Before I start this story I want to mention that I’ve never sat down and spoken about this particular topic before; not with my husband or my parents, or anyone else close to me. People may have caught glimpses of the issue here and there, every now and then, but I’ve never taken the initiative to grab someone important to me and just talk about what I was feeling. Honestly, that’s just the kind of person I am. I like to keep my baggage to myself. But today, inpsired by a fellow blogger who recently had a very helpful doctor’s appointment, I’m going to tell you a little about what I dealt with internally for several years.
Some time before I was married, I found myself in my doctor’s office with a laundry list of complaints. I wasn’t sure if they were connected in any way, but I was hoping that there was some simple answer for why I was tired all the time (regardless of how much sleep I got), was often very lethargic, and had a lot of difficulty losing weight, amongst other annoyances. I’d done a bit of research and thought that perhaps I had a thyroid problem. Communicating this idea to my doctor was a bit tricky because he’s a difficult man to talk to sometimes; he tends to quickly make up his mind about what he thinks the problem is, and then he’s like a dog with a bone, refusing to let go even when new information is presented. For comparison, when my daughter was an infant and was constipated for over a week, I had three separate appointements with this doctor during which all he kept telling me was to give her fruit juice…despite the fact that I’d explained several times that she flat-out refused to swallow it.
So here I am, talking to my one-track-mind doctor, trying to convince him that I think I have a thyroid problem and that I’d like to be tested, and he comes out with this gem: “I think you’re depressed. I’m going to prescribe you an antidepressant.”
I was flabbergasted. I honestly couldn’t see how the complaints I had added up to a mental problem. I was certain that it had to be a physical issue – something that was off about my body, not my brain. “And besides,” I thought, “I’m not sad.” I knew that depression could come in many forms and that being depressed doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re sobbing all the time, but I genuinely didn’t feel like I was anything resembling depressed.
Somehow that day I managed to convince dog-with-a-bone to send me for the thyroid test before pushing pills on me, and I left that appointment satisfied that I was going to get some blood drawn, return to my doc, and get a prescription for thyroid meds that would make me feel loads better. But then my tests came back perfectly normal – on the low end of normal, perhaps, but still normal. I was honestly quite surprised, and the dog took his opportunity to start gnawing at that old bone again. I left the second appointment with a prescription for antidepressants and a gut feeling that they weren’t going to do a thing for me.
Now here’s the thing: I’m sure that there are lots of depressed people out there who truly don’t believe that they are depressed, or know that they are but don’t believe that medication will help, or are so concerned with all the stigmas that are associated with mental health problems that they refuse to admit that they might have one. But I wasn’t one of those people. I knew that depression wasn’t my problem. I couldn’t tell you how I knew, but I knew. And I was right. After over a year of taking the antidepressants as prescribed, I felt absolutely no different.
I officially stopped taking the pills after my wedding, when my husband and I decided that I was going to go off my birth control. I figured that since I was getting nothing out of them anyway, there was no point in risking that the medication might have an affect on a possible pregnancy. I stopped taking both the antidepressants and my birth control pills at the beginning of November 2009. In March of 2010 I took a positive pregnancy test, and in early December of 2010 I gave birth to my beautiful baby girl.
Fast forward to about two months after my daughter’s first birthday. Though I hadn’t thought about them in a while, I started to notice that some of my old symptoms were bothering me again, with an added joy: I started to have some pretty awful mood swings. I didn’t often express them out loud, but I would find myself getting extremely over-emotional about stupid, pointless things. If my husband left his clothes on the floor I would get enraged and want to put my fist through a wall. If I couldn’t get the baby to eat I would have to struggle to fight back the tears. At first I attributed it all to stress, since at this point my husband and I had both been unemployed for about five months and were just starting to seek employment out West. But the mood swings continued in full force even after I was back to work. I would be perfectly fine one moment, and then with the slightest provocation I would find my face growing hot and my throat choking up as I fought to keep myself from either bursting into tears or punching someone right in the nose. For the most part I managed to keep this inner turmoil stuffed firmly down in the bottom of my stomach, but every now and then I would say or do something that would have people looking at me like I’d suddenly lost my mind. It was all terribly frustrating and I wondered on several occasions if Iwas losing my mind. I almost went back to my doctor to ask for another antidepressant prescription. I was still confident that it wouldn’t help, but I hated feeling this way and couldn’t think of anything else to do.
It wasn’t until early 2013 that I started to realize some things. First, I’d had a truly excellent pregnancy. Though I would up with some pretty bad back pain in the last trimester, I’d been quite happy and issue-free throughout the pregnancy. Second, although I’d had to deal with the lack of sleep and mountain of emotions that come with having a young baby, the first year of my daughter’s life had ultimately been quite normal as well. My various complaints, along with the descent into Mood Swing Hell, had only cropped back up a little while after my daughter’s first birthday. So, I thought to myself, what was the common thread between the time before I’d gotten pregnant and the time after my daughter’s first birthday?
It didn’t take me very long to come up with the answer: my birth control pills. I’d gone off the pill in order to get pregnant, and had gotten pregnant only a few months later. After my daughter was born I’d opted for an IUD for birth control because I’d read that the hormones from the pill can leech into breastmilk. But then, when I officially decided that I was finished with breastmilk, I’d gone back to the pill because I’d had issues with the IUD – and that was right around the time of my daughter’s first birthday. My symptoms had disappeared a few months after I stopped taking my birth control pill, and had returned (with friends) a few months after I started taking them again.
Luckily, only a few weeks after my revelation, I had an appointment with my OB-GYN, who is a much easier doctor to communicate with. So, determined to prove to myself that I wasn’t simply insane, I took a deep breath and asked the doc, “Could my birth control pills be giving me mood swings?” You can’t imagine the relief I felt when she looked back at me and replied, “Oh, absolutely.”
I left that appointment with a prescription for a different brand of birth control pills – one that is known for being less likely to cause mood problems. And though the changeover to the new pill caused a couple of issues with my cycle for the first few months, I’ve felt a hundred times better ever since. My moods are back to normal (or as normal as the moods of the mother of a toddler can ever be), I’ve been sleeping better and subsequently feeling more awake and alert, and I’ve found that I’ve been gaining a rekindled interest in things that I had once been too lazy and lethargic to bother with for a long time. I’m still having a hard time losing weight, but there are a host of other reasons for that.
The reasons I’m choosing to share this story now are threefold:
One, as a reminder that it’s okay to complain if you aren’t feeling well. Even if you think that your complaints are trifling or that no one will take you seriously, you should still see someone if you think that there might be something wrong. Follow your gut.
Two, if you think that your doc isn’t taking you seriously, or that they are taking you in the wrong direction on something, insist on a second opinion. Find another practitioner or ask to see a specialist. Just don’t settle for the first opinion if it doesn’t feel right. Medical diagnostics is not an exact science; doctor’s make mistakes.
Third, sometimes it’s just nice to talk about these things – or in my case, write about these things. It can be embarassing, it can make you feel weak and pathetic, but it can also feel great. We all keep our crap buried down deep inside where it sits and festers, but if you’re brave enough to turn over that soil and plant some seeds, maybe – just maybe – something beautiful will grow.