Depression doesn’t always look sad. It can be the forced smile on a new mother’s face, or your best friend who keeps cancelling plans. It hides behind your friend saying she is “okay” when you know she isn’t. Mental illness affects approximately 1 in 5 adults in the Unites States, yet the stigma against mental illness is so powerful that many struggle in silence and never seek help. This series was created to help break down walls and encourage those struggling to speak up and get help. I hope that those of you reading who have never experienced this will come away with a new understanding and help others you may know who are struggling.
Why are the women showing their bodies? Because The Honest Body Project photographs women in a new light with untouched portraits to help fight the messages society sends that all bodies must be “perfect” and look a certain way.
-Natalie McCain (Creator and photographer of The Honest Body Project) Want to contact Natalie? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This series contains stories about depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental illnesses.
“I have been suffering from PTSD since I was 19 years old. The reason I suffer from PTSD is because I was sexually assaulted. Once at a house party when I was 19, by a “friend” and again this past year, outside of a bar, by another supposed friend. This caused me to become extremely paranoid of the people around me. This led me to realize that I needed to reach out for help, since I was no longer functioning in the real world. I found myself wanting to stay in bed all day and sleep. When I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to use prescription drugs or self mutilate. These were the two biggest obstacles in my life, which only made things worse in the long run. The most recent attack was the last straw for me, because I actually decided to fight back. Things became violent very quickly. Luckily I was carrying a knife and was able to protect myself. My attacker ran off calling me crazy as he ran. That phrase stuck with me and until I reached out for help I was convinced that I was crazy. I can only imagine what could have happened if I didn’t fight. I trusted this person and thought they were my friend.”
“After that night I have always kept my guard up and promised myself that I would never be in a situation like that again. What helps most to cope with my depression and PTSD is writing and venting to my closest friend or my counselor. I also work out, which tires me enough to where my mind won’t race and I am able to sleep at night. Another huge struggle for me is that I self mutilated to escape from my problems. I have been clean from self mutilation and prescription drug use for 9 months. I’ll tell you first hand that cutting or any type of self mutilation is harder to quit than any drug. This is because you are your own drug.”
“I urge anyone with depression, PTSD, and anxiety to please reach out for help. It is detrimental to your life. You’re not a freak, even though some people may never understand. You have to step back and realize that though not everyone will have the same struggles as you, you can do your best to educate them. Even if you reach out to a friend or family member, that is still progress. The smallest steps make a difference. This could save your life and your family a lot of pain.”
“There is a lot of stigma against those who suffer from depression, anxiety, and PTSD. People may think you are crazy when you suffer from PTSD. Some say you’re just a negative person. Or some may think you are suicidal if you self mutilate. Lots of people think that cutters are attention seeking. If someone is seeking attention by mutilating their own body, then that attention is much needed. No one who self mutilates is proud of what they do, or did. It is most likely a cry for help.”
“I feel as though, with my anxiety, that I am in a constant state of “fight or flight” and I am always stuck in the “fight” mode. My shoulders are very tense. When I walk in a room, I analyze it and find all of the exits available and plan my escape. My mind is constantly racing with my own paranoid jardon and wondering what a stranger is thinking about me. I wonder if they are a trustworthy person, or just another snake in the grass like my attackers. I clench my jaw constantly and grind my teeth when I sleep. I come off as very intense, or manic, to people who do not know me. When I am working as a waitress, my customers constantly tell me to relax and calm down. They see me as uptight and worrisome. I never used to perceive myself this way. I hope the people who luckily do not suffer from these sicknesss start to understand the struggle that we are constantly going through. A lot of the times I cannot describe how I feel and it can be very frustrating for me. I do not wish these feelings that I am constantly having on my own worst enemy. it is very tiring and stressful. Imagine having a huge exam for a college class that will make or break your graduation and not studying until the night before. Stressful, right?”
“Most people who self mutilate are not suicidal, but need better coping skills. They are begging you in their minds for you to ask what’s going on and to let them vent without judgement. We want to be accepted and loved like everyone else.”
“My first child was born at 36 weeks and I went on bedrest about 27 weeks. My pregnancy was a very difficult and uncomfortable time for me. I didn’t have that pregnancy glow or that feeling that women say that they have when they’re pregnant, that they’re just so elated. I can truly say that I just didn’t enjoy being pregnant. So after my son was born I tried the new normal mom things of adjusting to a new baby and just felt like I couldn’t get everything under control. I went back to work when he was six weeks old, and I cried the whole way to work (which is very unusual for me). I think that was the beginning of me being truly depressed. I kind of went through a fog for the next several months, I couldn’t get my performance at work to be as good as it was in the past and felt like I was just struggling to get through the day. But I figured it was just part of being a new mom. So I started working part-time instead of full-time and that helped a little, But I just still didn’t feel right. Everything was out of control. This went on for over a year.”
