People love to throw around the word "depressed". It seems that everything from a favorite team's loss in a ball game to a death in the family can lead someone to declare being "depressed" these days. But, I wonder...are they really depressed? I mean, is being depressed the same thing as suffering from depression, and if it is not, then is it accurate to say you are depressed? And, how does it impact someone who is living with depression to hear it used so nonchalantly?
Sure, it must be crazy stressful to suffer from multiple losses of loved ones in a short period of time. Or to lose your job. To have piles of bills stacking up and not be able to pay them. To get a divorce. To become an empty-nester after 18+ years of being a full-time parent. To deal with the things that inevitably happen across the course of a lifetime. And that stress? Absolutely can impact your mood and create feelings of sadness and anxiety. And those who have a particular genetic or other predisposition to mental health issues may very well find that one of those occurrences actually is the last straw that transforms stress and sadness into true clinical depression. But, for most folks who toss around "being depressed" the way they talk about being hungry, tired or excited, I have to say please don't confuse a feeling with a health issue.
Yesterday during the Postpartum Support Chat at Cafemom I was reminded of one of the many reasons moms who suffer from postpartum depression and anxiety are so damned confused and frustrated by it. It doesn't make sense. Period. When they think of being depressed in terms of being sad for a particular reason, then they are accurate in being perplexed by PPD and why they are dealing with it. The reality is that most of us who suffer from PPD have healthy babies, enough to eat, some sort of support (whether from a partner, family or friends), and a roof over our heads. Sure, one of the risk factors is a baby who has health issues such as being premature, but most of the women who I interact with didn't have NICU experiences, babies with disabilities or serious physical complications. They had perfectly healthy, full-term newborns. And that? That fact alone is a tremendous source of confusion and guilt for mamas. Imagine staring at a beautiful, healthy infant and thinking, "Here is this perfect human being I have been blessed with and yet I feel sad, anxious, scared, angry...", the list goes on and on.
The other thing I hear moms say all the time is, "What did I do to deserve this? I mean, I am a good person." In short? You didn't do anything to deserve it. Yeah, it stinks, but most of us are good people, too. I'm not saying PPD only targets the cream of the crop, but I don't think it is over-stating it to say that the majority of women who suffer from PPD pay their taxes and help little old ladies across the street, at a minimum. And? Most of them do way more than that...They are the dedicated volunteers at their churches. The neighbors who take a meal to everyone who has a baby and gets a head-cold. The women who go the extra mile for mankind. There's just nothing we can do to deserve or completely prevent PPD.
So, what's up with PPD, then? Unfortunately, what's up is that PPD, unlike being down, sad or "depressed", is that it is a disorder...an illness. It's not based solely upon circumstances. It's a complicated and unique beast. Much more than a temporary feeling or emotion in response to a situation. So rest assured, mamas, you don't have to have a "reason" to be feeling the way you are. I pray that knowing that, and helping others to understand it, gives you a little relief and hope.