Before I start this post, I just want to preface with this:
My intention here is to show postpartum depression and anxiety in a way that can be real to you & for anyone out there struggling with it (or any baby or non-baby-related mood disorders) to not feel ashamed or alone. Please do not feel sorry for me! I am the luckiest mama, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, & friend on the planet and I’m so privileged to have the love and support of such awesome people!
So here we go.
It’s funny, we’ve been talking about starting this blog for a while, so I’ve been keeping a list in my notes on my phone of topics to write about for months, even before Wren was born. On this list was “postpartum anxiety”. I put it on the list before I even had Wren, because I knew it was going to become a reality for me.
There are a few different types of “mood disorders” that can occur postpartum. According to americanpregnancy.org, the “baby blues” is considered the least severe of the forms of postpartum depression and typically subsides within 2 weeks of delivery. This affects nearly 80% of women, which isn’t incredibly surprising considering the rapid shift in hormones that occurs after the baby is born and the mother is no longer pregnant. Postpartum depression is more severe & longer lasting than the baby blues. It includes more intense symptoms & postpartum anxiety is often umbrella’d under it. “Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after birth, but may begin later — up to 6 months after birth.” The rarest and most severe form of postpartum depression is postpartum psychosis. “This can lead to life-threatening thoughts or behaviors and requires immediate treatment.”
General anxiety is something I’ve struggled with for years. I think it’s probably been hanging around for most of my life, but it’s just always kind of been my normal. In an effort to be totally transparent- I will share that I was on anxiety meds for about a year (while Aaron was deployed- way too much for me to handle without some help) & I have gone through two rounds, for lack of a better term, of counseling. At the time, the meds were the right choice for me and really helped take the panicky edge off of my feelings. Both times I went to counseling were incredibly helpful & I definitely learned great skills to help manage my anxiety and keep it mostly at bay. At any rate, I knew my anxiety would be fueled by the hormones, exhaustion, & fears as a first-time-mom.
After Wren was born, I was definitely hormonal and emotional. Like most new moms, I was overwhelmed & exhausted. We’d had a complicated delivery (you can read that story *here, here, & here*) and were about to embark on a cross country move with a newborn and 3 dogs. I felt like most of my feelings were totally in the normal realm of the baby blues, especially considering the huge changes we had coming. After the big move and once things settled down, I felt pretty okay for a little while. I had some (what I could consider) normal-first-time-mom-anxiety about if Wren Marí was eating enough, if I was doing things right, etc., but it didn’t feel out of control. I was able to let these things pass and generally enjoy my days and my time with little girl & my husband.
Then, about two months ago (about 3.5 months postpartum), it started to get worse. What had worked for me in the past to keep my anxiety in check was no longer sufficient. I definitely did not realize it at the time and can only now look back and see when the change happened. It didn’t occur to me that I could be having postpartum anxiety & depression so long after her birth. I was generally not enjoying my days and I was spending a lot of time preoccupied in fear, which made me depressed. I’ve been asked what it is that I worry about, but truly, that part is unimportant. It’s the irrational, overwhelming feeling that can allow what was once a “normal” concern to snowball into 480 worst case scenarios that play on repeat in my mind. It’s the fact that feeling this way interferes with my life & my relationships — preventing me from being the best mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend, etc., that I can be. The best way I can think to describe it is as if I’ve somehow ended up stranded in rough surf, fighting to stay above water, but exhausted from the struggle. I won’t give up, but I’m so tired.
So anyway, let me tell you a story. This is embarrassing for me to admit, but it’s just part of my truth. A Friday morning, about two weeks ago, Aaron was out running errands. He’d seen an ad for the local roller derby that had a game (is that what they’re called?) that evening. We’d been talking about going to one of these for seriously years, so he excitedly texted me about it & suggested we go that night. I responded that yes, that sounded fun & we should check it out, but I immediately started to worry. What if we got into a car accident? What if someone flew off the roller rink (?) and smashed into us? What if Wren picked up some kind of awful illness while we were out? What if? What if? What if? I spent the entire day silently worrying about all the possible awful things that could happen on our way to, & at, the event. I couldn’t focus on anything. Thankfully, some tiny, rational piece of my mind stopped me in my tracks. “Do you realize you’re avoiding going out in public because you’re afraid?” Woah. How did I get here? This is not who I am or who I want to be. I was so overwhelmed with fear and guilt. I knew something had to change.
So I told Aaron. I’m sure he could tell that I’d been off for a while, but probably didn’t realize (just as I hadn’t) how far away I’d gotten. Just sharing my feelings lifted such a huge weight off me. It can feel so very isolating to be so lost in your own head. We talked about it and I decided I wanted to go to the roller derby. It was really fun & I’m so glad we went. In a way, I’m so thankful that my anxiety reached this extreme because it helped me to see just enough through the fog to help me find my way out of it. I also found out that a previous hairdresser of mine is apparently a roller derby champ. Maybe I should go see her instead of getting my hair cut at Great Clips again… (hashtag mom probs).
Since then, I’ve been very intentional about being aware of my thoughts and trying to stop myself when I begin to stumble. Some of the things that I’ve found that help me are:
- Spending time outside with my family
- Working on projects/hobbies
- Staying in frequent communication with family & friends
- Ice cream & cookies (let’s be real)
Sometimes these things work & sometimes they don’t. This is a process that I know I’ll be working on for a long time to come, probably forever.
In doing some of the research for this post, I came across something that said “This isn’t about positive thinking — it’s about being rational,” and that really says it perfectly for me. This isn’t about being glass-half-full or empty. This is about staying conscious of when my fears and worries “overshoot reality.” I certainly don’t have the answers, but I know that with the support of my family & friends, I will continue to push & grow through this.
I hope that if you are experiencing depression or anxiety, you know that you aren’t alone! Finding your happy again looks different for everyone, so don’t give up until you find the thing(s) that works for you.