As I wrote this title, my first thought was that I could have left the “Postpartum” part off and this post would still apply. Whether we are dealing with depression, financial difficulties, physical health issues, problems at work or with family members or anything in between, there are strategies for overcoming our challenges. I firmly believe this. We have a part to play in our own happiness and ability to persevere. This post is all about the nuts and bolts of what I did to get through my postpartum blues.
1. Get help. I don’t think I can stress this enough and so I put it first. It’s vital that we understand ourselves enough to recognize when something is wrong and then get the help we need. So often (as women, especially) we brush our problems under the proverbial rug and “soldier on.” Although it’s true that we need to do a certain amount of soldiering on in life, we don’t have to do it alone. I went to the doctor and was firm in my communication with him about how I was really doing. I also talked to Jason about it often and when we could see that I needed help, we called in our support system – whether that is friends or family or neighbors. We put key people in the loop so that I was getting help from different areas of my life. – including all of you. I let you know what was happening and by doing so I was able to not worry about my blog for a while. That is the power of a support system.
2. Lower your expectations. Of all the other things I did, this one was probably the most important for me to personally tackle. I have always been a list-maker and a “get-it-done” girl so the thought that I couldn’t do everything that I was used to doing (let me rephrase that, I couldn’t do ANYTHING I was used to doing) was quite guilt producing. I hate guilt. I think it does more harm than good in most situations. But it was difficult to not feel guilty when all it seemed like I was doing was alternating between taking naps and crying and staring into space.
Once we figured out what was going on I had to immediately lower my expectations of myself. I tossed my list. I only did what was vital and tried to get help for the rest. I realized that many of the things that we think we have to do is in our own mind anyway. No one cares if I clean off my desk. No one cares if I start another project. No one cares if I hire a neighbor girl to weed for me. We add so many things to our lists that they can overwhelm us.
I decided to have extremely low expectations of myself. I took care of Coleman and gave myself one thing to do each day such as fold the laundry or clean out the dishwasher or pay the bills. That’s it. The rest of the time I spent napping when I needed to and sitting in a chair while Cole played on the floor. That’s it. As time passed and I felt strong enough to add something to my day, then I would. But if not, then I didn’t and gradually that sense of being completely overwhelmed started to fade.
3. Surround yourself with positives. I found that when I was alone with my own thoughts, I got extremely overwhelmed and discouraged. Jason kept saying, “You have to stop thinking.” That’s hard to do so I decided I needed some help with it. I started turning on positive, uplifting music throughout the house from the time I got up till when I went to bed. By having something to listen to other than my own thoughts, I did better. Jason probably got sick of the same things playing all the time but he never complained. Blocking out the negatives and surrounding ourselves with positives is necessary in normal life so it makes sense that it would be vital when we are feeling less than normal.
4. Laugh. Jason and I learned early on in our relationship that how quick we are to laugh is directly proportional to how well we work through a challenge. He helped me to remember this during the most difficult weeks and although we are not daytime television watchers, he would turn on Ellen or something funny in the afternoons to make me laugh. We were careful about what shows and movies we watched in the evenings as well, making sure that they weren’t depressing or too heavy. Laughter is a tool. Give yourself a chance to laugh as often as possible.
5. Routine. I probably wouldn’t have realized the importance of the need for a routine or schedule before this experience but I recognize it now. When I hit rock bottom I had my mother-in-law take Cole for a couple of days so I could regroup. She is wonderful and I’m so grateful that he got to spend that time with his grandparents. My mom had offered to take him a few days later but I told her no. What I had realized was that while he was gone I wandered. I had no purpose that I could face tackling and so I ended up sleeping all day and wandering the house. I decided that if I could do nothing else, I needed to have Cole home. His schedule gave me structure. Maybe I needed to nap when he napped but I still had to get up and feed him and change him and play with him in between. If I didn’t do anything else, at least I did that. His schedule kept me on a routine and that provided the framework to my days that I needed to help me move forward.
Plus, I was always happier when he was around. Who wouldn’t be? My mother-in-law said, “Maybe she needs him as much as he needs her right now.” I believe that to be true. I needed his touch. I needed his squeals and laughs and growls. When I looked into those soul-searching eyes of his I felt like he was saying, “It’s ok Mom. It will all be ok.”
And it was.
Perhaps that is the best strategy of all. Remembering that it will be ok. We may have to work at it and it might take a while but it will be ok. I am grateful for this experience. I always believed that postpartum depression was real but I never understood its impact until now. I am grateful we caught it quickly and acted early. I know that it is the reason why I was doing fabulously just six weeks later instead of still muddling through for months on end.
But I’m still using my strategies. I have a to-do list now but it’s not very long and when I start to feel overwhelmed I pull back and take a break. I still surround myself with positives and laughter but now I can generate that laughter on my own again. I still get help and keep my support system updated on what I need so that I am not alone. And most importantly, I have yet another thing to add to my list of experiences so that when others go through the same thing, I know what they are talking about. I am better for this understanding.
Thanks for your encouragement. For those of you going through challenges of your own – have hope. Have faith. You can do this and know that you have a friend in your corner cheering you on.