Sunday, July 24, 2011

Coping with Depression: Recognizing the Signs & Getting Help

I would like to introduce to you Gretchen Mather of Julian's Journey: Life as We Know It.  Gretchen and I are blogging cyber buddies.  We have been reading and commenting on each other's blog for a while now and I am thrilled to have her a guest blogger today. I am always struck not only by the amazing cuteness of Julian, but also by her complete honesty and raw emotions so beautifully written in her blog.  I sincerely hope that after reading her guest post, you decide to continue on following Julian's Journey.

Coping with Depression: Recognize the Signs & Getting Help
Here I am, on the Chronicles of Ellie Bellie Bear blog (hi everyone and thanks Anna!) typing to figure out where to begin. Anna asked me to talk a little more about my experience with depression and I thought it was a great idea. I hope that with this post, I can help others who are currently depressed cope with their feelings and find the right treatment.

You see, I experienced a severe depression after my son 
Julian was born. I have a history of post-partum depression and suicide that runs in the family.
If you are reading this and are currently depressed, PLEASE KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT ALWAYS GOING TO FEEL THIS WAY.  Read on for my story and how to cope. 

Here is a bit more about my story:

I am living proof of someone who has been to the point of being suicidal and now am truly feeling happiness again.  How did I know I was depressed? Well, I was unhappy most of all of every day. I would get up in the morning and think "crap, another day I have to get through".  Living each second of every day was torture.   I didn't even have the energy to eat.  I lost my appetite and lost about 15 pounds.  Other signs and symptoms of depression include frequent thoughts of death and suicide.  Here are some facts from (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance of Boston):

Common symptoms of clinical depression include:

  • Prolonged feelings of sadness, anxiety, or hopelessness
  • Sense of impending doom or disaster
  • Reduced enjoyment and pleasure
  • Loss of energy and motivation
  • Low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Indecisiveness, reduced concentration, slow thinking
  • Significant changes in appetite and/or sleep patterns
  • Social withdrawal
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Key Facts About Depression

In any given year depression affects up to 20 million Americans, or 10 percent of the adult population.
  • Women are twice as likely as men to experience major depression: One in four women, as opposed to one in eight men, is likely to experience a mood disorder in her lifetime.
  • Two out of three people with mood disorders do not get proper treatment because their symptoms are not recognized, blamed on personal weakness, or misdiagnosed.
  • When properly treated, 90 percent of people with mood disorders can be helped.
  • People with untreated severe depression have a suicide rate of about 15 percent
How Do You Know If You Are Depressed?

If you have been feeling down or sad for at least two weeks in a row consistently, all day of every day, then you might want to seek out the help of a therapist to talk about how you are feeling and determine if you are depressed.  Signs that you might be depressed are below (from
  • persistently sad, anxious, or empty moods
  • loss of pleasure in usual activities (anhedonia)
  • feelings of helplessness, guilt, or worthlessness
  • crying, hopelessness, or persistent pessimism
  • fatigue or decreased energy
  • loss of memory, concentration, or decision-making capability
  • restlessness, irritability
  • sleep disturbances
  • change in appetite or weight
  • physical symptoms that defy diagnosis and do not respond to treatment (especially pain and gastrointestinal complaints)
  • thoughts of suicide or death, or suicide attempts
  • poor self-image or self-esteem (as illustrated, for example, by verbal self-reproach)
Physical signs of depression:

  • appearance of preoccupation
  • lack of eye contact
  • memory loss, poor concentration, and poor abstract reasoning
  • pacing, hand wringing, and pulling on hair
  • psychomotor retardation or agitation, such as slowed speech, sighs, and long pauses
  • self-deprecatory manner, or belligerence and defiance (especially in adolescents)
  • slowed body movements, even to the extent of being motionlessness or catatonia
  • tearfulness or sad countenance
A bit about my mental health history
Before Julian was born, I had a history of anxiety and panic attacks but that was treated by some therapy and yoga for relaxation.  I was not on any medication to manage my anxiety.  I had also had two drug induced psychotic episodes in college (brought on after smoking marijuana) which I didn't think too much of at the time - I chalked it up to drug experimentation and a strange reaction.  Later, I realized this was substance induced psychosis. 

