Are you as excited as I am for another Thankful Thursday? These posts always touch and inspire me and I love being able to share them with you. Today’s post is especially close to my heart because today’s writer is close to my heart. Laura and her husband Josh have been our closest friends during our two years in Korea. We had the great privilege of walking with them through Laura’s entire pregnancy, the birth of their first child, and the next year of transition into parenthood. This story touched me because I was around to witness a lot of it, but also because I too have struggled with anxiety and depression and while I’ve never experienced the hormonal havoc of childbirth, I know what it is to have your mind and body betray you in frightening ways. I’m so thankful for Laura and her family and also for God’s work in her life through a very difficult and scary time.
For Antidepressants, and for Quitting Them
It was just shy of a year ago, as the clock struck one on a humid August night in Korea, that I birthed our beautiful daughter. My mom stood at one shoulder and my husband at the other and the doctor and nurses at my feet, all urging me to push as hard as I could after 24 hours of back labor had left me exhausted and whimpering.
Then she was here, and she was perfect. I spent the next two weeks in a tired-but-wired state of attentiveness, Mom still on one side and Josh on the other, tirelessly supporting me in those early days of nursing and changing and cuddling and kissing this miracle, as I struggled to sleep when she slept and only managed about three hours out of every 24. Other than this, I felt like everything was going really well.
Until one morning a cloud descended. The adrenaline had run out, it seemed, and the rest of my hormones were going haywire in its absence. A few extra hours of blessed sleep did finally come, but it wasn’t enough. Something was wrong and it wasn’t just exhaustion. I had postpartum depression.
Except for how suddenly I crashed, it really wasn’t much of a shock. Throughout my teens and early 20s, I lived with low-grade anxiety, a constant tension in my tummy that I didn’t realize wasn’t normal till my chill-as-one-can-be husband came along and showed me how to relax. Then we moved to Korea to teach English, and the stress of doing a new job in a new country—and trying to do it perfectly—brought that anxiety back with a vengeance. This time depression came with it.
I limped through that year with copious amounts of pizza and beer and ice cream and TV (I know, I know), as well as a lot of prayer and care from Josh and friends and family. I did learn how to be a more effective EFL teacher and how to stop trying to be a perfect one, so things got better. But the lingering fatigue left me aching to go back home to Kansas, and we did, and it was good.
Fast forward three years to the August of our daughter’s birth, and we’d been back in Korea for almost a year. This time only Josh was teaching, and I was finishing up a low-stress pregnancy as a stay-at-home-mom-to-be, in a culture and with friends I was able to fully enjoy this time around. Some nausea and heartburn notwithstanding, I felt really good and right on track for an all-natural, “ideal” delivery and postpartum experience.
Maybe it was the intense back labor that kicked my body into high gear and kept it that way for those first two weeks postpartum until I crashed. Maybe I just didn’t prioritize sleep enough in those early days. Maybe I didn’t procure exactly the right nutrients to replenish my body and help my hormones rebalance themselves. Maybe I wasn’t getting enough sunshine and fresh air in our cave-like studio apartment at the end of a hot and rainy Korean summer. Maybe I was under spiritual attack in which evil voices whispered to me to toss my baby out our third-floor window so it would all just be over. Maybe it was some of all of these, or maybe I’m just wired for anxiety and depression, and there was nothing I could have done to prevent my curling into a ball day and night, my only real activities to nurse lying on my side and to choke down as much food as I could stand while my mom, husband and dad (who had since joined us) did all the diaper-changing, shopping, cooking, cleaning and loving on me and our sweet Genevieve.
Whatever the reason, it became obvious after two more weeks that fighting the PPD with food and sunshine and prayer just wasn’t cutting it (and the Lord knows we really tried). So on a rainy Wednesday morning my support group packed up me and our 4-week-old, and we all got on the bus to a mental hospital to ask for some antidepressants.
From here on out it is clear that I’m one of the lucky ones. Within days of starting a low dose of an SSRI that (please God, let it be true) seems to have done no harm to my nursling or me, my depression had eased and I was beginning to see the light. When Josh had to go back to work and my mom had extended her stay as long as she possibly could, my mother-in-law flew the thousands of miles to help us through the next few weeks, by the end of which even the anxiety had lifted and I was feeling downright happy. Our family of three started finding a “new normal” that involved leaving the house regularly, nursing in public on occasion and handling with relative serenity the caring, if nosy, advice of all the Korean grandmothers who treated us as their own.
The little white pills had pretty single-handedly brought me back to our world. So it was with intense gratitude (though certainly not always a perfect attitude) that I soaked up the next six months of motherhood while faithfully taking my meds each morning. And then spring came, and it was with cautious hope that I wondered if I might be able to wean myself off of them.
See, in addition to being a secretly anxious person most of my life, I have also been a not-so-secretly sensitive gal emotionally. I cry pretty dang easily, and while this is not always fun for those closest to me, my sensitivity and its related empathy feel like an important part of who I am.
But once on the antidepressant, I got to where I wasn’t crying ever, at all. And while no one else was complaining for sure, I missed being able to tear up during a touching movie scene or even break down a bit when something felt wrong in my world. So with the continued support of Josh and our loved ones both near and far, I decided to start cutting my dosage and see what happened.
Three months and just a few headaches and anxiety spells later, I am “drug free” and again one of the fortunate ones. It seems that my body just needed more time for the nutrition, sleep, sunshine, exercise, laughter, love and who-knows-what-else to help my hormones get back as they were meant to be, at least for now.
As an idealist, I wanted so badly to use only these “all-natural” gifts from God to bring about my healing (or even prevent illness in the first place), and it is possible I just didn’t figure out or follow through early enough with what could have allowed me to avoid the side effects and risks of manmade meds full of synthetic chemicals. But depression wasn’t waiting for me to fix things naturally, and I see the drugs as a stopgap measure, a less-than-sterile piece of cloth used as a tourniquet because you’d bleed to death waiting for a clean one to get on the scene.
I also see the hand of God behind this less-than-ideal means of grace. Even as I celebrate the fact that I don’t seem to need antidepressants anymore, I firmly believe that our Lord, who works in all the things of this broken world for good, can use even imperfect little white pills to fight the darkness and bring light.
And for that I am so very thankful.
Laura Rhoades is wife to Josh, mom to Genevieve and photographer to women. Before moving back home in August to her hometown of Wichita, Kansas, she’ll be spending her final weeks in Korea singing karaoke, soaking and scrubbing at the sauna and scarfing down as much mul naengmyeon and bingsu as possible. You can find her online at www.laurarhoades.com.
Laura Rhoades is wife to Josh, mom to Genevieve and photographer to women. Before moving back home in August to her hometown of Wichita, Kansas, she’ll be spending her final weeks in Korea singing karaoke, soaking and scrubbing at the sauna and scarfing down as much mul naengmyeon and bingsu as possible.