Postpartum Depression And Social Media: 6 Things You Need to Know

postpartum depression and social mediaYou might be grateful, if that’s the right word, that at least you struggled with postpartum depression or anxiety in the age of social media. You probably haven’t met anyone in your neighborhood who has had a maternal mental illness. You might not be aware of any friends who’ve had it. But you can find thousands of moms just like you by searching the internet, and that’s awesome. Postpartum Progress started out as a blog (we’re now a full-fledged national nonprofit in case you didn’t know) so we’re big fans of social media.

Still, we believe it’s important to use social media carefully when you’re in the midst of struggling with PPD or related illnesses. Or for that matter, when you are in the midst of struggling with life. Hopping on Facebook or Instagram can make you feel connected, understood and supported. And sometimes it can also make you feel like crap.

With that in mind, here are six things we want you to know about postpartum depression and social media.

6 Things You Should Know About Postpartum Depression & Social Media

#1 – Comparison is the thief of joy.

It’s a known fact that many people present a more idealized version of themselves on social media. There’s actually a term for it now called “duck syndrome.” Duck syndrome means appearing cool and calm as you glide along the surface while at the same time hiding the fact that you are paddling furiously beneath the water, struggling to keep up. If you think everyone else in the world is doing great and you’re the only one who is struggling, you’re wrong. We’re just showing you our feathers and not our duck feet.

Along with unfounded feelings of failure, social media also can create a false pressure to achieve. Say there’s a mama on Facebook talking about how she had postpartum depression and she’s grateful she got help early. She found the exact right treatment and is already better and about to wean off her medication at 8 months postpartum. Your baby, on the other hand, already had her first birthday, you’re miserable, and you’ve only recently reached out for help. Or maybe you’re being treated but now feeling like you should have already weaned off your medication like the mama you saw on Facebook.

Here’s what we need you to do: Stop. STOP THAT RIGHT NOW. (Pretty please?) There is not nor has there ever been one right way to get better. There’s no magic pill or potion or therapy that works in the same way for each person. There’s no correct amount of time it should take you to recover.  You don’t get a medal for quitting treatment early, and in fact it’s not good for you. You do you.

#2 –  Other people’s stress and fighting can affect your mental health, even on the internet. 

Not all of it is unwarranted, of course, but there’s a lot of negativity and anger on social media. Spend an hour on the internet and you’ll no doubt see people arguing back and forth, threatening each other, blocking each other. Believe it or not, the more awareness you have of other people’s stress and upset, the more it can impact your own mental health.

According to the Pew Research Center, “… awareness of other people’s problems is associated with a range of negative outcomes, such as depression. The ‘cost of caring’ associated with awareness of other people’s stressful events may be a negative consequence of social media use because social media may make users more aware of the struggles of those in their network.” In other words, all the outrage and arguing and upset you’re seeing can affect your mental health.

Did you know that stress can be contagious? If you feel like all the personal upset you’re seeing is dragging you down, take a break. It doesn’t mean you can’t be supportive of others. It just means you might need to step back from from it every so often.

#3 – Too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing.

Think about how many people you can touch and see in person on a regular basis. How much do you know about what’s going on in their lives? Every single thing? Probably not. On the internet, however, we get to know lots of people and we end up learning MUCH more about them than we might ever have offline. We see what their likes are, what their dislikes are, what they had for breakfast, what their kid did, what their job is like, what their politics are … the internet is hyperpersonal.

What does this mean for you? You might meet a mom or group of moms online who you connect with because they have a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder at the same time you do. You are all good people. You support each other. You end up adding each other as friends. Months or years later you might see this person with whom you felt very safe and attached saying things on Facebook that upset you. Those things might go against your beliefs, or your political views, or your expectations. Sometimes internet connectedness leads to knowing so much about people that you can begin to feel divided rather than unified.

Try to remember that there is much more to each Warrior Mom than PPD. We can care for each other and love on each other but we are not going to agree on everything. Ever. Try to give as much grace as you can.  And should you need to, remove yourself from more personal connections with people and stick with the maternal mental health-focused groups.

#4 – There are times when all these people end up making you feel more alone. 

