I recently shared openly and honestly about my struggle with depression two years ago. We’ll continue the discussion in a series that I’ll try to run one day a week. I don’t want to have to blog about depression on every blog post for a while because that would be, well, depressing! So be sure to stop in about once a week to see my latest post in the series. Because of the comments, emails, and Facebook messages I’ve received, some private and some public, I know that this is an issue we need to keep discussing.
What Did it Feel Like?
As I discussed last week, it was hard for me to tell the difference between depression and post traumatic stress disorder, and it’s quite likely that I had both. The “trigger” for me could have been related to my recent child birth, but it was more likely connected to the trauma we experienced when we brought our infant into the local ER with what we thought was a cold. Instead, he was diagnosed with a rare lung defect called Congenital Lobar Emphysema and we were flown to a children’s hospital for emergency life-saving lung surgery. Two weeks later, we were discharged from the hospital and I went home feeling like I’d come home from war.
I felt the hopelessness and restlessness that are common with depression. I cried. All. The. Time. I tried not to cry around the kids, especially my 2 year old, but it was almost impossible because I felt such a lack of control. I cried while making the bed. I cried changing my baby’s diaper. I’ve never felt so out of control in my entire life.
At night, it was hard to sleep because my mind went back to our experiences, and I didn’t want to wake up in the mornings. I had all sorts of horrible thoughts that I don’t want to share and thus immortalize them in the form of a blog. So I’ll keep those to myself, but you can fill in the blanks. I’ll only share the ones I’m really comfortable discussing, because I’ve talked about them already with friends in person.
The flashbacks were probably the worst part of it all, and I continued to experience that for well over a year.
The night we spent in the ER, when my newborn was diagnosed with his rare lung defect, both my husband and I saw something that is almost indescribable. Have you ever seen a worried newborn? A terrified newborn? Our son was not quite 6 weeks old, yet he looked worried about himself, even fearful of the future. If I were you, I would think that this Gabby girl is exaggerating things, but my husband and I both remember the terrified look on our son’s face. Later, a nurse friend of mine told me that there’s something in medical circles called a sense of impending doom. Andrew, my 5 week old, had this sense of impending doom. He knew something bad was happening to him. He knew he could die. I know, it’s crazy, but I’ll never forget that look on his face.
After he was discharged from the hospital, it was this horrific look on his face that kept flashing back into my mind. Any time he would cry, I immediately saw that look on his face in the ER. When I would change his diaper and he would cry, I would start crying too. As irrational as it sounds, in my head I was thinking: “he knows he’s going to die–that’s why he’s crying!”
Of all the days that we spent living in a children’s hospital, one day was The Worst Day. All night long, our baby screamed and cried as they tried to suction out his nose and manage his pain levels. Too much and his breathing was suppressed. Too little and he was in pain from having half a lung removed. My husband and I were squished onto a couch in ICU, with his bed nearby, and we woke up all night hearing those screams.
The doctors had been hopeful that Andrew would be able to eat by a bottle on Saturday, but it was Monday and that had still not happened. They explained that he was working too hard to breathe, so to add eating into that would be just too difficult. He could also aspirate on the breast milk. It was just too much for him.
It was a very discouraging and defeating day because we’d seen no progress and both of us were fearful that our baby would never get better.
Honestly, part of me thought he was going to die.
I remember taking a shower that night, in the bathroom shared by all ICU families, and I distinctly remember hearing my own voice declaring my son’s death to others. And I broke down that night, crying in solace because finally, no one else could see me lose it.
These were all horrible memories, and the slightest thing would trigger these images and sounds. If I woke up at night, I might see that awful look on his face, hear my baby crying as he did in ICU, or hear my voice announcing his death. Now, I just have them as memories, but back then, when I was battling all of this, they were true flashbacks.
I also had to deal with guilt. The night we brought our baby into the ER, I thought it was just a really bad cold and that we could handle it at home. My husband urged me to take him into the ER, and by the time I did bring him in, I knew my baby wasn’t doing very well. I was very concerned and convinced that the strange gasping sounds he was making after his coughing fits were not normal. But prior to that, I had no idea it was so bad, and I certainly had no idea he had a lung defect. Logically, I know that anyone could’ve missed this diagnosis. Even the ER nurses thought I was just being an overly-cautious mother, and they kind of rolled their eyes at me in triage.
One big problem with this guilt was that after his discharge, part of me was fearful that I would miss something big again. I fell into the habit of checking the kids temperatures multiple times per day. The slightest sickness made me worry that we were all going to die. I know all of these things sound irrational, but a person experiencing these strong emotions is not being rational. Part of me was believing lies and trusting completely in my emotions.
I also believed at some point that I shouldn’t have any more children because I was just too scared. And then that was another dream I had to grieve. I let fear control me.
When Did it Start and End?
It’s very hard to say when it ended for sure, but I know that by my 30th birthday that September, 6 months later, I felt so much better. There were still hard days and I still experienced flashbacks from time to time for the next 9 months, but I felt like it was a battle I had won or was continuing to win on a regular basis. I felt like the deep fog had finally lifted.
Next week, I’ll share some of my tools for fighting depression. Most of my tools were already in my tool belt and I had no idea that’s why God had given them to me. I chose to attack depression from the physical, emotional, and spiritual fronts, all at the same time.
Your Turn: If you’ve experienced either of these, how long did it last?