I am no stranger to battling for my mental health. Having fought an eating disorder for nearly two decades and clinical depression for even longer, I am intimately familiar with the challenges of day to day living when your insides don’t seem to connect quite right. When I became pregnant in 2011, my eating disorder and depression both disappeared virtually overnight.
I thought I was healed.
That pregnancy ended in sadness. But when my daughter, Eve, was stillborn, I knew what to do. My many years of psychotherapy had armed me with coping skills, self-awareness, and more tools that enabled me to navigate the grief well.
And honestly — the grief, as awful as it was (and is) was far, far better than my eating disorder, then the depression. Grief, although messy, was logical. Something terrible had happened. We were enduring a horrible ordeal. The pain and sadness made sense. Being unable to stop crying when there is nothing to cry about, on the other hand, makes very little sense.
I spent the majority of two years pregnant, first with Eve and then with our rainbow. And, although this is not medically provable, I seem to be one of those women for whom pregnancy protects her mental health. Even though I became pregnant again just two months after Eve’s stillbirth, and though I grieved and longed for her throughout that pregnancy, I remained free of mental illness.
This past summer, something changed. I found myself crying and crying, unable to stem the flow of tears. I was tired — far more tired than I should have been. When my son napped or slept, I had no motivation to do any of my favorite activities. I also could not sleep. I felt unable to manage the fears that plagued me. And I was angry. So angry.
It’s the grief, loved ones told me, meaning well. You became pregnant so soon after Eve’s death. Of course it’s the grief. Of course.
But I know what grief feels like. Grief is wide and deep and its reach unfurls endlessly into the future, yes. Grief is hard. But — there is something healthy feeling about grief, too. There is a sense of movement, for me, at least. When I am grieving, I feel that I am riding in a too-small coracle adrift on a turbulent, storm-swept ocean. The cold water leaps up and up into the boat and slaps me in the face over and over. The salt stings my eyes, fills my mouth, and I am constantly spluttering, gasping for air. But even though I am desperate for a full breath that I can never quite manage to catch, even though my coracle is ever on the verge of capsizing, I know that I am traveling. These waves are carrying me somewhere, and even though it may take a lifetime to reach it, there is a shore.
With depression, there is no shore. There is no glimmer of hope. The coracle really is capsizing, and I am drowning. I eam drowning right here on the dry land of life, before the eyes of my friends and family, and even though my loved ones are with me, no one’s hand can reach me and pull me from the water closing over my head.
When we grieve, we are going somewhere — we are moving toward healing. But when we struggle with depression, there is only the endless ocean.
As August gave way to September, I made a difficult decision. I chose to begin using an antidepressant. I know that many of us in this community are concerned that our lingering healthy grief will be mistaken for complicated grief, depression, or some other inappropriate and unhelpful diagnosis. That we will be medicated for choosing to travel the ever-winding road of mourning.
But I knew — the winding road is going somewhere. Somewhere good. And I was going nowhere. I was adrift and sinking fast.
After I filled my prescription, it still took me several weeks to actually begin taking the antidepressant. And — a couple of months later, the glowering clouds have cleared. The waves have calmed enough that I can see that the storm has chased me into the safety of a bay. I blink and squint, because suddenly there is the sun’s light streaming around me, warming my drenched and desperate soul.
And my fear that the medication would squash my healthy loss-related sadness that needs to be felt so that it will not fester? This fear was proven wrong. More than wrong, in fact. I find that when my coracle is safely docked and the salted sea is faded from my tongue, there is more space for my grief. I can still remember, still feel, still let the sadness move me toward the healing.
It is a hard thing, to begin taking medication for the virtually invisible mental health struggle. And I think it is doubly hard for those of us in the loss and infertility community, because medication is sometimes pushed as an easy fix for our complex sorrowful feelings. But sometimes, we need some help. And there is no shame.
There is a shore. No matter the storm that rages around you — be it grief or depression, or both, or complicated grief, or something else entirely — know that there is a shore. With grief, remembering, feeling your sadness will steer you true. With depression, you might need a bit of help, be it therapy or medication, a support group, or perhaps an alternative remedy to draw you to the dock. But the shore is there, waiting for us to make it home.