My journey with depression and anxiety started my sophomore year of high school.
Looking back on it now, I can see all the signs of cyclic depression (commonly known as recurrent depression), even though I had no idea what was going on at the time. I’d down-cycle into loneliness, numbness, and emptiness. My world would come crashing down for months at a time. And then, the fog would lift, and I would be back to my normal self for a while. These cycles started rather mild and slowly gained depth throughout the rest of high school and into college.
By my freshman year of college, anxiety was starting to rear its head with the depression. I’m naturally an introspective person. I tend to internalize events and see everything as my fault. For me, internalizing plus anxiety proved to be completely unmanageable. Sleeping became non-existent, an eating disorder that I had mostly gotten over returned, and I was having multiple anxiety attacks a day.
If you have never had an anxiety attack before, imagine this: all of the sudden, your breathing stops. Every muscle in your body tenses to the point of pain, and your brain is completely washed over in fear. Most of it is irrational fear but in the middle of an anxiety attack nothing seems irrational or rational. All there is is fear. You are overcome with the need to hide, to get out, to escape, but the fear is crippling. You can’t breathe, you can’t move, and you feel like you are slowly drowning in anxiety, fear, guilt, shame, and panic.
There’s no determined length of time for an anxiety attack. Occasionally, they would last anywhere up to ten minutes for me. Around this time, I was required to take a general psychology class for my major, and we started learning about depression and anxiety. I remember sitting in my dorm room memorizing a list of symptoms for general anxiety disorder (aka GAD) and realizing that I wasn’t just experiencing stress. There must have been something more going on.
At the time, realizing there was a problem and seeking help from friends was enough to break the cycle. I had cut myself off from most of my friends through the stormy seas of depression and anxiety, and it was hard forcing myself out and back into society. In that season of my life, just making myself go out worked. I also introduced running back to my daily life. Exercise produces endorphins which naturally combat depression and anxiety. Between community and exercise, I was able to mostly resume normal life.
Fast forward a bit to October of 2015. My husband, Chris, and I had gotten married in July of 2015, and we were adjusting to married life well and learning how to fully do life together. I still had an anxiety attack or two every few months and occasionally would experience some mild depression. But I was hopeful of the future and loving the stage of life I was in. I worked full time while Chris finished up school. The plan was to move to either New York City or Philadelphia so I could go to art school and Chris would find a job. I was training for a half marathon I was going to run in December and had recently decided to try eating paleo on a random health kick. Kiddos were at least five years in the future.
And then I noticed I couldn’t breathe on my run. Something was either wrong, or I was pregnant. After taking four different pregnancy tests, including one in a doctor’s’ office, I couldn’t deny our plan was about to change.
Sitting on the curb outside of the doctor’s office, I called Chris and proceeded into a full on panic attack. The breathing stopped, the muscles tensed, and I remember thinking over and over, “What in the world do we do?” It was fear beyond what I had ever experienced. How in the world do I take care of a child at only 22? What about my dreams of going to art school? What if I’m not a good mother? How were we going to afford it?
After a few weeks the shock began to wear off. I was starting to be excited. After all, I had always wanted kids and I love babies, I just didn’t plan for them this early. I was blessed to find an amazing OBGYN. She made me feel at ease at every appointment and let me ask my millions of questions every time. Around halfway through the pregnancy, she brought up the subject of depression. We decided together that it was probably a good idea to go ahead and start an antidepressant so that it would be fully effective by the time I had my baby. I am so glad she suggested this.
As someone who already struggled with depression, my risk of dealing with postpartum depression was high. If I had not started on medication, I am sure that I would have fallen deep into depression after I had my baby.
However, the medication did not seem to treat my anxiety. While I was not experiencing any depression, I had major postpartum anxiety. I had never heard of it before. I thought it was just my normal anxiety was deciding to come back at an inconvenient time. Fears of something happening to my baby consumed me even when I knew he was perfectly safe. I was terrified to leave whatever room he was in. I checked that he was still breathing constantly, day and night. If it took more than two minutes to calm him down anytime he cried, I crumbled. And I constantly felt guilty and shameful that I couldn’t even handle my own precious baby by myself.
After months of trying to hide all of my fears and anxiety from those around me, a friend confided in me about her postpartum anxiety. She told me how she felt like she was going crazy. How she regularly had completely irrational fears that paralyzed her. And she told me about the research she had been doing about postpartum anxiety. I finally felt like I wasn’t going crazy, like I wasn’t alone.
To realize what I was dealing with, I began researching on my own. I also stopped hiding. I let my husband into all of the irrational fears I was having, confiding in him and letting him speak truth into me. We chose a few friends to let in as well and we slowly began to work our way out of the pit. We researched coping mechanisms and Chris helped me remember to try them as the panic and fear would start creeping up. Some of them worked, some didn’t. We just worked through what we found and hoped some would help.
Even now, over a year after giving birth, I still struggle some with postpartum anxiety. The other day I went into a panic attack after watching a movie where a little boy’s parents die and he was left on his own. I was suddenly paralyzed by the fear of what would happen to our little man if Chris and I were to die. My point is that postpartum anxiety can be a long road. While I am doing far better than I was, this illness is still with me.
Anxiety and depression, whether on their own, or postpartum, look differently for every single person. If you are struggling with them or someone you know is, please seek help. Help can come in many different forms. For me, treatment was changed depending on my life stage. In high school, community was what I needed. In college, counseling and community pulled me out. Through pregnancy and postpartum, medication, coping mechanisms, and community got me through. Please pursue treatment specific to you and what works with your symptoms.
If you think you may be struggling with depression or anxiety, check out these two resources.
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Hey there! My name is Rachel and I’m a 23 year old wife and mother. I’m decidedly in favor of DIY projects and decidedly against mom-shaming. This blog is my place to take a stand against superiority and to share ways to thrive in motherhood. My hope is that you leave this site feeling validated and encouraged in your mom-bilities.
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