I haven't had a chance yet to write down my experiences in detail about my psychosis experiences (before and after Julian was born) and will likely leave that to another day (I touch upon it briefly in 
Gretchen's story on my blog). You can feel free to leave ANY AND ALL questions or comments about psychosis on my blog or here because it might help trigger some thoughts in order to start writing about it. 
When the trouble began....
The trouble for started not with depression, but with a psychotic episode a couple days after Julian was born which landed me in the mental hospital since this is a very serious condition.  The general definition of psychosis is "loss of contact with reality" usually characterized by hallucinations and delusions.   I spent 9 days in McClean

I was released from the hospital and came home to a 2 week old baby Julian that I frankly didn't know how to take care of and didn't have much attachment to.  It was hard for me to distinguish if these feelings were related to the fact that he had Down syndrome (unexpectedly) and I was having trouble coping with that (which I was), or if I was depressed.  I was able to determine that yes, I was sad and grieving the typically developing baby that I expected. However, I was also clinically depressed.  I also learned that it is pretty common for new mothers who are depressed to not feel any attachment to their babies. 

And then, the depression came on strong
Life went on.  I tried to get through the days.  But I wasn't feeling much joy, and on top of trying to absorb the information about my new baby who has special needs, I was trying to sort out my mental health.  People reached out to me thank goodness.  I had a therapist that I had seen for a few years prior that helped me to find a Post Partum Depression support group in the area.   I highly recommend this.  I went every Wednesday for an hour to share thoughts and feelings with other mothers.  The group was called "This Isn't What I Expected."  
If you don't have someone to talk to, please please please get help.  Go to a therapist. Call your insurance company to ask them who in the area is covered and who they can recommend.  Or call a friend to ask them to help you. Call or talk to ANYONE. The key is reaching out and telling people how you are feeling and letting them help care for you. 
Especially if you are a new mom or a mom having another child, often in this society people think that mothers are feeling uber joy after their babies are born.  No one talks about the fact that it is quite typical that moms feel unattached, sad, depressed.  This post partum group for me was a place where it was OK to voice your feelings and "normalize" them. 
Weekly therapy, doctor support

I saw a psychiatrist every week. She managed my meds.  I went to weekly therapy sessions.  My family helped take care of Julian.  In fact, they were taking care of him - I wasn't.  I couldn't really get through the days and needed a lot of support.  During one of the toughest times in my depression when I was very suicidal, I had my mom come and stay with me.  She would take care of me and cook for me and make sure I got up in the morning, encourage me to shower, encourage me to take a walk around the neighborhood.   I can not tell you how amazing that was for me to have her there. And my husband Tom of course played a HUGE role in helping me cope.  It took a big toll on everyone though.  It was not easy. 

How do you cope when you are depressed?
Well let's see.  I guess I kept thinking about the words from my therapist - YOU WILL NOT ALWAYS FEEL THIS WAY, I PROMISE.  When you are depressed, everything is the worst thing in the world. You feel absolutely no joy in anything.  I would look in the mirror and think about killing myself.  I didn't see beauty in the world, I couldn't enjoy the sunshine, I didn't care about the beautiful flowers blooming.  Nothing mattered. I wanted to die. Why was life worth living anyway? 
So if you are or have thought any of these thoughts, then he is what I suggest you do:
1) GET PROFESSIONAL HELP.  Go to someone who is trained to help you. 
DAILY SELF CARE. Try to do the little things every day, like shower, get dressed, comb your hair - I know this is very very VERY hard to do when you are depressed.  But you can do it.  I know you can. I did.
EAT. I was not hungry EVER when I was depressed.  yes, I said NEVER. I would never ever get hungry.  So I had to try to eat whenever I could (mostly people would force me to eat).
FIND A SUPPORT GROUP in your area.  I know, it is hard enough to get dressed, how are you going to get out of the house? Ask a friend or relative to drive you if this would help (that is what I did)
MEDICATION.  Medication helps correct the imbalances in your brain.  I am still on anti-depressants and they help me feel like I do today which is HAPPY. Believe me, do it.
EXERCISE.  Take small walks (again if you need help from friends or family, ask them to come and take you out).
SOCIALIZE.  I know you will not feel like planning anything yourself or even not have any fun when you get together with people.  But you need to force yourself (or ask a friend or relative to help you plan social occasions).  It is important that you get some interactions every day.
8)  and lastly, like I have said before 

With the proper help from professionals, YOU CAN GET THROUGH THIS.  As someone who was suicidal and spent time in a mental institution to recover, I was at the bottom of the barrel.  I am now back at the top - working a full time job in the industry I love, raising my beautiful boy Julian, and loving and enjoying life again.  It was not easy to get where I am today, but do not give up.  Do not let yourself give up. Even on your darkest days, please remember that it will get better. I promise.  But you have to help yourself get better too.

If you want to contact me with ANY questions at all, please feel to leave a comment here or at my blog or send an email to You can also follow me on Twitter @julians_journey.

Thanks again Anna for letting me be your guest!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I did not know this! Poor Gretchen! And good for you 2 for bringing this out. Amazing story.


I love your comments and I read each and every single one of them.