How I beat perinatal depression!
“I look in the mirror and I don’t see myself. I am doing my best, but it also feels like I am failing. On top of all of this, I do not feel loved, appreciated, wanted or needed by you. I am broken inside and you do not show empathy. It often feels like I am complaining so I would rather not say anything. Please forgive me if I can’t/do not ask for your help more. I don’t even know how to help myself right now.”
This was a text message that I sent to my husband when my newborn was three months old. This was after multiple questions about how he could help me with the baby. When you have postpartum depression, sometimes it is impossible to articulate your actual needs and desires. I knew something was not right but did not know how to verbalize my thoughts. My thoughts were, indeed, all over the place. Perinatal depression is a mood disorder that can affect women during pregnancy and after childbirth (National Institute of Mental Health, 2021). The symptoms of this form of depression range in great detail.
Many new moms experience depression in different ways. I experienced extreme sadness and feelings of hopelessness, excessive crying for unexplained reasons, major withdrawal from my family and extended family, and reduced interest in things that were a normal part of my day-to-day. I am also a Certified Personal Trainer and love all forms of fitness. I often say that being active saved my life in more ways than one. Before I had my son, I told myself that 6 weeks postpartum would be the milestone for when I became active again. However, six weeks came and went. I was in a very dark place and could not see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Eventually, there came hope!
I had the great pleasure of being pregnant at the same time with some of my closest friends and a few family members. These ladies served as a little network for me; a safe space where I could voice my concerns and not be judged. Surprisingly, my new mom’s support network experienced depression in some form. We cried, texted one another at any hour of the night, and slowly guided one another towards the “light.” Additionally, there was a little voice that kept luring me to get to the gym.
The gym has always been a place where I could release stress, as well as feel good about myself. In addition, working out releases endorphins, a chemical that helps the body to relieve stress and pain. I knew that if I could muster up enough strength to get to the gym, I would feel better. However, this act took the most amount of effort. Most days I would talk myself out of going. There were some days I would make it, but I was unable to create a healthy mind, body, muscle connection. Slowly but surely, each day I showed up, the workouts became a little bit easier, and my depression started to subside.
There is a slew of benefits to being active. Some of these benefits include:
· Exercise controls weight
· Exercise combats health conditions and diseases including depression
· Improves Mood
· Boosts energy
· Promotes better sleep
(Mayo Clinic, 2018).
The list goes on and on. Fitness is only one way of managing PPD, however, it is not the only way to manage symptoms. In addition to making myself physically active, I hired a therapist. That is right! Therapists need therapists, too! Other moms have also tried medication, such as antidepressants to help manage their depressive symptoms. These medications may help improve the way the brain uses certain chemicals that control mood or stress. If moms are breastfeeding, they should communicate this to their doctors prior to starting any medication so that the doctor can monitor the dosage and reduce the baby’s exposure to the medication. Whatever a mom chooses, the most important option is to acknowledge the signs and take the necessary steps to seek the appropriate help.
If you or a loved one has recently had a baby, it is important to recognize the signs and seek the appropriate help from a healthcare provider. Some common symptoms of perinatal depression include:
· Persistent sadness, anxiety, or “empty mood”
· Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness
· Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies
· Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
· Difficulty sleeping
· Inability to bond or form an emotional attachment with the baby
· Thoughts about death, suicide, or harming oneself or the baby
(National Institute of Mental Health, 2021).
It is of great importance that perinatal mom’s symptoms are not dismissed or mislabeled. Historically, acceptance that something might be medically wrong with a new mom was not well received. The perception that a new mom needed to simply “snap out of it” or the belief that feeling intense sadness after becoming a new mom was “normal” is harmful and hurtful. Instead, speak directly to your loved one(s) or seek a medical professional who can assist with an evidence-based treatment plan and/or prescribed medication. This support can literally save their life.
Author: Atrell Patton, Clinical Professional Counselor Intern
Mayo Clinic (2018). Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389
National Institute of Mental Health (2021). Perinatal depression. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/perinatal-depression/