“When he was about 15 months old things started getting really dark. I started noticing that as I would get ready for work that my heart would start racing, I couldn’t breathe, I would start to feel sick and as I was driving to work I would have these panic attacks. I didn’t know at the time that they were panic attacks I just thought I was really stressed out. I was constantly missing work because I just couldn’t get myself together. Finally one day as I was getting ready for work my husband happen to be home and walked in on me a while I was having a major panic attack. He told me that it wasn’t normal to be feeling this way and encourage me to see if I can find help somewhere. He had been noticing that my depression had been getting worse and was really concerned. So I decided to see a doctor, go on some medication and take a 6 week leave of absence from work. I figured that would fix it all. I found a Doctor who started me on a prescription that she believed would work for me. I also started working with a therapist to help figure out why this is happening to me. I couldn’t figure it out. I had been fine my whole life. After about five weeks of being home, therapy and being on the new medication I hadn’t felt any better. We had a family vacation planned from several months back, so decided to continue with our family cruise, thinking I just needed a getaway.
We went on a cruise to the Bahamas for four days my husband my son and myself and to this day it was the worst “vacation” I ever had. I was so depressed and so upset that my medicine wasn’t working, and it was making me feel irritated, angry and I was yelling a lot. I was taking it out on my husband and my son and we argued the whole time and I just wanted to jump off the boat, that’s how miserable I was. I was making everyone around me miserable as well. We got back from our vacation and when I was supposed to return to work, my doctor suggested I continue my leave of absence. I had to return to work for a bit before I could get the approval, so she sent me back with a new depression medication and some Xanax. The Xanax would make me sleepy, so she gave me a medicine to take on the morning to help me stay awake during the day. “
“One day, my anxiety was so bad at work that I had to take my Xanax, so I did and 20 minutes later my boss found me asleep at my desk. She woke me up and sent me home. By the grace of God, without killing myself or someone else, I made it home and waited for my leave to be approved. I spoke with my doctor and she submitted the paperwork again and her suggestion was another three months off. During this time, I slept a lot, felt really numb and just really wanted to stop living. I wanted so badly to go to sleep and never wake up, but I just couldn’t stop thinking about my family. I would try medications for 6-8 weeks at a time, and they continued not to work. I just kept falling deeper and deeper into this darkness. It was enveloping me. Choking me. It was taking away all my joy, all of reasons to live. I cried all the time and tried to reach out to friends and family to help me. But no one could help me. So I started praying. I cried out in prayer everyday that I would just snap out of it. That I would wake up and it would just be gone. But that didn’t happen.”
“Throughout all of it, my husband tried to support me the best he could, but had no idea how to help me. So we tried different medications, I switched to a new doctor and a new anxiety medicine to help with the constant panic attacks. The new doc found the right dosages of medicine and after several weeks the panic attacks subsided, and I was able to wean off that medicine. After about 10-12 weeks, he found a depression medicine that helped me manage my time of darkness. It lasted about 4 years and it really was one of the worst times of my life. The right dosage of meds and mentally walking through what what causing all of anxiety and depression def helped.
I learned how to pray and meditate that way when I feel overwhelmed or when I feel like I’m starting to slip back, I can stop and focus on what’s important and know that I am bigger than my depression. It’s doesn’t control me anyone. I am no longer a slave to the darkness.”
“Growing up, my mom suffered from bouts of severe depression, and I always wondered why she couldn’t just snap out of it. Why she didn’t just choose to get out of bed and take care of my sister and I. But as I walked through my own journey, I realized that it can control you. It makes you a slave and traps you in a dark cave and makes you fell like you don’t want to be any better. It makes you feel like you will never get better, so why make an effort at life. But I want people, moms, dads, friends, everyone to understand that it doesn’t have consume you. It can be suffocating but you have to fight for your life. Really fight for it. Because nothing is better than coming out on the other side. That first ray of light after the darkness is enough to satisfy your whole life and then some. I still have days where I want to sleep the day away because I’m so overwhelmed and I don’t have energy to take care of my kids, but the Lord gives me just enough of what I need to get me through each day.”
“I should have known what was happening the moment I felt the first pang of worry and sadness. I am a nurse who worked Ob/gyn for 15 years. I knew the symptoms. I brushed it off as the baby blues longer than I should have. I mean, my child free life of 36 years had just changed drastically and forever. This baby girl was everything I had prayed for. Surely everyone worried and had sadness. But this worry and sadness quickly consumed my life.”
