Monday, May 16, 2016

Let's Talk Mental Health

It's been awhile...I know. But living life gets in the way of actually blogging about it. However, I saw that May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I felt compelled to talk. Really - to share my story about my own mental health struggles.

They say that having a baby changes you. I felt that way with Isaac, for sure. But having Elliot? Well...having Elliot changed me completely. And for the first 3 years of his life, the only way I could describe it was "losing myself."

As some of you know, I was induced because of preeclampsia at 32 weeks. As a clinical dietitian, I was working in the NICU at Children's Hospital at the time and there we see the sickest of the sick. Elliot was healthy but he still had to stay in the hospital for 2 weeks after I was discharged. When I wasn't at the hospital, I was crying and/or pumping. I would wake the 45 minutes to the hospital to get there for the 9am feeding and stay until the 6pm feeding. Usually forgetting to eat lunch. Then I would drive home - where the crying would commence. It was nonstop. And I felt so stupid because I knew he was ok. I knew so many other moms who had lost their babies through miscarriage, stillbirth, or illness. My baby was perfectly fine and I was being dramatic. I was embarrassed to tell other people how I felt.

I kept telling myself that I would feel better when Elliot came home. But that time came and nothing changed. I found myself unsatisfied. Things didn't feel right. I was still supposed to be pregnant. I got cheated out of those last weeks of pregnancy. I never got to take the maternity pics like I wanted. I didn't get to be in the postpartum unit with him while friends and family visited. I wanted to be pregnant again. I wanted a "do over" - a chance to "get things right." I loved Elliot and I didn't have ill feelings towards him so I figured it was just "baby blues." I found myself not sleeping...just lying there waiting for him to wake up again. This was happening around the clock. I wasn't there emotionally or mentally for anyone. The crying wasn't as bad as before but the negative feelings of feeling cheated wouldn't go away. And as I found out news of friends and family members getting pregnant, I was so jealous. I wanted to be pregnant again.

When I went in for my 6 week checkup, my OB did a great job of screening me for postpartum depression (unlike my last OB who simply said "you don't want to throw your  baby out the window or anything do you?" and then laughed). This OB (Dr. Dutreil) told me "At this point, your baby blues should be turning the corner...if they're not, we may be looking at postpartum depression here." I cried. And told him that I didn't feel right. That I was supposed to be pregnant still and that it wasn't fair. He put me on Zoloft, which I took for 18 months.

The Zoloft helped - well, the crying stopped. And many times, I couldn't cry even if I wanted to. But as time went on, I still didn't feel like myself. I felt like my skin was crawling. I felt "over touched" - why do the kids touch me so much? Which then manifested into telling Andrew "the kids touch me too much...can you not touch me?" Things were not right so I decided to seek out a therapist.

This is not my first bout with therapy. I struggled with disordered eating for a long time throughout high school and college, leading me to see a therapist and take Lexapro in college. I should have realized that this new therapist and I didn't click. In fact, I felt like she mocked me when she asked "You keep saying that the birth didn't go like you wanted it - what did you expect? Balloons? Cake?" I wasn't willing to talk about the possibility of Elliot being our last baby. We discussed the fact that maybe I felt over touched because Elliot was still breastfeeding. So I convinced myself that it was true and at 18 months old, we stopped breastfeeding. When I felt like she wasn't helping me and that we were just chitchatting, I stopped going. I think I resented her for "telling" me to stop breastfeeding as well. In hindsight, it probably was time. I think I wanted to do it more than he did by that point. I also weaned myself from the Zoloft.

For the next year, I struggled. I still didn't feel like myself. There's no other way to describe it. My mantra became "I can't deal." I can't deal with the noise, can't deal with the kids, can't deal with going to the grocery store, with cooking dinner, with life. I didn't want to do anything. The only time I felt semi-normal was when I was at work. Unless things got too stressful and I "couldn't deal" there either. I had no patience with the kids or with Andrew. And when the kids got too loud, I wanted to run away and hide...even if they were playing and laughing. I wanted to leave the house, lock myself in the closet, or scream. And that made me feel like a HORRIBLE mother. I didn't want to talk to anyone or do anything. I found myself not answering texts, silencing phone calls, and avoiding people whenever possible. On some weekends, Andrew would take the kids out to the park while I just laid on the sofa doing nothing. I knew I was no fun to be around but I didn't know how to fix it. I wanted alone time ALL the time. I felt apathetic about everything...and when I did feel something, I was angry, anxious, and overwhelmed. Andrew was always there for me...even when he didn't know how to be. He would constantly ask me "can I hug you?" or  "is it ok to touch you?" After awhile, I knew that this was no way to live life.

I realized that I wasn't there for my kids. I didn't want my kids to grow up with an emotionally distant mom. I didn't want my husband to feel like he couldn't touch me. I didn't want to lose the few friends I had left. Time was passing by and I knew I couldn't get that time back. So I tried another therapist. This therapist was very different from the last. She pushed me and wouldn't let things go easily. She picked up on all the little things I said and really dove into my past where I learned a lot about myself. She helped me to understand that it was ok to take care of myself. In fact, it was necessary. And that needing some alone time did not make me a bad wife or mother.

Right around that time, I went to a Mary Kay party. I was still in my phase of not wanting to be around people but with Andrew's encouragement, I went. There, I met who would later become my Mary Kay director, Jerica. After having a good time (with mostly strangers!), I left there feeling good about myself. Not long after, I became a part of the company as an independent beauty consultant. This post is not meant as a MK endorsement...but it's part of my own journey to happiness. I joined without getting anyone's opinion (except Andrew's). I joined MK to push myself. To force myself to meet people, to be around positive women, and to be able to have something positive to do for myself. I didn't join for the money, yet I've made some along the way. A year ago, I would have NEVER thought I would be doing this but God sure has a way of leading you in the right direction when you need it the most. Mary Kay isn't for everyone...but so far it's been for me.

I asked for help and I got it. I'm lucky - my insurance covers therapy. I know that others don't have the luxury. I find that the more I talk about my struggles, the easier it becomes to deal. If talking about it helps just one person with their own struggles, it's worth opening up. In fact, at the time - I think it would have helped me to know someone else out there may be feeling the same way. So that's why I'm sharing. If you feel like your "baby blues" are more than just to your OB.  Remember that your PPD may not look like mine. Check out this list of signs/symptoms of postpartum depression.
Remember that I am not a mental health professional. These experiences are my own.

So - where am I now? I'm happy. It's the first time in years that I can truly say that and mean it. I'm no longer in therapy or on meds...but I have my therapist's number just in case :). Things are by no means perfect...I have bad days but overall, I feel good. I'm not sure if we'll have another child...but I can actually talk about the possibility of being done without shutting down. I feel like therapy helped me to deal...and to learn to take care of myself.

Mental Health Matters.