In the wake of Cheryl Hanna’s death, the beloved Vermont Law School professor who recently took her life due to her private struggle with depression, I began to reflect on my own experience with the disease.
The only time I have experienced what I would call “clinical” depression is when I was pregnant with my son.
It was my first pregnancy and I was hit hard with not only all day “morning” sickness, which left me unable to stand up straight, but something unfamiliar and out of my control.
It was as if my eyes were replaced with someone else’s eyes and the world looked like an entirely different place. The things I found beautiful were no longer beautiful. In fact, they were downright ugly. Shelburne Farms, my favorite artwork, the mountains. My places of solitude and inspiration had disappeared. I spent weeks lying in my guest bedroom staring out the window, wondering why I had made this one huge mistake in my life. I had made so many smart and positive decisions throughout my 30+ years, but now I was pregnant, barely recognizable to myself, and didn’t think I wanted to be a mother.
Thankfully I began to recognize that what I was experiencing was depression. I had witnessed other people who suffered from depression, but this was a first for me. I have definitely experienced PMS and feeling “depressed”, but this was different. This was serious. I recall sitting on my back deck praying for a miscarriage.
I would wake up in the morning after a fitful night sleep and for about thirty seconds my body would feel at peace, as if it had forgotten about the depression. Then it would happen. This huge wave of something that felt poisonous would fill my body, smother me, and not let go again until the next morning. The weight on my chest was unbearable. While this imagined weight persisted in my chest, I was dropping body weight quickly, a total of twelve pounds in the first trimester.
I had a frank discussion with my husband and asked him if he was 100 percent certain he wanted children. His answer, without hesitation was, “Yes. But not at the expense of losing you”. That was all I needed to hear. Decision made. As much as I was suffering, I knew then that I could not look back. I figured that some of the depression came from doubting whether or not I wanted to become a mother. That and not wanting to take anything that could harm the baby, made medication for depression something I didn’t really explore. I did, however, take Zofran in order to calm the nausea enough to return to work. I would get to work and hunch over a table and try to get through the day.
Weeks and weeks went by and the feeling persisted. I started to describe what was happening to me as “invasion of the body snatchers”. Would I ever feel like myself again? It was so scary to think that this could be my new “normal”. I knew I could not live that way.
Friends offered words of encouragement, telling me to eat healthy and exercise. Those two things are part of my everyday life. I am an active hiker, biker, pretty much anything outdoors. In the throws of the depression the mere thought of walking around the block was daunting. I have run marathons and climbed many mountains. I simply could not do it. My body and mind were no longer my own.
At roughly seventeen weeks the depression started to let up. It was if someone gently lifted a sheet that had been smothering me.
I danced around my house like Tom Cruise in Risky Business. I couldn’t believe it. I was back. The feeling only lasted for a few hours, but I had felt something. Something! It felt good to feel again. Eventually the depression went away completely and I had a wonderful pregnancy and thankfully, no postpartum depression. I became enamored with motherhood the instant my son was born.
It is three and half years later and I am pregnant again. The symptoms are back. They came on fast and hard. I vowed that this time I would get help right away. Reading about Cheryl Hanna, and how quickly depression can take over, I knew that medication, if needed, is okay. I am taking a low dose anti-depressant for the first time in my life. I can handle the nausea, but the depression is intolerable. It’s only been a few days but the weight in my chest is a bit lighter. I can breathe again. And even though I know it will get better, it does not make the day to day easier. I am also going to try acupuncture.
In some strange way I am glad that I experienced depression first hand (I could really do without it a second time!). The empathy I feel for people who suffer from depression on a daily basis is huge. I cannot even imagine living this way beyond the first trimester of pregnancy. I always thought that people who were depressed didn’t know what was happening to them. I thought you were just depressed and miserable. I had no idea how acutely aware one is when suffering from depression. It is like the outer body experience I mentioned earlier, as if watching yourself from outside of your body and trying to run away from it. You know exactly what is happening but feel trapped and want so desperately to feel “normal”.
A part of me hopes that no one will relate to my story. But if you do, don’t feel ashamed. It is scary to think that our bodies can turn on us like this. Hormones are tricky business, especially during pregnancy. Talk to someone right away. Some days it is difficult to imagine picking up the phone. I understand. I really do. I am sharing my story so that you know you will feel like yourself again. I will be sure to send myself a copy.
Written by Shawna Lidsky
Shawna Lidsky is a small business owner and former sportscaster with a passion for travel, outdoor adventures, and empowering young girls through sports. The New Jersey native lives in Shelburne with her three and half year old son Teddy and husband Doug. Little know facts: she loves vintage motorcycles, large off-road vehicles, and small British sports cars.