Tips for Coping During the “In-Between”

Those who are familiar with anti-depressants know that it can be a frustrating treatment at times. Typically it takes 3 – 6  weeks to kick in. For many folks, if the pill is the right prescription, they may feel gradually better over time. For others, they can bottom out before feeling better or even feel numb until all of a sudden: BAM! and they’re back to themselves. That’s assuming of course the prescription is the right one.

There are many different treatment options and they all have different side effects. But one thing is common: none of them work immediately, unless you add a supplemental “as needed” type of medication such as Ativan.

So how do you get through those three weeks or so until the medication starts to set in?

  1. Exercise with a buddy: Exercise is frequently touted as something that can help people with depression. However, note that I’ve outlined this step as exercise WITH a buddy. The problem with depression is that there is an underlying level of fatigue that makes it very difficult to get out of the house. A buddy can help hold a struggling mother accountable and push her to get out the door. This may not always work if the depression is particularly bad (this happened often during the worst parts of my postpartum depression). However, having someone to help push a struggling depressed mother can increase the likelihood that the mother will get out and move around. Exercise is a temporary fix during postpartum depression but it can help a depressed mother get through the afternoon or at least provide a few hours of reprieve.
  2. Talk therapy: Talk therapy is a must. First of all, having a licensed expert who can monitor how the drug is working is critical to assessing treatment. The talk therapist can help identify if perhaps an alternate treatment is good or can provide unbiased opinion as to whether the depressed mother seems to be improving. Often the depressed mother may not see improvement initially. Secondly, the therapist is an unbiased third party who can help a struggling mother with perspective and mindfulness. Like exercise, this is a temporary fix, but it can help the struggling mother get through those tough weeks while waiting for the medication to sink in.
  3. Support Groups: Along the vein of talk therapy, support groups create a space where mothers can talk about their struggles in an unfiltered environment. Sometimes just the recognition that other women are going through the same struggle is calming and provides comfort. This can also provide temporary relief.
  4. Working Towards a Plan: The act of working on a plan, assessing your progress and reevaluating your plan to recovery can often bring a sense of peace. It may help to outline a plan of attack; it gives a sense of productivity and direction that can help combat the helplessness that the struggling mother feels during the throws of postpartum depression.
  5. Find That Cheerleader: The struggling mother will need someone to help her push through the pain. Depression has the unfortunate consequence of many women drawing away from other people. This is why a cheerleader is necessary. I can not stress how incredibly important this was. This is why support groups are often critical. The struggling mother needs to find a friend through the support groups or find someone online that they can trade stories and lean on each other when things get really low.
  6. Work on Losing Guilt: It’s critical for the struggling  mother to rely on her partner, her family and anyone who will help her out. This is obviously much easier to say than do, but there’s a couple of things to tell the struggling mother during this time:
    1. “This period of time does not reflect on you as a mother”
    2.  “You carried the baby and gave birth. It’s OK to lean on your partner to get you through this.”
    3. “This is fleeting. It will pass. It will change and become different in ways that you can’t even understand.”
    4. “You have plenty of time to bond and build a relationship with your baby – when you’re better.”

Please note that these are not intended to be treatment options for postpartum depression. They are only to help struggling mothers get through that waiting period before the treatment begins to work.

Also note: be aware that if you are dealing with postpartum depression, you should never settle. Don’t settle for, “I feel better but am still dealing with anxiety, etc.”. The goal for a treatment plan should be to get back to feeling like yourself. If you still don’t feel like yourself and your doctors aren’t listening to you – you need to see another doctor. Motherhood is amazing when you have the energy to do it. The biggest thing I hear from women who have conquered postpartum depression is:

I wish I had sought treatment earlier and not lost this time.

Postpartum World_ICON_4C_Green Rattle

Pregnancy Changes the Brain

Recently the Washington Post published an article about the changes that pregnancy has on the brain. It’s important to note that this study was small and hasn’t been replicated yet. But it does go a long way in soothing concerns that I hear from many postpartum women.

