Coming Out of the Postpartum Depression Closet
26 Dec 2014
I write this with a feather boa around my neck and a glass of champagne in my hand. Ok, that’s not true. I’m in my pyjamas and looking at Christmas gift wrappers all over our floor with breakfast plates waiting to be washed. I’ve always imagined ‘coming out’ as something celebratory and why not? It’s a step into a world where limits — both self and socially imposed — are broken.
I’ve been putting one foot in front of the other along the road that is Postpartum Depression (PPD) for months now. It’s been the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to go through in my life and apparently, 1 in 8 mothers go through it, too.
Amidst being lost in it all, I wonder why for a condition quite common, it’s rarely spoken about. This is partly why I began this (my nth) blog: to reach out to moms who may be going through the same and let them know that they’re not alone. More important, that there is hope.
I compiled 10 questions that I used to ask myself senseless. Senseless because I had no answers to them back then that time has slowly answered for me.
Full disclaimer: I’m no expert. I am not a doctor nor a therapist. I just happened to experience it myself so all I am sharing is my truth.
How did you know you have PPD?
When I gave birth the 1st time, I experienced having an extreme swing of emotions within the 1st few days but it was gone before I could even give it much thought. The 2nd time around, the blur hit me months after delivery so I didn’t connect the dots right away. I just thought I was going crazy.
What’s it like? Crying for hours, condemning myself for being worthless, not wanting to wake up – ever, and yes, thoughts of suicide. It was a messy, dark unraveling. It took me months before I finally considered seeking help.
The despair became rote and I feared that I’d convinced myself to take harmful action. I told my husband and parents what I was going through. One visit to the doctor confirmed what’s been nagging me at the back of my head: this is more serious than I think and intervention is necessary.
How is PPD different from “Baby Blues”?
Baby Blues are very common to moms who just gave birth because of all the adjustment that a mother’s body goes through. It presents itself through mood swings, crying for no reason, anxiety, lack of focus, and restlessness among others. A friend put it best, “kung monthly period nga lang, gulong gulo na yung hormones ko, paano pa kaya yung 9 na buwan kang may baby sa sinapupunan, nanganak, tapos babalik na ulit sa dati?” Aside from the changes in the body, there is also the new paradigm of concerns that come with becoming parents – whether it’s the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or nth time.
According to Dra. Trina dela Llana, a Filipina doctor who does a psychiatry subspecialty, some of the differences between Baby Blues and PPD are:
Aren’t you a harm to your children?
In a weird and possibly wrong way, I’m thankful that all my thoughts of inflicting pain were to myself. That even at an unstable time, I couldn’t bear imagining what it would be like to harm them. I’m thankful because well, I’m not sure what I’d have been capable of given the imbalance of my hormones.
What I’m worried about is whether my days of nonstop crying, sleeping, and zombie-living will eventually affect them. I cross my fingers that those days made no mark in them but should my reality be against my hopes, then I commit to learning how to make our relationship from this point onwards be one that sufficiently heals and nurtures.
Are you crazy?
Aren’t we all? Seriously now, given the lack of mental health awareness in the Philippines, it’s easy to dismiss these mental disorders as “sira ulo” or “topak”.
What I’d like to get straight is depression is not about being sad or being moody. It’s an actual sickness the same way as a flu is, or heck, cancer is. So no, I’m not crazy; I’m sick. And I’m using what’s within my control to get better.
If you or someone you know might be having Baby Blues that just won’t quit and seem to be transforming into ways that feel paralyzing, please seek medical attention.
You went to a doctor? How was that like?
Life-saving. That’s got to be the only way I can describe it.
First, it helped me a whole lot to hear from a medical professional what it is I’m going through, the basis of it, and believe it or not: that there is hope and that there are ways to cope. I was asked how I feel about receiving medication and I figured that this is something that patients perhaps often resist. Not me, though. I remember sitting there, crying, and pleading for just about anything that could give me any semblance of normalcy once again.
Did it work? Let’s put it this way: Imagine not having yourself together day after day for months to the point of forgetting who you are and what you’re like. And then, you pop a pill (pills over days, to be accurate) and doing this seemed to give you another shot at what seems to be life as you once knew it. Again, life-saving.
