Since I've been blogging about this journey, I've encountered a number of women who are battling with depression and anxiety alongside their infertility.
I was barely 18 when I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety, and I started counseling and medication shortly after. I continued with both forms of treatment through college, then stopped, then started again not too long after the infertility diagnosis. I tried seeing a counselor here not too long ago - late last year? - about everything, but I didn't like her. I've been on pretty much every depression/anxiety medication in my life, but I didn't like the way any of them made me feel.
Nothing, for the record. They made me feel nothing, which is not fun. I like to feel some emotion. Not crying at a funeral is what made me swear off antidepressants forever.
This doesn't mean that I'm okay now. In fact, much like infertility, I'm not sure there is a "cure" when you are diagnosed with depression. You learn to live your life knowing that there are days or weeks or even months where you will go through a down time. You learn ways to cope. You force yourself to get out of bed in the mornings, even though the last thing you want to do is face the world. It's a daily, internal battle - at least for me. I go through periods when I'm fine, and then I'll be down for a while. The comfort is knowing that I'll feel better again soon. I always do.
Combining depression with fertility issues is a recipe for disaster. A doctor telling you that your body doesn't work the way it's supposed to is devastating when you already struggle with your self-image. To make matters worse, it's bringing together two medical issues that the general population already has a difficult time understanding. Can't get pregnant? Take a vacation/it's nature's way of controlling the population/infertility isn't a "real" disease. Feeling depressed? Go see a movie/Everyone gets sad sometimes . . . get over it/Depression isn't a "real" disease.
Then there are the hormones. As if you don't have a hard enough time controlling your emotions with depression, this task becomes nearly impossible when you're popping pills and injecting yourself with HCG and progesterone and estrogen and Lupron and god knows what else is out there. You might be crying one minute, laughing the next, and throwing things right after that. I know, because I've been there.
It's a problem - how to cope with both simultaneously. There are only so many books you can read. Medication is fine, for a while, but many aren't safe to take during pregnancy. Support groups don't exist everywhere, and not every counselor knows how to address issues with infertility. Some of us have learned that last point the hard way. What do we do? How do we manage two diseases at once, knowing that neither will have a cure and only one may have a resolution?
I think this is where our community plays such an important role, whether we realize it or not. Yes, it's nice to know that you aren't the only woman in the world whose uterus doesn't work. But it's also nice to know that you aren't the only woman in the world whose uterus doesn't work and who also grapples with the huge emotional consequences that come with it. It doesn't matter if you suffered from depression and anxiety before or after your battle with infertility began. What matters is knowing that you aren't alone and your feelings are validated. What matters is having someone to turn to who will help encourage you to get out of bed in the mornings and to keep fighting.
Do I wish there was more professional support available for those suffering? Yes. I wish all adoption agencies and clinics would provide FREE counseling services? Yes. (I know some do, but not all.) Do I wish there were more support groups and more outreach programs? Yes. But until we have those things, we need to be there for one other. We need to support and encourage. And we need to recognize when someone's depression becomes too much for us to help. It's not simply about being an advocate for changes in legislation or insurance coverage. It's also about being an advocate for our emotional and mental health.
If you need to speak to someone about infertility support, please contact your local RESOLVE HelpLine.