“I wouldn’t let the nurses keep Emmy in the nursery longer than 3 hours at the hospital. Why 3 hours? Not a clue. It’s just what I decided would be acceptable. Any longer than that, my mind said the nurses would think I was a bad mother who didn’t want to be with her baby. At this point, the sleep deprivation started as well, compounding the issues. So I would set an alarm at the hospital and with eyes half closed, pick my baby up at 2 or 3 am from the nursery. It was at this point that I decided I needed to hold my baby at all times. If I set my baby in that bassinet, I felt certain we would never bond. As it was, I couldn’t get her to latch. The guilt I felt over not being able to breastfeed was all consuming. I couldn’t breathe. The Lactation Consultant implied that I was a terrible mom for considering formula. I cried way more hours than needed over my failure at breastfeeding. So, I started supplement formula and agreed to try to pump once home. I felt immense guilt over the cost of formula and felt like I would be burdening our finances. I had to keep trying. I hardly ate in the hospital. I was too sore, too tired, too scared. When it was time to leave the hospital, I sobbed. And sobbed and sobbed. My nurse was an amazing person who told me things would be ok and I would make a wonderful mom. She felt confident in my support system and in my abilities. So we headed home.
Things only got worse at home. The Rock and Play I had planned on having her sleep in was suddenly a suffocation zone. She couldn’t sleep in that. So my husband pulled out the pack and play because I couldn’t have her in her own room yet. She needed to be right beside me. I hysterically told me husband that I could not possibly go to sleep that first night. I insisted that he needed to stay up and watch her breathe so I could sleep. I cried. I hyperventilated. My husband calmly said no and sent me in to sleep. I thank him now for being assertive about that.”
“Those early days, I maybe slept a few minutes at a time. Sleep deprivation was getting worse. I didn’t eat. I finally broke down and bought Ensure for some nutrition. I shook all the time. It was Florida summer and I shook and dressed in multiple layers and under blankets. I couldn’t sleep. I had to hold my baby and bond with my baby. Eventually I decided to formula feed. That was until my milk came in. I frantically tried to reach a lactation consultant to see if it was too late to try to pump or breastfeed. I was frantic. I called every hospital in the area trying to reach a lactation consultant. I knew I would have to pump every 2 hours or I would dry up. The best decision I made for my mental health at that point was to formula feed. But the guilt stayed with me for a long time. Quite possibly is somewhat there now.
I felt so sad. I cried for no reason. I cried for every reason. I felt alone. My husband tried to help. God bless him, he was my rock. He never stopped loving me. He wanted nothing but to help me but I worried he would not know what to do with Emmy or not do things the way I did. I did not let him provide any care those early days. I felt my life was gone. It would never be back to any kind of normal, not even a new normal. I was not sure I could be a mom. I loved this tiny human more than words, but had I made a mistake? I felt selfish for thinking those thoughts. I felt guilt. So much guilt. My husband would leave for work and I would become hysterical. My heart would race, I couldn’t breathe and I felt sick. My time became consumed by the Internet. Reading people’s anxiety and PPD stories. I knew I would never hurt this precious baby but this was really hard. I read everything about everything. Was I feeding her right? Was she sleeping right? Could I put her down? When to start sleep training, was she eating enough….the list is infinite. If I thought it, I searched it. I cried all day. When my baby cried, I cried. I was home alone a lot with a colicky baby. And we cried together a lot. I struggled the most with guilt. Guilt over everything!!!
Finally, one morning after a restless night of worry and sadness, I woke my husband up and told him I needed help. I went and the doctor prescribed an SSRI. As the weeks passed, things started to get better. The medicine started working. My daughter was diagnosed with a milk allergy and a formula change gave us a whole new baby. Sleep became more plentiful and I was able to ask for help. I started eating. The anxiety lessened and the sadness faded. I wish I had the time back I lost. At 4 months, Emmy is so independent. I wish I had that bitty baby back to enjoy. I would never change this life or my struggle. My husband and I are closer now than ever. He loved me when I didn’t love myself. Words can not express that kind of love.”
“I would wake up frantically searching the covers for Emmy. My husband would have to reassure me in my panic that I had not fallen asleep with the baby in the bed. You see, I thought for sure because of my thoughts and feelings that God would take my baby from me. I would sing “You are my sunshine” to her at night when she was crying and the last line of “please don’t take my sunshine away” was really a secret prayer.”
“I hate the stigma of PPD and anxiety. I felt like a failure having to seek help. It was embarrassing. I now know it was nothing I did. Seeking help saved my relationship with my daughter. She is one of the best things to ever happen to me and I love every moment with her.
