The woman is sitting on the side of her bed. She’s wearing rumpled sweatpants and a t-shirt. Her hair is mussed and she’s not wearing makeup. On her face is a look of sadness and a faraway stare. Or maybe a few tears streaming down.
That is the picture most people see when they think of the symptoms of postpartum depression. We’ve learned to believe what depression looks like from television commercials for Prozac or Zoloft. Depression equals sadness, crying and despair. If we don’t look like that woman in the TV ad, then we’re not sure we even have depression or anxiety. We often think we’ve simply gone crazy, or there’s something else drastically wrong with us … but not depression.
The truth is there are a wide variety of symptoms pregnant and new mothers may experience when it comes to having antenatal or postpartum depression or anxiety. One size does not fit all, I always say, and one woman with PPD may look and sound completely different from the next one. That is why, for this installment of our Six Things series we are focusing on the six symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety that will likely surprise you.
1) Anger – In all the years that I’ve spoken to mothers about postpartum depression, they are always most surprised by rage and irritability as symptoms of postpartum depression, yet so many of you experience this. It may be that everything makes you angry. Or your baby, or partner, or older children are irritating you at a level that you have never felt before. You might want to throw things, or yell at everyone. Some of you tell me you know that you shouldn’t be so mad all the time, but you can’t help it, and you’re worried about how rough you are being with the people you love. For more on this, you might like The Rage of Postpartum Depression.
2) Brain Fog – For many of us, our brains just don’t work as well when we have postpartum depression and anxiety. We have a hard time remembering things. Thinking of the right words, or any words for that matter. We can’t multitask as well as we used to. During my bout with postpartum OCD, I used to drive through stop signs, finding myself out in the middle of an intersection before I realized I hadn’t stopped. If your mind is cloudy and you feel like you’ve lost at least 20 IQ points since you had your baby, you’re not alone.
3) Scary Thoughts – Most people think they’re in full control of their thoughts. I know I had no idea whatsoever that your mind could think a thought you didn’t want it to. Then I got introduced to intrusive thoughts, which are scary thoughts that enter your mind that you don’t want and that are very upsetting but that continue to plague you. Often they start with the phrase “what if,” as in what if I did this terrible thing or what if that awful thing happened? It’s like walking around having mini-nightmares all the time. Intrusive thoughts are a sign of postpartum anxiety and OCD, and NO, they do not mean you’ve turned into some horrible monster. For more on this, you might like Does Having Scary Thoughts Mean You’ll Act on Them?
4) Numbness – If you think women with postpartum depression are full of strong emotions, sad and crying all the time, and instead you feel nothing whatsoever, you may be surprised. Some of you tell me that you feel only emptiness. You are just going through the motions, doing the things you know you are supposed to do but not really feeling it inside. If you are disconnected from things you used to care about and it feels as if you are hovering over your life looking down on it but no longer part of it, it’s worth talking to your doctor. This is not what new motherhood is supposed to feel like. For more on this, you might like Profoundly Alone: The Disconnection of Postpartum Depression.
5) Insomnia – Sleep when the baby sleeps, they say. But what if you can’t? It’s pretty shocking for a new mom who has never been more exhausted in her life to be unable to sleep. You keep thinking that eventually you’ll just crash, but you don’t. Or you fall asleep fine but then you wake up and can’t go back to sleep. All new moms are tired, but not being able to sleep when you have the opportunity to can be a sign of postpartum depression or anxiety. For more on this, you might like On Postpartum Depression and Insomnia.
6) Physical symptoms – Most women expect postpartum depression to impact their mind only — how they are feeling. But for some of you, PPD manifests as physical symptoms. I hear from new moms who are suffering with headaches, back aches, upset stomachs, nausea or even panic attacks that make them feel as though they are having a heart attack. If you are suddenly plagued by aches and pains that don’t appear to be caused by the flu or food poising or any other illness, they may be symptoms of postpartum depression.
As always, the best thing to do is reach out to your doctor if you are having these or other symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety. While PPD is very common, it is not normal. You don’t have to feel this way as a new mother, and there are effective treatments that can put you on the road to recovery.
Find more articles from Postpartum Progress’ Six Things series on the right-hand sidebar.