I am fortunate to have known very early on I was exhibiting many symptoms of postpartum depression (PPD). I had several health professionals express concern for me – my pediatrician, one of my nurses whom I met with for a follow-up appointment for my gestational diabetes, a friend of mine who is a labor & delivery nurse, and a family member who is a doctor. Initially, when what I thought were just a couple of rough days turned into inability to fall and stay asleep, anxiety, fear, hopelessness, and uncontrollable crying all day long, I knew it was time to seek professional help.
While I was open to seeking and receiving help, I was terrified to go on anti-depressants.
I was scared to go on any medication; I had been loading myself with information from internet forums and websites about all of the crazy side effects of anti-depressants and horror stories of people coming off of the medication. What I learned is the internet is a free and public space where many people will share more negative than positive experiences with depression medication. I also had several friends share with me their experiences using different anti-depressants, and friends of friends’ experiences on certain medications, warning me not to take certain drugs because they might make me feel even worse.
I am sure the intent of these narratives was to inform and give me some perspective, but I was already feeling panicky and anxious, and all of these warnings scared the living daylights out of me. I had anxiety about my anxiety; anxiety about going on medication; anxiety about coming off of medication.
The best piece of advice I could give to any mom who is considering going on anti-depressants for PPD is to talk to a medical/health professional. You can start with your OB to get a prescription, but a psychiatrist will be more informed on each of the different drug choices, side effects, and can monitor/adjust your dosage. My psychiatrist was also able to answer all of my questions and ease my fears about going on medication.
I also felt an extreme amount of guilt. The second key piece to my road to recovery was therapy. I have heard over and over again that often the fastest road to recovery from PPD is medication + therapy. I tried meeting with a couple different therapists, and the one I chose did not accept my insurance. I felt guilty about the cost of therapy; without insurance, many licensed therapists will charge anywhere from $100-200 on average per session and I needed to see someone weekly. I would never have gone without my husband’s full support and encouragement. One friend said the best gift I could give to my family was a healthy self, and I should not put a price on my health. It was difficult to view my mental health this way; in the end, I knew it was not my “choice” to be depressed and I could not “snap out of it” and this was one essential piece to getting better.
These are some key things I found to be helpful on my road to recovery:
- GET DRESSED. My doctor/family member advised me to do this. When I asked her why this was important, she said, “Because that’s what normal people do.” I could have lived in my lounge pants and nursing tanks with dried breast milk stains for days, but getting dressed actually helped me feel like a normal human being.
- GET OUT. As in, GET OUT OF THE HOUSE. I did not realize how important this was for my mental state until I had not left the house for three weeks and began feeling like a prisoner. Get out. Go to Target. Be with other human beings even if it is for a short period of time. A little bit of fresh air and sunlight can help lift your mood.
- ASK FOR HELP. I cannot tell you how many family and friends surrounded me during this difficult time. I had friends who would come by during the day, just to be with me so I would not be alone, or to hold my baby. My mom was over almost every day, before work, after work, and even through the night sometimes. My sister called me every day, sometimes several times a day to check in on me. My sister-in-law would come and take care of the dishes, or our laundry, and would rock Aliya to sleep. Friends brought meals by. I hate asking for help, but I do not know how I would have gotten through my PPD without it.
- DISTRACTION. If you can find something to distract yourself or help lighten your mood so you are not fixated on the negative and hopeless thoughts/feelings, do it. I watched a lot of Korean dramas during my postpartum period! But only the funny ones, and not the ones where someone has a terminal illness and dies. I did not know how I would handle a depressing storyline in my mental state.
- BOOKS on PPD. I read a couple of books on postpartum depression. One that I would highly recommend is This Isn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression. This book helped me understand what PPD is, the emotional and physical symptoms of PPD, and offered coping strategies.
- Other PPD Resources. www.postpartum.net and www.postpartumprogress.com are wonderful online resources where you can find PPD resources, as well as PPD support groups in your area.
My mantra during the early postpartum days was “day by day.” Seeing what a struggle it was for me to get through each day, my mom added, “moment to moment.” Don’t worry about the day, you just need to get through right now. Trying to discipline my mind to focus on the now instead of having anxiety about the unforeseeable future was so helpful. I did not know what the night would bring or what tomorrow would bring, but I knew what was happening right now, right in front of me.
You will have some good days, and you will have some bad days. At the onset of my PPD, they were all bad days. I had not smiled or laughed in weeks, and one day around the 5 or 6 week mark, I had a good day. And I cried. I cried because I feared this would be my only good day for the rest of my life and all the rest would continue to be bad days. But rest assured, as your little one grows, you will have better days and eventually, your good days will outnumber the bad ones. And the bad days do not mean you are taking a step back; remember to celebrate your good days.
You will get better.
Up Next: Overcoming PPD: A New Normal