To anyone struggling, please talk to someone professionally. Even if it’s not medication, therapy is an amazing tool as well. Remember that things do get better. You never get the baby days back and you will miss them so do what you can to enjoy them. Babies have no idea that you have no clue what you are doing, but they do know when they are loved! I wish people suffering and people who have never suffered understood that this can not be helped. This is not made up. This is real. Sometimes just a little support and sympathy to someone suffering goes a long way.”
“I have had low self esteem and been self hating since I was 7 years old. I started getting bullied in the 3rd grade about my weight and the way I looked, not being pretty, because I was smart, etc. When I was 13, in 7th grade gym class, I was spit on by a boy I had a crush on, just because I wasn’t pretty enough, I had never even spoken word to him. In 9th grade, I was 15, and someone put a “Kick Me” sign on my back and I was kicked down the hall after the lunch bell rang, while my “friends” watched and laughed, someone did finally take it off me. This type of thing happened all through out my childhood and even into adulthood, and sadly still happens when I am out. As an adult, I still have low self esteem, feelings of worthlessness, self hating, all because of what started in 3rd grade. I always feel like people are laughing at me and making fun of me because of my weight and the way I look. I am currently on medication for ADHD, anxiety disorder, major depression and bipolar disorder, I have even been suicidal. The only time I truly felt comfortable in my own skin was when I decided to go to collage at 33 years old and became pregnant with my twins. I felt like it was finally okay that I was heavy, and even then some students in the automotive program with my husband, were telling him they didn’t understand why he married such an ugly cow. I am even in tears writing this and I hate that it all still affects me this much.”
“Having a mental disorder does not define who a person is. If anything you should realize how strong that person is because every single day is a struggle just to survive, and they are defying all the emotions raging inside them and pushing through. They are strong beyond belief.”
“I began seeking help both with medication and counseling when I was 18. I went through more medication combinations than I can count and just as many counsellors. I was on medication that made me sleep all day, eat nonstop, not eat at all, gave me migraines, made my hair fall out, but I am finally on a regimen that is working well. I have also finally found the most amazing counselor I could ever ask for. It took me over ten years but nothing worth having is easy. I know it feels like you are alone, like the world is collapsing around you and your drowning with no possible way out, but I promise you, there is a way out. It is not easy, and sometimes the road is a long one, but do not give in. The world needs you, even though is disease is lying to you saying it doesn’t.”
“It is an everyday struggle. Even with medication, it’s not like taking Tylenol for a headache and it goes away, it just makes the struggle manageable. We are not lazy and we are not crazy. We do not just want to be miserable and want everyone around us miserable. Living this way is hard, it is nothing I would wish on someone else, but realize the strength that goes into living life everyday to its fullest when you have this disease constantly lying to you in the background.”
“I have suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember. I have snapshots in my head… Wetting my pants in first grade during a standardized test because we were told not to get up no matter what and I was terrified of the consequences – “you should have just raised your hand!” Blacking out while performing in orchestra concerts as a child (I wasn’t even a soloist) – “oh, it’s just stage fright.” Feeling sick to my stomach with my head buzzing (no alcohol or drugs involved) as I got dressed and did my makeup for a party because I knew something would go wrong on the way there or we would be late, or I wouldn’t look perfect – “just RELAX,” I was told. The worry, worry, unending worry of what could go wrong, led me to migraines, low self-esteem and abuse of alcohol. It was my normal. The only way I knew of functioning, if that is even considered a form of functioning. I was first diagnosed with situational depression in 2005, although I believe there were other periods of this in my life prior that were never properly managed. It is nearly impossible to capture that in a written story. I just don’t think there are even words to accurately describe that time in my life, even though I have spoken about it and written about it for over 10 years now. Even though it was so many years ago, and I have talked with about 6 different therapists about it, going there again is like unlocking a giant black box that has been thrown in the dark, damp basement. You know it’s there, but you don’t want to open it. But it’s still there.”
