Mental health is no longer a taboo subject. There are many people who struggle “being inside their head” whether they are special needs parents or not. I suffered from clinical depression long before I was a special needs parent.
After having my second child I suffered from post-natal depression. I didn’t necessarily feel sad about anything in particular but Gareth would come home and find it wasn’t just the baby crying! I was also extremely irritable, fatigued and had a very short fuse. My family staged an intervention and I was surprised to be diagnosed with depression. I just thought this was normal behaviour after having a baby, looking after a toddler while holding down a part time job! However the doctor prescribed me antidepressants and I was surprised that they actually helped a lot. I was able to cope a lot better and I felt normal again. I was much nicer to be around and my energy levels picked up.
When deciding to try for number 3 I weaned myself off antidepressants with my doctors help (the first time in 6 years). It was obvious by my third trimester I needed some help before my baby was born. Even though I had sought help from a Naturopath and had tried natural treatments I felt constantly exhausted. Although this is not unusual with pregnancy I also became really sensitive to light and noise and everything felt overwhelming. I did not want to engage with anyone and didn’t even want to answer the phone. It was decided to start a safe antidepressant in my third trimester. Within days I felt so much better and was able to really enjoy my final stages of pregnancy.
Over the next 5 years hormone fluctuations really started taking their toll. I would feel good for 1 week out of 4. I finally sought help of an Endocrinologist who helped me stabilise my hormones. This has helped immensely and it is so nice to feel on an even keel most of the time.
This is how depression felt for me:
- Feeling exhausted and wanting to go to sleep to escape the world
- Feeling anxious, overwhelmed and being hyperactive or finding it hard to move at all
- Being trapped in my head with negative thoughts and finding no joy in anything
- Sensitive to sound and light and feeling heavy around the eyes
- Being grumpy and overreacting to small things by shouting
- Overanalysing actions, feeling guilty and beating myself up over the above
- Wanting to be alone and avoiding social interaction
- Eating, eating, eating
- Self medicating with alcohol
- Feeling tearful but not for any reason
- Not being able to “snap out of it”
- Finding it difficult to talk/slurring and feeling like a zombie
- Not being able to deal with stress and feeling out of control
There are many types of depression but mainly are categorised into Clinical and Situational Depression.
Clinical Depression is otherwise known as a mood disorder. It is a medical condition and often needs long term management by a doctor. It may be caused by brain chemistry, genetics or hormones. Symptoms can include sadness, persistent fatigue, irritability or sensitive to external stimuli.
Situational Depression is considered an adjustment disorder and is a common reaction to a traumatic event such as the death of a loved one, a marriage break up or some other life changing event they may experience deep sadness. Usually with time and/or counselling, those suffering situational depression adjust to the event and start to feel better. However if left unresolved, the brain may start to begin to produce less of the ‘happy chemicals’ serotonin and dopamine. Without proper treatment coping with every day life and having negative thought processes can lead to major depressive episodes.
Situational Depression and the Special Needs Parent
Situational depression is common for special needs parents as they deal with the adjustment of a life changing diagnosis for their child, exposure to chronic stress, physical and emotional strain, social isolation and financial hardship. Constantly having to be an advocate to get the help their child needs can lead to outright exhaustion and feeling chronic sorrow (click to read post).
Having managed clinical depression for a long time I know the importance of taking care of myself and my mental health. With the additional needs, anxiety and stress of having a special needs child it is really important to get some time out. Bringing in extra help can help you do just that. This could just mean having someone to help engage your child in activities, mind them while running around after other children or getting a break to do some exercise or gardening.
I have met many parents who are so exhausted and overwhelmed the thought of the process of being assessed for help seems just another thing to have to organise and fight for. It is so important though for the long term. For information on how to get assessed for financial assistance in Auckland click here . Remember the old cliche “Take care of yourself first or you will have nothing left to give others”.
No matter what type of depression you may be experiencing there are many coping strategies. This is what has helped me:-
- Being kind to myself and allowing myself to feel bad for a bit and not to feel guilty about it.
- Meditation is a helpful tool allowing a positive way to be in your own head. It helps change the pattern of thought and allows you to let go a bit. Just the process of deep breathing helps to calm the nervous system.
- Exercise, although hard to do when you feel like doing nothing, helps raise those endorphins and helps you feel happier. The key is to do something that you enjoy and just zone out for a bit. Yoga is great for your mind/body connection even if you are not flexible at all like me.
- Talking to people “who get it”. Someone who doesn’t mind if you aren’t your normal self and you can just hang out with without having to much make of an effort.
- Saying no to things, eating nutritious food and cutting down on alcohol are hard to do but can help a lot.
I hope by reading this it helps knowing you’re not alone if you suffer from the same thing. I am normally a confident, happy, energetic person who loves to talk! If you are a special needs parent or have additional stresses in your life it can be harder to get that time out but is important to find a way to put yourself before others.
Please seek medical advice if depression is impacting your life so you can get the help to start feeling better.