July 18, 2013

What Postpartum Depression Feels Like

This has been one of the hardest posts I've ever written.  It's so difficult to articulate exactly what postpartum depression feels like.  To write about it, I have to dive into those feelings and live there for a bit and I don't like to do that.  I work hard to stay OUT of that state of mind, not dive in, stir it up and give it a voice.  ...but here goes. Please have grace if this is not the most well written post you've ever read. 

Most of the time, I feel like I'm just of out of it, sleepy or groggy.  Sort of in a fog. Have you ever stared at something and your eyes get "stuck," and the world sort of moves around you? It feels a little like that. I'm overly tired or lethargic and really overwhelmed.  I don't feel like I'm incapable of motherhood (though many moms who have PPD do), but I do constantly feel like there's so much for me to do that I could never possibly get it all done, and that feels like a huge weight on my shoulders. I really just want to take a nap.  And on days when I actually am low on sleep, everything I'm describing is amplified to the point that it's debilitating.  

On top of this constant "fog," there are episodes (or waves is another way to put it) of extreme emotion.  Emotions rise quickly and when they do, I feel irrationally hyper-irritated, often with a lump in my throat, or angry and unable to put my finger on what I'm angry at or why. Other times it's like being in a deep dark hole and I just cry. I often feel angry or irritated with my older son and I have to REALLY work to respond calmly and lovingly to him. This is particularly hard when he's whining, cranky or disobedient, or when he is excited and running around or noisy. When he's noisy or when he gets in my personal space to love on the baby (big "triggers" for me). especially if I'm nursing, it's practically impossible not to snap.  Only this week (and I've been working at this for 3 or 4 weeks) was I finally able to take a deep breath and say sternly but carefully, "Buddy, I'm really irritated right now and it's not your fault, but I need you to give me lots of space."  Fortunately, Danny's old enough to understand and respect that. My heart goes out to moms with PPD and a two year old who is climbing all over them all the time. 

It's hard to stay on track and remember things.  It took me twice as long to do an extra short grocery list last week.  Now I joke that I actually DO have mommy brain!  Haha!  Sometimes tears come easily but so does laughter. I may be giggly one moment and emotional and down or cranky and irritated the next.  Other times, the mood swings are down, but never up.  For a while, the only time I was actually enjoying myself was while I was working out (when endorphin levels spiked).  

There have been days (and weeks) in which  I was pretty much mad at Alejandro (my husband) all the time. There was a bitterness and resentment towards him that I don't understand entirely. That's gotten much better, but he will often reach to hug me and I have to work to not literally push him away.  Other times, I crave his affection and feel completely unloved and alone (by no fault of his AT ALL - this is the depression talking!). Meanwhile, the poor guy seems to have no clue what to do with his wife, who has seemingly lost her mind. 

I don't feel irritated with the baby, thank the Lord, except sometimes while nursing when he's struggling against me because he's gassy or squirmy or no longer hungry.  That can be very frustrating and can trigger an emotional episode as well. If I'm in a fog, I'm not as quick to respond to his fusses for a diaper change or to nurse as I usually would be, though thankfully, I have never come close to neglect or abuse. Worst of all is that, for a while, I felt like no matter how much I tried, I just couldn't enjoy him as much as I want to. I went through the motions, but I didn't love being a mommy of a newborn like I did with my first son.  I feel like I missed a little bit of the first couple months, because I couldn't be present to the moment. 

There are women who have abusive, self-mutilating, suicidal or homicidal thoughts.  I am so very thankful that my depression has not been that bad.  I do believe that the Father of Lies, Satan himself, uses depression to destroy women and there have been times when he plants in my thoughts the image of harm coming to my newborn by my hand or by accident.  It horrifies me and I work to block it out of my mind by thinking of other things, but sometimes these thoughts just occur, and it feels similar to having a nightmare that you wake up from and shake off.  Until I understood PPD, it was disturbing that these thoughts came to me, even though I never even fathomed or was even slightly tempted to carry out any of these thoughts. Now I understand that when negative thoughts occur, I can reject them, pray, use lavender, and play praise music and recite scripture to combat this spiritual attack. 