“I have seen (that I can remember) about 10 different therapists so far in my life. The first one I LOVED. What did I know? I was on the verge of getting married and wanted everything to be perfect and happy. I knew I was in deep and that I needed to talk about my stuff, but I never truly let it all out. I never admitted things that I am finally admitting all these years later. How embarrassing would it be for someone to know those dark, horrible things I thought? How silly of me to actually feel the way I felt at my core about such every day things that people deal with easily every single day. Where did these thoughts and feelings come from? What if we got into it and discovered some things I wasn’t consciously aware of? Would I be “told on” for admitting some of the acts I wanted to do? Would I be given the obvious solution to a problem and sent on my way? Anxiety and depression do not have simple solutions. In my experience it was not a pill. And I tried just about all of them. I am fuming right now as I think back to that whole fiasco. It makes me want to smash my hand or head against a wall for hours. I was first seen for depression at the referral of my then insurance company. That therapist didn’t believe in medication. I didn’t tell her everything in my head. I started using the sessions to vent about things I didn’t want to vent about to anyone else. She picked up on a few things and referred me to a medication specialist. From there – and a checklist questionnaire – I was misdiagnosed with and medicated for Bipolar Disorder (as it was then called). At first it seemed like a bomb went off, but then some relief. Maybe this was the answer I had been searching for so long! How great to know what was “wrong” with me. The true nightmare began. I felt like I wanted to rip all of my skin off and climb the walls as I entered “the six weeks needed to let your body adjust to the medication.” I started smoking daily. The anxiety got worse. I drank every night until I passed out. I just wanted to feel better. After 6 weeks it was clear that medication was not right. I said whatever I could think of to plead and convince my way out of “being bipolar.” Um… it shouldn’t be that easy. But it was. I was referred to a new therapist and then BAM, my insurance changed. None of my current doctors took the new insurance. So I started all over from scratch. I couldn’t afford $100 per session with this same therapist. I couldn’t afford hundreds of additional dollars per month for the medication specialist out of network. New therapist. Diagnosis: Anxiety and Depression. A blessing in disguise to switch insurance right then? New medication. 6 more weeks. Feeling like I would fall over every time I turned my head. Still smoking. Crying daily. Drinking excessively. But still putting on make up, going to people’s weddings, being IN people’s weddings and “functioning.” They had no idea of my true struggle. 6 weeks end. Meds aren’t working as they should. New meds. 6 more weeks. Shaky hands, headaches, more smoking, stopped wearing makeup. New meds. 6 more weeks. Staying out until 2am on a work night pounding wine. And then driving home. Over and over and over and over again. And so on. Falling asleep on the couch plastered to wake up with red wine all over myself and the couch from the glass I poured at 3am the night before while already out of my mind. Not admitting any of this in talk therapy. I went through six different 6+ week cycles with different medications like this until something finally helped more than the others. I found a new therapist. And although she seemed to mostly help me find solutions to situations and never get to the core of most of the problems, I saw some improvement. I got married and went on my honeymoon amidst all of this. More smiles, more makeup, more photos I can’t help but look at now and think of how far I’ve come. Husband’s job change. Move to a new house. New therapist, stopped meds with plans to eventually start a family. Changed therapists, got new insurance. New therapist. New 150 question evaluation given only to be told from a squinty-bright blue eye shadowed “gypsy” that “medication was the only answer. 15 referrals and 15 therapists telling me it would be $75 – $100 per session out of pocket because they didn’t accept my insurance. And then finally one who did. I see or talk to him weekly and have for almost 2 years now. It’s a damn good thing I’m extremely stubborn to have endured so much. I honestly don’t know how I am alive after all that and the risks I took at my lowest points.”
“I am INFURIATED by the way our healthcare system and insurance companies handle mental health coverage. Although it is improving since I first started seeking help, I know many people: women, mothers, family members and friends who simply cannot afford to see a therapist or get the help they very much need because they can’t afford it. I have so much compassion for these people and I can only imagine the incredible positive impact the right treatment could have on their every day lives. No one should have to suffer from the pain and damage caused by anxiety, depression and PPD. It doesn’t just affect individuals. It directly affects their children, the “normal” that these children are raised with (and the way they will then interact with others and future spouses and their own children), their spouses, their siblings, their friends… everyone they interact with regularly. It is so, so much bigger than one person. Maybe once this country starts treating mental health as a very serious issue, real need and priority (even!), we will see less seemingly senseless tragic acts of violence. It is so much bigger than treating one person.”
“I wish that more people in general took anxiety, depression and PPD seriously. Most who have never suffered simply DO NOT GET IT. And sure, that makes sense. But if you have known someone who is in it, or you sense they might be, BE SENSITIVE. Be thoughtful with your chosen words. Hug them. Take them seriously. Hold back your judgment. Encourage them to seek help. Offer solutions like phone numbers and referrals rather than saying things like “if you would just take a deep breath and calm down…” or my personal favorite “there are many people in the world who have it so much worse than you…” – my relief and treatment didn’t come from my husband. Not my Mom. Not my best friend. Not my sister. It is coming from (I’m not “cured”) finding a therapist I feel comfortable talking to about EVERYTHING (even when I can’t look him in the eyes and have to cover my own eyes to say it). It is coming by LUCK that my insurance covers 100% of my talk therapy sessions. It is coming from that little spark of hope inside me that has thankfully never extinguished, promising me that I don’t have to feel this way any more. That I can change. That I have what it takes and owe it to myself and my family to continuing to seek help and do the work necessary to function in a personal place of simplicity and peace (most of the time).”
