Adventures in Mental Health

So the past couple weeks have been kind of a rollercoaster.

I found myself, very suddenly, feeling awful. Of course every parent has moments or days of exhaustion and overwhelm, and at first I thought that’s all I was going through. But I would wake up swamped with a sense of despair, with thoughts like “there is not one single thing about this day that I am going to enjoy” pushing into my mind. The kids were sources only of frustration and stress, and I was unable to access any of the joy and humor that their company usually brings me. I felt like I was constantly running on empty, like I couldn’t recharge my inner battery no matter what I did.

And I was bewildered by my own sudden unhappiness. It came on so quickly, it didn’t seem to have any rational source, and I wasn’t sure how to handle it.

I started to tell some people, tentatively, that something was weirdly wrong. I posted on Facebook: “This week has left me feeling like a passive observer of my own mental health. And I’m all like, ‘whoa, that went bad quick.'”

I also told some people that I was daydreaming about committing some sort of major crime just so that I could be sent to prison, where there would be plenty of time to read and write and nobody would be depending on me for anything. I could even laugh at myself as I said it, because it’s obviously such a ludicrous fantasy. But at the same time what that daydream really says is “I would like to escape from my life now, please.” And it’s a short step from a fantasy like that to others that aren’t funny at all. I caught myself wishing for a terminal illness—so that I could go to the hospital and be cared for and absolved of all my responsibilities. And I was angry at myself for having such offensive thoughts, but they kept intruding.

It was very scary to me when I found my mind circling around dark topics in this way. I could not understand it. I like my life! Like anybody I get stressed sometimes, I have bad days, but at bedrock I feel incredibly lucky to have a warm, loving family and a sense of deep purpose to my daily work. Why did I suddenly feel swamped by despair? Where had this darkness come from and why was it drowning me? Sam of course tried to be supportive, but he didn’t understand it either.

Eventually it occurred to me that, hey, I did have a baby not so long ago—could this be linked to that “post-partum depression” I’ve heard so much about?

And suddenly the confusion and the bewilderment dissolved. I could stop asking “but what is wrong with me” and start asking a much more helpful question: “so what’s the treatment”? I did the responsible thing and scheduled an appointment with a doctor to talk about the pit that seemed to have abruptly opened up beneath me.

And as it turns out, the doctor was kind of hilariously uninterested in the question of whether or not I should be diagnosed with post-partum depression. He was all like: “Well, you’re obviously depressed. Post-partum or not, know what? Doesn’t matter. Treatment’s the same either way. And frankly, lady, after hearing about how you’re the primary caregiver for three kids including an infant with no extended family in the area or other support and how you haven’t had a solid night’s sleep in seven months, I think it’s a wonder you didn’t crack sooner. Have some Prozac and call me in two weeks.”

So I am writing about this the same way I would write about a sprained ankle or a bout of the flu. Because I think it’s important to destigmatize mental health issues, and because I was truly surprised by how quickly this settled on me. I have every expectation that a short course of anti-depressants will solve the problem. I even feel a little bit proud of myself for being adult enough to seek treatment right away instead of grimly slogging on. My family deserves better than that, and so do I.

12 Responses to “Adventures in Mental Health”

  • Rebecca Anderson Says:

    Hi Shannon! Thanks for this! I’ve been feeling very down on life and negative in general lately. Been hating my life, even though I know I love it!! Glad you got some resolution 🙂 You are an amazing lady & mama!! See you at the pan-

    • Shannon Phillips Says:

      Thanks Rebecca! I’m sorry you “get it” maybe a little too well. I bet lots of moms understand being in this place. I just know for myself it is not something to take lightly. I hope we both get better soon!

  • Amy K Says:

    Thank you! I had crippling PDD, which was not a surprise given my history. In fact, I didn’t really make progress until I sought help from a highly respective specialist about a year ago and he introduced me to a new class of anti-depressants. Night and freaking day.

    I can’t tolerate SSRIs or SNRIs, something I learned last summer. Based on an intimate relationship with these class of drugs for I can’t remember how many years, my advice when you choose to discontinue is to taper slowly. Serotonin withdrawal, ahem, I mean Serotonin Discontinuation Syndrome (:barf: the power of word choice in action!) isn’t … fun. Your plan to use them short-term is wise. If you’re having a difficult time getting of them, please seek your doctor’s advise. Good luck! Rooting for you all.

    • Shannon Phillips Says:

      I was depressed once in college and I responded well to Prozac back then. (I think having been through that experience might actually be helpful to me now–I know better than to let things keep spiraling down!)

      You’re not the only person to tell me that discontinuation syndrome is no joke. One of the nice things about Prozac is that it tapers pretty gently.

  • Amy K Says:

    Minor mistake: I should have put ‘new class’ and ‘antidepressant’ in quotes. It’s a relatively old drug and is technically not an AD. (I’ll FB message you the name).

  • Karen W Says:

    Not to get all mystical on a very real medical issue, but I swear there is something in the lunar cycle or something… I’ve had a terrible month or so of depressive episodes, feelings of despair and being overwhelmed, and knowing in my mind I have a good life but feeling in my heart that it’s just one exhausting and endless slog to and from work until I drop dead. My job isn’t terrible, either! Hoping the sun breaks through for all of us, metaphorically speaking. Maybe it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder?!

    • Shannon Phillips Says:

      Oh, I’m sorry you’re in the same boat–since it’s such a crappy boat! But there *is* a part of me that’s really comforted by hearing from other moms who get it. So thank you.

  • Amy K Says:

    As far as ADs go, Prozac is a good choice, even more so since you responded well to it in the past. It is less refined then the 2nd, 3rd, etc. generations, but it is far easier to get off then some of those that followed. (I’m looking a you Paxil! :shudder:)

    In support of destigmatizing mental health issues, and in case someone who can’t tolerate SSRIs or SNRIs, I changed my mind. I’m now on Lamictal. It’s technically an anticonvulsant, but an unexpected, repeatedly reported and observed side effect was mood elevation. It’s the preferred first line treatment option for many doctors for bipolar 2, often in conjunction with lithium, and used off-label for treatment resistant depression. They’re not sure why it works – and run fast from any doctor who currently claims otherwise – but it does and its risk profile is significantly lower than atypicals, the shiny new, but potentially very dangerous, kids on the block. It’s a finicky drug w/ a complicated and individualized titration schedule, but when it works it’s magic.

  • Pei Says:

    Sorry to hear you are going through the episode. But it is no strange feeling to any moms out there- don’t we all have the fantasy to escape our daily routings and charos and enjoy ourselves for a while? I wish I can babysit for you so you can take a break- which might be more effective than any medicine. We do this with Michael’s family sometimes. We swap our kids, so we can do a “couple night out” just to recharge. You will find yourselves miss the kids right away and be more energized going back. I wonder if you can do that with your friends nearby? Or you may already tried? Of course you are welcome to move to Dallas and we can definitely do that.:)
    I hope you find a way to find the peace and strength in your heart soon. I’m sending you lots of good wishes along the way.

    • Shannon Phillips Says:

      We don’t go out a lot because the baby is still nursing, so there’s only brief windows of time where we can ditch the kids even if we hire a babysitter.

      But! Our anniversary is this week so we are going out on Sunday night. I’m looking forward to it SO much!

      Thank you for your good wishes 🙂

  • Kristen Says:

    I’m glad you posted this – less stigma, more help!

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