NICU Parent Perspective: When Depression Rears Its Ugly Head

May 18, 2020
jessica tyler, NICU mom, depression, maternal mental health month
Photo credit: Jodiellen Photography

My appointment reminder goes off and I silence it with a glance. Fifteen minutes until therapy. I swallow the “ugh” ready to come out of my mouth, thinking, “Therapy? No time for that!” This is the inner dialogue every week. Then I spend an hour spilling my guts to my therapist (on video of course, in these times of coronavirus).

I’ve been in and out of therapy much of my adult life. Finding times of depression and anxiety, I will seek out a therapist. I begin therapy and go back on antidepressants. As soon as I’m a bit in balance I move on, citing a busy schedule and other priorities. 

Other priorities including a husband, a job and two sons. Things that I love dearly and tend to put ahead of my mental health. They take time and energy with little leftover. The problem with not finding time for myself is that my tank starts to drop and even my reserves get low. That’s when I find my depression rearing its ugly head. 

Depression is a tricky beast. It will lie in wait, seeking the right moment to venture out. Sometimes, things seem great for months. Yes! I’m cured! And then it reappears, with a sarcastic, “Hello, old friend.”

I’ve struggled with depression for much of my life. Yet despite my history, it always manages to take me by surprise. When I gave birth to my first son, I sunk into a deep depression mere days after he was born. I called my OB asking to start antidepressants, because I was scared at how fast it came on and the severity. I felt sad and disconnected from my new family. I didn’t understand that I was suffering from postpartum depression. 

When I was pregnant with my second son, I felt better prepared. My OB and I agreed that we would keep me off my meds as long as we could. I remember the day I came in and asked her how much longer until I could go back on. She took one look at me and said, “Today. We said when it was time we would go back on and I can tell that it’s time.”

After Ben was born, I felt victorious. I was happy and in love with my son. I felt like I had managed to have a baby and stay level despite lack of sleep and hormones going haywire. I was doing great. I managed even after he and my husband suffered a fall and Ben landed in the NICU with a traumatic brain injury.

When we were in the NICU I remember thinking that I was doing well. I would have my moments of course, but I was in control. When we went home, I was scared but moved straight into “new normal.” Taking care of a newborn is a big task. Taking care of a medically fragile newborn can be incredibly daunting. 

When we were discharged, Benjamin was on anti-seizure medications and blood thinner injections. His blood thinner meds were delivered to our home weekly. Jeff and I administered twice-daily injections. I watched him like a hawk, looking for seizures or any sign that something wasn’t right. We connected with Early Intervention immediately after we were discharged. Ben began three therapies a week when he was a few months old. 

I was too busy (and exhausted!) to see what was happening. No one deprioritized my wellness but me. I was so focused on everything else that I missed what was happening to myself. By the time I realized I needed help I was spiraling. When you hit a point that you’re so far gone – so sad, so tired – that is when the hopeless feelings kick in.

If there is one thing I can stress, it’s to get help before you lose hope. Or, let autopilot direct you to help and have faith that hope will return.

While my role as a mom and caretaker of others is incredibly important, I can’t function at capacity if I’m not well. We have all heard the safety announcements on an airplane. “Put on your oxygen mask before putting a mask on those around you.” If I can’t breathe on my own, I can’t help anyone else.

It’s so basic, but the one thing I most often forget.

Early this year, I found a therapist that I like and connect with. I’m feeling better, but I’m not allowing myself to quit yet. I know my history. I know that my depression lurks just below the surface and will appear at any time. 

I also know that in order for me to be the mom and wife I want to be, I have to be my best. I must take care of myself even when I’m too busy. It’s the only way. I’m on the track to long-term wellness, and it’s because I know that my mental health matters.

maternal mental health awareness month, #Mymentalhealthmatters hand to hold

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