“Dear New Mother in the Depths of PPD (aka, November 2012 Self),
It will get better. Repeat after me: “It will get better.” You are strong. You have been through and are going through a major life and hormonal change. Your feelings are valid and you deserve to be heard. You deserve to feel better. Many things are contributing to this stage you are at. And you have the power to take control of yourself and make a change. Keep “it will get better” as your mantra. When that new miracle baby is crying non-stop for hours (or even minutes) on end, put him in his rock & play sleeper for a minute, go to the bathroom, put on a fresh nursing bra and shirt, drink some water and come back. It will get better. When you are alone in the house because your husband is at work and your friends and family have gone back home, and all the frozen meals they brought you have been eaten, and all the “congratulations on the new baby!” cards and gifts have been put away, and you haven’t slept more than one hour at a time in 4 months, and you don’t want to pick that screaming baby up, say out loud “it will get better.” And then call someone you can trust. Don’t worry that they will hear that baby screaming in your arms. If you trust them and they listen to you, it is worth it and they will understand. Your thoughts are important and should be treated as such. It will get better. Call your insurance. Get a referral to a therapist. Know that if you have to go on medication to feel better, that YOU and your mental health are the top priority. Even if that means you have to stop nursing. Your baby will get formula and grow up healthy and strong. Even if that means you have to get a babysitter once a week so you can go to therapy. Your baby will be safe and fine when you return. Even if that means you call your husband at work and make him come home because the thoughts you are having are so dark that they scare you. You will get through this just like you have gotten through childbirth and many other difficult times in your life. It will get better. You have what it takes to make sure of that. Now, go get yourself a piece of chocolate, put that baby in the stroller and get some fresh air and a fabulous coffee. And call your insurance. Go!
Someone Who Has Been There (aka – Your Future Self with an infant and a toddler who still goes to therapy once a week and is finding joy in motherhood and the simplicity of slowing things down)”
“I think the thing I struggled with the most with having depression is really accepting it and knowing that it’s a true problem. At first I just thought something was wrong with me and I could change it. That I was just in some kind of funk. That I needed to be more appreciative of the things in my life, or change them. I grew up with a single mother and didn’t see my dad often. I watched her with depression but obviously didn’t know it at the time. She worked hard for us. I was 8 when my mother started going through these things, or so I thought it had just started. 8 years old. I will never ever forget that. And I don’t want my kids to have to remember something like that about me.”
“I can’t really explain depression to you but I can tell you it’s one of the worst feelings I have ever felt in my whole life. You think you’re not worthy, you think you’re not doing things right, and you’re not quite sure what’s wrong with you. The 2nd and last time I was Baker acted it was like I was looking in on this person I didn’t even know like an out of body experience. Even though I had not taken anything or even drank a sip of alcohol, it felt like I was wasted. It might sound crazy to some of you but that’s exactly what it felt like. I had been trying to avoid medication, thinking I could fix this on my own because I didn’t want to be on medicine for the rest of my life. But on the second day of being Baker acted I decided that I needed medication. Medication for the rest of my life is better than having those feelings. Its better than having to feel that low ever again. To have your family or friends or even children have to see you like that. So that day I talked to someone about it and we decided what was best for me. What I wanted and didn’t want.”
“What helped the most honestly was the medication. I talked to a therapist for about 3 years. But when I really felt a difference was after I started medication. I am so glad I took that step. I didn’t take it like I was supposed to one time and I saw myself going down again. I got angry easily, I was mean, I was crying all the time. I’ll never do that again.”
“I wish more people knew how serious depression was. People like myself just blow it off like its nothing. Like its someone looking for attention or them just not being happy. But it is so much more than that. And until you have seen someone suffer from it or even felt it yourself you wouldn’t know. I would never wish this on anyone. If you have these thoughts or feelings, if you think its depression talk to someone. Talk to anyone. Get help. You are worthy. Don’t let it get as bad as I let mine get. Its ok to be on medicine, it was the best decision of my life. I hope that anyone who is reading this that feels like I’m talking about your life or your feelings can take that leap and get help! You’re not alone!”
“My son is the reason I am still here and able to be a part of this project today. When he was little I was in such a hole, full of depression and I didn’t even know it. I thought about taking my life. Different ways of ending it. I even went as far as thinking about my family coming to my house and seeing crime tape. It was because of my son and that image in my head that I was able to walk past a medicine cabinet and a gun case to my husband. I told him what I was thinking and how I felt. I literally felt like I was drunk or on drugs. The next day I went to see my doctor but told him I was ok and I didn’t know what I was thinking. He baker acted me for 2 days. I woke up the second day and realized I was not ok. I was so out of it. It was like I was outside of my body looking in. I got the help I needed and I am so glad I am now better. Depression is something so serious, and unless you suffer from it or know someone who does, you would not understand too well. Dont be afraid to get help, someone in your life needs you!”
