The following article, while honest and important, may be a trigger for those with postpartum depression or who are sensitive to mental illness.
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Postpartum Depression is a Sneaky Little Devil
Over the past eight years of being a mother, I have discovered that a lot of women didn’t know they had postpartum depression (PPD) until after they no longer had it. My diagnosis went undetected for a while, mostly due to lack of knowledge and understanding — and the fact that my PPD didn’t reflect what I envisioned “depression” to be. I was under the impression that if I were depressed, I’d be sleeping all day, turning off all the lights, not answering my phone or talking to people, and not wanting to be sociable. In my mind, I wanted to be doing things and engaging with other people, but my PPD symptoms prevented me from peeling myself off the sofa.
So when did I know I had postpartum depression? For me, PPD presented itself in a not-so-obvious way. A few days after the birth of my first child, I was extremely nauseous. So nauseous in fact, that I found myself in the emergency room. I remember having my blood drawn, pumped with fluids, then laughed at for being a “tired new mom,” and sent back home with anti-nausea medication (that never worked).
Over the course of the next few days, I was making regular trips to my OB-GYN for additional blood work, a referral to a gastroenterologist, and even made two more trips to the ER. I felt like there was something seriously wrong with me that the doctors weren’t finding in my bloodwork. I felt like I was going to suddenly die from an undetected “freak” diagnosis (you know, the kinds you hear about on TV shows). Not once did a doctor say, “I think you may have postpartum depression.” At this point, I was so sick of feeling sick that I began believing I was going to die in my sleep (from that undetected “freak” diagnosis) and my baby would be left all alone for hours, crying, before anyone came home to find us.
It wasn’t until I started having panic attacks that a doctor diagnosed me with postpartum depression and anxiety. I would have a full-blown panic attack, complete with dry heaving, over simple things like packing a diaper bag. It’s like my postpartum brain made me feel like the simplest tasks and decisions were complicated life-and-death situations.
Once I was diagnosed, my doctor put me on a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI — also known as an antidepressant) and a benzodiazepine (a sedative). Ironically, I had anxiety about going on the anti-anxiety medication! Medication is personally what I needed to stabilize my mood, but it’s not the answer for everyone.
While the nausea subsided and some things improved physically, I still felt emotionally drained. I continued having panic attacks and was mentally exhausted from battling my brain and trying my best to feel better. People were constantly telling me, “Mind over matter.” I know their advice was genuine, but here’s the thing: When you have a mental illness, you can’t just “snap out of it.”
Did I think, Oh, I’ll just think happy thoughts and this will all go away…? Of course I did. But, when you have a mental illness, it’s like your brain doesn’t allow that to happen; you can’t think properly. It’s very difficult for people without mental illness to understand this concept. Advice like, “Just think positive,” doesn’t work when you have postpartum depression because your brain is impaired and isn’t functioning the same as someone who has only ever experienced minimal stress and can control their thoughts during hardships.
The constant evil fight inside my mind went on for a few more weeks until I couldn’t take it any longer. The day I told my husband I was contemplating suicide was oddly enough one of the happiest days I’d had since giving birth. While there were many tears shed because I’d have to leave my newborn daughter behind to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital, I felt a huge sense of relief and weight lifted off my shoulders. I felt safe because I knew I was finally getting the help I so desperately needed.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
After a week of being inpatient at a psychiatric behavioral hospital, and during a month of intensive outpatient therapy (Monday through Friday, six hours a day), I was finally feeling hopeful. I was beginning to feel like I could see the light at the end of the tunnel — that my life wasn’t going to end with postpartum depression. I felt invigorated to conquer my mental illness and reclaim my life. My story is unique to me, but I do share similar struggles with approximately 900,000 women a year.
The Power of Help
The most important thing I learned through my journey with postpartum depression is the importance of asking for help. It was the hardest thing I had to do, but also the bravest. Asking for help has historically been recognized as a sign of weakness, when — in actuality — it is a sign of courage. One therapist posed it to me this way. He said, “If you broke your leg or had a heart attack, would you ask for help?” Yes. Mental illness is no different. Just because you can’t see mental illness like a broken bone, doesn’t mean it should be ignored or treated as less important.
Patience is a Virtue
I was very impatient with my recovery from postpartum depression. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t improving fast enough. I felt like I was doing all the things to get better, but was still left feeling defeated at the end of most days. Now, looking back, I can see that it was all part of the journey; I was just too impatient to trust the process.
It’s been nearly eight years (and three kids) since being diagnosed with postpartum depression, and on days when I just want to throw in the towel on motherhood and feel like I couldn’t possibly make it one more minute until bedtime, I remember all I have been through. I remember all I overcame, and I know I am capable of so much more.
For additional information on PPD, please visit Postpartum Support International.
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