I haven’t posted in a while because some of my family and friends were getting worried about my sad/scary posts. If I heard a friend was going through the same thing, I would be worried too. It tied my fingers for a bit though, as I thought about how to handle those concerns.
I have struggled with depression and anxiety after every birth. It is part of my normal recovery process. I think of it like this, a friend of mine has diabetes. She has had diabetes since she was a little pip and it is her normal to carefully watch her food intake, test her blood sugar and maintain her insulin pump. Maybe it’s not something she would wish on anyone, but it isn’t stopping her from living the life she wants. Diabetes is her normal and this post-partum mood disorder is mine.
I am sharing hard stuff, but in between this hard stuff, there’s a lot of good stuff. There’s this sweet baby who has me all wrapped up in her smile. There are six older children who are so helpful. I have good friends who are walking with me through this junk. They know the past and present of this mess and they are still here. That is friendship. I have a husband who sees my hot mess and simply thinks I’m hot, no mess about it. He catches the brunt of this depression stuff and keeps coming home, speaking beautiful truth into my lies and picking up the slack as best he can. That is love. When I look at the sum of my life, I know how blessed I am.
I have a Post-Partum Mood Disorders Toolbox and I thought it might help to know how I handle my crazy thoughts and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
Self-talk – I try to pay attention to my thoughts, listening for absolute terms like, always, never, everybody or nobody, or negative labels like, failure, useless, or worthless. When I hear those terms, I ask myself if they are true. If that doesn’t help, I write out how I am feeling and read it back to myself. Reading my written thoughts helps me to see them objectively for the lies they are.
Diet – I structure every meal around a good protein source. Breakfast is usually a veggie and cheese omelet and a cup of coffee. Mid-morning I will have two toasted slices of high-protein bread and a little fruit. Lunch is often a big salad which I might top with grilled chicken, walnuts, cheese, and dressing. Mid-afternoon I usually want something sweet, so I have a smoothie made with whey protein powder. Dinner is usually meat, poultry or fish, a big serving of green vegetables, a salad and maybe a small serving of a complex carb. Because my babies nurse a lot overnight, I need a snack before bed or my blood sugar is dangerously low in the morning. That’s not fun. Eating a low-glycemic diet with lots of protein, fruits and vegetables keeps my blood sugar stable which makes me feel more stable over-all. Nobody feels like a capable parent if they are shaking and hungry.
Exercise –This is a challenge for me. It’s not easy to get out of the house with small children. Even getting everyone dressed for a walk is an ordeal. I’ve tried home exercise videos and just found lots of reasons to never do them. However, Polar Bear is now old enough to keep an eye on his siblings while I go for a walk with Sweet Pea and I have a walking buddy in my neighborhood. I hope that will make exercise easier and more fun.
Sleep – Co-sleeping helps me to get more rest as I can just latch the baby on and doze off. Hubby sticks around in the mornings the first few weeks so I don’t have to get out of bed to tend the other children and I can catch a little undisturbed sleep. I also try to take a nap in the afternoon.
Socializing – I follow my midwife’s post-birth recovery suggestion of 2 days in bed, 2 weeks at home and then slowly getting back into my normal routine over the next 2 months. However, if I spend too much time alone, I get too caught up in my own mess. I need to hear about other people’s lives. I need to chat. I am so thankful I have friends who understand these needs and are happy to come into my messy house and visit with me.
Faith – I try to spend time every day reading from the Bible. I pray for peace and strength. My children love to sing, so I make sure the music we hear is uplifting. Many times, God has used that music to minister to me. Last week, I felt a panic attack coming on until I heard Cookie Monster singing, “God is in control.” It was an instant reminder that God is with me and this is all part of his good plan.
Medication – After Polar Bear was born, I tried various medications to control my depression and anxiety symptoms. Unfortunately, they either left me numb or gave me a host of side effects that were not worth dealing with. I’m not against medication for depression and anxiety. I think it can help some people cope with their emotions and can be a valuable part of the Post-Partum Mood Disorder toolbox.
Post-partum mood disorders are scary to hear about. That’s one reason why people who have these disorders don’t talk about them. However, these disorders can be managed. Coping skills don’t eliminate bad days, but they do help to put those days in proper perspective.