Guest Post By: Meg Flanagan
Postpartum Depression and the Military Spouse
It felt like I couldn’t breathe any more, and that every breath I did take was a struggle. The walls kept moving closer and my responsibilities kept getting heavier.
I was the glue that held it all together. How could I afford to let it fall apart? Every morning, I woke early to pump and get a workout in before the baby woke up. Then it was a dash out the door to daycare and my teaching job. All day long was a sprint, and a balancing act of getting just enough done that I was making progress. Even working quickly I still stayed late every single day. After work, it was a harried and hurried evening between daycare pick-up, dinner, bath time, and bedtime. When I collapsed into bed, I often couldn’t sleep, couldn’t turn off my brain. I worked hard and was the primary caregiver for our daughter, I also did the majority of the chores, the cooking, and the cleaning.
I was exhausted, strung-out, and stressed to the max. Every day I spent at least some time crying, questioning my judgement in working, having a child, and being a military spouse. Military spouses are expected to be strong, resilient, and do it all. Knowing that I was failing in all of my roles was devastating. I couldn’t deal with it.
I took it hard. I shut down and shut everyone out. I was constantly grouchy, moody, and angry. I forgot how to smile and laugh. I was constantly angry and frustrated with my daughter, my husband, and my students. Nothing worked right.
But I still didn’t want to admit that I needed help. Asking for help would be the ultimate defeat. I tried so hard to fake it until it became real, to act happy and like everything was fine. And it worked, for a while.
One night it all came crashing down. After a week of struggling to fall asleep, I literally could not fall asleep. I was exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally. And I couldn’t sleep. All I could think about was work, how much I was letting everyone down, and what a horrible mother I was. I tried reading, watching TV, and getting things ready for the next day.
At 3 a.m., I surrendered. I emailed my teaching team the lesson plan for the following day, and sent my closest friend on the faculty an email to clue her in to the situation. Knowing that I had a reprieve from work for the next day, I finally fell asleep.
When I went to the doctor’s office, my primary care doctor informed me that I most likely had postpartum depression, aggravated by a stressful job. I wasn’t entirely shocked, I almost expected it. I was relieved; it wasn’t all in my head. She prescribed a low dose of Zoloft and exercise.
I felt empowered now that I had an official diagnosis. I reached out to Military One Source for counseling help, which is provided free for a limited period of time through an affiliated provider. Having someone to talk to, even just for a few sessions, was helpful. It was nice to have someone who actually listened to me, who respected my ideas and thought that I was doing alright at work and home.
Eventually, with the medication and exercise, I started to feel better, to even out. I started sleeping again, and not being quite as grouchy.
As the school year wound to a close, and a PCS move came up, I weaned myself off of the antidepressant and continued running.
Now, I have good days and bad days. I am still frustrated by work (or my current lack thereof), by the demands of being a mother and wife, and by how much I shoulder as a military spouse. However, I know that asking for help is not admitting defeat. It is simply adding tools to my arsenal to improve my odds of winning in the long run.
Meg Flanagan is a special and elementary education teacher who holds a M.Ed in special education and a BS in elementary education. In addition to classroom experience, she has also worked in private tutoring and home schools. Meg is passionate about education advocacy for all children, but especially for children with special needs and children of military and state department personnel. You can find Meg online at MilKids Education Consulting, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.