The four posts that comprise The Dark Days of May (Parts I, II, III, and IV) were written partly so I could release all that negativity and sadness but also so I could share it and, hopefully, help others suffering with depression, PPD, PMDD, or other ‘silent’ pain to know that they are not alone.
I read somewhere that the immense pain of depression is due to the fact that it is a silent disease. The suffering of so many is born in silence and shame.
I promised at the end of those posts that I would share some of the valuble things I learned. I learned a lot of ‘life’ lessons, plus I learned a lot of useful facts about the human brain, chemistry, physiology, and luckily, self care.
One of the first things I did when I was diagnosed with and accepted the fact that I was suffering from depression, was try to learn about it. I found very little in the way of resources in the library plus, I was in a situation with two very young babies and my only resource for childcare was my husband, who just couldn’t be available all the time. This made it hard to ‘get out’ for help and support.
The first useful group I found was on line of course.
This link is to the Online PPD Support Group . Through this group, I found a lot of reading resources, plus there were chat groups and message boards. They have an extensive list of reading material now but 4 years ago. The main book they recommended was by Deborah Sichel, M.D. and Jeanne Watson Driscoll, M.S., R.N., C.S. ‘Women’s Moods; What every woman must know about hormones, the brain, and emotional health’
There is a lot of very useful info in this book and I’d recommend it to all women to read. The book describes, in detail, the effects of our hormones on our bodies and brains, in all the reproductive stages of life. And don’t kid yourself, teenagers can have serious issues with this stuff too. If you have a teenaged daughter or a young adult, it would be smart to get educated. The book goes abit too heavily into mental illnesses (IMO) and drug treatments and should only be part of what is read on the subject.
Sichel and Driscoll’s book has detailed chapters on the structure of the brain, the chemical pathways of the brain, and a program for care of the brain. They contend that the brain is one of the most illused structures in our bodies. When any other part of you is distressed, ill, or injured, you typically get symptoms of pain, fever, and discomfort that you don’t ignore. You go see the doctor. When your brain is giving you symptoms of sleepnessness, anxiety, nausea, exhaustion, and general malaise, you typically ignore it. A biochemically disturbed and challenged brain does not get a chance to correct itself. Sleep is a critical feature in the healthy cycle of the brain’s day. Sleep is one of the most often abused features in brain care. Along with alcohol, drugs, poor nutrition and any number of other stressors.
Your brain stem is the primitive part of the brain, respsonsible for automatic functions such as breathing, heartbeat and digestion. The limbic brain, surrounding the brain stem, is responsible for the primitive drives for survival; appetite, thirst, sleep-wake cycle, sex drive, aggressive impulses, temperature control and control of the menstrual cycle. The cortical brain surrounds the limbic brain and is responsible for higher functions, such as judgement, abstract thought and intellect. When the limbic brain becomes out of balance, it can have a profound impact on the functioning of the whole brain.
The process of pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period floods the brain with a complex cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters. Combine that with the interaction with the adrenals and the sea of anxiety/fight/flight chemicals washing around in the brain and the lack of sleep to allow healing and rebalancing, and it became clear to me why I ended up on a state of dyregulation in my brain. Every person’s situation is different of course. I had the added anxiety of my Dad’s illness, a premature and colicky baby, and my thyroid going for a wander.
A very useful program described in the above book is called the ‘NURSE” program for caring for your brain.
That stands for nutrition, understanding, rest, spirituality, and exercise. A potent combination that I have used to help myself feel a lot better.
What else have I learned?
I know I have difficulties asking for help. I’m used to being ‘the strong one’. As I was struggling through this difficult time I clearly remember berating myself; ‘everyone else handles this! what is wrong with me that I’m not handling it?’ and ‘Come on Laura, you just have to try harder!’ I tend to pull in to myself when troubled, instead of reaching out. That is something I still work on.
People don’t really talk much about these types of struggles. Especially since you’re expected to be constantly awash with joy in the new and blessed state of parenthood.
This is part of why I do chose to talk about these things.
I had every intention of doing quite a bit more chemistry stuff in this post, since its a favorite subject but decided not to. If you’re interested, please read up on it. The book I referenced here is a great starting point, as is the website for PPD.
One more book I want to recommend, and this is for anyone who is a female or lives with a female. Its called, The Change before the Change, by Dr. Laura Corio.
So many people are unaware that menopause can actually be a long process. The woman’s hormonal pathways can be changing for as much as ten years before menopause. So, women in their forties, can expect to see some changes. For many of us who are having our babies later, we can see the blurring of the post partum and peri-menopausal stages of life.
Dr. Corio’s book covers a huge range of topics and has a lot of really useful info on the process of aging, herbal treatments, nutrition, and more. My friend Dianne borrowed this book and she said her husband started reading it and really got a lot out of it. I don’t know what kind of testimonial that is but take it for what its worth 🙂