As I’ve written about before, actually many times, medication is a tough subject. We have a certain degree of control over our thoughts, feelings and logical deductions. But that control only goes so far. So people naturally think that when you’re in the midst of some type of depression, that you should be able to control how you feel and treat it with your own thoughts.

But as I’ve pointed out before, mental health is not that simple. We are trained to think that happiness is a choice, for all. We view everything from our own perspective, so we think that if we can use herbs and positive thinking that everyone can.

To be honest, I never fully understood how wrong this thinking was – the thought that we truly can control our depression with disciplined thinking – until I went through my own postpartum depression. Now I understand that it’s a very chemical and hormonal process and when your chemicals are off, your brain plays some pretty strange tricks on you.

But I digress.

One of the other concerns that women have about starting a postpartum depression treatment involving medication is that they’ll be on the medication forever. People, I’ve found, can deal with the idea of taking antidepressants a little better if they believe it’s a temporary thing. While I still think this isn’t exactly the healthiest approach to mental health issues, as far as it relates to postpartum depression, I guess I can deal with that approach.

If you think about it, pregnancy is only a finite period, but it would seem logical that the effects would linger. For example, during pregnancy your estrogen is at incredibly high levels. For many women, this acts as a natural antidepressant. For me, it was quite the opposite. My body doesn’t handle hormonal fluctuations very well. But getting back to the point, that’s 9 – 10 months that your body is operating at a different hormonal cocktail.

Then you give birth. Your estrogen immediately crashes. That’s why a lot of women report “baby blues” or crying, emotional highs and lows in short periods and so forth. For many women, those hormones start to level off, but it’s important to note that if you’re breastfeeding, your estrogen levels – which were formerly crazy high – are now in the toilet. Your body has to make room for the prolactin to produce milk…and estrogen is the first hormone to get kicked out. So then for however long you breastfeed, your body is yet again taken through the ringer with abnormally low estrogen levels. For months. Or for some women – FOR YEARS!

Then, is it any wonder that our bodies need time to recover once they go back to their normal hormonal equilibrium? Our bodies spent years fine tuning themselves at that specific chemical frequency and then they basically get jerked around for about two years surrounding pregnancy and childbirth.

So ladies – if you find yourself in a position where you’ve got to take some medication to get back to normal – be patient. Your body’s been through the ringer. Your life has changed. Nothing lasts forever. You might be on the medication for awhile, you might not. But by getting treatment, you’ve taken the first step to getting better and being the mom you always wanted to be. So be kind to yourself. You deserve it. Put the days ahead of you where they belong…in the future.

Postpartum World_ICON_4C_Green Rattle

Do you Need to Save your Life?

Photography Credit: eKate Photography

WARNING

TRIGGER ALERT: In depth discussion of suicidal thoughts and plans

Note: I am not a licensed mental health provider or doctor; this post is strictly based on my experiences and these tips are based on what worked for me. 

As part of my therapy, I talk to a lot of different women about their postpartum depression/anxiety experiences. So the word ‘suicide’ gets quite a bit more use in my day to day vocabulary now.

In going through my own struggle with suicide ideation, it’s taught me a lot about the human body, the mind and what suicide really is. Before I had perinatal depression, I had heard phrases such as “suicide is selfish” and “suicide is a cry for help”. I didn’t think much about it. I knew of people who had died by suicide, but I didn’t know anyone personally. Since I’ve experienced the pull of suicide during the throws of depression, both of those statements seem trite and hollow…if not just a complete misunderstanding of what drives people to take this very permanent path.

Continue reading “Do you Need to Save your Life?”

The Medication Conundrum

Recently, Postpartum Progress posted an article that was originally posted on Scary Mommy. The article was about a woman who has suffered from treatment resistant depression for years. Her depression was naturally exacerbated with childbirth and the postpartum period. She expressed her frustration with well-meaning family, friends and strangers when they would advise her on how to treat her depression.

The full article is here.

Continue reading “The Medication Conundrum”