Why Mental Health: Amanda’s Story
The first time I heard the words anxiety and depression from a clinician was when I was in college. I was having daily gastrointestinal issues, and when no other medical explanation came back - no food allergies or sensitivities, no inflammatory diseases, nothing - my nurse practitioner gently suggested maybe I had an anxiety disorder or depression. I shut her down so fast. I didn’t fill the prescription she gave me. I wasn’t anxious and I wasn’t depressed, I told myself. I was an introvert who didn’t like the social setting of a college dining hall, sure, but that didn’t have anything to do with the physical symptoms I was experiencing after every single meal I ate. I continued to struggle for years, well past college - tweaking my diet here and there, eliminating foods based on whatever fad diet was out there at the time. All the while avoiding a lot of different social situations. And avoiding any discussion that might suggest I was struggling with a mood disorder, instead of a GI problem.
Flash forward a decade to my first pregnancy. In the back of my mind, I wondered if I would have postpartum anxiety and/or depression. I think it’s something most expectant and new moms worry about, at least a little. I promised myself I would be vigilant for any signs, that I wouldn’t be blasé about the potential diagnosis like I had been in my college years. After all, if all of those years past, I had really had depression or anxiety, I would be at increased risk for PPA/PPD now. My daughter was born in the summer of 2017 and not one depressive symptom cropped up. I was “in the clear” 🙄
Three years later, in the middle of my second pregnancy and in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, I found myself completely and utterly weighted down by perinatal anxiety and depression. My days were filled with the feeling of “I am the only one who can keep myself safe, keep my baby safe, keep my family safe.” In my mind, no one else cared, and no one else was going to look out for us. It was all on me, and I began to feel hopeless. I couldn’t leave the house - not because of any stay-at-home orders, but because I literally, physically could not bring myself to go out to do anything. Some days I struggled to get through my daily at-home routine and I would want to stay in bed all day. I even started missing some of my prenatal appointments. My husband eventually got me out the door and into my doctor’s office, where I broke down and cried and cried and cried through my whole appointment. By this point, there was no question in my mind I was depressed; I didn’t wait for my doctor to suggest a prescription to manage symptoms, I asked outright if she thought that was something I should do. At about 36 weeks pregnant, I started on Zoloft and now nearly 14 months postpartum I am still taking it. I can absolutely tell a difference in my mood on the days I forget to take it.
I’ve never shared my story before. Not with my partner, not with my family or my friends. Definitely not publicly. (This TIME article helped validate many of the feelings we both had). Mostly because whatever I was dealing with “wasn’t that bad” and “other people have struggled with way worse.” I am sharing now because I believe mental health encompasses such a wide spectrum, from serious psychiatric illness to maintaining mental well-being and every “not-as-bad-as-the-next-person” struggle in between, and that there is value in sharing and normalizing talking about ALL of it.