[Editor’s note: This guest post had me giddy from the very first sentence. I too, have always related to Perkins-Gilman’s story, The Yellow Wallpaper, even before I became a mother. After experiencing my own maternal mental health challenges, I discovered that Gilman’s authorship of this story and her determination to speak up about the deficiencies in her own treatment actually caused her physician to change his mind about how women who fought “hysteria,” as it was called back in her day, should be treated. You see? Gilman is a Warrior Mama, just like all of us.
I love the message of this guest post and I know you will too. Go forth and read!]
There’s a story called The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It was written over a hundred years ago about a woman suffering from exhaustion. She was locked in a room, all by herself, and she quite obviously started to go mad.
I guess I’ve always related to the narrator of that story because I’ve suffered from mood disorders for most of my life, most notably after the birth of my daughter.
When I got pregnant with my first daughter, I decided to go off of the medications that I had been on for years. I was lucky because while I was pregnant I was also working full time and was quite busy. I had a lot of distractions, and I had a lot to keep my mind occupied. I was able to function with therapy but no medications.
And then one day I gave birth. It was beautiful and life changing and miraculous and breathtaking. It was the full of human experience distilled and brought to light in a single moment.
I was a mom.
I was different.
The world was different.
We brought home that little bundle, and we loved her with every ounce of our beings. After enduring years of infertility, I finally had my little girl. My family could ride off into the sunset of our happily ever after.
Except that’s not how it went. At all.
I spent half the time with her in her bouncy seat facing away from me because I didn’t want her to see her mother sobbing. I stopped talking to most people because conversations just left me feeling empty—like I was skeleton talking to a real person. I couldn’t leave our house. The sunlight was too much. Too much of a contrast between what was in my head and what was out there in the world.
We sat inside of our house with all of the curtains closed for months. I gave her every ounce of my being. It took everything I had to sing to her and rock her and read to her and cuddle her. But that was all of me. That was all I had. When she would sleep, I would retreat into nothingness. I had no hope. I had no belief that a future existed. All I had was panic and despair.
Finally one day through sobs and dizzying thoughts, I realized this wasn’t working. I contacted my therapist and asked for an opinion about medication. Within seconds he responded that he thought it was a good idea, and a day later I had a prescription to fill.
Life didn’t instantly get better. I went on a new medication and it made me near manic. It was scary. But then I found one that worked, and with the support of my husband and a daily habit of journaling and very close contact with a therapist, I climbed my way out.
I share this story out of a desire to spread hope, but I also share it to inspire acceptance: Acceptance of every woman’s right to choose her own path to recovery.
As I started the piece with, centuries went by where treatments for mood disorders were forced on women by men who couldn’t have understood women’s issues less. We were locked away and our brains were drilled into and we were burned at the stakes.
Now, however, we live in an era where there are actual, legitimate treatments. They won’t eradicate depression, and there’s no one right drug or combination for every woman, but they are out there, and they can make a difference.
My concern is that while we live in a time with more effective options, I’m not sure we live in a time that is more kind or is more accepting of women’s different circumstances. Nearly daily, I read an article or hear a speaker who will say the medications are okay in some circumstances. Or medications are okay short term. Or medications are not necessary because I did XYZ and it worked incredibly well.
Whenever I find myself listening to those stories, I find myself cheering for the authors, genuinely grateful that they have been able to find their cure, but I also find my heart breaking for those women out there who are still suffering. Women who have been offered medications, who might desperately want to try them, but who might feel the sting of the stigma.
There are millions of women in this world and many of us will suffer from a mood disorder at some point. We are all complex, full, vibrant, unique human beings. Our suffering might appear the same, but it can be caused by so many factors. My hope is that we are able to come together and erase the stigma that surrounds antidepressants. That we no longer label them as the purview of the weak. That we no longer see them only as a last ditch effort to be tried when our lives are on the brink of destruction.
So take your meds. Or exercise. Or do yoga. Or stand on your head in the middle of a field of daisies if it will help you. Learn your body. Learn your mind. Make up your mind. And let’s lead ourselves into a future where every choice will be respected, even those that come from a prescription pad.
Amanda Knapp is a stay at home mom and a writer who has been published on Psych Central, Mothering, and her own blog, Indisposable Mama.