What Does Taking Medication (for Mental Health) Feel Like?

What Does Taking Medication (for Mental Health) Feel Like?

There is a negative stigma around seeking care for your mental health. Many people assume that mental health disorders requiring medication should be manageable with diet or exercise, leaving those who need treatment feeling shame because they keep hearing their issues aren’t serious – or, worse, aren’t real at all.

Approximately 15-20% of moms experience a perinatal mood disorder and the leading cause of death in the postpartum period is suicide.  

I started taking Lexapro in December 2020 at my therapist’s recommendation. She referred me to a psychiatric nurse practitioner that specializes in pregnant and postpartum patients who answered all of my questions about taking medication while pregnant or breastfeeding. It put me at ease to know that even while taking medication, my baby would be safe.

I started with a 10mg dose and after about a month I felt noticeably better. If my baby cried for a long time, I didn’t get overwhelmed and shut down. If my baby’s sleep was interrupted (thanks to sleep regressions), I wouldn’t break down crying because I couldn’t handle it. I was able to start helping my husband with our household chores without that feeling like a monumental task.

All of my days had been bad days for months, and I didn’t even realize how bad I had been feeling – until I started to feel better. It was such a relief to not feel overwhelmed by anything and everything.

Unfortunately, a few weeks later I started to feel that irritability and anger come back. It was so strange because I felt really good, but I was snapping about dumb little stuff and yelling again, and I would often find myself questioning what I was even yelling about while it was happening. So when I went to my follow up in March 2021 with my doctor, she mentioned that it was pretty normal to have to adjust doses.

The way she described it made so much sense to me: If you’re in the desert without water, you’re so thirsty that when someone gives you water you immediately feel better – but, after a few minutes, you realize you’re still thirsty.

So we upped my dose to 20mg and waited to see how I felt. At my next checkup, my husband and I had been struggling through the 18 month sleep regression with our daughter. It was difficult to determine what was or wasn’t just the exhaustion talking, so we scheduled another follow up for June.

For the first time since our baby was born in 2019, I can feel joy in my life again. I feel more like myself, more like my normal – and that is important to me. The only way I was able to get to this point was through continuing talk therapy and by taking medication. I’m so glad I was able to reach out and get help because I’m pretty sure my marriage would have fallen apart if I hadn’t, or worse – maybe I would have considered or acted on the consideration of ending my own life.

If you think you might need help, even if you aren’t currently experiencing thoughts of suicide, please seek it.

What are the Baby Blues Anyway?

What are the Baby Blues Anyway?

With a new baby there’s a build-up of anticipation. You’ve been pregnant for nine months; maybe you tried to get pregnant for a long time, maybe you’ve dreamed of holding this baby in your arms for many years. You spend months dreaming of reading story books and rocking your baby to sleep. You painstakingly design the perfect nursery and pick out all those tiny cute clothes they’ll wear for the first few weeks. You spend hours debating names with your spouse and dreaming of life as new parents.

Now that baby is finally here, it isn’t exactly what you thought it would be. There are a lot of fluids coming out of both of you. The baby cries more than you thought. Breastfeeding is difficult and not at all the natural experience you were led to believe it would be. You’re tired – exhausted to the point of delirium. And even though you’re so happy and in love, you feel like you were hit by a bus and then someone sent you home with a baby!  

Many new moms expect to feel overjoyed at the arrival of their baby and find themselves unexpectedly sad in those first few days. It can be confusing and overwhelming. You may find your mind is foggy and you have difficulty concentrating. Leaving the house feels intimidating and you worry a lot more than you expected to. This is what is called the baby blues.

After a few weeks, you start to feel better, and you finally get into a good routine with your baby in your new life as a mama. About 80% of moms experience the baby blues, so know you are not alone.

Many people confuse the baby blues for postpartum depression, or refer to the baby blues as postpartum depression. It’s important to know the primary difference between baby blues and postpartum depression is that one goes away without treatment, and the other does not.

While everyone goes through periods of sadness every once and a while – especially after a big life change – if you experience these feelings for a prolonged period of time, it’s a sign that you should consult your doctor.  

It’s important to know that just because you have the baby blues, it doesn’t mean you will have postpartum depression. It’s also important to know that even if you have the baby blues, postpartum depression may not occur until months later (or even up to a year after your baby is born).  

