Mental Health Day

It’s Mental Health Day, so obviously this post will be about mental health (duh). Fyi, your experiences may differ.

The last time I wrote about my mental health was for Talk Nerdy With Usย and it was for characters that suffered from depression. But this time I want to talk about my personal experience.

Growing up I always thought I just had a horrible temper. It wasn’t until I read Anne Wheaton’s post about living with a depressed partner that I realized something might be wrong with me. I would go grocery shopping and end up sobbing in the car because I couldn’t handle being around people. I once abandoned a cart in the middle of the store because there were too many people around me. I’d scream before and after my shopping trip because I was so angry. Why was I mad? No clue.

In May 2014 I was diagnosed with PCOS and infertility. About a month later I hit rock bottom when I contemplated ending my life. I mean, what could I possibly offer my partner since I couldn’t have children? I had a plan: I’d wait until everyone I loved, including the dog, had passed then I would join them in the afterlife. When I’d realized what I had just planned, I became sick and scared. How could I do that to everyone I loved? How could I waste the life that God had given me? The very next day I searched for a therapist because I knew I needed help.

After searching through my insurance’s website for therapists who accept BCBS, I found one who specialized in infertility. I called her to set up an informal appointment to see if we would mesh. We talked on the phone about what I needed and decided that she was the one.

Two weeks later I met with my therapist for the first time. I ended up crying so much, letting out all of the emotions that I had been keeping in. At the end of the session she asked how I wished to proceed, if I wanted to try medication. Now, I grew up thinking anti-depressants were for the weak and I certainly wasn’t weak. I said I wanted to try talk therapy first.

Fast forward to November 2014. I’d been having monthly sessions with my therapist and they were really helping. Until the week before Thanksgiving. I was attempting to play Mass Effect for the first time and was having a really hard time navigating the Mako on a planet (for those of you who have played the game, you know exactly the difficulty I’m talking about). Michael kept trying to give me advice on how to use the controller but all he did was succeed in making me angrier. After a few minutes I threw the controller and started screaming. I knew from the look on his face that something was seriously wrong with me. I apologized and we spent hours talking about my depression. I agreed to talk to my therapist about trying medication.

At my next therapy session I told my therapist about the video game incident and my hesitation to try medication. She understood my concerns and talked to me about how depression is a physical and mental illness and can be treated with meds just like any other condition (and yes, she used the example of diabetics and insulin). She named off a few types and gave me two suggestions, based on the fact that I was undergoing fertility treatments and needed something safe to use during possible pregnancy. Zoloft (sertraline) ended up the winner.

It wasn’t until about two months after being on medication that I began to notice small changes. I wasn’t angry all the time. Things like grocery shopping no longer sent me into a huge rage spiral. Sure I’d still get annoyed when people stood in the middle of the aisle, but it no longer made me Hulk out. Michael noticed the changes as well.

Six months after being medication I began to feel like “me.” I was worried that Zoloft would change me at the core but honestly it brought me back to Jenni Prime. I would often refer to my pre-antidepressant self as “Old Jenni” and would reference her whenever I began to feel angry. My therapist was supportive of this line of thinking.

After giving birth last year I was so afraid of developing postpartum depression, especially since the twins were 6 weeks premature. My therapist assured me that I would be ok, but to call her immediately if I felt otherwise. Thankfully I was fine, just the normal post-baby blues. But still.

So here I am, 3 and a half years post-diagnosis and 3 years medicated. I honestly can’t tell you how much of a relief it is to feel “normal” and not feel like I’m buried under a lead cloud. I still feel the darkness from time to time, usually at night when I’m trying to sleep. I just tell myself to reevaluate in the morning and usually end up feeling better when the day breaks.

At my last therapy session in August, my therapist was so happy with my progress that she thinks I don’t need to see her on a scheduled basis anymore. Now she’s my “at-will” therapist; I can make an appointment whenever I need. Which is great because my depression no longer feels like a burden. It’s a part of me, an illness that needs to be kept in check, just like my thyroid issues.

My life isn’t perfect. I’ll probably be on anti-depressants for the rest of my life. But I’m managing. I’m still here. And so are you.

There are many resources for mental health. Please check out the below links if you need help.

https://www.nami.org/

https://www.mentalhealth.gov/

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/

 

 

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How the NICU Hurts Parents

*this is inspired by my friend Rachel (who also had her own experience), who posted this link on the depression NICU parents feel*

A year ago I was 33 weeks pregnant, on bed rest, and, little did I know, less than a week from meeting my girls. I had developed preeclampsia and was trying to keep my blood pressure down so it wouldn’t affect the babies. At this point I was seeing my ob-gyn twice a week (gotta love being high-risk!) and we were hoping that by doing everything right that I could make it to at least 36 weeks gestation. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

At 34 weeks + 1 day, I was admitted to the hospital for “observation.” My blood pressure had spiked the day before at my non-stress test. I had a home bp cuff (ordered by my nurse) and when she checked on me for the 3rd or 4th time that day it was 169/120. Dangerously high. She ordered me to get to the hospital as soon as humanly possible. So yeah, no time to even *think* of packing a normal hospital bag. I threw a couple days worth of clothes in my backpack and headed out.

