Thursday, December 17, 2015

Out of the Darkness and Into the Light - Coping with Postpartum Depression

I have been dealing with some form of depression and anxiety for most of my life. I am 37 years old and I honestly can barely remember a time when this was not part of me. Part of my every day. Part of who I am. Over the years I have tried a lot of methods of self help and professional help to get through the vast fields of dead flowers in my mind to try and find the sunshine and soft new blooms that I know are there. Some things work, some don't, but I had found a way to mostly manage my every day despite some slips backwards here and there.
Then I had my children and I was introduced to a whole new level of darkness called PPD. It's not more dark than what I knew of depression before. The difference is that now you are responsible for this amazing, tiny human that came from inside your body. This mass of love and being that you cannot imagine life without. You should be elated. You should be glowing with motherly wisdom and centuries of experience welling up from your soul. Instead, you feel empty. You are a hole of darkness and numbness. You can't find your balance inside anymore. It's truly terrifying.
The biggest issue I have found in dealing with postpartum depression is that no one seems to take it seriously. It is assumed by many to simply be what is known as "baby blues" and nothing more. Once you are feeling better physically, you'll get over it. When that doesn't happen, people tend to look at you like you are simply a selfish person. Someone who doesn't know lucky she is. Or you are viewed as overly dramatic. Plenty of people had babies before you. This is nothing you are unable to handle. Buck up!

Here is the truth. PPD is a jerk. It will creep in during your recovery and slowly take over your mind. I have suffered from intense bouts of anxiety. I am terrified I will hurt my baby by accident. I fear dropping her. I fear forgetting her somewhere. I fear her choking. I am so paranoid about SIDS that I will watch her breathe all night at the loss of my own sleep. I am unable to leave her alone with most people. I don't like people outside of her father and I to hold her. I absolutely hate the idea of her being in anyone else's car. I fear car accidents. I fear fires. Normal fears, but mine are intense, overwhelming, and cause me to lose sleep and concentration. It overtakes me. This is on top of already very present depression and anxiety that has me terrified that one day I will just fling myself off my balcony. Not to die. Just to make it stop for a minute. Some moments are that intense.
New Jersey where I live has a law that requires obstetricians to screen new moms for postpartum depression. Some do more than others. Mine had a one on one talk with me after I filled out a questionnaire. At the time, mine was not nearly as bad as it has gotten so me telling him I was fine despite my questionnaire results was enough. I was already on medication via my primary care physician so I guess together we figured I was ok. Things got progressively worse from there. My general practitioner advised me to seek help from a psychiatrist who could better diagnose and monitor my condition with proper medications and therapies.
Mental health care in this country at this time is just awful. I went through every name my insurance company website spit out at me, trying to get an appointment with a psychiatrist. What I found were phone numbers that rang and rang, practices where the listed doctor was no longer a part, and waiting lists to see doctors that were three and four months long. It's like every psychiatrist in New Jersey ran away. I am still trying to get in to see someone.
In the meantime, I had to find ways to help myself. Being a mom is the most important part of my life. It IS my life. My kids are my everything. I need to be there for them 100% in mind and body and that is the one thing that has helped to keep me grounded and helped me to find a few ways to keep myself in check. If you are suffering yourself or know someone that is, here are a few ideas that might help find the light switch in the darkness:

It sounds a bit hippy, but it really does work. Nothing elaborate is required. You don't need to sit cross legged. You don't need to burn incense or listen to chanting or anything of the sort. You simply need a comfortable place to sit and just ten minutes in a safe place where you can close your eyes. Find your spot, have a seat. Close your eyes and allow your mind to go completely blank. It's hard the first time you do it, especially if you are like me and have a constantly running television in your brain that doesn't shut up. The trick for me is to focus on your breathing. Think about nothing but your own breathing. Listen to the pattern. Feel the air go into your lungs and then feel the air as it comes back out. Do this over and over again and do not allow your mind to wander to anything else. Just the simple breathing. In and out. Before you know it, ten minutes will have passed and you will have had a clear mind. Believe it or not, your blood pressure just went down!
I never thought I would be someone who meditates. I don't do it around other people. If I didn't tell people I did it, no one would know. I do it before I go to sleep to help ease my insomnia and anxiety. I do it on my lunch break, sitting in my car to help combat anxiety and depression. So give it a try. While your baby is napping, put him or her in a safe spot and sit right down next to them. Use the sounds of your own breathing (or theirs, if you find it as comforting as I do) to focus and clear your mind. Do it once a day if you can. Even once a week will make a difference.

