any depression symptoms.

My third child was a very large, very chill, and very sleepy baby boy. Though my husband claims I still had a mild amount of hormonal lows, I was not even close to thinking I was, again, at a point of needing medication, and remember that first year of my son’s life as relatively peaceful.

Then, I got pregnant with my final child, another girl. Long before we even knew her gender, I was becoming that raging version of myself who couldn’t get the house clean enough, couldn’t love any of my offspring even a little bit, and wanted to take out all of my (nonsensical) fear and aggression on the only other adult presence in my life, which was my innocent husband. This time, the diagnosis was “prenatal depression” and I was once again put on a very low dose of Zoloft.

Telling people I was treated for postpartum depression has become easy. In fact, I realize more and more just how common it is. But somehow, admitting I continue to suffer from extreme mood swings related to PMS is a lot harder.

I would guess that the ratio of women suffering like me, to those admitting it in public, is low. And it makes sense. I know I certainly don’t want to be the suburban, stay-at-home, minivan-driving, housekeeper-employing, mother-of-four-planned-children who admits to having full blown breakdowns (even now, a few times a year) for reasons that seem beyond my control. I am a healthy person. I eat well and take care of my body. I am confident and secure in my spiritual faith. My personal relationships, family support, and marriage are unusually good compared to many others.

It’s embarrassing to have the life I have, with all of its relative freedom from basic hardship, and yet have full days of mental and physical debilitation that render me mostly useless, angry, and ashamed.

Depression, Anxiety, and Hormones

What kind of symptoms am I talking about here? Mine have included in a range of severity, the following: anger, rage, uncontrollable desire to have my house or my space suddenly spotless, insecurity, panic attacks complete with what could be described as having a mild heart attack, lack of libido, hot sweats, sugar cravings, lack of appetite and extreme weight loss (also weird because I’m already quite thin), lack of desire to do fun things, inability to laugh at actual funny things, lack of desire to make other people laugh (which is kind of my MO), general negativity, migraines, inability to sleep, exhaustion, general lack of energy, hair-trigger temper, impatience (which is especially weird for me), forgetfulness, inability to focus or to feel like I can get my shit together on an average day, lots of yelling and cursing to get my point across, crying for seemingly valid but actually kind of embarrassing reasons, feelings like no one understands me, feeling like no one is listening to me, feeling like no one can possibly understand how I’m feeling.

While I know this isn’t true for all 40 million adults in the US who are currently being treated for some form of an anxiety disorder, I can say for myself that hormones are the driving cause of all these problems. In the last decade, my very worst symptoms of depression and/or anxiety were most prevalent while I was on birth control, pregnant, nursing, ovulating, or about to start my period. (That’s right, if you do the math, in the last 10 years I’ve had about 600 good days.)

Something had to give.

Treating Depression and Anxiety with Medication

I didn’t really understand the full scope of chemical/hormonal imbalance until I experienced it personally. I admit I was always one of those glass-is-half-full people who looked at depression as a sign of weakness, hidden skeletons, or laziness.

I couldn’t really have been more wrong.

Maybe this is why it is difficult to admit it now affects me.

I’m not one of those people who is against modern medicine as a general rule. I vaccinate my kids, I take Excedrin for headaches, and have been known to pop Benadryl as a sleep aid. Also, I have been in very close communication with my current doctor about the full spectrum of my mental and physical health.

But here’s the thing: I did not like being on antidepressants.

Don’t get me wrong, when things were at the absolute worst, the side-effects of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRi’s) were preferable to the lack of control I felt without them, and so I considered the drugs to be a necessary short-term solution. It was truly one of those times when the rewards outweighed the side-effects.

But the list of negative side-effects I experienced while taking an SSRI is long. I had no emotions. I remember watching a class full of high school freshman blatantly disrespect me and each other and experienced exactly zero desire to stop them. (In fact, I remember telling them this, and verbalizing how strange it was that I did not couldn’t even make myself care.) I was devoid of normal human emotional response, something that is typically heightened with pregnancy and childbirth. I would say that I missed having hearty belly laughs and tears when appropriate, but another side-effect of the drugs is that I was aware they were gone and I didn’t care. Some of you will appreciate that I had turned off Dexter after the baby/blood season 4 finale, but was later able to restart and finish out the entire series while I was on Zoloft.

Because nothing bothered me. At all.

I didn’t like the bland taste of food. I know many women who hate antidepressants because of weight gain. I was the opposite. I was never hungry, and when I logically knew it was time to eat, nothing sounded good. I put extra salt on everything and was forever apologizing that dinner tasted so bland. (John thought I was crazy.)

I didn’t like restless leg syndrome nor my sudden inability to fall asleep. This is actually the reason I discovered magnesium supplements and am thankful for that, but being exhausted and not being able to sleep might be the most torturous feeling in the universe.

Why I’m Talking About All This, Now

I cannot even count the number of times I’ve connected with both friends and strangers over these mutual feelings of helplessness and the desire to “feel better” without medication. Most of us are between the ages of 25 and 50. Most of us remember a time when we felt good. And all of us just want to feel good again.

I simply cannot fathom that living like this is a new normal that I’m just supposed to accept. Even if I could live like this, it isn’t fair to my husband and children. I hope other women (especially moms) won’t accept it either.

So this entire post comes across a little abruptly, despite the length, and I realize to some friends and family who regularly follow my blog, much of it might be cause for alarm.

Do not be alarmed.

The truth is, things are good.

I have made some habit changes that are noticeably making a difference in how I feel, day-to-day, and month-to-month. Some are no big deal. Others require a little effort. But all of them are well worth how much better I’m feeling. If you are interested to see what I do, you can read all about it here.

For the Mamas of Little Ones

Truth: It took my body a full two years after pregnancy (because I was nursing?) to start really feeling normal again, and getting there has been a slow but steady process.

Truth: Having small kids at home is exhausting, even with balanced hormones. Daily stress for the mother of young kids is no joke. This is true for stay-at-home moms. This is true for working moms. This is true for single moms. This is true for moms who married Superman.

Truth: I am with you. It is difficult to admit that something I outweigh by more than 100 pounds and outsmart by more than 23 years is getting the better of me. Regularly. Times four.

If you are stuck in toddler-land, or colic-land, or the land where sleep simply doesn’t exist for anyone, than hear me say this: I enjoy my children more and more as they get older. Ignoring for a moment the fact that all of my spawn are genetic clones of John and me, I believe these young-years are difficult, largely, because we’re doing things right. And I believe that what I’m doing now, is going to make the teenage years preferable to the toddler years, despite what the majority of the population wants to tell me.

I also believe I deserve to feel good and to be able to offer my family my best.

And so I’m working on it. Healthy habits for myself, healthy communication with my spouse and kids, and now, sharing a few of the things that are working for me with you.

Join the Discussion

Please comment below. Please share this post with those who might need it. Please keep up the dialogue with those who love you. Talking leads to action. If you know me in real life, contact me. I’m wide open.

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The “D” Word

One thought on “The “D” Word

  • I’m not an infant-phase lover. I think breastfeeding is more of a nuisance than an emotional, bonding experience. I can’t wait for my son to be able to sit up on his own so I don’t have to hold him. All. Day. Long. I love my kids, but I also love watching them become more independent. Parenting is hard, and marriage is hard, and I think it’s very freeing to admit when you feel like you’re not in control of how you feel. Thank you for your openness.

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