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What really happens when you're hospitalized for depression

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

Going to therapy for depression shouldn't come with a 'crazy' label

Teen Mom's Catelynn Lowell has always been one of the few voices of reason on the MTV reality show. Even though she got pregnant at a young age, she seemed to have a good grasp of the realities of her situation and made the gut-wrenching choice to give her baby up for adoption. And now that she's older, married and a mom to a second baby, she's showing her maturity again by admitting she needs help for her postpartum depression.

And people everywhere applauded both her choice and her honesty about it.

"There's such a stigma around mental illness still," says Jill, a mom of three who also suffered severe postpartum depression and who asked that her last name not be used. "When I was hospitalized, I didn't want anyone to know. It's embarrassing. You think, 'It's just depression. I should be able to get out of bed and take care of this! I'm the mom. That's what I do!' But... you just can't."

More: My pregnancy depression was completely ignored, and I couldn't ask for help

After fighting her worsening depression for months and expressing some desires to harm herself, Jill says that it was her husband who insisted she get help. She spent two weeks in the mental ward of a hospital several hours away from her family. Usually, this is the point in the story where the scene fades away and the happily-ever-after ending is tacked on. But Jill says those two weeks were some of the hardest work of her life. She wants people to know exactly what happened behind those locked doors.

"I don't know what I thought it would be, like sleeping a lot or something, but it wasn't that," she says. Her first shock came at admission. Even though she voluntarily committed herself, they immediately took away her phone, keys, purse and even her shoelaces (so she couldn't use them to hurt herself). She was assigned a room and a roommate, a young woman in treatment for cutting.

"It was so, so jarring, like a total break with my reality," she says. "At first, it was upsetting, and I wondered if I'd made a mistake. I even asked them to let me out, that I'd changed my mind. When they said no, I realized how big of a thing this really was."

But once she got over her fear, she realized that having such a clean break with her old life was really a good thing. "For the first time in maybe my whole life, and definitely since I became a mom, I could just focus on me, which was a curse and a blessing," she laughs.

Her days were structured around appointments with her therapist, her psychiatrist, her doctor and group meetings. After a full physical, they started her on medication immediately, but this wasn't just like getting a scrip at a postpartum checkup. Instead, Jill says they monitored her every reaction, tweaking the dose until they were confident she was on the right drugs in the right amounts for her body.

More: I may never get off depression medication, but that's OK

Once the physical stuff was taken care of, she was encouraged to really work on her mental state. She took classes in meditation, did art therapy, wrote pages in a journal, exercised and talked to her therapist. She was also an active participant in group therapy sessions, quickly bonding with several other patients. And everything was scheduled down to the minute — something she says was actually very freeing.

"Not having to think about all the little daily stuff, like what comes next, what will I make for dinner, where are the kids, freed me up to think about all the stuff I had been trying not to think about," she says. "Having someone else just tell me what to do and when and how was a relief."

Through all her different therapy, she discovered that although her hormone crash after her last baby's birth probably triggered her major depressive episode, it was just the last straw on a pile of things that had been weighing on her. Becoming a mother, she says, opened up old wounds about her conflicted relationship with her parents and sad memories of her own childhood. When these feelings had cropped up in the past, she had tried to push them away, but now, with the help of her team, she could safely deal with them. Plus, they gave her better strategies for dealing with her feelings other than turning them inward.

"I used to try and show a perfect face to the world at all times, but now I know it's OK to be sad and to ask for help," she says. "I mean, I always knew that on some level, but there was a difference between believing it was OK for others to express their emotions and believing it was OK for me to do it."

More: Cara Delevingne's depression tweet made a difference for millions

After two weeks, Jill found herself a little reluctant to leave the safe environment of the hospital. Although she was excited to see her children — they weren't allowed any visits and only one short daily phone call during that time — she worried that going back to her old environment would trigger her despair again. Fortunately, she says that hasn't happened. It's been almost a year since her hospital stay, and she is doing well, thanks to the skills she learned there and keeping up with her therapy visits.

"People always talk about having a breakdown," she says, "but for me, it was more of a buildup. I don't think I could have done that without being hospitalized."

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