You have too much time on your hands / Maybe you’re just fat. / You should pray / Sakit ‘yan ng mayaman / Nakakapag-Facebook ka pa naman e, ok ka pa
I know, right? Kidding.
One of the reasons I don’t really share that I am journeying through PPD is because I don’t think I’m able to receive quips as the above so well. I remember experimenting and slowly trying to open up to a few moms I know. One of them replied, “Depressed? Sosyal!” That obviously didn’t help. Again—given the lack of awareness on mental health in general, I can’t really blame this response.
An article on Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/13/mental-illness-physical-i_n_6145156.html) about how it would be like if people physical illness like mental disorder and I thought it was pretty on point and funny but not funny but funny.
How do you tell people about it?
In the beginning, I kept what I was going through to myself and tried to manage on my own. I mean, how do I explain something even I can’t understand? I tried to cope by burying myself in work since work was something I can perform with well-defined objectives, aiming for results that had nothing to do with what I feel.
To date, I’ve only told my immediate family, friends who are like family, and my teammates. They’ve been nothing but angels, giving me space to heal, checking on me without breathing down my neck. They adjusted as I adjusted and while this comes with challenges, I’d like to think we grew our own rhythm.
I kept the information to a small circle because I fear that I might get negatively judged and worse, that I might believe them. I’m now sharing my experience because I know how nasty it can get and nastier when other factors like social stigma are included in the equation.
Does it ever go away?
I used to think it won’t but obviously, I’m doing much better so I can confirm that it does. I asked Dra. de la Llana the same question. She says, “depression itself can go away, but can also come back. Some individuals are lucky enough to have one episode for their whole lives, but others can have episodes on and off. The goal of management of depression is to make sure there are long periods between episodes, and even to do everything possible to keep the patient from having another one.”
What she says about managing depression is so true though. I hold small victory parties when the episodes would come less and less and when the periods in between would also get longer. For perspective, I started setting up this blog in July. I would try to keep planning and writing on days when I feel like I’m helpful and not damned or damning. And while it’s almost the end of the year, I’m just happy that I made it to this point where I get to share this with you.
Do you think I have it too?
I really can’t be the one to decide on this for you and I highly suggest you don’t Dr. Google-diagnose yourself. It can only be helpful to consult your neighborhood clinical psychology or psychiatry specialist.
Dra. de la Llana notes that even when symptoms and diagnosis are the same, each person is still treated as an individual and that face to face consult with a physician is still best. This is health we’re talking about, after all.
What else helps?
In the course of healing through PPD, I’ve found some lifestyle changes to be more helpful than others.
1. Having a regular sleep schedule
I find peace in the meditative environment of yoga, acknowledging where you are at present and accepting it. Also, being mindful of one’s breath keeps me grateful, calm, and uplifted.
I always whine before and during running but always love the happy hormones that come with it after so when I can, I suck it up, tie my laces, and go on my own pace.
4. Turning off my push e-mail, social media notifications, Whatsapp, Viber, and other 24/7 chat platforms
Sorry for going off the grid several times this year, friends. As much as I love having a nonstop connection, I sincerely enjoyed the silence.
5. Having nurturing conversations with Mom friends
Chatting with Mom friends who were also asking the same questions as me was helpful. I also had friends who aren’t mothers themselves but proved to be sources of comfort at this time. This brings me to my next point:
6. Staying away from ‘black holes’
We don’t need people, places, things that suck our spirit away on any ordinary day but more so, when we’re going through a challenging time. I find saying ‘no’ difficult but I tried to gain the discipline of doing it for the sake of my sanity.
As of writing this, I haven’t really found a dedicated support group locally for moms who are going through PPD. I sincerely hope for raised awareness and education on Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression, and well, mental health in general. If you know of best practices or have ideas on how to create support communities for PPD moms and their families, please let me know and I’d love to be of help in my own ways.
Chely is a wife, mother, and a communications and marketing specialist for mission-driven organizations. She is from the Philippines.