Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I've followed a number of blogs that have addressed PPD (postpartum depression) in one way or another. To some extent, I feel that I've found companionship in these strangers, in that I know what those feelings are and they are familiar to me. It's like a sisterhood of sorts, but more subtle. It's almost like we're all part of a gigantic "You're not alone" amoeba. Anyway, I've been examining my own mental state, and I'm very happy with where it's at, which is huge for me. I realize that I've been falsely placing myself alongside sufferers of PPD, because my depression/anxiety/OCD is much more deeply rooted than something that showed up postpartum. Yes, it got worse after my son was born, but was it truly PPD? I don't think so. I almost feel jealousy toward the women with PPD, because their illness has a distinct cause and there is an end in sight. PPD doesn't last forever. It may last a few months or years, but it does end. (If this is an incorrect statement, please comment and let me know.) In my case, the cause is genetic and possibly also epigenetic. For me, there is no end in sight. If I stop taking my meds tomorrow, by Sunday I will be a complete wreck, and probably have horrifying visions in which I slap my child or beat my dogs. I will become short tempered, and I will have to physically remove myself from frustrating situations before I do actually become violent to my loved ones. I will not be able to suppress the panic attack when I accidentally grab the caterpillar on my spinach plant. I can always hope that someday normal will not be maintained by taking one and one-half small blue pills every day. At this point, I've pretty well accepted that I will be on Zoloft indefinitely. I would be thrilled to be able to wean back down to 25 or even 50 milligrams, but I'm still far under a hefty dose and I try to content myself with that knowledge. I can hope that someday I will not need medications to stabilize the serotonin levels in my brain so that I can be a rational and functioning person, but I also realize that placing too much desperation on that hope is a silly and unrealistic expectation.

Do I wish I had PPD? No. If someone gave me the chance to trade my mental health problems for PPD, would I take it? In a heartbeat.

I think part of this is that a support system for PPD is developing all over the country, both in "real" life and in the blogosphere. Don't get me wrong, this is fantastic. But what about those of us whose depression is not PPD? Those of us that are looked at funny like it's "all in your head" if you mention it in a gathering of friends? It seems that when a woman mentions she has PPD, fellow sufferers come out of the woodwork to embrace her and support her in her struggles, offering sympathy, empathy, and the knowledge that she is not alone. When someone mentions that they have depression, an image of an attention starved artist type, or a person involved in a shooting, comes to mind and everyone steps back, emotionally speaking. It's almost like only really, truly crazy people are depressed, and anyone else doesn't actually have it. Depression is called the "common cold" of mental illness, and is so often treated as such- something not really worthy of paying attention to anything, because it will just go away on it's own. I know that for some people that's true; people who become depressed after the loss of a loved one or a job. Situational depression is a real thing; but what about those of us with depression that doesn't go away? Those of us who deal with it week in and week out, treading water indefinitely in the oceans of our minds.

I've just been mulling this over a lot, as one of my coworkers is going through some situational depression of her own. Watching her struggle with the stereotype she's so afraid to become has made me aware of how the world sees people like me; it's been a sobering experience. This coworker is a friend, and someone with whom I share camaraderie, but our struggles are definitely very different. Hers will smooth itself out and go away; mine will stay, lurking under the surface, possibly until I die. I am so grateful that I have the option of being a normal person again, but it's still hard, knowing what lies underneath. All the meds do is allow me better control of my anxieties, and allow me to be a bit more apathetic toward my compulsions. I no longer have to get up 4-6 times a night to check that I turned on the alarm or that I locked the front door or turned off all the lights. I usually don't have to stop what I'm doing to clean off my desk (or clean the closet, or reorganize my dresser, etc) because if I don't do it right now, some dark and ominous force is going to make me have a panic attack. I no longer sit in a fetal position trying to breathe through the overwhelming desire to flee from an unseen terror.

I am grateful for my relative stability of mind. I wish I knew that there would be a time in the not-too-distant future when my mind would stabilize itself and I would no longer need the help.

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