A very large media company in Canada is running an awareness campaign today to help relieve the stigma surrounding mental health by encouraging people to talk about their experiences and/or offer their support to those who need it. While I am not necessarily participating in this campaign, it has got me thinking about my own experiences with depression, anxiety, and infertility.
A lot of my feelings of sadness and depression came about right after my PCOS diagnoses. I was given the information that I had PCOS and that I should regulate my blood sugar levels to help it out, but I wasn’t really given any other tools to deal with it. I was sent to see a nutritionist, who wasn’t very helpful at all. She told me my current diet was fine when it absolutely wasn’t. No offense to her or her practice, but she didn’t seem to know anything about PCOS and really just treated me like a Type 2 diabetes patient, which I am not exclusively. PCOS can complicate things because a lot of foods are inflammatory to us, foods like dairy and gluten being the two biggest culprits. And yet, I was encouraged to follow the Canada food guide. Which got me nowhere, but I digress.
I felt so helpless during that time, so I went online to read up about my syndrome and was inundated by information. Information I didn’t know how to process or how to use. To make matters worse, the gynecologist I was seeing suddenly left his position and I was left without a doctor. When I called around looking for a new doctor, I was told the wait list was between 8-12 months. My family doctor had already relayed to me that he didn’t feel comfortable prescribing me medication to help me ovulate, as it wasn’t his area of specialization. I get it now, but man, was I ever pissed at him at the time. That feeling of helplessness just got heavier and heavier. I let it push me down and for awhile I really let it consume.
I remember laying in bed for hours just crying in the dark. Sometimes it was triggered by a pregnancy post or announcement, or a “hashtagmomlife” post from someone on social media, and sometimes it wasn’t triggered at all. It was just how I was feeling that day. I felt so sad and I couldn’t help it. I just needed to cry. I needed to feel sorry for myself. So I did.
I feel like it was really hard for people in my life to accept that. I had a lot of people encouraging me to look on the bright side of things or to stop worrying. We hear that a lot while trying to conceive, don’t we? It doesn’t help. It also devalues the emotions we’re feeling during that time and devalues what part of the grieving process we’re at. Because it is 100% a grieving process, and goddamnit, we need to feel it. So let us fucking feel it!
I know. I know. People are just trying to help, right? But when did helping involve shutting people down and telling them their feelings are not valid. They’re all valid. Even the sad ones. Especially the sad ones! Infertility is sad, and guess what? We’re going to be sad, A LOT. It doesn’t mean we’ll never be happy, and it doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the happiness that surrounds us. Sadness and happiness can co-exist, one does not negate the other. But I think there is often an idea that we have to help people to “turn that frown upside down”, or to “choose happiness”. But that’s not always what people need in that moment.
People just want to be listened to and they want your respect. If you have a friend or family member going through infertility, don’t try and “fix” them. They need to work on that themselves and the only way to heal is to confront their sadness and deal with it. They need to grieve, so let them grieve. If you want to help them, let them know you are there for them. I have a lot of friends who haven’t experienced infertility and don’t pretend to understand what I am going through (which I appreciate) and I know they are there for me if I need them. And even though I might not talk to them every day, or share my every thought or feeling with them, I know they’re there to listen when I need them. That is very comforting to know.
We don’t need a lecture. We just want someone to listen.
I don’t want to say that I beat depression because I think it’s something I will always be susceptible to. Women with PCOS suffer from a hormonal imbalance, and depression can very easily creep up on us because of that. I do have to battle moments of sadness from time to time. I still crawl into my bed and cry every once in awhile, and I still have my sad days. But I don’t feel guilty or ashamed to have them anymore. I let myself feel what I need to feel and then I keep going. I find that talking about my infertility (on this blog and in person) has really helped me to deal with the emotions, and even to find humour in the whole thing. Shocking.
Some things I have found helpful are:
- Talking about it
- Saying no to things that I know will trigger sad feelings – kid’s parties, baby showers, etc.
- Unfollowing pregnant women on social media
- Practicing self-care – reading, taking a bath, pampering myself with nice products
- Treating myself to nice things
- Eating a healthy, hormone-balancing diet
- Going for long walks with my family
- Focusing on the people who really matter in my life – the ones who have been there for me
- Finally booking a vacation down south
All of these things bring me some kind of peace or happiness. I find all of them really empowering. And for me, that has been the key. Empowering myself, so when those feelings of hopelessness start to creep in, I can remind myself that I am capable of being strong and that those sad feelings are important, but they don’t define me.