Please know that it's humiliating to admit to these thoughts, even to myself, let alone share it publicly.  But I believe that someone is reading who is experiencing this or so much worse and they need to understand this:  This is NOT your fault.  It is tempting to think, I'm a horrible mom. I just need to buck up and put a smile on my face.  Or If I would just pray more... or listen to praise music more... or If I just had stronger faith or were a better mom, then I wouldn't feel any of these things.  PLEASE understand that praying, singing, praising, putting trust and faith in Yahweh and having great parenting skills are all HELPFUL in coping with postpartum depression thoughts and emotions, but they CANNOT prevent them.  What is happening to you is a psychological reaction to a physiological chemical and/or hormonal imbalance.  If you have even the slightest thought that you might want to carry any harmful thoughts out, or even if you don't think you ever would, but if you think that it would bring you relief to do so, GET HELP RIGHT NOW. Call someone - anyone - and ask them to come over to sit with you until you can get professional help.  Heck, call me! ...I'm serious.  719-352-1052.  There is nothing to feel ashamed of, and it's always better to be safe than sorry.  

Ok, back to what it feels like to me... (And remember, what it feels like to me and what it feels like to you may be entirely different. PPD is very individualized and it's different for everyone.)  For me, hunger, sugar, caffeine, exhaustion and dehydration make it worse. Protein and water make it better. Hot flashes and sweats  are common to new moms and those fluster me and make my emotions worse. It's easy to feel over-stimulated.  Invasion of my personal space or my children's personal space is another trigger. For example, one morning during the transition between exercise classes at the gym (where I work), I avoided the childcare room, knowing the chaos of children coming and going would set off an episode, so I stood in one place next to the desk, out of traffic of women coming in and leaving. Behind the safety of the barrier of the desk, I felt fine. 

If a trigger does set off an episode, it can look like a variety of things.  It might be losing my temper and yelling or snapping. Once I tried to write while in the midst of one and my handwriting was absolutely horrendous.  I couldn't write normally no matter how hard I tried. If I can't calm myself down, an episode usually culminates in a mess of tears.  My mom, husband and close friends have all watched me break down and cry on the couch for no apparent reason. There is no rhyme or reason to this thing.  If I break down crying, a good way to help me is to help me get alone, and then quietly ask me what I need.  I probably won't be able to answer this question, but at least it helps get my mind working on figuring that out, rather than dwelling on the emotion.  

If you have PPD, you can look like you're just fine.  For me, about 80 - 90 % of the time, I feel just fine. Not often great.  But fine.  And then suddenly something will hit me - a trigger for an emotional episode - and I realize that I am NOT just fine. So until I learned to recognize the nature of the beast, it left me feeling half the time like I was totally immobilized.  The other half of the time, I wondered if I was just making things up in my mind.

If you are successful at finding something that helps reduce or manage the depression, be thankful, but beware.  Last week I was feeling better, so I stopped using lavender essential oils, progesterone cream, vitamins and eating well.  I didn't mean to.  It just wasn't at the forefront of my mind anymore, and I forgot. Yesterday I realized that I've felt so down and blah and ick that I hadn't showered in two days. A friend of mine put it this way: "The beast of depression is that you think you're doing better, let your guard down, and then it comes back with a vengeance.  It does get better.  I promise." 

Making stuff up in my mind?  Unfortunately, I'm not.  It is very real.  It's very ugly.  It's very misunderstood.  ...But it's really common so you are not alone. If you think you may have it, start by telling someone.  Second,  try these natural methods of dealing with it, whether that's what you have or not.  Diagnosing it is not the most important.  Living life IS important and the natural remedies I've found are great for anyone, whether or not you officially have any form of depression.  So start by taking care of yourself and third, see a professional and start educating yourself (this site on PPD is a great resource and you can also read all of my posts on PPD) so that you can be diagnosed if necessary.

To those of you who are reading this, thinking that's me.   Thinking, "I just hate this. I feel hopeless and lost and completely alone and totally exhausted and immobilized.  She just described ME. ” I am lifting you in prayer this week.  There IS hope and it DOES get better.  I pray this post has helped you feel a little less alone and a lot more aware of what you're going through. Hang in there. This too, will pass.