“I gave birth at 35 to boy/girl twins. We spent the first 6 days of their life in the hospital together. My son had stopped breathing the day he was born and not eating well. My daughter was doing better, but having trouble learning to nurse. The depression started when they sent me home from the hospital and I had to leave both of my babies. My daughter came home the next day, but my son wasn’t ready to come home. They said he needed a couple more days. The doctor called me early on the morning he was supposed to come home and told us that he had had a Brady/apnea episode, so it would be at least five days before he could come home. I laid on my bathroom floor and begged God not to take my son. We had a newborn at home and a newborn in the hospital. We didn’t feel right and they wouldn’t let us bring our daughter back to the nursery, just a room out in the hallway, when we would go and see my son. So we would leave my daughter with a grandma and go to the hospital for the afternoon to see our son and then come home for dinner. My husband would go back at night to spend more time with him and feed him and I would stay home and nurse our daughter. This went on for 6 days. They finally said he could come home on Friday. We had our family all together, it was wonderful! We took the twins to my son’s first visit with the pediatrician the following Monday and as soon as they looked at him, they saw his belly was distended and he needed to go to a children’s hospital. I was on the phone with the insurance trying to figure out where to take him and then I had to call my mom and explain the situation and tell her we would be dropping my daughter at home and taking my son to Orlando. We went to a childrens hospital and had the WORST ER experience! I still can’t talk about it without tears. They finally transferred him to the NICU at another hospital, where he would be for the next 11 days. We come home after midnight to get some things to go back in the morning. We moved into the Ronald McDonald house while we waited. They took x-rays and thought he might have Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and needed to rest his gut for 5 days, so no feeds. Thankfully, my mother and step-dad dropped their lives and moved into our house to care for our daughter for those 11 days. The nights were the worst, my son would cry and cry because he was hungry and we couldn’t help him. It broke our hearts. They thought he might have a diary sensitivity, so I would have to change my whole diet, and finding something to eat without diary was almost impossible. I was pumping and the hospital was freezing it so that we could come back home and nurse my daughter every other day. We came home every other day so that we could spent a few hours with our newborn daughter. They restarted feeds for a couple days and stopped again so they could do a barium enema. The test came back that is wasn’t NEC and to this day they never really could tell us what was wrong, other than he was premature and just needed time. We finally were home as a family a day before the twins turned a month old. I have had issues with depression before, when I was trying to get pregnant. I was so happy when I got pregnant, I was nervous, but happy. I loved being pregnant. After the twins were born and I had to leave them at the hospital and then when we have to go have an extended stay at a childrens hospital, I had such guilt. I worried about losing my son, I worried about not bonding with my daughter, I worried about my breastmilk supply, I worried all the time! I still struggle with the guilt and that the way I dreamed about motherhood was not the reality.”
“It was about two months before I got help and medicine for the PPD. It got better pretty quickly. I did struggle with my decision to stop breastfeeding which depressed me, because I only nursed my son 3 times, although he was on just breast milk for the first 2 weeks of life.”
“Postpartum depression is more common than you know. It is debilitating and can steal the wonderful joy of having a precious newborn, but don’t let it! This is perfectly normal, think what your body and mind have been through with pregnancy and childbirth. Being a new mother is a wonderfully, scary experience. Be kind to yourself, if you need help, ask! Know that everyone’s experience with birth and the newborn days are different, and you are doing great! Remember that this new life needs you to be the best you that you can be. Know that it’s not like you read about in all the books. You can do it!”
“I’ve struggled with depression my whole life, for as long as I can remember. As a child I can remember days where I just didn’t feel right. I felt really sad and moody for no reason at all. My family sought help for me then as well.”
“During pregnancy I surprisingly did not have any feelings of depression. It wasn’t until post partum that it really hit. Since I already suffered from depression there was a very good chance I would get PPD. I tried to write off the tiredness and moodiness as fluctuating hormones,which is normal. It wasn’t until I started having trouble even functioning in daily life that I knew I needed help. It was hard to get out of bed. There were days I would have to call my mom over just get the baby and tend to him and I would sleep. The only time I would interact with my baby was when I was nursing him. I didn’t even want to talk to my husband. I felt lonely even though I had my entire family with me.”
“I felt out of control. I felt angry and frustrated I was feeling this way. I was supposed to be the happiest person ever! I had a gorgeous new baby and I couldn’t even bring myself to get out of bed and enjoy him. After several months of seeing someone for professional help, I am now functioning pretty well. I work part time, enjoy spending time with my family and most of all my son. There are still bad days. There are still days I break down crying at work.”
