Exercise and Recovery in Postpartum Depression

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scan0059I remember my postpartum depression and anxiety. I was so overwhelmed fighting for survival day by day, that energy for anything other than that was non existent. On the rare days that I wasn’t flattened with fatigue, my anxiety left me too scattered to focus. My depression swallowed up the motivation I needed to venture beyond the basics of caring for my baby.

When I began my therapy with a mental health specialist, I was desperate to get better. I asked her to tell me what I needed to do to feel like myself again. She minced no words: I needed to see my physician for appropriate care, get sleep, seek social support. And exercise.

Exercise? That sounded like a fluff answer. I stared at her in disbelief. Didn’t she hear me say I wasn’t even been able to focus enough to figure out how to unfold the new stroller my mother had bought me? How was I going to plan for exercise? But she was firm, her prescription for daily exercise was non-negotiable. We brainstormed ways to find 30 minutes a day to rid my body of pent up stress hormones. My therapist promised me that the rewards would be worth the effort. I would feel relaxed, my body would increase in feel-good hormones, I would sleep better, and feel better about myself. And I would begin to move toward recovery. Our only question now, was how to fit it in.

I wanted a sense of well-being, it was what I had been pursuing, but any chance of that eluded me since my baby was born. No doubt, I had to find a way to make exercise part of my life. Exercise is one of most effective, quickest ways of improving mental health, a little of it goes a long way. Consistent exercise will relieve stress, ease depression and anxiety, clear your head, help you sleep better, and make you feel happy.

We discussed my daily schedule. My therapist noted that early mornings were too stressful for me to consider fitting in exercise then, but that right after lunch, my baby and I were both in good moods. He was usually ready to nap and I was ready for a change of scenery. What she advised was for me to pencil in a standing date for a 30 minute walk at the same time every day. I felt nervous about this commitment, everything translated into pressure for me during that time. She encouraged me and together we decided on a one o’clock walk in the afternoon. All I had to do was figure out how to open the stroller, and go.

In only one week, I felt a difference. Maybe it was the fresh air, maybe it was the people that nodded hello, maybe it was the time to myself to think without looking around and seeing energy-sapping piles of piles of laundry and dusty furniture. Whatever the reason, I began to look forward to my daily walk. Before the month was out, I had increased my walks from 30 minutes to an hour. I felt good and I felt something new: hope.

At my next session, I told my therapist I was beginning to feel that maybe I would recover from PPD. Up until this point, my mind was filled with nothing but hopeless feelings of a future without change. My therapist explained how exercise lifts moods. Exercise releases endorphins and endorphins are the things you want in your body to keep you feeling that hope. I felt my mental fog clearing after every walk. I could thank endorphins for that. My hour long walk was exercise that was stimulating more feel-good hormones!

There were so many reasons for my mood brightening. The weekly therapy sessions gave me a chance to work through issues, but it was the way I felt in being able to stick to my walking schedule that gave me a sense of accomplishment after feeling nothing positive about myself for months.

When I pushed my stroller, my back was straight, my head was high, and my legs and arms felt strong from the 22 pounds of baby I was walking one hour a day, seven days a week. I would pass through parks, sorting through my emotions and processing the work we were doing in therapy. My one hour of walking became like an additional daily hour of therapy.

I first began walking, seeing it as a chore. But my daily 60 minutes grew into something I started looking forward to. I didn’t feel as tired, either, because of the way exercise was helping me to sleep better now.

On the days that I wasn’t able to walk because of weather, I went to a mall or danced at home while holding Alec. I moved my body for one hour and my son loved it as much as I did. He giggled as I twirled him around and just like that, we now had an hour of warm bonding time. This is something I welcomed as a replacement to the negative self talk I had been having with my postpartum depression.

I know that the reasons we think we have to not exercise, like no time, no energy, too sad, too tired, seem real. We may feel like these conditions are impossible to overcome, but even ten minutes at a time will make a step in the direction of recovery from postpartum depression and anxiety.

What my therapist had told me about exercise being essential to my mental health was true. I could exercise without needing it to be formal or structured. I didn’t need two hours on gym equipment with a personal trainer. I didn’t need to run five miles to get an aerobic work out. I could exercise without finding a babysitter and driving to a gym. I only needed one thing: a consistent exercise schedule.

My therapist hadn’t left the choice of exercise up to me or as an option. She told me exercise was required as part of my mental health care plan to recover from my postpartum depression, anxiety, and stress.

She was right.

