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I once had a confluence of post partum, situational, and organically caused depression. I had a stroke during the 26th week of pregnancy, then delivered the baby at 34 weeks. Brain damage from stroke is a known cause of depression as is giving birth. The stroke landed me in a wheelchair with a newborn and a two year old. I was 35 years old. It was a depressing situation.

When I returned home from the rehab hospital to my two story, not handicapped accessible home to try to return to some kind of “normal” life, I was shocked. Through my 6 week stay in rehab, I dreamed of going home thinking things would be better at home. Instead, it was a nightmare of struggling to simply live life. My left arm was useless, I couldn’t walk very well, I couldn’t drive, I was in constant pain, and I had babies. Oh, and my dog got sick while I was in the hospital and died six months after I went home.

The doctors in the hospital were sure I was depressed, but I resisted. Even after I went home, I denied I was depressed. I didn’t want another problem.

Anyone who says they have never been depressed is probably lying. There is still a stigma attached to this form of suffering in our culture. We should “suck it up”, or just change the way we look at things. Talk about easier said than done.

Sure, I was sad, but depressed? I fought it. Until I couldn’t. I remember not feeling like getting out of bed one day to face the daily struggle that began with getting dressed. It wasn’t that I couldn’t get up, I just didn’t want to. It occurred to me that this was a symptom of depression. I had been seeing a psychiatrist to talk about my situation.

After some weeks of fighting to get up and face the day, it occurred to me that I might benefit from taking antidepressants. I consulted my psychiatrist and started taking Prozac. Over the next several months, we experimented with different medications and their side effects. My spirits slowly lifted with no change in my circumstances. I remember one strange side effect was an auditory hallucination that sounded like the ocean was rushing through my ears. I think we tried about 4 different medications before settling on Celexa. It was hard to quantify the results, but at minimum I wasn’t struggling to face the day in the morning.

My condition gradually improved through outpatient physical therapy. I became independent walking with a cane and a brace on my leg. I was able to tend to my own “activities of daily living”. The pain didn’t ease up, and my arm function didn’t improve much. I went to driver rehabilitation and started driving 7 months after I went home. Being able to drive did a great deal to mitigate the depression.

My psychiatrist suggested I try therapeutic horseback riding lessons at one session when I was complaining about all of the athletic pursuits I had lost to the stroke. I started right away. It was a brilliant idea. It was great exercise, as well as psychologically uplifting.

I took various drugs over the course of about a year. I was still sad much of the time, but I was able to function at a reasonable level.

I remember waking up one day and going to get my medicine. I wondered if I would need drugs for the rest of my life. It seemed clear to me by now that I would likely suffer with some degree of disability in perpetuity. I did not want to be dependent on pharmaceuticals forever. I decided I would not be. I realized that my situatiuon would suck to a degree for life, but I didn’t have to take drugs to deal with it.

I weaned off antidepressants according to my doctor’s instructions, and never looked back. Through a combination of being grateful for everything in my life, horseback riding and simply keeping a positive attitude, I have kept depression at bay for 18 years. Of course, there have been bumps in the road over those years including the end of my marriage.

I realize there are many serious forms of depression that may require medication. This is just my story of an alternative to drugs that happened to work for me.

Young stroke survivor, mother, champion equestrian, tambourine player, storyteller,

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