There's a philosophical question for you.
I have been going through a tough time with my depression ever since I found out I was pregnant. At first I just thought it was because I was feeling so lousy, nauseated all the time, and just tired with the first trimester of pregnancy. But aside from the sickness, I was feeling so emotionally withdrawn.
It's hard to describe depression to someone who's never been clinically depressed. We’ve all had bad times in our lives when we’ve felt very sad or unmotivated or melancholy. But this is something very different. It permeates you to the core so that you become immobilized by it. I was reading some church talks on depression and found this very accurate description:
Depression is not just ordinary discouragement. But at one time or another, almost everyone has a small taste of what depression is like. After a major loss, such as the death of a loved one, you may temporarily lose your appetite, have difficulty sleeping, and find it hard to anticipate anything good happening in the future. This is a normal reaction to grief, and after a short time, you return to normal life.
But if these symptoms continue relentlessly week after week, the normal grief reaction may become clinical depression. If you are depressed, life seems flat and joyless, and its ordinary demands seem overwhelming. You may feel unable to get out of bed. You may even wish you could die rather than continue on in such misery. If you are like many people, you feel guilty for your inability to “snap out of it,” and so you try to wait it out rather than seek professional help.
Flat and joyless, that describes my life perfectly when I am battling depression. I find myself constantly asking, "This is it? How am I going to 'endure to the end' for another 50 or 60 years? Nothing gives me joy, there's nothing to look forward to in life." It's irrational, but accurate. I find myself secretly envying those who die because they don't have to do this mortality thing anymore. Fortunately, I still have enough good sense and knowledge of the Plan of Salvation to know that suicide is never an option.
I have been taking an anti-depressant since 2000, but I've had depression for many years. I certainly could have benefited from some drugs (the safe kind) back in high school, but I guess depression just wasn't as widely researched back then and still carried a strong stigma with it. I don't ever remember a doctor even asking me about it, even after some pretty traumatic events that resulted from my destructive lifestyle at the time. I remember this girl in high school who's mom had manic depression and it seemed so bizarre, so "out there", like she was a total freak. But our society has come a long way in understanding or at least accepting the physiological nature of depression, that it's a biological problem more than a character flaw.
I often think about how blessed I am to be married to Dan specifically because of his understanding and support about my treatment for depression. Not only does he have the scientific knowledge of depression, but he has also seen first-hand, from the time he was a little child, the effects of depression. And he knows that the meds work and that they are beneficial. When I started taking anti-depressants, I used them for about a year or so, then went off them during my pregnancy with Lily (not because they're unsafe, but because I was feeling pretty good and didn't think I needed them.) Then when she was about eight months old, I went through a bad time and Dan pointed out that he had watched the same cycle throughout our marriage, that I would fight and try to be positive for six or eight months, then I'd have a drawn out episode of depression that lasted for a couple months. It really caught my attention to hear him say there was a pattern to my behavior. I thought back, even to when I was in high school and college, and I realized that his assessment was quite accurate.
I was still feeling a little bit like I was weak for needing to take anti-depressants, that now that I was aware of my tendency for getting depressed, I should be able to combat it on my own with behavior modification, attitude adjustment, and lots of prayer. I worked with a counselor for 8 or 9 months and learned so much about my thought processes and emotional tendencies. But even with this knowledge, I still couldn't conquer the beast. I went on and off the meds two more times while Lily was a toddler. After hearing Dan tell me over and over that taking meds wasn't a sign of weakness, it was the same as a diabetic taking their insulin, I started accepting that for me, taking an anti-depressant wasn't a temporary solution to help me kick-start my system. It was something that my brain chemistry required regularly to stay balanced. I was a lifer.
So for the past 3 or 4 years I've been steadily taking 20mg of Prozac everyday and for the most part it has kept me pretty balanced. You may recall that I went through a rough spot when Amelia wasn't sleeping through the night. My doctor prescribed a higher dosage of Prozac, but as soon as we got Amelia sleeping and I was getting some decent rest, I felt SO much better that I just went back to the 20mg dose.
It's been frustrating for me over the last two months that my regular dosage just wasn't cutting it. I kept telling myself that I'd feel better once I wasn't sick anymore. Or maybe the depression had nothing to do with the pregnancy, rather it was a result of the other major life change I've been experiencing in cutting back on work and becoming a full-time mom. I thought, "once I feel better, I'll be doing more work, album design and such, so maybe that will make me feel better." Or I thought, "if I could just go on a vacation without kids for a few days, that might rejuvenate me." I found myself withdrawing from people in general, not wanting to talk or visit like I used to. I was royally annoyed by my children most of the time and I found myself yelling at them a lot, being snappy and not really caring if I hurt their feelings. I just wanted to be left alone. I talked to Dan about it a few times and I tried to force myself to get out of the house and go to the park or the pool with friends, but it did nothing to improve my mood. After the morning (hah! I mean all day and night) sickness subsided at about 12 weeks, I still found myself barely able to tolerate the idea of doing the dishes or washing a load of clothes or picking up toys and other clutter, again. I still didn't want to be around anyone and I couldn't find anything that brought me any joy.
When I realized that I was detached from and apathetic towards my children, I realized that I really needed to do something. I kept having visions of Ashley Judd in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and I knew I could never, ever let myself get like that. I'd been thinking about having my doctor up my dosage on the Prozac for about a month, but I kept procrastinating, thinking that something would change very soon that would pull me out of the depression and I didn't want to take more medicine than was necessary. But nothing changed, and I was starting to be a nasty mom, so I decided to have my doc increase my dosage to 40mg. Part of me still wanted to wait because I knew that we had a vacation coming up and that I had a bunch of album design to do after the vacation, and perhaps those factors could improve my mental state. But a couple nights before my OB appt, I stood in the kitchen listening to one of my favorite CD's of inspirational music, The Sum of All Grace by my friend Mindy Gledhill, and I just bawled my eyes out because my soul was hurting. I was tired of feeling miserable everyday. I decided right then that if I could fix the way I was feeling, it didn't really matter if it was the meds, or the vacation, or getting back to work a little. I just wanted to feel better.
I've been taking the higher dosage for a week now and I am feeling so much better. Praise the Lord! The biggest manifestation of the improvement is that I am more patient with the girls and I'm more willing to do things with them. I'm able to take a breath and evaluate my response a little when I'm about to fly off the handle. And I am finally feeling some kind of emotional attachment to this baby growing inside of me. Holding my sister's newborn Emma probably didn't hurt either!
I will be posting pics from the vacation and other recent stuff in the next couple of days. My blog has definitely suffered in the last 2 months, so let us shout out a big "Amen" and Hallelujah" for the miracles of modern medicine.
P.S. Check out Mindy's other album Feather in the Wind on her website. It's not religious like the other CD, but it's full of inspirational stuff, about finding yourself and being satisfied with who you are.