Postpartum Depression (PPD) effects an estimated 900,000 women each year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control an estimated average of 15 percent of women have symptoms of PPD. Only 15 percent of those women ever seek treatment.
Feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion are just a few of the symptoms that plague women coping with this disorder. It often wells up slowly, almost unnoticed until it’s debilitating. Maybe you or someone you know has suffered or is suffering from PPD. If you are dealing with these symptoms, please know you are not alone and there is help.
I am 37 years old and I honestly can barely remember a time when depression and anxiety was not a part of every day. It’s a part of who I am.
Over the years I have tried a lot of methods of self help and professional help to get through the vast fields of dead flowers in my mind to try and find the sunshine. Some things work, some don’t, but I had found a way to mostly manage my every day despite some slips backwards.
Then I had my children and I was introduced to a whole new level of darkness called PPD. It’s not necessarily darker than it was before kids, but in a way it’s more intense, since now we are responsible for this amazing, tiny human that came from inside our body. Here I am with this mass of love and being that I cannot imagine my life without, and we are supposed to be elated about it all.
We feel that we should be glowing with motherly wisdom and centuries of experience welling up from our souls but instead, we feel empty. There’s a hole inside and it feels dark and numb. We can’t find our balance inside anymore.
It’s truly terrifying.
The biggest issue I have found in dealing with postpartum depression is that no one seems to take it seriously. It is assumed by many to simply be what is known as “baby blues” and nothing more. They assume that once we are feeling better physically, we’ll get over it. When that doesn’t happen, people tend to look at us like we doesn’t know lucky we are. Or we maybe are seen as overly dramatic.
Here is the truth: PPD is a jerk. It will creep in during recovery and slowly take over the mind. I have suffered from intense bouts of anxiety. I am terrified I will hurt my baby by accident. I fear dropping her. I fear forgetting her somewhere. I fear her choking.
I am so paranoid about SIDS that I will watch her breathe all night at the loss of my own sleep.
I am unable to leave her alone with most people. I absolutely hate the idea of her being in anyone else’s car. I fear car accidents and fires.
These are normal fears, mine are intense, overwhelming, and cause me to lose sleep and concentration. This is on top of already very present depression and anxiety that has me terrified that one day I will just fling myself off my balcony—not to die, just to make it stop for a minute.
Some moments are that intense.
New Jersey has a law that requires obstetricians to screen new moms for postpartum depression. Some do this more than others. Mine had a one on one talk with me after I filled out a questionnaire. At the time, mine was not nearly as bad as it has gotten so me telling him I was fine despite my questionnaire results was enough. I was already on medication via my primary care physician so I guess together we figured I was okay.
Things got progressively worse from there. My general practitioner advised me to seek help from a psychiatrist who could better diagnose and monitor my condition with proper medications and therapies.
Mental health care in this country is just awful. I went through every name my insurance company website spit out at me, trying to get an appointment with a psychiatrist. What I found were phone numbers that rang and rang, practices where the listed doctor was no longer a part, and waiting lists to see doctors that were three and four months long.
It’s like every psychiatrist in New Jersey ran away. I am still trying to get in to see someone.
In the meantime, I had to find ways to help myself. Being a mom is the most important part of my life. It is my life. My kids are my everything. I need to be there for them 100 percent in mind and body and that is the one thing that has helped to keep me grounded and helped me to find a few ways to keep myself in check. If you are suffering yourself or know someone that is, here are a few ideas that might help find the light switch in the darkness:
It really does work and is super simple. Nothing extra is required—you don’t even need to sit cross legged or burn incense or listen to chanting or anything. You just need 10 minutes in a safe, comfortable and quiet space.
Find your spot, have a seat. Close your eyes and allow your mind to go completely blank.
It’s hard the first time you do it—especially if you are like me and have a constantly running television in your brain that doesn’t shut up.
The trick for me is to focus entirely on the breath. Listen to the pattern. Feel the air go into your lungs and then feel the air as it comes back out. Do this over and over again, trying to not let your mind wander. Just the simple breathing, in and out.
Before you know it, ten minutes will have passed and you will have had a clear mind. Believe it or not, your blood pressure just went down!
