What do you see when you look at this picture? It’s a celebratory birthday drink! Lovely kitchen. Huge smile. A woman who has her act together. It’s exactly what I wanted the picture to look like. It was perfectly planned and perfectly fake. It’s a downright lie – something I became very good at. During my journey with postpartum depression, I became the master of deception. After all, “Fake it, til you make it, right?”
Who knew that everything would change just a couple weeks later? Who knew that opening up and asking for help, the very thing I had spent the last 4 months avoiding, would actually be the right thing to do? What’s the first rule of Fight Club? “You don’t talk about Fight Club.” Similarly, the first rule of postpartum depression or any type of mental illness is that you don’t talk about it. I’m not sure that’s the best solution.
Let’s back up a few months. I had just given birth to my fifth child, a beautiful baby girl. A couple days later, I felt off. I wasn’t ready to go home. I feared it. As the weeks progressed, my baby grew bigger and stronger every day. I had resumed taking my young family to parks, museums, picnics, and even the zoo. My kids were thriving, my house was clean, and I appeared to have my act together. From outside, I was recovering beautifully and totally rocking my large family life. It’s a good thing they couldn’t see the inside of me.
When I thought of postpartum depression, I pictured crying. I wasn’t crying. When I thought of postpartum depression, I pictured a mess and feeling overwhelmed. That didn’t describe me either. What I eventually learned was that postpartum depression can look different in different women and it can strike any time in the first year. It may come with sadness and crying. It may also come with anger and rage, a true short fuse. This was me.
It could also come with mania, trying to make up for how lousy you feel by doing STUFF. This was also me. It can come with no desire to do anything: no showers, no cooking, and no cleaning, never leaving your bed.
It can do the opposite as well: a feeling that no matter how much you do, it’s not good enough. Living through postpartum depression for me was like living in my own reality. I could see what was happening around me and knew there was a problem, but couldn’t seem to exit this new world. After all, you don’t talk about postpartum depression.
Finally, after many months of feeling utterly alone and completely inadequate, I reached a new low. I had to wave to my 5-year-old son through a window at the psych ward. It was time to climb out of the pit I was living in. I sought help at the hospital. I finally spoke up and began receiving treatment. I sought out an OB-GYN who specialized in treating postpartum depression. It worked. Speaking up and talking about the postpartum depression, instead of sweeping it under the rug or shoving it in the closet, actually created support and healing.
Slowly, I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel, where I had previously only seen darkness. I could see glimpses of the life I could have and wanted to have. The lie I had been living was over and the truth, while not pretty and shiny like I was portraying, was preferred. I learned a few valuable lessons that I hope I can pass on to some woman who needs it.
I learned the REAL symptoms of postpartum depression and how they vary.
• Symptoms may affect the mood: anger, guilt, anxiety, mood swings, and hopelessness.
• Symptoms may affect the behavior: crying, irritability, or restlessness
• Symptoms may affect the whole body: weight gain/loss, lack of concentration or unwanted thoughts, depression, fear, insomnia, or fatigue.
A woman can have some of these signs or all of these signs. Looking back, I definitely had anger, mood swings, irritability, and lack of concentration. I never cried.
I learned that treatment and recovery are possible. Life doesn’t have to stay lonely and sad. There are many different treatment paths and options. There are oils, vitamins, mood stabilizers, hormone supplements, and SSRIs, just to name a few. Only you and your doctor can come up with the correct one for you.
The most valuable lesson I learned was to speak up. If you expect that things are off, say something. Talk to a friend. Talk to your spouse. Talk to your doctor. If you don’t speak up, you continue the battle alone and the enemy seems impossible to beat. Once you let others help, it seems like the fight becomes a bit more possible. The journey to recovery is hard. There are many challenges and setbacks along the way. You NEED a support system. I needed encouragement. I also needed to be called out when I was showing some of my signs. I needed accountability and I got it.
Postpartum depression shouldn’t be embarrassing. It’s a true illness and it’s not your fault. I know how dark and dim it seems while you are struggling, but there is support and you can get better. You just need to ask.
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Local Support in the QCA
Jessica talks about her own journey with Postpartum Psychosis on the On the Mother Level Podcast.