original photo credit: Flickr
After posting the link to the "Breast is Best?" article on my Facebook four weeks ago, I got quite a few messages and comments. All of the messages thanked me for posting the article because they needed to hear what I had said. At that moment, my words struck a chord with them. I can't even put into words about how that made me feel. It made me have quite a few emotions.
I felt extremely sad that so many people in my circle were dealing with varying degrees of postpartum depression (PPD). Especially since some of them... I had zero idea that they were having this internal battle. How could I not have noticed when I had been through the same thing? Because some of us are good at hiding it.
Loneliness. Shame. Helplessness. Inadequacy. Embarrassment.
For someone to tell me that reading what I wrote gave them the clarity they needed to make their own decision to seek help, that they read what I wrote about it being okay to seek help at the most crucial time, is amazing. It means a lot to me because someone wrote something to me that helped me solidify my own decision to get help.
Having the courage to talk about PPD to my own husband was difficult. Since I am in the military, I was even more scared about how something like this would affect my career. I didn’t want something that I was working so very hard for to be ruined by seeking treatment. I didn't want to be labeled as broken. The stigma in the military regarding mental illness is, unfortunately, very much alive. I always encouraged people to seek help and told them that it was okay, but there I was being the biggest hypocrite. I am great at motivating and persuading others, but I can never convince myself to heed my own advice because my inner monologue always second guesses me. For the longest time, I just shut down any thought of help because I didn't want to know the answer. I was in denial. But, when I raged at my daughter over spilling milk, I knew enough was enough. I would rather not be a bad mom than to be a soldier.
I am a researcher by nature and I always tell people to "google it". I am sure people have heard me say, "let me help you help yourself" when I gave them a list of resources. So when I began to consider how I could be a good mom AND a good soldier, I made my insomnia go to work and I googled into the wee hours of the morning until I found this website. It had the option to email a support coordinator for my branch, so they would be well-versed in how PPD affected my situation specifically. I had so much anxiety as I drafted my email. My email was only a single sentence long, but it was the hardest sentence for me to write- "I think I have postpartum depression and I need to know how it is going to affect my career and if it will affect me commissioning." The next morning, my phone dinged and I had a response:
"Postpartum mood disorders that are left untreated have a much worse course. In the overall assessment of your career, my experience with commands has been that they are encouraged by soldiers who are aware enough of their condition to seek help, but are leery of soldiers who need help but don't seek it."
What she said was commands are encouraged by those who ask for help and leary of those who don't. But what I read was "Jessica, you are doing the right thing by asking for help. You recognizing you need help makes you a good soldier." That particular sentence really spoke to me and it solidified my decision. I realized if I can't be the best mom without help then I can't "be all I can be" or a good leader either.
Even though I finally felt confident in my decision to ask for help, I still had so much anxiety. I called the appointment line for my doctor and when the nurse asked what the appointment was for, I almost got physically ill. Coming to the conclusion that I needed help and having to say it outloud was another. I mumbled into the phone, "I think I have postpartum depression." "What? I cant hear you, can you repeat that?" I seriously contemplated hanging up the phone. I went from having so much confidence to absolutely zero. I was so embarrassed to say it outloud. It felt dirty, saying it out loud, like it was a contagious disease that you were going to catch. My inner voice told me to suck it up and say it louder. So I did. She didn't lecture me, but instead she told me thank you for calling to make an appointment and asked if me & my baby were okay. She made my appointment for the next day even though they were booked. It made me feel hopeful knowing that this stranger cared about our well-being.
My regular doctor wasn't able to be there since he had to go deliver a baby, so I had to see a Physician's Assistant. We went through the normal checking of the blood pressure, etc. She must have thought I was there for birth control, because that is what we discussed the majority of the appointment. She was wrapping up her notes in the computer, and nonchalantly asked if I had any more questions, like she was going to leave. I held my breath and then word vomited, "I need an antidepressant."
She looked over surprised and said "oh, you're depressed? You don't look depressed". What?! I don't look depressed?! The smart-ass in me wanted to say, "Have you seen those cute wall decals on pinterest that say ‘For this child I have prayed’? Because I didn't pray to feel this way. Do tell me what postpartum depression looks like." Here I finally got the balls to ask for help and I felt like I had to prove that I really needed it. I wanted to yell, "what do I need to look like to get a damn prescription?".
After I finally got the prescription, I felt so relieved. But then the google-er in me decided to look up everything about it. BAD IDEA! I read about the side effects and that little orange bottle sat on the counter for over a week. I was so angry at myself that I was having so much anxiety about taking a little white pill, something that was supposed to help me. That orange bottle taunted me in my dreams.
I finally reached out online to get reviews of the medication I was prescribed, even though I felt like I was going to be judged for posting about having postpartum depression. But when someone said that the benefits outweighed any of the side effects for them, it made me want to do it. Anything is better than feeling like you are walking through a tar pit with a rain cloud pouring on your head, right?
I finally mustered up enough courage to take this white pill. After I swallowed it, I laughed. I didn't start smoking out of the ears or oozing blood out of my pores. I was just fine. I was being paranoid and all worked up for no reason. It took a couple weeks to notice a difference, but once it did, I wished I would have started it so much sooner.
I have been on an antidepressant for the last 4 months and I am the happiest I have been in a very long time. I am not ashamed anymore now that I realize there is nothing to be ashamed about. Not only is it okay to seek help for postpartum depression, it is okay to talk about it. You don't have to suffer in silence. It isn't a character flaw or a weakness. It doesn't make you a bad mom, it just makes you a mom that needs a little help. All moms need some kind of help eventually any way.
I encourage you to talk about it. I encourage you to share your experiences with other moms. Start the dialogue. If someone says something that touches you, thank them for it. It will all come full circle. I just wrote an email back to the support coordinator giving her an update and thanking her for helping me make that final decision to get help, all because what she said made it feel like it was okay. If it wasn't for her, who knows where I would be today.
Many Kind Regards,
Jeanette opened up about depression and the importance of getting help.
Jessica Linville is a 20- something mom of 2 beautiful kiddos & married to an active duty member of the Armed Forces. Jessica served 6 years as a Paralegal in the CA Army National Guard & is currently in the Army Reserves as a Finance Specialist. She enjoys volunteering with numerous veteran organizations & writing resumes for fun! She loves curling up with a book reading & her 2 German Shepherd dogs, Rhino & Riley. Oh & wine, can't forget wine. She loves a nice glass (or two) of wine.