I feel like just uttering these words induces eye rolls and scoffs.
If it's something you struggle with, you must be weak.
You don't need medication, you just need an attitude adjustment.
If you were spiritually healthy, it wouldn't be a problem.
If you pray more, connect with God more, read your Bible more. . . You'll be fine.
Therapy is for sissies, I can talk to my friends about my problems.
She's so out of whack, I hope she's on medication.
He goes to group therapy for ____! What a sissy!
Where did this stigma come from?
When did it become a sign of strength to "deal with it on your own" ?
As science progresses, we learn more and more about how our brains work. How our minds work. How the way they work can be affected.
I experienced this firsthand while breastfeeding my second child. Most people know that breast feeding produces "feel good" reactions in the brain. Bonding, happiness, all that good stuff. Something else can happen, it's called:
Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex
D-MER for short. Basically, it's caused when dopamine levels crash at the beginning of breast milk let down.
The best way I can describe it is this:
Imagine every negative feeling you have ever felt: Sadness, anxiety, loneliness, embarrassment, panic, fear. . .
I would feel all of those in a sudden wave, then my milk let down would occur. In fact, in the beginning days of breast feeding when your milk supply hasn't quite adjusted to your newborns needs, it was the tell tale way I could know if I was about to have a let down when I wasn't actually nursing my baby. I would feel that wave of negative feelings hit me like a wall, then taper off as the milk began to flow.
It made it difficult to pick up my son and nurse him. Partly because he was tongue tied and this made his latch incredibly painful already, but every time he would begin to suck and trigger a let down that wall of emotions would hit me.
And so, I learned how emotions can be fabricated in the brain. How things being out of balance can cause feelings for no apparent reason.
I learned that while it is normal to feel negative emotions from time to time, they can become overwhelming and unmanageable. And it might be something you have little to no control over.
Thankfully I was able to treat my D-MER with vitamins, supplements, and some lifestyle changes. Sometimes it still happens, but no where near as bad as when my milk first came in.
However, another problem crept up on me which I had hoped to ward off. I had hoped to ward it off because I dealt with it before.
The reason I know I had it after the birth of my first child is because I remember how horrible I felt. I also remember lying on the questionnaire at my doctors office during my postpartum check ups. Why did I lie? Because at the time I was still very religious. I still believed that secular "medicine" was no cure for spiritual problems. I was afraid that accepting secular help would be dangerous and compromise my spiritual well being. I figured I could deal with it on my own.
And I did. I dealt with it on my own. As an immature, naive, young wife and mother it was a truly horrible experience. Being married to an equally naive, immature, young man did not make it any easier. Not only were we both broken young adults with a severe lack of healthy relationship skills trying to find our way into parenthood but we had this big ugly issue that neither of us knew how to deal with. My postpartum depression.
So many ugly things happened between us that year. Our lives completely fell apart.
I am responsible for my actions and he is responsible for his- together we made such a mess of our lives that we very nearly parted ways and signed divorce papers.
We went to counseling, but in my self righteousness and fear of all things secular, I refused to go to a recommended therapist and instead we went to see a religious counselor. It was a nightmare and completely unhelpful. Absolutely the worst waste of money we have ever spent.
Somehow, someway, we grew and learned together. It took me 2 years to feel mostly normal and able to feel happiness again, to function as a normal human being.
Fast forward to 2013. I'm due with my second child. I've been faithful in maintaining good health and doing everything I can to make sure I fight off postpartum depression.
This time when questioned, I admitted that I had dealt with it before. I told the medical staff that I was hoping to prevent it through exercise and maintaining good health. They were supportive and kind.
After my son was born I talked to a social worker. We devised a plan with my husband of what to do should I begin to struggle. We talked about my high anxiety during my pregnancy and how that could carry over into postpartum anxiety.
It was all fine and dandy, the only thing I didn't realize is that unrelated stress can trigger postpartum depression. Being already at risk, all that was needed was a push in the right direction and I found myself tumbling down. . . down. . . down.
To a dark ugly place. A place I've been before, but I was too immature, young, and naive to realize it's not good or normal to be in that place- that it's OK to talk about it- and to ask for help.
In this deep dark place I feel all sorts of horrible things. That I am worthless. That no one loves me. That I am alone. That I am damaged and unlovable. That I am a bad person. I'm nothing but a giant fuck up. Everyone would be better off without me. Life is too painful. I don't want to keep going.
This time I knew better. I knew prayer wasn't going to save me. I knew reading my bible wasn't going to save me. I knew I needed help. But I was still so scared. So I carefully shared these feelings with people I was close with.
One of my dear friends immediately recommended that I contact my OB. Even though these feelings were seemingly triggered by unrelated stress, there were still symptoms of postpartum depression.
Well my friend was right. A trip to my OB and a recommended therapist confirmed it, I would be battling postpartum depression all over again. You see, outside stress (be it financial, relationship, work) can indeed trigger postpartum depression.
It's been 4 months now since I began therapy to improve my mental health. A combined effort of medication and talk therapy- two of the things I had once thought were useless and for sissies.
Talk therapy I was convinced wouldn't work. We'd tried it before and it was useless. I was even more afraid of trying medication. Before starting it, I determined to wake up early every morning and work out for an hour to see if exercise could do it's job of statistically treating depression as well as medication.
Needless to say I found myself desperate enough to actually try both.
I cannot speak enough of how much it has helped me to seek treatment. In 4 months I have made more progress than I did in 2 years battling these issues out on my own. I could not be more grateful for the support of my dear friends, my spouse, my OB, and my therapist.
I'm also thankful for my experience with D-MER. Because that was really what convinced me first hand how hormone imbalance can create- or magnify- feelings to be overwhelming. I witnessed first hand how my brain could create feelings completely outside of my control. With this knowledge I was able to forgive myself for "not being strong enough" to deal with my problems on my own. I was able to see how biological mental health can be.
And now I'm brave enough to share my story because I hope it might change your perspective. In closing, I would like to add a video that I found extremely helpful in allowing myself to seek treatment for mental health. I hope it benefits you in your own mental health or in awareness of your loved one's mental health:
In part two I hope to write about my husband's experience with PTSD and then both of our experiences in supporting a spouse as they suffer with a mental health issue. If you know someone who is struggling with any of these issues, please give them a hug from me.