I figured this hospital stay would be like the one I had at 32 weeks: a couple of days observation and then home again. Nope. They kept me hooked up to bp monitors the whole night. By laying on my left side I was able to keep my pressure close to normal. But as you know, pregnancy tends to require multiple trips to the bathroom. After every trip my blood pressure would spike.

At 7am the following morning my ob-gyn came to visit me. She said based on the overnight readings, I was in danger of progressing to full-on eclampsia. So the decision was made to perform a c-section at noon.

September 28th, 2016 at 12:27, Arlie Marie was born. Her sister, Zoey Grace, followed one minute later. I spent all of 2 minutes with them before they were whisked away to the NICU. Michael followed them knowing I was in good hands (literally, since I had to be stitched up).

That night I cried. I was the only mother on the floor who didn’t have her baby in the room with her. I could hear babies cry and then be soothed by their mothers. The only soothing that took place in my room was the constant drip of pain medication from my IV.

I finally got to visit the girls about 22 hours after their birth. Up until then the only contact I’d had with them was a brief touch. I finally got to hold them in the NICU. The poor things were drowning in wires so it was a bit difficult to hold them correctly. They were the only two NICU occupants, so at least I knew they were getting all of the attention.

I was told the girls were on a schedule. At 8, 11, 2, and 5 (both AM & PM) they would eat. I was to be there on the 8s and 2s to nurse them. According to the NICU nurses, I wasn’t supposed to attempt nursing for more than 15 minutes before switching to formula. And even then, not to spend more than 30 minutes attempting to feed one baby, otherwise they burn more calories than they are taking in. Let me tell you, that’s HARD.

On Saturday October 1st I was discharged. Knowing that I could go home was a blessing, but knowing that I had to leave my babies was heartbreaking. Thankfully the hospital where I stayed had a service where I could stay in a room across from the NICU, free of charge, so I could be close to my girls. So I was in a hospital room but not a patient and could come/go as I please. It helped a bit knowing I could pop in to see the girls whenever I wanted. I still had to nurse on the 8s and 2s, which meant waking up at 1:45 and walking across the hall instead of driving half an hour.

A few days after birth the girls hadn’t regained their birth weight. Arlie was losing weight fast and the nurses were concerned she would have to have a feeding tube inserted. I knew that if that happened then she would probably be there at least a month. The day the decision was to be made she gained several ounces. The doctor was pleased which meant no feeding tube!

Saturday October 8th I was told the girls would be discharged the next day and we could take them home. I was beyond thrilled. I missed spending time with my husband (who was a trooper and would leave work and come straight to the hospital til 9pm and then head home EVERY DAY), I missed my fur babies (the poor doggo who spent my entire pregnancy at my side), I missed my bed (hospital beds are NOT comfy), and most of all I wanted to finally know what it was like to be a mom at home.

That night we were told that we would have to “room in.” Basically the NICU had a room that looked like a bedroom you’d have at home, complete with bathroom and a queen-sized bed. The girls cribs were moved in next to the bed. We were responsible for feeding and changing them throughout the night with no help from the NICU nurses (unless it was an emergency). I was terrified; we’d become so dependent on the nurses, I wasn’t sure I could handle it. But we made it.

Sunday October 9th we FINALLY got the girls home (somewhere around 1pm, I think??). Of course since they came a few weeks early nothing was ready. The cribs didn’t even have mattresses yet! I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out where the girls were going to sleep (Pack N Play ftw). By the time night fell, I was exhausted. I kept looking at them, wondering what in the world I’d gotten myself into.

I began to worry that I wouldn’t be a good parent. Could I keep them alive? Would CPS decide I was unfit and take them away? Are they breathing? Are they getting enough to eat? How many diapers have we gone through? Are they dehydrated? Are they getting enough air? Are the swaddles too restricting? Too loose? Do they like being swaddled?

That’s the thing about the NICU; it’s a necessary evil. It’s a great place for preemies to grow and for those with birth issues to get better. But it makes parents too dependent. I’m forever grateful for the nurses who cared for my girls, but their care became a personal handicap. I began to worry in the weeks after their birth that I would develop postpartum depression (having suffered from regular depression, my risks were higher). And of course worrying about PPD caused undue stress which in turn meant sleeping less (you know, less than normal with two crying newborn preemies).

I’m not saying the NICU is a bad place. It’s not. I just think there should be more education for parents while their little ones are there.