I never thought I would be someone who meditates, but now I do it before I go to sleep to help ease my insomnia and anxiety. I do it on my lunch break, sitting in my car to help combat anxiety and depression. So give it a try during baby’s nap time. Put him or her in a safe spot and sit right down next to them. Use the sounds of your own breathing (or theirs, if you find it as comforting as I do) to focus and clear your mind. Do it once a day if you can. Even once a week will make a difference.
Do you write? Do you paint? Do you color in your kids coloring books? Do something—anything—to get the creative juices flowing.
Doodle on post-it notes. Decorate cupcakes. Look up how to carve lemons into birds like they did in the 70’s at dinner parties. Anything that gives you focus. So much of what we are dealing with is in our minds, thoughts spraying about like a fire hose on full blast with no one holding on.
Getting our minds to center is like the incredible hulk coming along and taking hold of that hose and pointing it where it needs to be to put out the fire.
This is why there is a new fad of adult coloring books happening. So many adults nowadays deal with anxiety and the simple act of coloring actually helps to lessen anxiety and add focus. You can sit there and hum or talk to yourself, whatever you need to do. Get yourself some way to focus on your hands instead of inside your head.
I write. I sing. I bake. Anything that will put my brain somewhere specific is helpful.
This is a tough one. PPD is not something taken seriously by a lot of people so we can tend to find ourselves looking at an empty room. We pull away from the people we know, meanwhile the people that we know have pulled away from us usually just because they have no idea what the hell to do with us. We don’t know how to talk about it. They don’t know what’s going on and for a lot of people its just easier to walk away.
There is usually an much easier friend to have somewhere that is not you. I have watched this happen my whole life.
I blame myself because if I knew how to be more open with what I am dealing with, maybe people would not assume I was being aloof. Or a b*tch. If you have someone to be with, take a day or night every week or so and get out of the house. Get out of your usual space. If you don’t have anyone, take your baby and go to the mall. I did this with my son after my first pregnancy (and first bout of PPD) and while you would think it would be lonely, it helped me a lot.
I loved watching my baby look at the world. I enjoyed the exercise. I would get myself a treat…a milkshake or slice of pizza or even a gumball, and that would be a part of my trip. I looked forward to those walks around the mall with my baby. It was human interaction but I didn’t need to feel awkward because I didn’t have anything to say or was not able to form sentences properly because of a bad anxiety day. I simply strolled along for as long as I needed to.
This seems like such a tough one, but it doesn’t have to be.
Depression makes us so tired and wanting to hole up like a hermit. Some days just getting out of bed is a challenge. Now we are supposed to go exert ourselves? Get the hell out of here, lady.
This is my actual conversation with myself on a regular basis. I am not going to pretend that I am some sort of fitness guru. Richard Simmons would never be my friend. I make fun of fad diets, I joke about my own jiggles, I only run when chased. However, I cannot deny that something happens to the brain when I do actually get off my tush and do something. The normally out of whack chemicals in my brain get a jolt of something and they even out a little bit. Maybe it’s the oxygen that is flowing more concentrated through my blood. Maybe my heart is happy to not be clogged with Doritos dust and is instead full of rushing platelets and happy chemicals. I don’t know, but it actually works.
I am the biggest cynic. I am the laziest of the lazies.
But I cannot deny that just getting up and moving around helps depression and anxiety. If I can’t find motivation to actually do proper exercises, which is very often, the best thing I have found is dancing. Not structured real dancing, just dancing. Putting on songs you love of an upbeat tempo and moving your body around.
I have done this with both of my babies—they benefit from the interaction with you and you will benefit from the movement. Just take off your shoes, find yourself a clear piece of carpet, turn up the music and move around.
Sing along, make faces at your baby, just wiggle yourself around a bit and you will get your blood moving—it works!
Postpartum depression is complicated and scary, but you are not alone. There are a lot of us out here weathering the storm with you. You can get through this. Even if you, like me, are having a hard time getting the professional health you need, try a few of these ideas to help you regain your center. These are relatively simple and inexpensive ways to calm yourself and reel in an anxious mind.
After a good mediation, look into the eyes of your baby and understand why you are here on this big, blue planet.
I hope you find peace. Remember that we are all in this together.
Author: Amanda Hornick
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Bridget Coila at Flickr