Infertility is obviously physically taxing and of course emotionally draining. But how do you know when it has started to adversely affect your mental health?
I expect if you are going through infertility you have cried at some point – probably many, many points and in private too, I wonder how many tears bathrooms worldwide have seen? You might also have felt angry or disappointed – tons of disappointment by the shed load, more than a lifetime worth. I even expect you have felt anxious too – the two-week-wait definitely feels longer than two weeks!
But infertility brings its own challenges; starting with the prolonged time you may find yourself undergoing treatment. It’s a whole year of ‘trying’ before you can even start the infertility process (6 months if you’re experiencing secondary infertility). The longer pregnancy doesn’t happen, the more ups and downs you likely to go through; repeatedly receiving bad news and disappointments along the way.
And if your treatment involves medication, that too is likely to add to the stress and anxiety you are already experiencing. The drugs and hormones used to treat infertility may cause a variety of side effects – such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, mood swings, mania and irritability. It may then be difficult to know if medication is causing these issues or if it’s psychological; that’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about any mental health concerns you have.
Of course, infertility treatment is stressful and there is nothing worse than being prescribed the popular adage, “just relax!” – if you tell someone to relax, it doesn’t make them relax! However, you can’t ignore the fact that what you’re experiencing is stressful and stress has an impact on our daily lives and our coping mechanisms. Relationships can suffer under the stress, especially in differences in opinions and attitudes; there is also financial stress of undergoing some treatments or the hopelessness/helplessness of not being able to afford treatments. Stress can adversely impact mental as well as physical health.
It’s normal in any person’s lifetime to have periods of depression or anxiety. It’s normal for any woman going through infertility, to experience depression and anxiety.
The key is recognising when it becomes the new ‘norm’.
Depression in its mildest form can mean having low spirits, making everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile. Depression can range from mild to severe because at it’s most severe you can feel suicidal.
If you think you’re experiencing depression, things to consider are:
- How much is it interfering with my life? Socially, family, relationships, even work?
- Does it go away after a couple of weeks? Or is it coming back repeatedly for a few days at a time?
- Do you feel able to cope?
- Is it affecting you physically? Are you constantly tired or lacking energy?
Many people wait to see a doctor but it’s important to seek help if you think you’re depressed. Especially when going through infertility, it may be that the fertility drugs or hormones need to be adjusted, or you may require more support that you could be referred to.
What about anxiety?
Anxiety is what you feel when you’re worried, tense or afraid – particularly about what might or might not happen. So, infertility is undoubtedly going to be an anxious process because of worry about whether you will have children.
Again, most people feel anxious at some point in their lives, especially if events or changes could have a big impact on their lives. It becomes a problem when it impacts your ability to live your life as fully as you want to.
Things to consider:
- Are your anxious feelings very strong or last for a long time?
- Are your worries out of proportion to the situation? Are you avoiding situations that cause you anxious feelings?
- Do your worries feel hard to control or distressing?
- Do you feel panicky or experience panic attacks?
As with depression it is important to seek help if symptoms are interfering with how you want to live your life – if it’s impacting your behaviour such as becoming increasingly isolated or avoiding things; or if it is impacting you physically such as your sleeping, appetite or energy levels.
What can help?
If you’re concerned that infertility is affecting your mental health its important to speak to your fertility doctors, it may be that your fertility drugs or hormones need to be looked at. It’s important that you take charge of your health and treatment, ultimately it is your body – advocate for yourself.
Speak to your GP, they might want to monitor your symptoms before offering treatment but at any rate it is worth getting them involved, they are responsible for your overall health.
Talking therapies can help to change negative and repetitive thoughts and behaviours. A therapist will help you to explore your infertility journey and offer you invaluable support that is external to infertility treatment.
There are also ways to ‘self-help’, such as exercise which release endorphins and dopamine (feel-good hormones), or activities to calm and restore balance such as yoga or meditation, which stimulate oxytocin (love hormone), even having a massage or a relaxing bath will produce the same effects. Making time for yourself, to do what you enjoy is essential when undergoing infertility.
It’s important to remember that it’s normal to experience anxiety and depression throughout life. However, long and recurring periods of anxiety or depression, or where it’s interfering with your normal life are cause for concern and help should be sought.
Infertility treatment is a unique and particularly stressful experience to go through, which will impact your normal life and coping mechanisms, seek support such as counselling if you feel you are unable to cope.
Infertility drugs and hormones can also have adverse effects on your mental health, be conscious of any adverse changes to your mental and physical health and talk to your doctors if you think you are suffering from side effects.
If your low and anxious feelings start to become the new ‘norm’ – seek help.