Should I take antidepressants for my grief?

Dear grieving mum,

I’m sorry you’ve found my blog by searching with the keywords ‘antidepressants’ ‘grief’ ‘death of my child’…

I’m truly sorry.

Behind each of my posts, I see parents read my blog searching for the answer to this question because they are looking for some respite from the strain of coping with grief while having to get on with life. Their last hope is that a pill will get them through it.

Back in 2015, I wrote this post about starting antidepressants, something I had tried so hard to avoid. I didn’t see how any pill could help my grief, but I knew the anxiety was consuming me and I needed help.

While I have certainly experienced the benefit of taking medication for anxiety and depression, I’m in two minds about the use of antidepressants for grief (and trauma). They haven’t changed what has happened, or made me feel ‘better’ about it, they haven’t stopped the flashbacks, they didn’t replace talking about it with a trained professional, but they did help me get through the days, they did mute the constant anxious chatter in my mind enough for me to think about other things for a change.

Having had two more children since Abi died, I have dramatically mixed emotions – my heart is torn in two constantly, as I wouldn’t have had my two little ones if Abi was still alive. It’s hard to know that they wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be experiencing love and joy all over again if she hadn’t died, but then her death has ‘given’ something wonderful to help us live on without her…

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I’ve continued on antidepressants on and off since first taking them. I was on them most of my last pregnancy and came off for a few months around the birth. I went back on them again about a month after I had my baby (so if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and worried about taking antidepressants – don’t, my baby is perfectly healthy and very bonny, my own fears about this were unnecessary).

Nine months after giving birth, I am weaning myself off very slowly, my hormones feel more balanced so I feel it worth a try. I now see them as something to help me more with the emotional demands of pregnancy and coping with a newborn rather than my grief. So maybe you’re reading this from a similar perspective, having had a rainbow baby or considering trying again. I think it’s sensible to consider the impact on your physical – and therefore mental – health when you have so much to process and your mind and body will be flooded with hormones.

While the tablets were helpful at giving my mind a break, there is something ‘depressing’ and negative about being on antidepressants! Just knowing I’m on them reminds me that I am grieving, that I can’t cope, that I need help… but being on them has helped get me through some very bleak times and enabled me to get dinner on the table and now work again.

If you can combine pills with some talking therapy (with someone who understands post-natal depression and trauma, not just a chatty counsellor) then it will be much more beneficial. I see the pills as a way to help me open up. While I’ve not done it myself, I have heard that EMDR therapy is good (and supported, in theory, by the NHS).  This is usually performed by a private psychotherapist.

It’s natural to carry a lot of unresolved grief emotion around with you as you distract yourself with new babies, new jobs, new lives… I’ve been there, when I had my son a few weeks after Abi’s first anniversary, I knew the pregnancy was a distraction from the grief, but I needn’t have worried, it came back to get me! I saw a good maternal psychotherapist (privately, as all the GP could offer was a telephone number with a 12-month waiting list), but it was worth the expense.

The therapy gave me the safe space to say out loud all those things I needed to say, to someone who wouldn’t judge me or try to ‘make it better’, who wanted to hear me say the unspeakable. Things like wishing Abi was here rather than my new son, talking about the layers of guilt I felt for loving him and not know what to do with my love for her, for battling with resentment and anger – things no mother ever should have to think about saying. Still, they needed to be said.

Pills won’t ‘cure’ your grief, but they will help you get through therapy to get to a point where you feel more like yourself more of the time than not.

Does this resonate at all? I hope you have an understanding GP. I think if you are asking the question ‘Should I take antidepressants?’ then you already know the answer. Anxiety and depression cannot be shrugged off in a walk around the block or a night out with friends – this is deep and hourly. For your sake and for your family’s, put yourself first and they will only see the benefit, and you will be able to live – and grieve – again.

As you feel a bit better in yourself you will be able to feel more like looking after your physical self too. If you’re not already – take some good vitamins and minerals, keep active, force yourself to try something new. I find that since my loss I’m sensitive to minor deficiencies which only make my anxiety and worries worse, so I take my vits every day, look at ways to get some time to myself and try to keep fit without being obsessive – all things that help develop mental strength.

Your grief is so new, so complex, so personal. It’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to get on with things… It’s about finding a place for all that while giving your children (and your identity as mummy to all your children) the space to ‘be’. Read my blog and see how my mood and grief has changed over the years – sometimes I am bleak and vulnerable, other times I feel more positive and hopeful…  being on meds has certainly helped me get to today without going crazy.

I hope this has been of some help.

Take care.

Kelly x

 

The hardest thing to admit…

After you’ve lost a child, you somehow find ways to live on. You don’t actively seek ways to help your situation, the adjustment sort of happens by itself.

When people say to you ‘I don’t know how you cope’, you look at them blankly, and most likely simply say ‘I just do’. But it makes you realise you have been coping! Inside you’re thinking how exactly have I coped? Am I a bad mother for coping the way I have? Will I ever feel on top of this?

There are things in my life that have changed for the ‘better’ in the three years since Abi died. We had our first rainbow baby a year after her death. A huge new adjustment on top of the trauma of early grief, no matter how joyful a blessing his arrival was.

There is no doubt at all that he is a blessing and has not only helped us to see hope and feel joy again but has also helped family and friends. This little boy has a clean slate, no trauma or pain or sorrow, no worries or fears, just simple happiness and wonder at what life is. I wish I could bottle that!

We’ve also changed our home in a big way to what it was. We finally have the kitchen of our dreams after years of waiting and dreaming. We have added another bedroom giving us some much-needed space. We’ve had all the manky old carpets replaced and had new double glazing fitted, as well as having most rooms professionally redecorated. Big, expensive jobs that needed a remortgage to achieve but have enabled us to start to love our home again without leaving or eliminating the memory of Abi.

