O.C. Housewives Star Felt 'Helpless' with Postpartum Depression

03/26/2011 AT 03:30 PM EDT



Peggy Tanous expected newfound motherhood to be a life-changing experience, but not a negative one.

"When I had my first daughter London, I thought I would be ecstatic, but I wasn’t," the Real Housewives of Orange County star, 41, tells PEOPLE. "I wasn't upset, but it was this very weird feeling of, What am I supposed to do with this baby? It was almost like a fear."

Tanous didn't care to realize her feelings were abnormal.



"For the first year, I was in denial and ignored it and just tried to keep busy so I didn't have to think about it," she recalls of her battle, which plays out on the hit Bravo show. "Little things would just set me off. I was really snappy, and normally I'm not like that. A little thing like London throwing her pacifier would be like, 'Oh, my god, the world is over.' I felt alone and helpless."

Concerned Husband

Though Tanous refused to acknowledge she had a problem, others concerned for her well-being stepped in.

"A month after London's first birthday, my husband's mom sat me down," she says. "My husband [Micah] had talked to her and said he was really worried about me and felt helpless because I was so defensive."

Following what Tanous calls an "intervention," she went to a doctor and learned she had postpartum depression, a condition that can occur within three months after giving birth and bring feelings of anxiety, irritation and restlessness.

Choosing to go the all-natural route – something she read about in Brooke Shields's book, Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, Tanous began taking SAMe, an over-the-counter dietary supplement that can ease depression.

"Right away I started feeling better," she says.

Tanous, who got pregnant for the second time, was understandably nervous about what she was about to experience.

"I didn’t know if I could handle having another baby and going through this again," she says. "There were days when it would be bad. I would think to myself, 'If I fell down the stairs, I wouldn't be going through this right now.' It's awful to think that way, but it’s what you're in. It's not you, it's the hormones."

Holistic Treatment

The reality star, who began adding serotonin-enhancing 5htp supplements to her holistic treatment, began seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

"The rest of my pregnancy went really well," she says. "When Capri was born, it was a completely different feeling. I was so excited when she came out and I really wanted to hold her."

Finally feeling "really, really good," Tanous wants other women going through the same thing to know they aren't alone.

"They need to know they are not crazy," she says, adding that she bonded with cast mate Tamra Barney over a mutual case of the baby blues. "It's not something you can get through all by yourself. You need to ask for help."

The reality star encourages people who are experiencing postpartum depression to contact her via email through her personal Web site.

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