“Depression doesn’t just go away. It’s something you manage and deal with. You use tools such as yoga, deep breathing and meditation to keep calm and center yourself. You have to constantly remind yourself that you have help and that you are not alone. Dealing with any type of depression alone is not the way to go. It was really hard. My family walked on eggshells, afraid something they did or said would upset me. I didn’t want to be around anyone,not even my son. I wanted to just run away from it all. It is a really dark, lonely place.”
“Do not feel like you have to suffer alone. Reach out to someone you trust and tell them how you are feeling. Do not be afraid someone will think you are an unfit mother because you are feeling these things. There are a ton of people out there who WANT to help you through this! And remember to take one day at a time. It does get better!”
“I have a family history of depression. Both my paternal grandmother and mother suffered from depression and anxiety. I was a sophomore in college when I first knew I needed help. I noticed I was out of sorts and I knew I needed to do something. I felt like a crazy person. So I went to counseling and my journey of self- knowledge and self-love began. After a couple of months of attending weekly sessions and journaling, I felt I did enough work to not need weekly counseling sessions anymore. I talked out all my issues and I “fixed them,” or so I thought. Eight years later, I had more “feeling crazy” moments. I had a major break up which was followed by a couple abusive relationships. I was starting my career. I felt so lost and “crazy” again. So I found a counselor in my church and went back to weekly sessions. After months of more sessions, journaling, prayer, spiritual retreats, I had it ‘figured out’ again and felt ‘stable’ enough to not need counseling anymore. I was ‘fixed.'”
“Seven years later, I was pregnant with our first child. With my history of depression and anxiety, I was aware that I might suffer from PPD after the birth. I remember talking about it with my husband and reminding him to look for the signs the birth instructor talked about during the birthing classes. We were ready for what could come or so we thought. After our first daughter was born, I was in a fog. I felt overwhelmed by my perfectionism and scared of not being enough for this most precious being. I felt like a failure frequently despite her loving gaze at me. My dream, my prayer, my heart was in my arms and I felt unworthy to be her mother. These feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness were so intense. But I quickly pushed them aside because I had to survive through the moments, the groundhog days of newborn land and infancy. Motherhood rocked me to the core. I was raw and vulnerable and I had to protect that. So I hid behind a façade of “happy mommy land” and I fooled many. I pretended I had it together because the shame and guilt of knowing that I didn’t was painful. The two safe places I relied on heavily in that first year of motherhood were my beloved husband and the afternoon breastfeeding support group at the hospital. I learned I wasn’t alone despite my efforts to hide in my façade. With my husband and that group of mothers, I shared my failures, my fears, my tears, and my raw feelings of guilt/shame. Talking about the shame made it less powerful and easier to handle.”
“Looking back at those moments of vulnerability in group or with my husband, I realize those were real moments of courage.
Honestly, I didn’t realize I had PPD until our first daughter was 10 months old. I remember telling my husband of all these horrible thoughts that would come into my head. I really felt scared of them. He would talk me through them and reminded me they were just thoughts and not real. We decided it was time to get help again. That “crazy” feeling was back and screaming at me to get help. This time, I went to a naturopathic doctor and started a holistic regimen which included a homeopathic remedy specific to my symptoms. Hours after my appointment, I found out I was pregnant again. It was a huge shock to my emotional state. I remember thinking, “how am I going to do this again?” The remedy helped take the edge off and allowed me to focus on what I could do to help myself. The PPD went away until a few months after I delivered our second daughter. I got back on my remedy, which I now take daily, did some self-care and I have felt stable for quite some time. I learned even more tools to put in my tool box like deep breathing and other self-regulation strategies. With my depression/anxiety, I’ve grown a lot since my college days. I have rough patches and smooth ones. I used to see the journey as a checklist. Now, I see it as a cyclical learning experience. Someone once said, “nothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” My experiences with depression, anxiety, PPD have been the struggles that given me opportunities to add experiences to my life tool box. I’m going to struggle but I can handle hard things and I know what/ who can help me. When I start to feel “crazy,” I know what to do. I can take my remedy, breathe deeply, take some time to myself to recharge, exercise, journal, pray/meditate, refocus the thoughts in my head on the truth and shut down the shameful thoughts, give myself positive affirmation, and share my story with someone I trust.”
“Things I’d say to a mama with PPD…
Breathe with me. You are safe. Breathe with me. You can calm yourself. Breathe with me. You can handle this. These moments are tough and you are not alone. Be kind to yourself. Remember mistakes are opportunities for learning and imperfections do not equal inadequacies. You are enough. Every day you are doing your best…we all are. We are brave for trying! We are all in this together. Get the help you need.”