Mental Illness and Pregnancy

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Its almost 3 pm and I have been cleaning for four hours in preparation of the diaper party my boyfriend and I are throwing for ourselves. I’m 31 weeks pregnant. I take a break and put on some Eisley. Of course, the first song that plays is the anthem to the last year of my life. Its funny how a lyric can give you the confidence to push forward. As I listen to Smarter, I wonder how I got from an attempted suicide just last year to being a soon-to-be mama with such fluidity. My past sometimes makes me question my ability to be a parent. How can someone who once cared so little about herself decide to take on the task of creating new life? How can a woman who, since age 13, has struggled with depression, anxiety, panic disorder, insomnia and body dismorphia have a healthy pregnancy? My answer is complicated.

DISCLAIMER:
I am neither a doctor nor a therapist. The following is an account of my personal experience. Its purpose is to shed light on the realities of mental illness and to give hope to anyone who is pregnant and dealing with similar disorders. Do not ever change your medication or therapy routine without first speaking with a professional.

I chose to take charge of my illness. Before my pregnancy, I decided to handle my symptoms with coping skills that I learned in my time spent as a psychiatric patient. These coping skills took the place of drugs and a fickle mental healthcare system. In November, 2013 I was on my last prescription refills (I had just lost my medical insurance), and finding affordable mental healthcare was proving to be impossible. It is a known fact that Louisiana’s behavioral healthcare system is one of the worst. So, I decided to ween myself off of Sertraline (an SSRI) and Trazodone (perscribed for insomnia). My son was conceived the following January. In February I was done with my meds and discovered that I was pregnant. I informed my doctor of my medical history at my first prenatal appointment. She told me that my depression might worsen as the pregnancy progressed and that I may need to be medicated. But, I wanted to see if I could counteract my symptoms with coping skills alone. At 31 weeks pregnant, I can honestly say that I do not need medication.

I stopped self-medicating with alcohol before I got pregnant. In the time leading up to my hospitalization in May, 2013 I was on a year-long bender. I wasn’t stupid. I knew that alcohol worsened my depression. But, I didn’t care because I hated myself. I was a college drop-out working three jobs just to afford a place to live and my expensive reliance on booze. Sometimes I would go days without sleeping, which lead to really scary auditory hallucinations. All this lead up to my hospitalization where reality slapped me right across the face. One of my most important realizations was that I needed to stop drinking so much. This decision resulted in losing most of my friends. However, it marked my ascent from the rut I was in. If I had continued my bad habits there would be no pregnancy to speak of today.

Having a supportive co-parent, friends and family has been vital during my pregnancy. Its hard to stay depressed when you have amazing friends like mine. When I felt lonely or like my life was pointless, they were there late at night to chat and plan exciting vacations with. When I felt ashamed for bringing a child into this world, my family was there to remind me how long I have been dreaming of having a baby. When my anxiety spun out of control and lead to OCD symptoms, my boyfriend was there to patiently see me through it. Utilizing your support system, whether its one person or an army, can make a huge difference in how well you recover from battles with mental illness.

Gardening has given me pride and something to look forward to every day. Throughout my pregnancy I have had days when getting out of bed was a struggle. I have found gardening to be a great way to combat my depression and lack of motivation. Working in my garden releases those feel-good hormones that counteract my chemical imbalances. It has also given me a sense of pride and a reason to actively observe, learn from, and interact with nature.

I can take it easy, for once. I have had minimal stress since leaving my job at the start of my third trimester. When I was working, I would walk two and a half miles to work after sleeping poorly, serve rude customers for hours, then come home feeling stressed and in such physical pain that all I could do was cry. After multiple panic attacks and passing out on the job, I decided to put in my two weeks notice. I consider my current job-free life much more peaceful, although boring at times. The past few months have allowed me to prepare for the baby and to get in some much needed relaxation before the soon-to-come sleepless nights.

My new-found confidence has helped me shake my feelings of uncertainty. This little human growing inside me is giving me a reason to live and to follow my dreams. Currently, I am paying off some debt so that I can return to school in January, 2015. I want my son to learn from me and that is only possible if I know myself thouroughly. The love I already have for him is assurance enough that I will be a good mother. And if I start to doubt myself, I have an amazing support system to remind me that my illnesses do not define me.

If you are struggling with depression or having suicidal thoughts, call some one you trust or this hotline:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline- 1.800.273.8255

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