Mommy's Little Helpers

When is it OK to take a pill to deal with mood swings?

Photograph by Veer

I’ve never been much of a pill popper.

Oh, I’ll down a couple of allergy pills during pollen season and tear up a Pepto after pizza night. And even with my four drug-free labors, I only had the medication nurse on speed dial for my regular dose of Motrin. For the most part, taking medicine is a last resort after I’ve exhausted all other options.

So you can see why it took me so long to ask my doctor for antidepressants.

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I experienced the “baby blues” after my first baby, and then with each child, I felt better sooner. Experience, and the adjusted expectations that came with it, allowed me to give myself a break, to ride the wave of those early, challenging months with a newborn. But for those few short months between kids when I had a period, my PMS symptoms got worse and worse, so much so that I was miserable from the solid two weeks between ovulation and menstruation. And for the last six months since I weaned my fourth child, it’s been downright unbearable. Not just for me, but for my husband and my kids. I’m irritable, moody and unpredictable. The anxiety is magnified and completely unreasonable. And my thoughts are my own worst enemy.

I couldn’t keep riding the roller coaster at the expense of the relationship with my children and my spouse...I was tired of the shame and guilt.

For months now, I’ve been attempting to cope on my own, with healthy eating, regular exercise and as much sleep as I can get with four kids under 7. Every month, it seemed to start earlier, and as much as I tried to keep myself under control and avoid stressful situations, I work full-time and solo-parent four kids for much of the month. Locking myself in a closet until my period hit wasn’t an option.

But I couldn’t keep riding the roller coaster at the expense of the relationship with my children and my spouse, all of whom endure the brunt of my outbursts, then accept my apology without judgment or resentment.

And worst of all, I was tired of the shame and guilt.

I was open with my concerns about side effects, particularly weight gain and the inability to orgasm, which I’ve heard are common for many women taking certain antidepressants.

So after describing my symptoms on my blog, I took the advice of readers who were kind enough to comment on my post and email me personally with their own similar experiences and I scheduled an appointment with my doctor.

Then I cried—from relief, and from regret that I hadn’t done it sooner.

I chose to see my family doctor, mostly because I knew it would be easier to get an appointment with him rather than my midwife. And although I’d only seen him a couple of times for virus-related questions, I had positive experiences both times and knew that he’d be able to help. After I described my symptoms for him, he spoke with me about why I might be having the issues and provided me with some suggestions. He ruled out thyroid issues and a hormonal imbalance based on my personal report.

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Because my symptoms were practically nonexistent for the first couple of weeks of my cycle, he suggested that I try a low dose antidepressant. While the medication would not actually help with the hormones, they would help my brain make better use of the serotonin. I was open with my concerns about side effects, particularly weight gain and the inability to orgasm, which I’ve heard are common for many women taking certain antidepressants. He suggested I try a newer, low-dose medication that was not anorgasmic—and might actually help me lose weight. And he also told me to exercise, every day if I could, something I already make a priority.

Then he reminded me that I’d need to be patient and then see him again for a follow-up in a few weeks, because it would take my body a bit of time to regulate. And since I was only experiencing symptoms for part of the month, I might not actually see a difference until that time in my cycle next month. If nothing changed, he said, he’d run a series of tests to make sure there wasn’t something else going on.

Since visiting my doctor, I’ve been taking medication for a week now and I already feel better, not necessarily because the drugs have kicked in. Believe me, I still feel bloated, tired and crabby—just ask my kids. But I’m so glad I asked for help and stopped beating myself up for not being able to cope on my own.

My family needs all of me healthy. And if this is going to make me a better, happier mom, I’m willing to do whatever it takes.

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