I am a jubilant, friendly and positive person by nature. In fact, in high school, friends wrote things in my yearbook like, “you are the happiest person I know” and “You are always so happy, it makes me sick, in a good way”. Hmmmm, the last one may not have been a compliment, but the bottom line is that I am and have always been the eternal optimist and cheerful friend.
However, when my daughter, Delainie, was born in May of 2011, it was hard to keep myself together. She was hospitalized for 16 days, home for 4 days, turned blue in my arms, hospitalized again for 8 weeks, then moved to a new hospital for another 8 weeks….
And, well, the hits just kept coming and I was desperate for some relief. I finally realized that I had a child with a genetic issue and that it was not like an event that would just be “over” before life could get back to “normal”. It was the life we were blessed with, ups, downs and everything in between. It is hard to explain the fear, anxiety and hopelessness I felt as a new Mom, most likely hormonally imbalanced to boot, with a child who was fighting for her life every day.
To top it off, I was away from my home and my biggest support beam, my husband. Someone had to work while Delainie was in the hospital, so he worked. I struggled with the fact that maternity leave would soon be over and I would not be able to return to work. Financially, that was a nightmare!
I felt myself losing that “eternal optimist” part of my self. I felt like I was hanging on by a thread and if I didn’t admit it and do something about it, I would be in no shape to do the job at hand, be a MOM of a very special little girl.
So one day, in the lobby of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, I sat on an uncomfortable couch and called up my OBGYN. He was very much aware of my situation and he calmly discussed ways in which we might be able to alleviate some of the anxiety I was feeling. We discussed therapy, reaching out to someone in the hospital who could offer support and an ear to listen and we also discussed anxiety medication. I was nervous that by taking medication I might not be myself enough to make the difficult decisions and do the appropriate things for my hospitalized daughter. He gave me some things to think about.
I hung up the phone and tried to find someone in the hospital to help, me. Interestingly enough, they don’t really have any service for that, not that I could find. I looked into going to a therapist nearby. But, that wasn’t so easy either. The only therapy groups I could find were for substance abuse and the only therapists around either didn’t take my insurance or had no immediate openings.
Then, I got sick. After weeks of pumping to give Delainie breast milk in the hospital, I got mastitis. I tried home remedies, but nothing was working and I was in pain that was so severe I would have gladly gone through labor three times over! I went to the local ER, but was still not quite myself. So, I made an appointment to see my home OBGYN for a follow-up. After the appointment, I left with a prescription for antibiotics and Zoloft.
It took me quite a while to succumb to the fact that I could not handle my anxiety alone. I had to allow myself to accept that taking medication, for me, was not a weakness. I had a misconception about antidepressants. I thought people who were chronically depressed needed them, and they alone needed them. I was not a depressed person by nature. I certainly wasn’t having postpartum depression, in the usual sense. I say that because they give you a survey with things on it like, “do you want to hurt your child or yourself”. I couldn’t answer yes to that, but I did answer yes to, “do you feel helpless and afraid”. Of course I did, my tiny little baby was at her third hospital fighting every minute for her life.
I thought if I took the medication, I should be embarrassed to admit it to myself and to others.
Let’s face it, there is a good number of the population that sees taking antidepressants in a very negative way. Actually, they see mental health issues, large and small in a negative way. And, that stigma attached to depression, postpartum, anxiety and other mental health issues is what kept me from allowing myself to accept the form of help I needed for my issues. I was overwhelmed and nervous, riddled with guilt over my child’s health issues (though it wasn’t my fault), I was exhausted and deflated. I needed to find relief or I would fizzle out into nothingness.
I wanted the help, but it took me a long time to seek and accept it because I was embarrassed to admit it to myself and to the doctor. Lesson learned. Medication worked for me. It isn’t the answer for everyone. But, reaching out, accepting help and taking steps to stay healthy, overall, is important for everyone.
It is certainly up to the individual to decide how personal and private she wants her physical and mental health to be. However, a person should never feel ashamed to have physical or mental health needs.
This is my personal experience and my personal opinion. I know that there are a myriad of different conditions all requiring different approaches in order to conquer. Some conditions are continual battles in progress. I respect that. The reason I share my experience is because I don’t feel the general population respects it.
My experience showed me how harmful the effects of negative judgement are on people who have a legitimate mental health issue. It makes me think of that fool, Tom Cruise, when he was interviewed by Matt Lauer on GMA. Cruise stated that he believed kids with Autisim did not need medication to regulate their illness. He also shared that he believed that Brook Shields was wrong to take medication for her postpartum depression. He called Matt Lauer, “Glib” when Matt suggested that medication does make a difference for some folks who have chemical imbalances in their brains.
This type of judgment diminishes the seriousness and reality of mental health issues and it is dangerous. It makes individuals feel menial, trivial and ashamed to have a need or concern with his/her mental health. It makes individuals less likely to admit the need for help to him/herself and to others. It makes seeking and receiving the proper care difficult. And that is scary. You would never consider not getting medical treatment if you had a gaping wound or a broken bone. Yet, people with mental health issues do. For a number of reasons, but judgement of those around them should not be one of the reasons. They should be free from that judgment. Of course, that is not likely to ever happen.
So, I share this story only to say, something that my Aunt has recently mentioned to me on several occasions, “No one really knows what’s boiling in your stew pot”. So, their judgement, criticism, opinions should not weigh heavy on you. My experience showed me that it was up to me to let go of the negativity from others in my quest to recover my personal self. The fact of the matter is, judgment, criticism and unkind opinions will never go away. I cannot control the people of the world! But, I can work towards controlling how I let those things affect my personal pursuits and my personal well-being.
So friends, think twice before judging those around you. Remember to be kind always, you do not know the daily struggles of others. Cheers!