Every morning, after I get the kids their breakfast and pour myself a cup of coffee, I open the spice cabinet above the toaster and, one by one, take out the bottles that constitute another part of my morning routine.
Most of them come from the supplement section at my local pharmacy: Vitamin D, B-complex, fish oil, a probiotic and some herbal supplements to help with my mood. But there’s also a little orange bottle filled with oblong blue pills my doctor has prescribed for me—my SSRI, which I’ve been on in one form or another for a few years, and which was most recently increased after my son was born last year.
I’d like to not need that one.
I think sometimes, as I spill them out into my hand and pluck one from my palm, that I have some sort of character deficiency because I take it. That I’m just not strong enough. Or good enough. Or “normal” enough.
But thankfully, the days I feel that way are fewer and fewer as time goes on. Because I have seen how taking that little pill has changed my life for the better. How it has actually allowed me to bring out parts of me that were suppressed before by a constant anxious chatter in my head and an overactive drive to control everything.
Blame it on the stigma surrounding mental health disorders, but I still hear comments from people saying that mood medication isn’t necessary. And those comments feed into the negative self-talk I find myself engaging in occasionally.
As a family friend said shortly after I increased my SSRI dosage during the depths of postpartum depression, “Oh no, not the blue pill! Anything but that. It’ll make you a zombie! Have you tried eliminating sugar?”
Their comments stung. I knew they were judging me, even if they were trying to be helpful.
My family friend is one of many who subscribe to the (completely valid) notion that most things can be cured through mindfulness, meditation, exercise and a healthy diet. I know all of those things—if I could be deliberate about them and just “clean up” my life—would impact my life and my moods.
And I tried them. While also tending to the needs of a newborn and a toddler.
While in the darkest depths of postpartum depression—where daily panic attacks tossed me about like waves crashing on the beach and existential dread filled every thought of every minute of every day—I walked the neighborhood furiously in the sub-freezing winter bleakness. I modified my diet and eliminated sugar. I listened to mindfulness podcasts while nursing the baby. I rested and tried to prioritize sleep. I went to counseling sessions every week for nearly 6 months.
I did all of the things I was “supposed” to do.
And, it became clear to me that I needed an extra push to solidify the gains I was making.
Medication helped get me over the threshold to sustained mental well-being.
If you are reading this, odds are you have an infant or a preschooler. Or both or older kids, too. And as you know, mama, eating clean and doing yoga and limiting screen time… well, those are all things we can strive for. But for many of us, those ideals are a luxury. And if we can carve out the time and brain space to be mindful of them all and we are still feeling like something is off with our mental landscape, why should someone else tell us what our brains should or should not be feeling?
When I heard the comment from our family friend, it hurt. Instead of feeling supported in the most horribly painful time of my life, I was feeling judged and inadequate. Like my efforts weren’t enough even though I knew in my core I was working harder on improving myself than I ever had in my life—while meeting the needs of two small children who were completely dependent upon me!
Where was the appreciation for that? And where was the trust in my ability, with my doctor’s support and recommendation, to know what my brain needed?
With the help of my medication, I was able to tone down the intensity of my anxiety—the catalyst that helped me beat postpartum depression and enter into a season of life where I can be present and relatively worry-free.
I take comfort in knowing I won’t need it forever. This is a season. And I am glad in this season, that I have medication to support my well-being in order to be the best mom, wife and person I can be.