Some of us have 3 followers and some have 13,000. Some of us share our experience with postpartum depression on social media and get tons of loving responses, while others share and no one says anything at all. It’s easy to equate your worth with how many followers you have or how many comments of support you receive, but it isn’t healthy.

Maybe people didn’t open Twitter that day. Maybe it was a big news day and their Facebook stream was flooded with memes and too many other things. There is a whole host of reasons why you might not get the support or feedback you expected, but one of them is NOT that you are unworthy.

#5 – Bad advice and unsolicited comments are everywhere.

Not everyone has training on how to provide the best support for moms with maternal mental illness. They don’t know, for example, that you shouldn’t force your own beliefs about parenting styles or baby feeding on someone who is struggling.

We believe you shouldn’t tell a mom that a certain medication, specific natural supplement or one type of therapy is the best way to go and that you know it will work for her because it did for you. We think you shouldn’t expect that every mom you are trying to support has health insurance, or has the finances to be able to afford therapy, or understands or talks about perinatal mental illness in the same way you do in your culture. This is one reason Postpartum Progress works to provide all of its peer support volunteers with a variety of free trainings, such as Mental Health First Aid.

One good rule of thumb? If someone on the internet isn’t really listening to you, is judgmental of you, or acts like they have alll the answers, they’re probably not someone who should be giving you advice.

#6 – Social media can drain away the limited time you have for self care.

If you have a baby, or kids, and are working in the home or outside of it, you already have no time to yourself. If you feel like you have to be on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter nonstop so you can keep up with everything that is going on, you’ll end up using some of your valuable self care time staring at a small, glowing screen instead of doing things just for you. Like sleeping!!

We want you to make sure you prioritize your rest and your nutrition WAYYYY ahead of social media. Some tips: Don’t plug your phone in right next to your bed. If you put it in another room overnight you won’t be tempted to pick it up, and the buzzing sounds won’t prevent you from sleeping. Also, try to put down all smartphones, computers and iPads for an entire hour before you go to bed. It helps your mind slow and calm down so you can rest.

None of this is to say, of course, that you should cancel all your social media accounts and run for the hills. Postpartum depression and social media can work together. Connecting to resources and support online is a great thing and it will remain a great thing. But if you have one of those days, or even a period of time, where it starts to feel like being on social media is hurting more than it helps, step away. Give yourself time to step back and regroup. It’s okay to take time off. We’ll all be here when you get back.

I Felt Punished for My Honesty

[Editor’s Note: Today’s Warrior Mom guest post comes from a mom who felt like she was punished for being honest about her feelings and struggles in the hospital. -Jenna]

I Felt Punished for my Honesty

During my pregnancy, I worried that I was going to develop postpartum depression. I have struggled with depression and anxiety in the past. Additionally, I have a master’s in counseling and knew no one is immune.

I endured an emergency c-section, a baby who cried non-stop in the hospital, developed a 102.7 fever, and wound up the in the NICU. Would anyone cope well? I struggled with breastfeeding because my milk was delayed. I also developed pregnancy induced carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands. My baby lost 10% of her body weight and I felt awful.

Nurses overheard me telling my husband that I felt like a failure. Before my daughter wound up in the NICU, a kindly nurse suggested I let them take her to the nursery so I could rest when I revealed I was struggling. And feeling overwhelmed. The next day a different nurse was one duty and was judgmental when I requested for a little break.

All of a sudden my midwife came to my room, demanding that I agree to give my daughter formula, and that she would not leave until I agreed to formula and to go on anti-depressants. I felt shocked and said I wanted more time to see if I could breastfeed. Since she was in the NICU being nourished by donor milk, I felt I had time to make this decision.

The nurse again reiterated she would not leave until I agreed and stated, “You are too stressed out to breastfeed. Look what happened, your daughter wound up in the NICU!” I agreed, further convinced this was my fault.

The nurse then called in a psych-consult. I explained the situation to the psychiatrist who encouraged me to go on medication, but not if I wanted to breastfeed. I told him I hoped that breastfeeding would still work out, and I thought most new moms in my situation would be struggling a bit.

