This post is part of a series on sharing individuals stories to help others realize, they are not alone. If you haven’t read the introduction to this series, please start here. Were you aware that one in seven postpartum women suffer from postpartum depression. I honestly feel that number is too low. I believe the statistics should be one in four women suffer from postpartum mental illness. This week’s post is a look back at a mom’s journey with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. She was very willing to share her story but asked to stay anonymous.
One year later
I lived with postpartum depression and anxiety for a year and didn’t know it. My anxiety would manifest into anger towards my husband, self and others. It caused me to have irrational fears and kept me up at night googling everything about my first born.
My depression kept me from enjoying my family and friends. I became anti-social and never wanted to leave the house for events that usually would excite me. Getting up every morning was the hardest part of my day.
My son turned one and I realized I was holding my breath for an entire year and still was. When I went to his one year health checkup I got the same wellness questionnaire as each appointment prior. I answered each one positively in agreement with his development. Then, I finally got to the last question, which asked about my mood… does mom feel depressed, anxious, etc. I hesitated to answer yes, even though I felt all those things. As I struggled to answer the question, I wondered why in the world I lied on this form all those times before. Seriously, why did I do that? The answer was obvious. Everyone around me, every mom blog I googled in the middle of the night, told me what I felt was normal and it would get better. What they failed to tell me was how.
My son’s pediatrician read the questionnaire and advise me to reach out for help. So I did. I remember the day I got diagnosed clearly. My heart racing in fear of what my diagnosis would be. I stepped into the clinic, sat down and did the assessment survey. Each question screamed at me “Lie! Don’t be honest. Everyone is going to think you’re weak. Get over it!” Fighting through those negative thoughts I answered truthfully.
The lead director of the program reviewed my assessment quiz. She tallied up the answers and told me that all signs pointed to postpartum depression and anxiety. My heart dropped! As I sat there processing her words advise me to be admitted into their 6 week program to seek therapy and counseling. My mind was spiraling. I thought if all the reasons why I couldn’t be admitted:
- We just got an apartment we can’t live on limited pay from disability
- I have lots of work to do. I can’t just leave today to start the program.
- My mom is leaving, and is my primary care giver who would take care of my son while she was away?
- What would my family say? My friends
- Why can’t I just love my son!
The director heard me out and had an answer for every excuse I gave. She calmed me down and told me to really think about it. Her last remark was what got me “This is really a serious health condition. If you were diagnosed with any other disease…wouldn’t you do anything to fight it? You mind is just another organ in your body that needs attention too.”
I walked out, broken hearted about my diagnosis. The lingering thought I had was how could I, the one who is always perceived as strong be so weak.
How did my family react?
As I entered my car, the first person I called was my husband. I was sobbing and angry at myself for even going int to be evaluated and all he said after was “it’s okay, we will figure it out. You need this.” His support and love got me through a 6 week program that I wanted to quit by day 3. He pushed me to keep going even though I hated it in the beginning. He sat in one of my one on one sessions to see how he could help me continue self love and self care at home. He was along for the ride on good days and bad days. He never knew what he would come home to, but everyday he encouraged me to keep going. That I was doing better and it was worth it.
The next person I told was my mom. She didn’t understand what postpartum depression and anxiety was. At the first, when she heard the word depressed she thought I was thinking of harming myself, although that may be true for some, it wasn’t for me. I sat their explaining depression came in many forms and mine was not having the drive or joy to get up everyday. That I lost interest in all things that made me happy. Even being with family and friends was a struggle. I was constantly worried about my son’s well being and never wanted to be away from him. That the worst part of my day was leaving him to go to work.
As I struggled to explain to her she finally told me what I didn’t need to hear, “toughen up, be strong. Those “feelings” will pass..you’ll see. You have to move on, be brave.” I was hurt, in disbelief. All I could say was “mom I am being strong. Asking for help is strength and not weakness.” I left her house feeling so broken, wondering what was wrong with me.
My siblings were next in line and all of them were supportive. My brother’s wife experienced postpartum with both their kids, so he knew exactly how to handle the situation. My two sisters expressed how they felt they may have had postpartum too, but never got help. All three became the ones I leaned on when I was having some of my hardest days.
The final wave was my mommy friends who were nothing but supportive and understanding. Some opened up how they wish they sought help when they felt similar symptoms, but knew they wouldn’t have the support of their family filled with “strong Filipino women.” The encouraged and praised me, often helped me remember I wasn’t weak to seek help.
Managing my mental health
Getting help was the best step I took for myself and my family. Continuing to manage and care for my mental health definitely takes constant work. In order to stay in a healthy state of mind. I first and foremost pray. My first line of defense is prayer and worship, being completely vulnerable and giving up my worries to God. It’s been a habit at night that my husband and I will fold in worship music as a way to wind down our little ones. It has become our time to bond as family and lift up our worries to God. To our toddler and newborn it’s lullabies, to me and my husband it’s quieting the business and trials the day has put on our path.
Second, is talking to my support group. Whether it be my best mom friends or other moms I know have experienced postpartum. Sometimes just staying transparent helps keep me in check and stay out of the mentality that I am alone in this journey.
I also have learned to ask for help. One of the hardest things for me to do was ask for help. I always tried to figure everything out on my own. Now, I can turn to those around me, like my husband and ask him to help with planning, household chores and of course the kids. It has improved our marriage and has expanded on our ability to communicate effectively.
Finally, the big one I have learned to incorporate to my self-care is tempering my expectations. I used to have so many things I wanted to accomplish in a day. I would feel guilty or upset if I didn’t get everything done on my to do list. Now, our family lives by our bonus rule.
For example, if we want to tackle some chores that day. We set realistic goals and vocalize them to each other such as I want to wash a load of laundry & vacuum the apartment”
Then we focus on just those two specific chores. If we get more done like folding laundry, putting laundry away and dusting the apartment. Those are bonus.
The blessing behind the trial
It sucked having postpartum depression and anxiety. I felt like time was taken from me to enjoy my first born. However, blessing came from my trial. I can understand my children and husband more. Communication has improved on all fronts. We are a more mindful family. My journey has improved my relationships with other family members and friends. I have those turning to me because they have seen the change and improvement.
Helping them with my “warrior story” offers me joy and comfort. I get to say, I went through this for a reason and that reason was to share my testimony.
My family is more open on caring for their own mental health. I see my mom try to connect with me by talking about others who have expressed they has postpartum depression on her Tagalog talk shows and soap operas. Some close friends and family members have sought out counseling for their own mental health journey. Overall, I stand amazed how my journey has helped changed the narrative in a family.