It’s been a while since my last post. That’s because I’ve been rearranging the layout of this site, adding more information and working on the final steps toward publishing Dancing on the Edge of Sanity. However, I haven’t forgotten about the blog and how it might help women who are facing postpartum depression or anxiety. In my last post “I’ve Got Something to Say,” I noted six things that helped me recover. And while I’m not a nurse, doctor, therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist, and I don’t intend to offer treatment or a cure-all remedy, I can offer some thoughts based on my experience.
Here they are…
1) Knowledge – The guilt and dark feelings common to postpartum depression and anxiety are isolating. They are difficult to share for a number of reasons. Luckily, there are many brave women who have spoken about their struggle. Finding these stories and learning more about perinatal mood disorders helped me. I didn’t feel as alone or as ashamed. It took me some time to find the right resources since there is a lot of information in cyberspace, and I can’t even begin to list all the blogs, books and websites that exist. But the resources below (and the resources noted on my Resources page) are excellent places to start.
- If you are looking for an organization that provides facts, statistics, and might be able to connect you to the local support in your area, I suggest Postpartum Support International. http://postpartum.net/
- If you want to read an informative blog that posts a wide range of useful articles and inspiring stories visit http://postpartumprogress.com/
- If you are looking for a good memoir about postpartum depression, I suggest Down Came the Rain by Brooke Shields. (Or you can wait for the publication of Dancing on the Edge of Sanity!)
While knowledge can help, a lack of knowledge can actually be very detrimental. I suffered from anxiety more so than depression, and I had some horrifying bizarre thoughts that really upset me. One day, I suddenly began imagining my son in violent life-threatening situations. I tried desperately to force the thoughts away, but they persisted. When I shared these petrifying and confusing thoughts with medical and mental health professionals in my community, they were just as scared as I was. It is unfortunate that I didn’t know about postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder or the intrusive thoughts that sometimes accompany anxiety disorders. It is disappointing that the local help I sought also did not recognize my intrusive thoughts as intrusive thoughts. It would have helped to learn that there was a name for what I was experiencing and that other women had encountered this type of anxiety disorder. For this reason, it is crucial that women seek help from professionals who are familiar with the wide spectrum of perinatal mood disorders.
2) Exercise – A few weeks prior to my due date, I asked my midwife about postpartum exercise. When she told me I would need to rest for the two weeks following childbirth, I thought she was nuts. I figured that was standard advice for most women but that it didn’t apply to me. I’m not an elite athlete or anything like that, but I have always been a very active person and I maintained by normal exercise regimen throughout my pregnancy so I figured I would continue to do so right after giving birth. But as my midwife continued to speak about the importance of allowing the body to heal to avoid complications and problems, I realized I would need to follow her advice.
During the first postpartum week, I had very little energy and very little time. Nursing and sleeping took up most of the day. Since forcing myself to eat was an exhausting challenge, I couldn’t even begin to think about doing anything that required physical activity. But, at the same time, the lack of activity was bringing me down. The immediate postpartum period was a bit of a contradictory state for me. Doctors, nurses, family and friends told me I needed to use that time to rest, “to sleep when the baby sleeps,” and to take care of myself. Yet, throughout my entire life, taking care of myself included engaging in regular exercise. Moreover, exercise had been my frontline defender against anxiety. As I recognized that I was in the grips of postpartum depression and anxiety, I yearned for the natural mood stabilizing endorphins that exercise would provide.
By the second postpartum week, I had a little more energy and I also had spoken to my midwife about doing very gentle and moderate exercise. I began slowly and paid close attention to my body. If I observed any signs that I was overdoing it, I backed off.
I began taking short walks. (Short as in a walk to the mailbox!) Then, I went to the end of my block. When my son was big enough for the baby carrier, I placed him in that and walked a half mile around the neighborhood. It felt wonderful to be outdoors under the sky rather than indoors under a seemingly confining ceiling. Not to mention, the cool Vermont fresh air has always been invigorating for me. Even though these short walks were trivial compared to the extensive hiking and running I had done during and before pregnancy, I took great pride in my small achievement and recognized it as a step toward recovery.
I also resumed gentle yoga. This practice helped lengthen my muscles while it also helped me regain strength. There are many more physical benefits to yoga, but I find the spiritual and emotional benefits to be the most rewarding. In the quite peace of the yoga studio, I could allow myself to concentrate on nothing simpler than the basic principle of breath. It was calming, restorative and centering; it was what my tangled mind was craving.
As each week passed, my body became stronger and I found that I had more energy. I slowly began reintroducing strenuous cardiovascular exercise into my routine. I hiked up mountains, I snowshoed and I took Zumba classes. These exercises were more challenging than they had ever been, but it was worth the sweat. As my heart rate elevated, I could feel those endorphins zipping through my body, bringing joy back to my life.
3) Sleep – As I have already mentioned, a popular line of advice is “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” For many women, this advice can be hard to follow, but it helped me. In fact, once I was able to sleep, I followed that popular line of advice as if my life depended on it.
At first, I couldn’t nap during the day. I tried and tried and tried to sleep, but nothing could quiet my mind. Likewise, I had trouble falling asleep at night, especially given my newborn’s sporadic sleep patterns. (There is something torturous about the interrupted sleep patterns new parents endure.) The rest and sleep was imperative, yet my mind wouldn’t shut off. Because I wasn’t getting quality sleep, my condition was worsening. At one point I wondered, “Is the lack of sleep making me crazy or is the crazy making me unable to sleep?”
Fortunately, the insomnia subsided after the first two postpartum weeks and I was able to relax and nap during the day. I also began falling asleep at night with more ease. Eventually, when my son woke to nurse at night, I was able to nurse him and immediately fall back asleep.
Because I held sleep in such high regards, I became fiercely protective of my sleep. When my son napped, I turned off the phone, pulled the shades down and climbed into bed. I took advantage of every opportunity I had to sleep and operated under the assumption that at any point, my son might decide to stay up all night so when sleep was available, I had to take it. I even recorded how much sleep I had during a twenty-four hour period to make sure I was getting what my body needed.
Knowledge, exercise, sleep, tenacity, acceptance, Zoloft, writing, self-talk and timeliness. That and many other things helped me. It seems that a variety of elements came together and each element depended on the others. Thanks for reading!