9 Things Everyone Should Know About Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression (PPD) crept up on me even when I passed the screenings with flying colors. I never realized my interests were slowly fading or my motherly fears were actually outrageous. My idea of what depression looked like was completely different from what I was experiencing, so I didn’t even know it was happening. Just as similarly, I didn’t realize I was getting better until I really started paying closer attention. You see, recovery is a long road. You won’t get better overnight, but you will get better gradually.
Now that I’m in recovery, I wanted to share some things everyone should know about PPD, from someone who experienced it firsthand.
1. I am not being punished for some karmic or spiritual abomination.
Someone religious I know tried to suggest my depression was caused by seeing a fortune teller or playing with a Ouija board, neither of which I’ve ever done. I think she meant well, but let me just say how cruel it is to infer that depression was something I brought upon myself. No, I don’t think I pissed Jesus off. No, crystals are not going to absorb my negative energy. No, I don’t need an exorcism. There was a chemical mix-up in my head and probably a hormonal mix-up in my postpartum body that overloaded my sympathetic nervous system. Period. It is real. It is not the product of some kind of satanic ritual.
2. It is not all up in my head.
I mean, PPD is kind of about the head, but not in the ways you’re thinking. PPD is not something I can control so easily as to just “think happy thoughts.” It’s not like I didn’t think of that and try it first, with all my might! At my worst, even trying to think happy or just neutral thoughts all turned dark. No matter how hard I tried to “will” myself to find pleasure, I couldn’t. Everything I thought about ended up negative somehow. The depressed mind can connect everything to something sad or terrifying. Every story on the news gave me something more to worry about. I spent a lot of time thinking about potential disasters or having existential crises. So just thinking my way out of depression would never have worked.
3. What you think of as depressed is not what I think of.
In fact, when you so glibly use that term, it trivializes my experience with it. It is debilitating and horrifying and sometimes long lasting, it’s not just a general sad feeling. It was not just caused by a bad day or a job change. In fact, I was having a great time with my new baby when PPD came out of nowhere and completely gutted me. It was the bane of my entire existence for a long time, not just a passing depressed feeling.
4. It’s hard to be around me, I know.
You’re probably thinking about how you’ve always been told to surround yourself with positive people, usually pretty good advice. But when I’m least likable is when I need love and compassion the most. It’s easy to walk away from someone who is depressed, but leaving them in their moment of weakness is probably the most harmful thing you could do. Just know that the sad, angry person you’re seeing isn’t the real me, and I’ll be back soon.
5. I am not weak or lazy.
It is not some sort of character flaw that causes depression. I have fought with my entire heart and soul to beat this disease. It took superhuman power just to survive every single day. There isn’t some kind of hidden inner strength I could’ve used to get rid of it. If you knew just how much effort it took to simply care for myself, you would send me gold trophies.
6. I am not weak for taking medication.
Almost every day I come across someone who says they don’t want to go anywhere near meds, as though medication is only for some population of unsavory people. There is such a massive stigma around depression meds, but they’re no different and no less necessary than a diabetic’s insulin. They save lives and when you hit the point where you just can’t survive without them, you take them.
7. I am not ungrateful or a huge pessimist.
When I’m not sick, I’m exactly the opposite! I knew exactly how lucky I was to have what I had. My daughter was very much wanted, very easy to love, an amazing sleeper and precious to me. It’s not that I suddenly decided I didn’t want to be a mom anymore. In fact, I was feeling great up until it hit me out of nowhere. I wanted to love her more than anything, but my body just wouldn’t let me. Well, that’s not entirely true. I loved her beyond belief, but the PPD complicated that love and put blinders on me that made me think about her differently — until the meds changed all that.
8. No one is immune.
You can’t get a vaccine or throw back immunization drinks to get out of this one. It’s not for “other people” who have more problems than you. I have excellent healthcare, a regular therapist, a psychiatrist and an amazing support system, but that didn’t prevent it. No deep dark secrets, death in the family, sickness, financial strain or marital problem provoked it. I know you think it would never happen to you, and I wish to God it doesn’t, but your chances of suffering could be just the same as mine. So, this doesn’t mean I’m more messed up in any way. It just means we can all be affected by this disease and no one who has it should be treated any different than you.
9. There is hope. There is always hope.
I read about a woman who actually did jump off a bridge, but was saved. I read how even she, the woman who gave up all hope, got better. It may make life feel like it isn’t worth living, and I know you may not believe me, but you will not feel this way forever. There are millions of techniques to try, hundreds of doctors to see and dozens of medications. Try reaching out to the church, your local NAMI, crisis hotlines, online forums and mental health specialists that can Skype. Keep reaching out, keep updating your doctor, keep asking for help from family and friends and just take it a minute at a time. It does get better.
If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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