Disclaimer: The following article mentions the topic of suicide or other sensitive subjects, which may trigger negative thoughts and feelings for those currently suffering or still recovering from a mental or mood disorder. Reader discretion is advised.
I have lived my whole life with depression and anxiety, but it was always manageable with the help of medication and counseling. However, when I gave birth to my first child, a daughter, I experienced a terrible labor and delivery. In fact, the birth was so traumatizing that I likely experienced some PTSD. That, along with the stress of becoming a new mother and my history of mental illness, sent me into a downward spiral of darkness and hopelessness. I wanted to die more than anything.
One day, I made my husband drive me to the ER. Of course, once the hospital staff heard how I was feeling, they couldn’t let me go home for fear that I would harm myself. I had to be admitted to the psychiatric unit to be monitored 24/7 and received constant guidance from professionals. Fortunately, within a week, my medication prevented me from feeling suicidal, and I was released. It was wonderful to go home and be able to love my newborn baby.
Three years later, my second child was born. We prepared quite extensively for his arrival, anticipating any sign of postpartum depression. I had my psychiatrist on call to help me with changes in medication if needed. My husband took weeks off of work to assist. Friends and family also helped care for my other child, clean my house, and bring meals. Sadly, none of this prevented what was to come.
My psychiatrist tried multiple new medications, each one failing more miserably than the last. I seemed to have stopped responding to medication. The postpartum depression had come back with a vengeance and brought along another monster. Not only was I depressed, I was in real physical agony. I thought that the depression would literally kill me before I would ever have the chance to kill myself. Nothing had ever hurt so much. I felt as though my soul had been poisoned; I was an empty individual. As a result of such extreme circumstances, my husband called nearby facilities and arranged for me to go into a short term psychiatric facility.
Unfortunately, this experience at the psychiatric facility was very negative, but we found out that the University of Utah Neuroscience Institute (UNI) had an opening for me. It was as if I had found an oasis after wandering in the desert for 40 years. Their positive care showed me that hope was on the way. It was there that I met my hero–the physician who knew how to guide me toward the light, the hope, and happiness. Sadly, my journey of healing was a long, painful, heartbreaking path.
My doctor told me that my body and brain had become resistant to all medications, and that my only option would be to undergo several rounds of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). Shock therapy. It sounded so barbaric that I could barely stomach the idea of such treatment, but in the end, I trusted my doctor. Every other day for weeks, I would leave my room in the psychiatric unit and go to the ECT clinic. The halls were so empty and quiet, and the lights were very dim; those early morning walks downstairs looked like a scene straight from a horror film.
I underwent 32 shock therapy treatments. I lost memories, I forgot names, and I forgot words to complete simple sentences. I was constantly confused, but I didn’t know what I was confused about. My head hurt terribly every day. My balance was terrible, and the dizziness brought on nausea. I was exhausted every moment of every day. However, with each treatment, I felt a little lighter. I felt as though each treatment was an attempt to hit the “reset” button in my brain, until one day, 32 treatments later, it was suddenly successful. In the end, ECT, combined with multiple medications kept me alive and helped me to smile genuinely again. No matter how long and terrible this experience was, I’m thankful everyday that these treatments were available.
It’s been more than a year since my last ECT, and I still haven’t recovered certain memories that were lost. While I don’t recall the first six months of my son’s life, I can’t forget the pain. That will never be lost to me. Fortunately, to be able to love my children again was worth every tear, every needle, every lonely night in a hospital.
Before I was released from UNI, I was asked, “How do you plan to work through future moments of anxiety and depression? What will you tell yourself to help you overcome these moments?” I responded that, “I will tell myself that I was able to walk through hell, have my life and my worth beaten within an inch of extinction, and that I suffered longer and more painfully than I ever thought possible. That I survived. Literal and figurative angels carried me and patched me up. They let me rest, they fought alongside me, and sometimes FOR me. Because of all of this, and all of them, surviving the worst of the worst is possible, and it will be possible again.”
At times, the depression and anxiety that follows giving birth may seem completely impossible and hopeless. I love every woman out there who has suffered and who is currently suffering. We are all bound together by this crippling, life-threatening disease. We desperately need one another, even when the worst parts are behind us.