If you feel like you have been experiencing these feelings for a prolonged period of time, or they’ve started to pop up again for you recently, check out postpartum.net for help finding providers in your area who specialize in postpartum mood disorders.

How to Naturally Cure Postpartum Depression (And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves)

How to Naturally Cure Postpartum Depression (And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves)

Searching for anything related to postpartum depression will inevitably lead you to someone’s so-called natural cures, including things like: 

  • Journaling
  • Exercise
  • Fresh Air
  • Vitamins
  • Self Care

Any or all of these things can be part of a larger plan to tackle a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD), but that shouldn’t preclude you from choosing to seek professional help.  Without proper treatment, PMADs can last anywhere from a few weeks to several years.

Unfortunately, stigmas around mental health and barriers to treatment often prevent us from seeking help. Characters with mental illnesses in television and film are often associated with words like “crazy” or “freak”.  What’s worse, struggling parents are often shown having their children taken from them – a parent’s worst nightmare.

These messages add up in ways that continue to minimize the mental health struggles that one in seven women experience during the postpartum period.

You wouldn’t say to someone who recently broke their leg, “If you just get some fresh air, you’ll be walking again in no time!”

You wouldn’t tell someone who just received a cancer diagnosis, “I have a great multivitamin you should take, I barely get sick at all any more!”

So why do we expect someone struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety to suddenly feel better just because they got some exercise or took a shower?

Why do we continue to perpetuate the idea that seeking help for mental illness is weakness? It’s not weak if you hire a plumber to fix your leaky pipes. It’s not weak to get rest when you have a cold. It’s not weak to take antibiotics when you have strep throat. So why do we think a person is weak if they take anti-depressants or seek therapy?  Just because you can’t physically see a person’s illness, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.   

It’s extremely dangerous to advise people with postpartum depression against seeking treatment from medical professionals. Living with postpartum depression or anxiety without help could lead to worsening symptoms. Some research even points to developmental delays in children with parents suffering from postpartum depression.

If you are feeling hopeless or guilty on your postpartum journey, please know that you are not alone. Postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth, and it can occur up to one year after delivery. If you frequently find yourself struggling, feeling like everyone else has it more together than you, or feel guilty for the anxiety or anger you feel toward your new baby, it could be postpartum depression. I personally know how difficult it is to see all the uplifting messages online about how tough being a parent is and how to fix it with one quick trick, and how insincere it can feel. Help is out there, and everything really isn’t hopeless bullshit.

When it’s Not Just Baby Blues:  Recognizing the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

When it’s Not Just Baby Blues: Recognizing the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

From the moment you discover you’re pregnant, you’re inundated with the word should: What you should eat; whether you should exercise; whether you should have your hair colored; and the list goes on. One of the most prevalent is that you should talk to your doctor if you think you have postpartum depression – but how are you supposed to know what to look for when the infographics hanging in your doctor’s office are so vague? To top it off, you only see your provider once after giving birth at six weeks, and the onset of PPD can occur any time in the first year postpartum.

Web MD Postpartum Depression Infographic

I never considered harming myself or my baby. As a person who has suffered with chronic depression I kept looking for the signs: Not wanting to get out of bed, or only eating because I was supposed to – but they never came. It wasn’t until about four months postpartum that I stopped having interest in things, didn’t want to be touched, and – most importantly – was constantly on edge. Everything annoyed me. I found myself screaming about everything. I also felt enormous guilt any time I raised my voice at our baby. I was constantly overwhelmed. One ‘wrong’ thing would ruin my mood for a whole day.

I kept telling myself (and my husband) that things would get better.

“When the baby sleeps better.”

“When the baby sleeps through the night.”

“When I’m not breastfeeding so much.”

“When I stop breastfeeding.”

But things never got easier.  

If you recently had a baby and you’re feeling even a little off or just not like yourself, you can take the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale test online. This isn’t a diagnostic tool, but it can be helpful to identify your symptoms. You can also find providers to reach out to who specialize in Perinatal Mood Disorders in your area on postpartum.net.

One in seven women will experience postpartum depression. Please know that PPD doesn’t just go away without treatment, and it can get worse. You don’t have to feel alone. Please reach out and get help. I did and it was the best thing I ever did for my health, my marriage, and my baby.