Do you write? Do you paint? Do you color in your kids coloring books? Do something creative. Anything. Doodle on post-it notes. Decorate cupcakes. Look up how to carve lemons into birds like they did in the 70's at dinner parties. Anything that gives you focus. So much of what we are dealing with is centered in our mind causing our mind to spray about like a fire hose on full blast with no one holding on. Getting our minds to center is like the incredible hulk coming along and taking hold of that hose and pointing it where it needs to be to put out the fire. This is why there is a new fad of adult coloring books happening. So many adults nowadays deal with anxiety and the simple act of coloring actually helps to lessen anxiety and add focus. You can sit there and hum or talk to yourself, whatever you need to do. Get yourself some way to focus on your hands instead of inside your head.
I write. I sing. I bake. Anything that will put my brain somewhere specific is helpful.

This is a tough one. PPD is not something taken seriously by a lot of people so we tend to find ourselves looking at an empty room a lot. We pull away from the people we know, meanwhile the people that we know have pulled away from us usually just because they have no idea what the hell to do with us. We don't know how to talk about it. They don't know what's going on and for a lot of people its just easier to walk away. There is usually a much easier friend to have somewhere that is not you. I have watched this happen my whole life. I blame myself because if I knew how to be more open with what I am dealing with, maybe people would not assume I was being aloof. Or a bitch. If you have someone to be with, take a day or night every week or so and get out of the house. Get out of your usual space. If you don't have anyone, take your baby and go to the mall. I did this with my son after my first pregnancy (and first bout of PPD) and while you would think it would be lonely, it helped me a lot.
I loved watching my baby look at the world. I enjoyed the exercise. I would get myself a treat...a milkshake or slice of pizza or even a gumball, and that would be a part of my trip. I looked forward to those walks around the mall with my baby. It was human interaction but I didn't need to feel awkward because I didn't have anything to say or was not able to form sentences properly because of a bad anxiety day. I didn't have to talk to anyone. I simply strolled along for as long as I needed to.

This is SUCH a tough one. Depression makes us tired. It makes us hole up like a hermit. Some days just getting out of bed is a challenge for us. Now we are supposed to go exert ourselves? Get the hell out of here, lady. This is my actual conversation with myself on a regular basis. I am not going to pretend that I am some sort of fitness guru. Richard Simmons would never be my friend.

I make fun of fad diets, I joke about my own jiggles, I only run when chased. However, I cannot deny that something happens to the brain when I do actually get off my tush and do something. The normally out of whack chemicals in my brain get a jolt of something and they even out a little bit. Maybe it's the oxygen that is flowing more concentrated through my blood. Maybe my heart is happy to not be clogged with Doritos dust and is instead full of rushing platelets and happy chemicals. I don't know, but it actually works.
I am the biggest cynic. I am the laziest of the lazies. But I cannot deny that getting up and moving around helps depression and anxiety. If I can't find motivation to actually do proper exercises, which is very often, the best thing I have found is dancing. Not structured real dancing, just dancing. Putting on songs you love of an upbeat tempo and moving your body around. You don't need to be by yourself. I have done this with both of my babies. They will benefit from the interaction with you and you will benefit from the movement. Just take off your shoes, find yourself a clear piece of carpet, turn up the music and move around. Sing along, make faces at your baby, just wiggle yourself around a bit and you will get your blood moving. It really, really works. Don't tell anyone I said that.

Postpartum depression is a real jerk, but you are not alone. There are a lot of us out here weathering the storm with you. You CAN get through this. Even if you, like me, are having a hard time getting the professional help you need, try a few of these ideas to help you regain your center. These are relatively simple and inexpensive ways to calm yourself and reel in a wandering, anxious mind. After a good mediation, look into the eyes of your baby. You'll see why you are here. Why you are on this big, blue planet. I hope you find peace. We are all in this together.

1 comment:

Christine Wans said...

I am right there with you Mama. RIGHT THERE. Message me if you ever need to. Great post.