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When Postpartum Depression Makes You a Stranger to Yourself

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for p p dSeeing someone struggling through postpartum depression and anxiety cracks my heart wide open. I don’t care if I’m a stranger to them or not, I want to take their hands into mine and tell them to trust me.

I want them to believe me when I tell them I have been where they are, in that frightening place when you’re filled more with fear and pain than strength. When you look in the mirror and don’t recognize the person looking back.

I want them to listen when I say that I have lived in the skin they are in now, when you are not who you used to be.

I have walked through those days, those hard days, when you’re too frightened to look anyone in the eye because you don’t want them to see straight through to the dark despair and hopelessness that fill your head.

I have been there. The days of pulling clothes out of the closet and letting them fall over my body, wondering where the person is who used to wear them. I remember sitting in the driver’s seat of my car and it didn’t feel like it belonged to the person who now sat there.

These days are anything but easy. Living through postpartum depression is harder than we can ever explain. We struggle to give words to the choking jumble of our thoughts. We want to be heard, but when someone asks us to tell them how they can help, we can only break down in tears.

Postpartum depression is a wall that hides our strength from us. It won’t let light in so we are unable to see how tough we are. The dark clouds of this time block the real view, the one that would show our determination to get better.

We are still there, behind the empty sadness in our eyes, there is the fight and fire we need to recover. We are imperfect in this life, we are lost, confused and we are more scared than we have ever been. When our lives become survival for one moment at a time, our souls can’t rest to see the beautiful spirit of survival that lives within us.

I want those in the heartbreaking midst of postpartum depression to trust me, as hard as it is. We need to believe that inside we have what we need to make it through. It’s a leap of faith, a desperate grab at hope, but it’s necessary.

I want them to hear this message of hope, so that they fight, so that they keep fighting. Because it is the promise of hope that someone asked me to believe in during my own postpartum depression, that saved me.

You will see this through to the other side.
You’re not alone.
You will find yourself again.

Someone once promised me that I would be myself again. I was too scared to believe that who I once was, was still there. What if I wasn’t going to get better? What I would have told the frightened new mom that I was back then, would be this, You may feel like you’re in a thousand irretrievable pieces right now–too broken beyond anything that can be made whole again. But believe that you will heal.

You will find happiness again. The numbness will lift one day and you will hear yourself laugh. The sound of it will surprise you so much that you’ll laugh a second time from the joy of it. You will look in the mirror one morning, and this time the eyes you see back will dance and shine. And you will come back stronger than you ever thought you could be.

You are still there, inside.

Even if now you feel lost, scared and alone, you are there.

Please let my words here be the ones that take you by the hand and hold you until you are back home again. Reach out, ask for help, don’t stop until you feel you are getting the care you need. Believe that with time, professional care and treatment, and the support of your PPD community, that the help you need to find the way back to you again will be there.

The incredible you that you used to be is still there. You will find yourself again. And just as I did, you will smile again.

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Why These Women Are Climbing Out of the Darkness of PPD

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climbing out of the darknessThis weekend, Postpartum Progress’ 3rd annual Climb Out of the Darkness will take place in cities in towns throughout the world. Some of the women participating, all of whom are survivors of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like PPD, have shared with us why they are Climbing. I know many of you will recognize your story in theirs, and I hope it inspires you to keep climbing out of the darkness.

Because I was very excited to be a mom.
Because I was told how wonderful it would be.
Because it was the complete opposite of wonderful.
Because I thought it was “just the Baby Blues.”
Because I knew it would be hard, but not miserable.
Because I felt like I was existing inside a great big cobweb of quiet anger.
Because I was terrified of that anger.
Because I wanted to reach out, but felt like nobody could truly see me or hear me.
Because I was faking it every day.
Because I was ashamed of how I felt.
Because I wanted to nurture and connect with my son, but the more I tried to connect, the more disconnected I became.
Because I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life.
Because my husband and I existed with a lonely chasm between us due to my inability to express what was happening inside of me.
Because I waited 15 months to find help.
Because Postpartum Progress was instrumental to my recovery.
Because I climbed out of the darkness of postpartum depression!
Because I love my son and my husband more than anything.
Because other moms need to know they are not alone in the darkness…
Because it’s scary to share the truth.
Because … I am a Warrior Mom! ~ Ali

I Climb for my daughter, my husband, my parents, and my in-laws. This was my support system in my darkest time. They were there when I wasn’t there mentally, emotionally or physically. They came to therapy and psychiatric appointments. They visited me in the hospital. They kept my daughter healthy and alive when I couldn’t. They woke up with me to feed Sophia. They kept calm and cool in a situation that should’ve driven them crazy with worry. They have my utmost gratitude and love.

