I’m very happy to welcome guest contributor Jessica Michaelson, PhD, a psychologist who shares her own story of postpartum depression.
I’ve been depressed since I was twelve.
I didn’t know it then. I just knew that I hated myself with intensity, was plagued by obsessive thoughts about my worthlessness, and found little pleasure in most things.
When I was eighteen, paralyzing panic attacks brought me into the college counseling center. I found therapy, learned about depression and anxiety, and settled into the therapy couch for the long haul.
Having a name for my suffering, someone who understood it, and place to work on it, made me feel much better. I got much better.
Until I was 24.
Still in therapy, but the depression became more than therapy could tackle. I started medication. Luckily, just a small dose of a common SSRI made all the difference. I could work again, get out of bed, stop crying.
I stayed in therapy, and went on and off medication as my symptoms waxed and waned, until a good psychiatrist advised me that I have chronic, recurring depression and it would be in my best interest to stay on medication. I did. I felt good.
At 33, I got pregnant.
My doctor, therapist, and I thought it was worth a try to see how I’d do off of medication during the first months of my pregnancy, just to give my baby a medication-free environment.
To my surprise, I felt amazing! I had energy, felt optimistic, truly enjoyed being pregnant. I was medication free throughout my pregnancy, and was in complete remission.
In January of 2009, I gave birth to my first child, a boy. I was thrilled, loved him immediately, and was excited about being a mom.
This lasted six weeks. Around the six week mark, I began to feel exhaustion in a way that no amount of sleep could relieve.
I began obsessing about the details of being a perfect mother; just the right schedule, just the right feeding, just the right activity.
If I could just get it “right,” I would be relieved of this feeling of self-loathing, isolation, and overwhelm.
I knew I was depressed. But, you see, I was also anxious. Anxious enough that I had Googled all the possible harmful effects that taking an SSRI could have on my breastfed baby. Doctor Google had me convinced that it was better for me to suffer than to expose my baby to medication.
My therapist was by my side through all of this, and one day, finally said, “You have a mood disorder. There’s no amount of insight that’s going to undo that.”
Still, I resisted. Acupuncture, herbs, self-help books, support groups. Anything but medication.
My depressed and anxious eyes could only see the ways in which medication would harm my child, and ignored the ways in which it could help us all.
At nine months, after completing an 8-week support group for moms with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders like postpartum depression, I decided I could not go on like this.
I decided to go back on my SSRI, and wean my son, replacing my medicated breast milk with formula.
Fortunately for me, I responded quickly to my medication, as I always have. I was back – confident, engaged in my life, well rested.
It was at this point that I knew I would NEVER let myself get ill again.
I got pregnant again in late 2010. Because pregnancy had been protective against my symptoms last time, I again went off my medication. Twelve weeks later, I was back on them, and have never looked back.
I took an SSRI throughout my pregnancy, upped the dose during the 3rd trimester, and kept myself at the higher dose after giving birth. I nursed my second son for his whole first year, with my medicated breast milk.
Now, four and half years since becoming a mother, I still take medication. I’ve tried lowering my dose, but quickly bump it back up.
I suffer from depression and anxiety, and I will never suffer again in the ways I have before.
Today, I work exclusively with pregnant and postpartum women, who struggle with similar dilemmas and need to balance taking care of themselves while taking care of their children.
I am not afraid to share my story with them, with you. I share it with the hope of sparing at least one woman from the pain of untreated illness.