Over the last 4 ½ years, I’ve become a vocal and outspoken advocate on the issue of Postpartum Depression and it’s equally nasty but lesser-known bedfellows such as Postpartum OCD and Postpartum Psychosis (not the full list of PPMD, by the way). I’m very up front and open about my experiences with PPD, PPOCD, and Postpartum Anxiety. I love to talk about what I went through, how I felt, the road to becoming myself again, and anything else even remotely related to PPD etc. It’s one of my hot button topics that I am passionate about and can go on about for a very long time.
I’m open about my experiences because I felt alone and ashamed for so long. In the time leading up to the first of my two hospitalizations, I didn’t talk to people about how I felt because I thought all women experience this and that I just wasn’t handling it well. I was ashamed and scared of my feelings and my thoughts. I didn’t think I knew anyone who had gone through what I was going through and I didn’t know who to talk to, so I didn’t talk to anyone. Even after I was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression and started medication, I still kept it as much of a secret as I could because I was sure that nobody would understand. I was terrified of being seen and treated like a freak of nature, a monster, a bad mom, and a failure (by the way, I know now that that is NOT true, so if you’re thinking these same things about yourself, those are dirty rotten lies, you’re actually very awesome). I’m open now because I want people to know they can come to me, I want everyone I know to know that they aren’t alone, there is someone out there who understands and who will definitely NOT judge them. I want that for them because I know what that isolation and fear feels like. I have Been There, Done That (and it sucked).
The first time I ever tried to really talk to anybody about how I was feeling was actually under the cover of anonymity. I was a member of a discussion forum for military spouses and significant others. I had been a member for a while and had access to a forum that offered members the option to post anonymously to get advice and input (there was also an option to answer anonymously). I logged in and submitted an anonymous post about what I’d been going through and dealing with. The admin was concerned and reached out to me. Her love and support meant a lot and I still to this day appreciate it.
Here’s the point I’m trying to get at: maybe you see someone who’s been suffering in silence or see someone who posts anonymously and wonder “Why didn’t they just speak up? There’s support for PPD, why don’t/didn’t/can’t they just ask for help?”. I’d like to address two very specific issues with this.
The first is that one of the problems with Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders is that it fools your brain. It can change how you think and make it so that you don’t see things through the lens of reality, but rather through a cracked and distorted filter. You may not be capable of thinking things through logically to be able to realize that you can speak up and reach out for help. Going along with this, there is still a *lot* of stigma associated with PPMD. The shame and fear can be blinding and overwhelming. A combination of these two factors can be particularly nasty. Speaking from my experience, my thinking was so warped by the haze of PPMD that I was scared to even talk to my mom, my husband, a doctor, or very close friends in a military s/o community who had never been anything but loving. The fear of stigma and judgment made it that much worse. And I had trouble even finding the words to express what I was feeling, that certainly didn’t help. I’m not alone in this, either. I’ve talked to many women who said the same thing: “I was afraid to even talk to my husband or doctor about it.”. If women are that scared of talking to people whom they should normally be able to trust with anything, it shouldn’t be a shock that it might be even worse to think about opening up to anyone else.
Another problem is that despite there being resources available like Postpartum Progress, there is often a lack of awareness of these resources. Many people legitimately aren’t aware of the community that exists to support and raise awareness of the realities of PPMD. And when someone is in the middle of PPMD and has their brain playing games with them is definitely NOT the time to criticize or question their lack of awareness.
The main point I’m getting to is this: when it comes to PPMD, be gentle. If you are the one dealing with it, be gentle with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for your feelings. This is not your fault and it doesn’t make you a failure or say anything about your character or you as a human/mom/whatever. All it says is that you are struggling with PPMD. If you are on the outside looking in and wondering why someone isn’t/didn’t speak up openly, be gentle with them. It’s very easy to say “Help is out there, ask for it”. It’s another thing entirely to realize and accept that and then actually do it. It’s difficult and it’s scary. Heck, even for me, who’s pretty well aware of PPMD, outspoken about it, and knowing I have a darned good support system and resources available, it’s still a scary thought at the end of every pregnancy when I think “What if it comes back this time?” (thankfully, it hasn’t).
Speaking up isn’t easy, and reluctance to ask for help is normal. Be gentle, whether it’s with yourself or someone else. Don’t criticize the method in which they reach out, ask how you can support them (and then follow through to the best of your abilities). Love them, accept them, and accept that even if you’ve been through it yourself, it may be a different experience for you and you don’t know how they feel or what it’s like for them, you don’t know what’s going on inside their head. Criticizing feeds into the fear and stigma they’re already fighting. Instead, just listen and be there for them. Love them unconditionally.
Love. It comes down to love. Gentle, kind, accepting love.