I Climb for myself. Somehow I survived an ordeal that rattled my brain and mentality to points this depression sufferer never thought imaginable. I battled by going to therapy, admitting myself into the hospital and taking my meds. I came out stronger.

I Climb for other mothers who have, are or may suffer … To be their support, to show them they are not alone. There is a whole Warrior Mom Family out there to lean on. ~ Stephanie

Because I want better for every woman, child and family.  ~ Kristen

Because a co-worker once told me that only selfish people get PPD, and sadly her complete ignorance is not that uncommon.  ~ Teresa

My ‘baby’ turns 11 today. His pregnancy was what brought me here, to all of you. I was not sure we would make it through, but we did and EVERY SINGLE birthday he has makes me so very grateful. ~ Lara

My daughter turns two on Friday, and Monday will mark two years since my world was turned upside down by postpartum anxiety. I’ve been looking back at photos from when she was tiny and my heart breaks remembering how much I missed in my swamp of anxiety. And, because I expect so much more of myself than I’d ever expect of anyone else, I struggle with the knowledge that I STILL, two years later, am not back to “normal.” So, this week, I’m especially thankful for Postpartum Progress and all of you wonderful ladies. I’m grateful that I have a place to go when I’m feeling lost–a place where I know I’ll be understood. This is why I Climb, so that ALL mothers may know that they have a safe place too. ~ Amber

Because when I had my first I had NO idea what was wrong with me … I was even “taught” about PPD In a parenting class in high school. The only thing I ever heard about was a woman wanting to hurt herself or her baby. I was the complete opposite. I had a debilitating fear. After my second was born I hit rock bottom, and I started to realize how incredibly lucky I am to live in Grand Rapids. The support here is unlike anywhere. I now have a deep passion for working with moms with PPD, being involved makes me feel like I’m making a tiny difference in someone’s life. I want to be apart of the change, and I want every city in the world to have the kind of help and support that we have in GR. Women deserve it. ~ Tabitha

I climb for my brother, sister-in-law and my nephew. I climb to support them and also to encourage others to get help with postpartum depression. I climb because it doesn’t just affect the mom in the family, it takes it’s toll on dad and baby, too. I climb because both of my sisters-in-law have experienced PPD, and they are worth speaking up for. I climb because of the countless friends who have suffered in silence, who had nowhere to turn. I climb because even though I can’t conceive a child I know the impact of a new baby on a family. I climb because Topeka has very few resources to help new moms with PPD. ~ Melanie

I’m climbing because I was ashamed to be diagnosed and I waited forever to get help because of it. I am climbing because I want to help find those moms that are afraid to say anything and tell them there is power in their voice.

I climb because there was a point in time where I did not want to be here anymore; and thankfully, I survived that to be the advocate I am today.

And most importantly, I climb because there is a strong genetic link to my diagnosis, and I want my little girl to know it’s okay to ask for help. And if she does get PPD I want her to know it’s okay to seek treatment and that I will be here to guide her along the way! ~ Christina

I climb because I know what the darkest pit looks like and now I know what the top (or at least close) looks like. I climb because I know how it feels to think you can’t take another step and continue pushing further up that hill. I climb because I know what it feels like to think you have no hope and I know what it feels like to find Postpartum Progress and realize that I am not alone. And finally, I climb because without this group and without this climb, I don’t know where I would be but today I can stand here, loving my two babies more than anything in the world, and hopefully help others who are or have been in the same place. ~ Rebecca

I grew up without my mom present in my life and I don’t want that for my kids. I want them to grow up with a healthy mom and I want moms everywhere to get help even if they aren’t feeling strong enough to seek it out themselves. I want them all to know that self-care is not selfish. Postpartum Progress helped save me. I’m so glad I’m still here for these cuties! ~ Lucy

I’m climbing for myself and every mother who has struggled with postpartum depression and other perinatal mental illnesses.

I’m climbing to raise awareness and erase the stigma attached to mental illness. When a woman becomes a mother she expects (and is expected) to be on cloud nine. When she doesn’t feel ecstatic, it can be very upsetting. And when a mother feels absolutely awful it can cause her to become reclusive.