I’m in the final few days of pregnancy as we wait for another baby girl to arrive. We’ve adjusted to our new son and now we know we’ll need to adjust again, through tiredness and worry and fear, through joy and happiness and hope.

I am naturally anxious for a safe delivery and keen to meet her after all these months of getting to know her as she has been growing inside me. I long to see her tiny fingers and toes. To smell her head. To hold her close for a feed. To feel that rush of love whenever I cuddle my child.

But…

…this wasn’t the life I wanted.

Admitting that is hard, very hard, because I know how fortunate I am. But when someone is going through a major trial, saying ‘there are others worse off than you’ often doesn’t help at all.

I know there are other people living in terrible situations and I am thankful for what I have been blessed with. If I died tomorrow, I would be very happy with what I have achieved in my life.

But still… this wasn’t the life I wanted.

I look at my amazing kitchen, the one that replaced cupboards hanging off the walls, rotting wood and a grotty floor. It’s now clean, bright and functional. I like it, knowing it’s new and just as we want it makes my life easier, but the joy of it has never been felt.

Because now, of course, material things don’t matter. It has helped lift my spirits, as having a nice kitchen that looks clean when I’ve cleaned it helps me when I feel depressed. Having a home that I know we have invested in and that has space to spread out helps me not feel so hemmed in. I feel comfortable in rather than irritated by my surroundings. But I’d still switch it all back in a heartbeat to have her back, to be back to complaining about my old kitchen or lack of storage.

It’s similar with our new child and this pregnancy. I can feel at times a sense of sorrow. Sorrow that I’m living on. Sorrow that I’m taking such joy in my new children knowing what I’ve lost. Sorrow that my other children have had to adjust to this too, but live with their own anxieties about illness and death that we have to try and help them with.

I feel love and happiness for my rainbows, how can I not?! The love I feel for them is so deep it hurts. In many ways they have saved us from despair. Yet I can’t ever feel the simple joy of a new parent at the arrival of a baby, because it’s always tinged with pain.

I know people who have lost a child and wanted another, it’s natural to want to feel that rush of love again, but to think that it would somehow replace the grief, or make it less painful, is misguided.

To have another baby or babies after a loss brings up unique emotions. Despite wanting the baby more than anything, you realise that this child is here because another is not. That the grief you felt for your lost child is what helped create this new one. That part of them is in this new baby, when your core is screaming out for your dead child.

It’s an admittedly negative way to reflect on the birth of a child, but it’s essential to acknowledge. Grief and blessing when blended together bring emotions that no one can warn you about. Life is always a complex mix of looking simultaneously forwards with hope and backwards with regret.

I realised that I’ve been thinking thoughts like this recently. I suppose a typical mother’s guilt response to the excitement I feel at having another child after thinking my chances of having any more children were over before Abi died. I also recognise it as typical pre-birth jitters, the fear of the change and of the whole aspect of ‘coping’.

It is my grief’s way of taking the edge off my joy as I marvel at my blessings. Life is not about simple joys any more, there will always be an underlying emotion, a fear, a hankering for what once was…

Yet I am grateful for life.
I am grateful for the people in my life.
I am grateful for Abi.
I try not to live with regret.
I try to move forward each day.
I try to use what I have learned.

I am realising it is possible to cope. That joy through grief is still joy, and that in fact the grief I feel is actually a way of keeping Abi close to me as my life and needs change.

This post may seem somewhat sombre, self-pitying, defeatist but it’s those kind of thoughts I don’t want to keep to myself. It’s those kinds of thoughts that are taboo, that isolate the grieving from others. I have to release them in order to cope.

No. I didn’t want this, but it’s what I have and I will allow the sad feelings to accompany me along with the good. I will remember that my life’s perspective is changed for the better because of what I have been through, even though my perspective on mortality has changed for the worse.

My children have enriched my life, I only hope that I can return that gift by enriching theirs.

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Loving my children after losing my child

While, of course, I loved my children before Abi died, that love has changed quite dramatically since.

I gave birth to Abi, back in 2000, and it wasn’t long before my second child was on her way. She arrived when Abi was 22 months old. Back then, I worked 4 days a week and my husband and I had been married just three years. We’d just about settled into our first home together when we had to move to a larger house. I’d only been in my new job about three months. There was a lot going on. On top of that, I suffered what I later realised was Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following my second child’s birth. It was fast, furious and unbelievably painful, and a stress to both me and my child that still has repercussions today.

Life felt hard. It’s fair to say, I can’t remember much of the early years with the two girls and I’m thankful for the photos we took, as it reminds me that it was – in the main – a good time in our lives.

But back then our lives were like many other people’s – more about getting stuff done, getting us to places, sorting things out, stressing about work. There wasn’t much time to water the roses let alone stop and smell them! We complained about all the ‘normal’ problems of parenting that I see countless people complaining about online today. At times, I’m sure it felt like my children were sent to ruin me, not bring me joy!

After a few years had passed and life seemed more settled, and me recovered, we had another child, this time a son. His home birth was much more positive and calm. I finally felt in control and confident in what I was doing. Life was good again, and we were more able to see the wood for the trees and appreciate each other. We made some really good memories. But it still had its challenges, challenges that almost tipped us over the edge, challenges that – today – mean nothing…

When Abi died, in 2013, I seemed to remember every time I lost my rag with her, or ignored her or didn’t go to an assembly because I was working… I regretted a lot. Yet I also began to remember the things I thought I’d forgotten. Memories of the little girl came back to me, they were always there, just squashed by the trials of life.

Continue reading “Loving my children after losing my child”