Recently, Postpartum Progress posted an article that was originally posted on Scary Mommy. The article was about a woman who has suffered from treatment resistant depression for years. Her depression was naturally exacerbated with childbirth and the postpartum period. She expressed her frustration with well-meaning family, friends and strangers when they would advise her on how to treat her depression.
The full article is here.
In observing discussions with a variety of women who have been through postpartum depression, most of the women were sympathetic to the plight of the Scary Mommy author. But there were a few women who were quite strident in opposition to the article. One woman (who has since been deleted from the discussion) stated that we should just stop complaining about people who tell us to try treatments other than medication. She yelled that all of us complainers should just shut up and take our “fucking meds”. Then she demonstrated that she clearly didn’t read the article and told us that there are alternatives to our “fucking meds” and that we might want to try them some day. Another woman explained that for those of us who insist that meditation (ie alternatives to meds) doesn’t work for us – well, we’re just not doing it right.
Needless to say, neither of those comments went over well.
There’s a couple of things going on here.
There’s an insecurity among the community regarding medication use, even among the medicated mama group. A lot of that is driven by the fundamental misunderstanding of how mental health works and the associated stigmas. A lot of the medicated mamas (and those who are entertaining going on medication) feel that they are weak, alien, feeble for needing medication. They observe other women thriving in motherhood and don’t understand what’s wrong with them. Of course, in reality, there isn’t anything wrong with them. Everyone’s hormonal cocktail is a little different – and for some, it’s not quite the right mix. But insecurity understandably abounds.
Another key issue is that there are multiple types of mental health disorders and within each exists a gradient of severity. So, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another person. I’ve read blogs that talk about tips and tricks for dealing with anxiety and depression. I have no doubt that those tips work for those authors. But if they’re able to treat their anxiety and depression with exercise, thought-training and yoga, well then they don’t really have what I have (or what many other moms on medication have).
Depression for me was not curable with exercise. It wasn’t fixable by taking St. John’s Wart or fish oil. I know, I tried.
And there’s another key point, right there. I tried.
I think that’s why some of these women get annoyed when people give them advice for their depression…because they tried loads of other options prior to relying on medication. In fact they’re probably doing holistic techniques in conjunction with their medication. Even when they probably need an adjustment of medication, they’re still out there doing every holistic option known to man, first.
And that misconception about the medicated community is the whole point. We so often dip into this black and white binary world. It’s a world where we view things exclusively through our own lens, so that we fail to factor in nuance and differences in other people’s life experiences; it’s a “because I did it this way, everyone should be able to do it this way” world. It’s a world where it’s all or nothing – if we’ve taken medication, then we are PRO-MEDICATION and ANTI-ALTERNATIVES.
Obviously I’m exaggerating here and not everyone lives in that world, but some days it feels like those observations are hardly an exaggeration when you hear people’s comments and discussions. Take for example my post on Gorilla Mom, a story about a woman who nearly lost her son. This woman was then pilloried by the internet mob who simply couldn’t understand how that could have happened to her.
What I’ve discovered about myself in this process is that my postpartum depression is basically a 90/10 situation. 90% of the depression is only fixable by adjusting the hormonal and chemical levels in my brain. 10% is fixable by alternative or holistic treatment. It might not always be this way, but it’s what my reality is now. I know this to be true, because I’ve felt the difference. I’ve felt the difference of trying to correct my depression by exercising, taking fish oil, getting vitamin D, etc. while I was off of medication and while I was on medication. It gave me a pretty good indication of what my body is capable of and what it isn’t.
Alternatives do help me, but they only do so much. I’ve used this comparison before and I’ll do so again. For people like me, the hormones and chemicals swirling around my brain are creating a alternate reality where I can’t evaluate aspects of life in a fair or even way. The medication adjusts those chemicals and brings me up to what normal people go through when evaluating life. They get me to the same starting line as everyone else. Even with medication, I still experience highs and lows, just like normal people. So I use alternative treatments such as exercise, psychotherapy, seeking out company (since I’m an extrovert) and mindfulness to help when I experience lows while still taking my medication. I try to eat well and do take some supplements that I’ve noticed help with moods while still taking my medication.
But of course, even with all of this said, what we can’t forget is the intention of our family, friends and strangers. Sometimes the intention is to make a contentious point. But often, the intention is to help, to share, to offer suggestions because they love and care for us. Seeing things in that lens can ease the sting of what feels like a judgment against hard-sought treatment and recovery for postpartum (or other types) depression. If the dialogue is loving and non-prescriptive, it can be an opportunity for the depressed mother to explain a bit more of what postpartum depression is. Opening a dialogue and spreading awareness can help erode some of these insecurities and misconceptions about mental health.
But of course, keeping things in perspective goes both ways. Reading the situation before blurting out, “Oh you should try X”, is always good advice. You can usually also not go wrong by just being a good listener.
But dealing with depression is hard and often it’s difficult to know what to say or do. So we all do the best we can and just hope for grace on both sides, along the way.