Six months ago, in the middle of my second trimester, I started making preparations. These weren’t the typical preparations of setting up a nursery, buying baby clothes and taking Lamaze classes that usually accompany an impending arrival. Rather, it involved a series of conversations with my medical providers about the very real possibility of a post-partum depressive episode. I alerted my midwives to my history of seasonal depression, talked with my endocrinologist about the importance of keeping my thyroid hormones in check, retained a psychiatrist in case I should need medication and put my therapist’s number on speed-dial. I was taking no chances. Instead of anxiously awaiting a new bundle of joy, I anxiously expected a return of darkness.
I had just emerged from the abyss that is depression when I found out that I was unexpectedly pregnant with my third child. I was lucky that the news didn’t send me spiraling back down. Maybe lucky is the wrong word; I had just clawed my way out and I was too stubborn and scared to go back to that place.
Depression has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My mother was severely depressed after the birth of my youngest sister and had another episode when I was a teenager. I have had seasonal depression every year since I was fourteen. Depression is just the reality of my genetics and brain chemistry.
But I was not prepared for the severity of the major depressive episode I suffered last year. Depression ripped me out of my life, separating me from those I loved and threw me down in a fog of fear and sadness. A shadow of myself silently wandered this barren land. I spent months and months lost in my mind, barely able to move from my bed to the couch, unable to nurture or care for my children. The guilt I felt made me believe that they would be better off without me and I admit that I thought of ways I could make this happen. Even now, the memory of this time brings tears to my eyes.
I am a depression survivor but life has not gone back to the way it was. While some survivors emerge from the darkness with a new sense of purpose, the scars that I and my family bear are so visible that it seems my depression is ever present. My children are less verbal than their peers, probably because their mother wasn’t able to talk to them for six months. They also have a much greater likelihood of suffering from anxiety disorders and depression because they were the victims of my depression, a fact that I try not to dwell on. My husband admitted to me recently that he lives in fear of my psychological collapse. As for me, the specter of depression is close. I have been fortunate to experience little more than some baby blues since giving birth but I can feel my depression on the other side of a closed door, pacing back and forth, waiting to get back in.
Depression changes you forever, changes your relationship to the world. Even when you aren’t depressed life seems just a little harder, a little more fragile. It makes you more wary and much more vigilant. But depression is also a lesson in the nature of the human soul. I am left scarred from the experience but with an increased understanding of the enormity of human emotions and the depth of the soul. If nothing else, there is meaning, beauty and comfort in this.