I felt like I was being punished because I was honest about how I was feeling and asked for help. I felt shame that, as a counselor, I had a psych-consult on me. I felt that the professionals’ reactions to my honesty were coming from a risk management perspective versus a place of help and support. I envied the women who were “smart” enough to suffer silently because they were not punished or made to feel like a bad mother for wanting to breastfeed or asking for help.

My daughter was fine, and once she was properly nourished, she was released with a clean bill of health. I felt traumatized by the experience and was completely stressed out trying to breastfeed. I felt terribly guilty that because I could not manage my stress, she wound up in the NICU. I had no confidence and was afraid to be alone with my daughter.

It is hard to say if I would have developed postpartum depression if it were not for my experience in the hospital. My daughter is now three-and-a-half years, and I feel it has only been recently that I can think of the experience without getting teary eyed.

As a counselor, I have been trained about the importance of being honest with my feelings and asking for help but the help I received felt punitive and hurtful. Three and a half years later, I have an awesome, healthy, and feisty little girl and continue to be honest about my feelings so other moms don’t feel so alone.

~NRB

I Am a Survivor?

[Editor’s Note: Parts of this post may be triggering as this Warrior Mom and survivor mentions suicide and names some moms who did not survive postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Please read only if you are in a safe place. You are not alone. You can be a survivor, too. -Jenna]

I Am a Survivor?

I balked the first time my therapist used the term “survivor” when referring to me.

Yes, I had been through a horrible illness. I had lost weight and sleep and the basic enjoyment of life. I had been tormented by recurrent and horrible images of my son being injured or killed in random acts of violence.

I had barely left my home in six months, had not trusted anyone else to care for my boy, and yet, paradoxically, had also been unable to take him into the wide, cruel world. I had postpartum anxiety disorder and postpartum OCD.

Indeed, I had endured plenty—but was I a “survivor”? 

No, the label didn’t seem right. Survivors walk away from plane crashes or flash floods. Survivors beat cancer. Survivors escape from domestic abuse. “Survivor” didn’t seem like the proper way to describe what I had been through.

Time passed and, as I slowly recovered, I became an outspoken advocate for maternal mental health. I attended trainings and conferences, read books and journals, changed careers, and even started a support group. I became a state coordinator for Postpartum Support International (PSI), and I joined the board of a local nonprofit called Postpartum Education and Support.

Even with all of that professional exposure, I still had a hard time identifying as a survivor. A mother, wife, daughter, advocate, doula, yes. But survivor?  It still didn’t feel right.

The turning point for me came in June, at our local Climb Out of the Darkness event. I self-consciously wore the “SURVIVOR” sticker that was passed to me. At the time, the country was reeling from the Orlando shooting, and I felt especially uneasy identifying myself as a survivor. 

As a group, we listened to a message from Katherine Stone read tearfully by the organizers and then had a moving invocation. Emotions ran high as we waited for the walk to begin. I found myself standing next to an older couple named Anne and Mark. Most of the attendees were young families so they stood out. I introduced myself and we began chatting. I asked what brought them to The Climb and Anne responded,

“Oh, I work with Leslie (one of the organizers) and, well, I knew Jackie. She didn’t survive.”  

For a split second, I didn’t understand what she was telling me. Then it hit me. Anne knew someone who had taken her own life while struggling with a postpartum mood disorder.

Jackie was a woman just like me. She wanted to be a mother more than anything, but then felt like she had totally lost herself after the birth of her son. Jackie developed the most severe and rarest form of postpartum mood disorder: postpartum psychosis. We both sought treatment and both fought to get better. We both had very strong support from our family and friends. Yet, I survived and Jackie did not.    

I felt like I had been punched in the gut and all the unease I had felt about being a survivor dissipated in a moment. Why hadn’t this hit me before? I knew that suicide was a real risk of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. In fact, suicide is the number one cause of death for women in the first year postpartum.  

Of course I am a survivor. I survived a terrible illness that sucks the joy and will to live from your very soul. I survived night after night of staying awake to watch my son sleep because I was afraid he would die if I closed my eyes. I survived the images that played through my mind on a gruesome loop.

I did survive, yet so many others do not.

