As in all things mental health, there isn’t one set course of treatment that works as a “cure” for postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. Each person is different, each case unique to the person, the circumstances, the degree of severity, and the ability to continually access care.
For some, medication is the most effective in eliminating symptoms. For others, talk therapy is more effective.
Ideally, we would all get a combination of talk-therapy, carefully monitored medication, an increase in social supports, and decrease in life stressors.
For me, I didn’t start to recover until I saw just how stark it had all become.
Back To The Doctor
Because I truly had no clue at the time that I was suffering from diagnosable postpartum depression, I didn’t seek traditional therapeutic treatment. I didn’t know I needed to!
But I did go to the doctor about a year in for my general physical exam, and it was during that appointment that it started to dawn on me. As my doctor asked me routine questions about my sleep, eating, exercise, self-care habits, I found myself unable to speak and instead started crying. I felt this startling guilt for having to answer for just how poorly I was taking care of myself.
This wellspring of grief and upset poured out of me, and I just cried. And she just let me.
As emotional of a person as I am, I try not to cry in front of authority figures or relative strangers. I have never just let it rip at the doctor’s office. Even when we got that terrible news during my pregnancy, I sat in stoic shock, keeping it together until we got to the car to fall apart.
Yet, I didn’t feel worried or embarrassed about it. I felt relieved. Finally, someone to answer to. Finally, someone asking me questions that I had been avoiding asking myself. Finally someone to see what was going on. Finally, letting myself see it, too.
Once I had calmed down, she gave it to me straight.
“You need to take better care of yourself. Starting today, you come first.”
I nodded and we talked through a game plan. Now, despite my emotional outburst, I continued to underplay my true emotional state. I never used the words depressed or anxious, and so my doctor didn’t know that this is how I felt almost all of the time. I really had no in-depth understanding that I was experiencing postpartum depression, and I was able to talk away her concern because I was functioning okay. I wish I had been more honest, and saved myself another almost full year of dysthymic depression before I felt real changes.
So while we didn’t discuss medication or therapy, we did discuss some habits and elements I could change.
Change Is Gonna Come – Physical Changes
Because I have a pre-existing thyroid condition, we did blood work for that even though I wasn’t due. Turns out my levels were off and I needed a different dose. That shift in hormones helped immensely, and was a surprisingly huge first step on the road to recovery. If only I had gotten it checked sooner.
My mom always says that sleep is the foundation of mental health, and I never fully understood that until I had reached such profound sleep debt. Sleeping through the night again eliminated that huge physical and mental stress, and allowed my body and brain to repair in essential ways.
Though I’m so happy my son and I had a beautiful breastfeeding journey, it’s also important to note that I felt much more equilibrated once I weaned him from breastfeeding completely. All those hormones finally being out of my body was an immense physical and emotional relief.
Otherwise, I implemented lifestyle changes. I don’t mean eating more kale and running, though I did pay much closer attention to those aspects of my health. But I also knew that a major part of this depression was deeper. I had lost my identity in motherhood. I had become so enveloped in my perceived failings, my sadness and then my isolation, that me-the-person had been swallowed hole.
Finding Myself Again – Emotional Changes
Over the course of several months, I started exploring different ways I could reconnect with myself. I started staying up late writing a story that would turn into the bones for the novel I’m currently working on. I started writing short essays that would turn into the first posts on Brimming.
Weeks went by before I looked up to realize that I was writing again. And it was helping.
I had always wanted to write in a real way, finish these novels, start a blog. I had always wanted to connect with others through my words, but I had been far too terrified to do so, even before I had a baby. Fear and hesitation had defined so much of my life, and peppered my existing depression with unproductive self-loathing.
But once you hit the lowest point of your own mental health, you realize pursuing a dream isn’t scary. Nothing is all that scary anymore.
So I decided to go for it and bought a domain. I wrote several posts before it “launched” to get my writer brain going again. I designed the website inch by inch. I gave myself a launch date to hold myself accountable. I could feel myself waking up. It was thrilling! I had a project JUST FOR ME.
It’s now almost been a full year since I launched Brimming. I continue to have this project just for me, and it has been my lifeline.
I have shared my heart, my guts, my insights, my humor, and now my darkness. It has been the best decision I ever made. Not because I’m a stunning success, though I’m very proud of the way my little site has grown in a year.
But because it let me get to know myself again. Because I gave myself the opportunity to find myself, to BE myself, out loud. Because it feels that I am on the right course for who I am and what I want out of life. Art is healing, and I will never abandon it again.
I don’t mean to imply that all you need to recover from depression is to start a blog. Of course depression is complex, specific, unique, and most of all, a medical condition that can require true medical intervention. There is no failing in that. I wish I had given myself that opportunity.
For me, in my personal journey, the most essential element of recovering from my postpartum depression was finding myself again and living for myself first. It made me a better mom, wife, friend, daughter, person.
Writing is, and always has been, that avenue for myself. In doing it publicly, in opening myself up so thoroughly, I have allowed myself the opportunity to find and be and grow into myself. I have surfaced out of the dark by digging as far down into it as I have been able, and unearthing and clearing all of this rot.
It may just be another blog in a sea of blogs, but to me, Brimming has been my rope out of the darkness and become my island in the sun.
You Can, Too
Life is full of suffering. Pain is inevitable. But in how we deal with it, how we navigate it, what we learn from it so we may help others through it, is the stunning beauty of it.
In sharing my journey with you, it is not to preach, or diagnose, or steer you in any direction other than the healthiest one back to yourself. It is to underscore that while the road to recovery may not be easy, it is possible.
It is to remind you that there is always hope, even if the chances are as low as one percent. You are strong. You are capable. You will get better.
Mamas, I found my way out.
You can, too.
How To Get Help
Mayo Clinic: This article does a good job breaking down the courses of treatment, what to expect from your doctor, and a mental health provider as you seek help.
Postpartum Support International: Call or Text the hotline, there are online support groups, a smart patients online forum, and so much more:
Help for Moms: Love their mission statement: “We are glad you are here. We want you to know that you are not alone and you are not to blame. Help is available. You will get better.”
Get The Facts: Learn more about perinatal mood disorders including symptoms, risk factors, & treatments.
*This is Part four of a five-part series in honor of Mental Health Awareness month. I will be posting about maternal mental illness and my own experience with postpartum depression and anxiety every day during mental health week (May 14-19, 2018) in an effort to reduce stigma and raise awareness for maternal mental illness. Read Part 3 here.