Depression Hits When You Least Need It

Lee Woodruff discusses how she overcame her battle with situational depression.

ByABC News via logo
February 18, 2009, 2:19 PM

Nov. 1, 2007 — -- When Lee Woodruff's husband, ABC's Bob Woodruff, was seriously injured while working in Iraq, she was overcome with a range of emotions, including a situational depression that made it difficult to provide as much support as she would normally have been able to give.

During Bob's road to recovery, Woodruff faced her own battle to support Bob and their family while dealing with her own health issue.

"When the midnight panic attacks started, I knew I was in uncharted waters. The elephant in the room was that I was too sick to … with something called 'situational depression,'" Woodruff said.

She says that much of her recovery involved overcoming the stigma of taking medication to help her through this difficult period.

"Even though it's a common problem, there's still a real fear about being labeled, and about medication," she said on "Good Morning America" today. "That's what we're trying to get out there — that this is a problem that you can manage. That you're not alone."

Doctors wrote more than 100 million prescriptions for antidepressants in 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making the choices for patients plentiful.

One of the problems Woodruff faced when considering antidepressants was that there was a lot of conflicting information about the various choices. Friends of hers had heard differing things about the risks and side effects involved with various medications.

"What's the likelihood I'm going to gain 10 pounds? Am I going to lose my sex drive?" she said. "Everyone I've talked to says the first thing to try is talk therapy. … Sometimes that's not enough, and that's when you might want to consider a pill. But even then, stick with the therapy. It's a critical part of the process."

Woodruff sat down with sister Nancy McLoughlin and friend Becky Kaplan to talk about situational depression — the kind of depression that comes just when you need it least.

McLoughlin suffered depression after her oldest son left for college, and Kaplan faced postpartum depression after the birth of her son.

The following is a transcript of their frank, often difficult discussion about overcoming situational depression. For Woodruff and McLoughlin, recovery included overcoming some of their own misgivings about diagnosing their problems and taking antidepressants.

Woodruff: We have this, sort of, big pillowy dog bed thing in my office. And I would lay on that thing, like a dog, and just be sobbing, and just say, "What is going to happen to our little family?" And … I was racing. My mind was 2,000 miles ahead of the day.

McLoughlin: We call that "the dog bed time."

Woodruff: The dog bed was grim. And I had you, Nancy, my sister, saying to me, "You really ought to consider an antidepressant, even for a short period of time." Didn't want to take pills, not a medication person.

McLoughlin: I actually was the big proponent for you to try the antidepressant. And I never expected I would need something for myself. Maybe less than a year later, when Colin went off to college — my oldest son went off to college — a lot of my friends had said, "Oh, you … it's hard when they go away. You cry." This wasn't that. This was really depression. It was new thoughts in my head that hadn't been there before.

Woodruff: Like what? What kinds of thoughts?

McLoughlin: Well … me calling in — I was at Lake George and I was saying to … I think I know if I'm ever going to die. I would just swim off the dock and see how far I could … Just bizarre kinds of things that — that aren't part of normal speech or thought for me.

McLoughlin's empty nest brought on a serious situational depression. For Kaplan, it was an addition to the nest.

Kaplan: I just felt like this disconnect. The days that I was feeling really bad — just felt like I was in a black hole. He would be crying, and I would just sometimes leave him in his crib and just let him cry. And I'd be crying myself, like, "Just make him stop. Make him stop." And you just feel really alone and very ashamed.

Woodruff said she set her bias aside her bias against antidepressants after Bob's neurotherapist, Mary Hibbard, explained that she had run out of steam, and those feelings of anxiety weren't going to just go away. She pointed out that Bob really needed support, but in her current state Woodruff had nothing left to give.

So she agreed to medication, and she soon felt it working.

Woodruff: What I felt, after they started working, was completely like myself again. I felt like the "old" Lee.

I just felt like there was a floor for me, beyond which I couldn't go. Almost — I describe it almost like a trampoline … It would give a little bit. I would feel myself getting sad, or worried, or "What's going to become of us as a family? How's Bob gonna recover?" But it would stop me, somewhere in there.

It wasn't like I was sitting around, driving and feeling like, "Uh, life is grand." I just felt able to get up, make the lunches — do the dishwasher, you know, do all of those routine things that had so bogged me down, that felt like such responsibility on the heels of care giving Bob and all that that meant.

McLoughlin faced a similar situation, and her health returned as she began taking antidepressants.

McLoughlin: I would see people I would know and talk to them and say, "Oh, don't pay attention to the tears that are coming down my face. They don't mean anything." But I couldn't control any of it. Somebody said, "You need to go see someone." And, like you, I went on an antidepressants. And it was night and day. Other than the few things we've talked about with feeling like a couple of pounds have come along with it. Honestly, it's been like a miracle for me.

For me talking about where I am today, telling people who seem to want to know about the medication and — and what it did feels good. It's taking away the shame. And it's, it's also taking the secret away.

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