Annie Imlay-Spangler,
Sarah Walker Judson,
Jennifer Lynne Knarr,
Cynthia Wachenheim,
Aimee Ziegler,
Emily Cook Dyches,
Sasha Lewis Hettich,
Allison Goldstein,
Melanie Blocker-Stokes,
Casandra Ashley Vaughan Perkins, and
Jackie

These women didn’t survive, and I did. Calling myself anything other than a survivor would be an insult to their memory. 

If you are struggling, please reach out for help.

Join the other Warrior Moms at Postpartum Progress. You are not alone. Connecting with others is a powerful tool in your recovery.

Find your local PSI coordinator. They will help you find support groups, therapists, and doctors in your area. You can also access Postpartum Progress’ lists of specialists and support groups, or reach out to them via Facebook.

You will be a survivor, too.  

~Carrie Banks

How EMDR Therapy Helped Postpartum Me

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from a Warrior Mom who employed EMDR Therapy in order to process her postpartum depression and anxiety. EMDR is one of eight types of psychotherapy for postpartum depression treatment. We’re thankful she shared her experience for others considering this option. -Jenna]

How EMDR Therapy Helped Postpartum Me

I thought I had digested it, processed it, was done with it.

I wasn’t.

Here I was, sitting in my EMDR therapist‘s office, discussing my postpartum depression and anxiety days almost ten years later. With each question asked, I delved deeper into my past, isolating that one biggest moment I knew something was wrong.

I was currently analyzing the ER at my hospital.

Buzzers gently vibrated my right hand, then my left. I was being trained to reprocess this memory. A memory I thought I had processed many years ago.

The ER was bleak, bare, suffocating. It was a small room with beige walls filled with grey fabric chairs with black plastic arms and legs. The carpet was grey too. There was no natural light except for the front doors. I was seated facing forward with the doors on my left.

The chaos around me was shut out by my mind. Random worries played Pong in my head as I tried hard to keep up with all of them. If I wasn’t pacing the floor, I was rocking back and forth in the chair next to my mother.

I hated this woman, this woman I had become. I spent years trying to remove myself from her. I was a failure, a disgrace. Mothering should not have been an occupation given to me as I was clearly failing with that too. I was ashamed.

I couldn’t care for my daughter; I couldn’t even stand to be around her. I hated her and because of that, I deeply despised myself.

How quickly I went from admiring this beautiful baby of mine to cringing at any sound she made. Looking at her adorable face just deepened the hate I had for myself. I removed myself, becoming robotic, between vomiting and crying fits, when taking care of her.

Here I was, in the ER, exactly one month after she was born.

My therapist had thought it a good idea to reprocess this moment. He believed that my postpartum depression and anxiety were connected to the recent events of fostering a special needs toddler and ultimately succumbing to the evil grips of Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety again after having to give him back.

I failed once again at motherhood. I couldn’t balance his needs, my daughter’s needs, and taking care of myself.

Once again, like all those years ago, it seemed as if Postpartum Me was returning. I was dry-heaving every morning and most afternoons and evenings. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating. I was obsessively worrying about his care and overlooking my daughter’s.

I broke and wound up in the ER once again. I had come full circle.

As I sat with the buzzers going off in my hands that day in therapy, I truly began to think about that day, all those years ago, in the ER. Staring at my Postpartum self as I was now, I deeply looked at her.

She was a mess but she would get better. My therapist told me to go with tha,t which was him basically saying to continue with that thought. Present Day Me knelt down beside Postpartum Me. I took her hands in mine and looked into her eyes. She, still rocking back and forth, was focused on a floral print picture on the wall directly in front of her.

“It’s okay,” I told her, “I know because I have been there. You will get better. I did.”

With that, Postpartum Me stopped rocking back and forth and focused her eyes on mine. Present Day Me was crying. Ten years and I finally had compassion for myself. It was freeing in so many ways. Not only was I able to fully reprocess my Postpartum years, but in turn, because of that, I had processed my Post-Foster years.

EMDR therapy saved me. It gave me the compassion I needed for myself. The compassion I give to so many others, I was now able to give to me.

~Stephanie Trzyna