Long and Winding Road: Recovering from Postpartum Depression

mother walking with baby in slingYou can find lots of information on the web about postpartum depression: the risk factors, the symptoms, even treatment options. But what I hear most from the moms I work with is the ever-present question, “How will I get better?” For some of these parents, their only experience of parenthood is under the shadow of postpartum depression and anxiety, and it is hard to imagine what will have to change in order for them to feel like themselves again.

I wish that I could show these distressed parents a crystal ball that would illuminate their own path to wellness. For some of them, medication will be an important part of that path, but that is a decision that each mother has to make in consultation with her medical and mental health care provider. And medication is rarely enough on its own for a complete and permanent recovery. Most people will require therapy and/or a support group to help them through the journey back to wellness. In order to kick postpartum depression effectively and depression-proof your life as a parent, you will probably have to learn some or all of the following:

  • To attend regularly to your own feelings, thoughts, and needs, and to learn to stop yourself from constantly trying to intuit and meet the unstated needs of everyone else in your life
  • To put your own needs (once you figure out what they are) higher on your priority list
  • How to ask for help, accept it, and feel grateful rather than guilty
  • To accept being a “good-enough” mother, housekeeper and/or worker, and partner, rather than striving for perfection and inevitably failing
  • If you’re in an unsupportive relationship, to improve it and believe that you have the right to experience more connection and joy
  • To find a larger community to support you, or activate the community you already have
  • To notice, accept, and have compassion for your negative emotions rather than judging yourself for them—and enjoy the positive emotions that increase as you recover!
  • To be aware of your upsetting and self-critical thoughts, and then challenge them, dismiss them, or STOP them instead of letting your thoughts control your mood
  • How to care for your baby while being truly and authentically yourself, instead of whoever you think a mother should be
  • To tolerate anxiety and take care of yourself without allowing your thoughts to spiral out of control
  • To take each day as it comes, and have faith that you will manage in the future, whatever it brings
  • To accept that much of your daily life as a mother is outside of your control, and to see the humor in the absurdities of motherhood
  • To break free from isolation and spend as little time as possible cooped up in your house alone with your baby, unable to get anything done
  • To accept that it’s OK sometimes when the baby is fussy or not feeling well to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner, take turns eating, or eat while bouncing on a gym ball with the baby in a carrier, and play reggae music to keep yourself calm (substitute your convenience food, baby-calming strategy, and music of choice here). You will laugh about this someday.

Along the road to wellness, there will be lots of bad days. As you recover, some good days will sneak in and you may hardly notice them except in hindsight. At some point, the good days will outnumber the bad, and then you are over the worst of it. It is so important when a bad day comes to remind yourself that a bad day doesn’t mean you haven’t gotten better. The voice of depression and anxiety will whisper to you that it’s always bad and that it will always be bad, but you have to remind yourself of the good days and know that a bad day is just that: a bad day.

And always remember: You are not alone. It is not your fault. You will get better.

Please add your own comments, including what you learned in the process of recovering from postpartum depression.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Meri Levy, LMFT, therapist in Lafayette, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • steph

    steph

    October 24th, 2013 at 12:12 PM

    It’s hard to even admit that you struggle with this because this is supposed to be such a happy time in your life but for so many women it is a time filled with so much sadness and anxiety. There are many just like that who are struggling with post partum depression and don’t know what to do because they are afraid to even say out loud what they are feeling because they are scared of what others might think about them if they admit that they are having these feelings. It’s good for them to know that they are not alone but to also know that there is so much help available to them if they could just find a way to ask for it. It might not always be recognized that they need help so you don’t need to hesitate to ask if you need it.

  • Kendall

    Kendall

    October 25th, 2013 at 3:48 AM

    The most confusing part of this is that the symptoms come on like a hammer blow but then the recovery takes so much time and can feel like one minute and then the next you are right back down again!
    It can be so disheartening.

  • Sam

    Sam

    October 25th, 2013 at 2:29 PM

    Know what I wish?
    I just wish that we would all start being a little more honest with each other about how hard and frustraing being a new mom can be.
    There are the Stepford moms who make everything sound like it’s all going to be wine and roses every day and if you have ever been there then you know that basically this is just one big fat lie.
    Being a mom is rarely like that even on the ebst of days, so why do we tell those lies? To make ourselves feel better or to try to look better to others? I am still not sure what it’s all about but the only think that I do know is that all of the lying in essence is just tearing most of the rest of us down.

  • cadence

    cadence

    October 26th, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    It is such a huge help if you can find a group of other moms to hang out with. You might all have to have your babies with you but at least it gives you the chance to talk with other adults (such a blessing sometimes!) and just vent with others going through the exact same things that you are.

  • Meri Levy, MA,

    Meri Levy, MA,

    November 14th, 2013 at 6:48 PM

    Thanks for the comments. Steph, I think you’re right that it is so difficult for moms to speak out about what they are feeling. Guilt and worthlessness are a part of depression, and many mothers don’t realize that their negative feelings are part of an illness, and not a reflection on them as a person. Kendall, it is frustrating how long the recovery takes. It’s often two steps forward, one step back… Sam, thanks for pointing out how we may contribute to the problem by acting like we’re doing great when being a new mom is such a challenging time — and being a mother at any time is hard work. And Cadence, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Finding a community of other mothers who tell it like it is is such a blessing during those first months. Those relationships can often last a lifetime.

  • Mimi

    Mimi

    November 22nd, 2013 at 10:01 PM

    this post was well needed for me, that goodness it was just on the early pages! I’m a new mom to a 7 month old, he’s beautiful, he’s perfect. and I’m not. haha I feel as if I don’t deserve to be his mother as I am lazy and can’t easily attend to all his needs like he deserves. thankfully I have a supportive husband who helps a lot ans cheers me on. but all I can think of is how miserable I am in the house all day long, how I get no sleep,never see my family, drifted away from all my friends whom I were never really close to anyway. I find solace when he’s asleep and I can finally rest and read stuff on the internet. I’m anxious much of the time and have so many things on my mind to do, but can’t do all of them. sigh. sometimes I even regret becoming a mom because it is so hard….

  • Ivy B

    Ivy B

    February 20th, 2018 at 7:57 PM

    I liked that you stressed the importance of putting your own needs up higher on your priority list. My sister is about to have her first child. I am a little worried about her having postpartum depression because when she was younger she did struggle with depression. So this does seem like a good thing for her, and the rest of the family to be aware of as she becomes a mother.

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