State of Mind: Living with Depression

Living with Depression
By Jackie Karner-Sawyer

orion-newsletter-march2015-state-of-mind-imageI was first diagnosed with depression when I was 33, right after the birth of my first child.  It was textbook postpartum depression, but there were other previous symptoms that were over looked this time around.  I found a therapist and began sessions and my primary care physician was able to prescribe an antidepressant for me.  I was on the meds for about a week or two and the difference in my behavior and outlook on life was amazing.  I called my doctor and said to him, there’s no need for me to be on this, I feel great, back to my “normal” self.  He kind of chuckled and said that’s great but it was the meds that were helping me and I needed to stay on them for a while longer.  So I took the meds for 6 months and then I was able to go off them.  I stopped my therapy because I was doing great, a new mom with a wonderful new baby and life.  I never gave depression another thought.  Three years later I got pregnant with my second child and this time things were very different…

My first trimester was very normal as it was with my first child but by the second trimester I knew something wasn’t right.  I had these symptoms with my first child but not as severe and this time I knew I needed to get help right away.  I called my therapist, my GP and my obstetrician.  I was diagnosed with Antepartum Depression and again started medication and therapy.  I looked into this condition because I had never heard of it and this is a little of what I discovered: 

All too often, depression is not diagnosed properly during pregnancy because people think it is just another type of hormonal imbalance. This assumption can be dangerous for the mother and the unborn baby.  According to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, between 14-23% of women will struggle with some symptoms of depression in pregnancy.

Depression during pregnancy, or antepartum depression, is a mood disorder just like clinical depression. Mood disorders are biological illnesses that involve changes in brain chemistry. During pregnancy, hormone changes can affect brain chemicals, which are directly related to depression and anxiety.  These can be worsened by difficult life situations, which can result in depression during pregnancy.  Untreated depression can lead to poor nutrition, drinking, smoking, and suicidal behavior, which can then cause premature birth, low birth weight, and developmental problems. Babies born to mothers who are depressed may be less active, show less attention and are more irritable and agitated than babies born to moms who are not depressed. This is why getting the right help is so important for both mom and baby.   (Information taken from http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/depression-during-pregnancy/)

As you get older it seems this condition gets more intense and that’s what made me go for help, I just couldn’t get through it this time on my own.  But I did manage to get through everything with a lot of support and in the end I was blessed with another healthy baby, but my symptoms did not go away as quickly as was the case with my first child.  It was much harder to get back to “normal” this time and I was on the medication and going for therapy for over a year.  Then finally the time came where I was better and able to handle life and all its bumps so again I was off the medication but I stayed with my therapy to help me cope when things were difficult.  Well I have been in therapy for a little over 12 years and have been on and off medication for depression several times. 

Yes it has to do with brain chemistry and hormones but depression can also be hereditary, and mine is.  I discovered people in my family who suffered with depression but not many received or looked for help.  Many times self-medication was the answer, and that meant drinking.  I come from a long line of alcoholics as well, these disorders or diseases seem to go hand in hand.  After thinking back, I noticed that I would do the same thing before I had my children.  I had a bad day at work, have a drink.  I was “blue” or upset, have a drink.  Something with me “just didn’t feel right”, have a drink.  The drinking really didn’t help but it made me numb to the problem at hand and for a while I was good and was able to deal with things.  This didn’t happen very often either so I never saw a pattern to it until now looking back. 

I’m 45 now and currently on medication for depression but over the years I developed anxiety as well and that seems to be giving me the most trouble now.  Yes I get blue but it passes fairly quickly.  What is difficult now is dealing with the anxiety and if it gets very bad, the panic attacks that go along with it.  I see that when I am overwhelmed its worse and I need my meds more.  And the bad thing about the medication is, it can make you lethargic/sleepy and you’re not motivated to get things done, or you’re slow to accomplish them, and then get anxious about not doing things on time or at all and I get that feeling again and I’m right back to an attack of anxiety….it’s a vicious cycle.

I’ve learned over the years how to deal with depression and now anxiety but it was not easy.  It affected everything in my life; my self-esteem – I saw myself as ugly, stupid, not worthy of being alive.  My health – I let my eating habits get bad, I have yo-yoed with my weight, I’m still smoking even though I have tried many times to quit, it also effects my family and my children – they see me struggle with bad days, I cry, I get wound up and seem to have so much nervous energy, sometime I snap at them too.  That’s the part I hate the most, but I always apologize after and try to explain why I did what I did or said what I said.  And work was affected as well, not being able to do the work or do it on time, forgetting things, missed days because of a bad day and more.  Depression affects more than the person suffering from it but if you have a good support system, people who understand you and what you are going through, it makes it a lot more bearable and I am so grateful to have so many wonderful people and family members behind me.

Orion Bionetworks is working on finding better treatments and cures for brain disorders like depression and many others.  As I understand it, they are using computer and medical technologies along with biological and gene data, brain function and many other types of information and data to understand, study, explore and piece together these brain diseases/disorders to find better ways of treating and maybe one day curing them.  But until that day comes, I know I have these conditions, but I refuse to let them dictate my entire life, I will overcome the bad days and cherish the good and never stop trying to better myself physically, mentally and emotionally.