Society makes it so hard for women to admit that their thoughts and emotions aren’t normal because they feel shame. I want to change that ~ Jolene

I am “climbing” because I know the struggles of depression. Everyone deserves to have a “winning” chance at life. Your support team, whether it’s the community, family, friends, church, therapist, or coworkers can make a huge difference to finding a path that’s right for you to succeed. This group can help so many that struggle with PPD and is an outlet where they can not only receive help, but find some kind of normalcy. ~ Christal

I climb because I worked HARD to get here. My family is strong because I am, they have traveled this road with me! I push every day to climb out of the darkness! ~ Heidi

I am climbing for my two little superheroes. Because they saved me in so many ways. ~ Avery

I climb so others don’t feel alone. I am 16 weeks pregnant and am hopeful that I have the knowledge to make my next postpartum period much better even if PPD comes back. Knowledge is my fight song. ~Alicia

I climb for mamas and families who have struggled and who might struggle. I felt so alone during my battle and I’d give anything to help another mama not feel that way. ~ Anna

I’m climbing for my little peanut and for all the mamas out there fighting! Six months postpartum! I thought I’d never get to this point or feel like myself again. So grateful for my support team and Postpartum Progress! ~ Sylvia

I am Climbing so that other moms can also enjoy moments like this without guilt or shame over all the moments they missed because of postpartum depression and anxiety. So that every last mother who wonders if her illness ruined her child forever can be present enough to realize that the answer is an emphatic “no.” So that the hundreds of thousands of us who were and are in the darkness of mental illness – and all those who love us – can rise up to bring each other into the light of transparency and community. ~ Bethany

I am in the midst of recovery again, though light years ahead of where I was four years ago. So this year, I Climb for myself, my two incredible daughters and the husband that has been my rock throughout both struggles. I Climb for the mothers who are suffering silently in shame, and those suffering who don’t even know that this is not how motherhood is supposed to be. And most importantly I talk to anyone that will listen, in the hopes that anyone who knows a mom that may benefit from my experience can and will share it. ~ Lesley

Why I climb…
– in celebration of coming through hell
– in thanksgiving for the deep love I now have for my son
– in support of all the other mamas out there who struggle
– to make people aware of the seriousness of PPD and related illnesses
– because “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it any more” that maternal mental illnesses aren’t taken seriously by some, and that so many medical providers have no idea how to handle any cases they encounter.
– to show that I’m a SURVIVOR and a WARRIOR ~ Mariah

Why I climb… Because I miss “me.” Because my husband misses “me.” And my kids should know the full “me,” too. ~ Jessica

I climb because 4 years ago I was crippled in fear of my thoughts. I could not move, nor did I want to.
But Postpartum Progress opened my eyes and had me name my illness, postpartum OCD & depression.
There is hope, it is not permanent. ~ Chrissy

As of this morning, there are more than 2,100 Climbers registered to participate in Climb Out of the Darkness, and they have raised $191,000 for Postpartum Progress. If you’d like to register to join us or to donate to help us reach our $200,000 goal this year, visit https://www.crowdrise.com/COTD2015.

Photo credit: Fotolia/jessivanova

 

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100 Mothers Display Their Strength After PPD & Anxiety [video]

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If you feel alone. If you feel ashamed. If you’re still lost. If you haven’t told anyone yet. Or ever. If you feel like you’ll never get better. If you have gotten better and yet you still look over your shoulder.  If you still grieve for the moments that have been lost to perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. If you’re looking for people who’ve been where you are and who truly understand. If you’re ANY of these things, watch this video. 

Postpartum Progress is so happy to launch our official video for Climb Out of the Darkness® 2015. We’re thrilled that we were able to secure the approval to use Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” thanks to Sony ATV. We’re thrilled that around 100 Warrior Moms shared their pictures from around the world so that we could show you

We hope you give this video a thumbs up on YouTube. We hope you share it with other mothers who have been through or are going through maternal mental illness, and the people who care for them.

Even more, we hope you:

1) Take your own Warrior Mom muscle pic, upload it to your Instagram account, AND BE SURE to include the hashtags #climbout #warriormom and #myfightsong. We’ll share those pics on Instagram (follow us on Instagram at @postpartumprogress and you can see the photos we’ve already put up) and on Facebook.

2) Join us at your local Climb Out of the Darkness next weekend. You can find a list of Climbs and how to join them here:  http://postpartumprogress.org/climb-out-of-the-darkness/find-a-climb/  Registration is free. And if you go, you’ll very likely be meeting at least one of the mothers appearing in our video!

3) Ask someone to donate on your behalf! Anyone can donate to the Climb here.

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