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Depression can come in many forms. Mine happened to be postpartum depression aggravated by deployment to the Middle East when my youngest was only five months old. I was heavier than I felt comfortable with, missed my children, and was far, far from home with a significant time difference and often spotty means of communication.
At first I tried the Nutella and avoidance method and, while it was delicious, I packed on weight — which aggravated my self-image problems, causing me to spiral even further. Comfort foods may make one feel good for a very short period of time; however, the addition of several thousand excess calories a day does nothing good for the waistline. In addition to the jarred candy, I threw myself into my work pulling 18- to 20-hour days. The lack of sleep also made matters worse. I did this for about three weeks until one of the ladies with me intervened. She saw that even though I put on a happy face when others were around, something was not right.
>> Read more: How to Cope With Postpartum Depression
She and I weren’t close (yet) but she did make sense. I was headed for a breakdown and needed to change something. So I tried hitting the gym, an improvement for sure, but lifting weights with just my thoughts wasn’t really my thing. I talked in confidence to my boss (our medical provider) about what was going on. But I still had to walk a fine line because at that time depression in military service could be a career-ending taboo. I needed a support group but it had to be a very trustworthy one. My boss, my intervener and my roommate were the only people I felt safe confiding in. I went to chapel; I meditated; I wrote hundreds of letters to my girls telling them how much I loved them; I tried new things: yoga, Zumba, softball; I racked up as many hours on Skype as possible; I reacquainted myself with a heavy bag, P90X and Insanity; I got more sleep; I ate better. I did everything that any website or “expert” thought might exorcise my demons and my recently expanded waistline.
All of these things helped both my mind and body, but it was just having someone to talk to that really understood what was going on that helped the most. Other parents who were away from their children, women who struggled with weight loss after childbirth and people who had issues I could relate to really understood me. I never had to reveal how bad I hurt inside to talk to my soldiers; I was fortunate enough to be in our medical department so they usually came to me to confide in and in turn I could share as an equal. Facing my issues and naming them was cathartic.
The soldier who first suggested I might need help became a close friend. She had been a single parent once leaving her then 8-year-old with her aging parents. She really understood how worried I was about what, to many, might seem ridiculous: things like my girls not eating enough veggies, getting on the wrong bus after school, being fed ice cream at 7 months old, forgetting me, the fact that I was missing birthdays, holidays and milestones; the list was long. Her child had survived not too worse for wear and she assured me — with more than just empty words — with the wisdom of someone who had really been in my boots that my children would survive, too.
By the time I was up for mid-tour leave, I was in a good place mentally. I stopped beating myself up over my weight, had lost a few pounds, was able to have a conversation with my family without Niagara falls tears rushing down my face; I felt more like myself. When I got to put my arms around my spouse and children I felt whole for the first time in almost a year.
In the end it was a combination of things that helped me wade out of the shadow of depression. Putting good things in, a brief stint with medications, exercise and meditation to work out aggressions and fears, sleeping, and getting things off my chest all played a part in my healing process. It was from that experience that I made a decision that still impacts my family; I returned to school in order to be able to better help others.
>> Read more: Recognize and Understand the Symptoms of Depression
Depression is real. It may start in the mind but can absolutely affect the body and often can affect those who love the depressed. Treatment needs to take all of those factors into account. I hope that no one ever suffers from depression, but for those who do, I hope even more you find the right combination of things to see you through because you are worth the effort and there is someone out there who believes in you.