You 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 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.
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