These items are the beginning tools for a successful recovery from postpartum mood disorder. I say this confidently, because I believe in recovery being possible. I was once someone who never felt that I’d be normal again nor that I’d ever find my way back to who I used to be. But recovery is made up of small steps that lead us to a successful life of overcoming postpartum mood disorders — these steps toward wellness matter, because being active versus passive about your recovery greatly increases a positive outcome.
For me, a belief in the process, along with an open ear to advice, and full engagement in dialogue with your recovery team of your physician and your therapist, possibly a support group, is essential. I used to go to my appointments and sessions with a notebook filled with questions or thoughts that I had had during the week before the appointment. I wrote everything down of the information they gave me so that I could refer to it later. This helped, since it was difficult for me to concentrate and remember during my time of PPD and PPA. It also shows your recovery team that you see yourself as integral to recovery and that you are there to advocate for your mental health.
Life while in postpartum recovery can feel isolating. For that reason, you need a shared community. You can find a group through your area hospital, health clinic, checking out what’s offered in a local events calendar, or finding one online by searching postpartum progress. To hear others share their current struggles, or by listening to stories of those in recovery or recovered, is a lighthouse during this storm. You can feel encouraged and find ideas on ways to work toward your own eventual recovery. You don’t have to be “fully recovered” to participate in any group and you don’t have to be fully recovered to start to feel better.
A few nights ago, I was talking with some postpartum warrior moms, some that were currently in postpartum phase, some on the way to recovery, some recovered. I asked them for suggestions on how to be active in PPMD recovery. Here’s what worked for us:
Define your goals. You decide what recovery would mean for you. For me, it was to once again smile, laugh, and enjoy my life.
Accept the importance of your role and the responsibility that you have in your recovery. That means being aware of how and where you spend your time, and who with. Sometimes it means guarding your environment and stimuli at a time when you’re not strong enough to take much negativity.
Know that you have power, and are not weak. You are the one in charge when you see your recovery team. Listen to what they say, but be honest about how you are feeling. If something doesn’t feel right, or you’ve tried and it hasn’t helped, let them know. I have heard cases of women being on the same medication for months with no alleviation or improvement of symptoms. Let your physician know, and work together.
Getting better is not just through pharmaceutical aid. Recovery can take longer than we want it to, and the easy way out is to think that just taking a daily pill will fix us. But other things need to be part of your lifeplan: sleep, diet, exercise, state of mind. Incorporating what spirituality is to you, and a mindful practice, like meditation, creativity, maybe yoga. Only you can discover what centers you, so search new activities out. For me, waking up 15 minutes earlier so I could deep breathe and have a mind free of thought was the cornerstone to my day.
Your social network and friends and family support are what will hold you up. Let people know how they can help you, as well as what is detrimental to your recovery. Relationships and community provide a feeling of belonging and lesson isolation. Isolation can be a huge trigger for PPMD, so reach out and ask for support when you need it.
PPMD recovery is possible with treatment and identification. It comes slowly, and is a growth process because your life has changed. You are no longer someone without a family or children. We have to learn skills and ways to adapt to our new normal. Allow room and space to understand setbacks, transitions, bad days. We learn from what works and what doesn’t work. No one does everything perfectly, and the best way to learn is by paying attention and being aware.
Write in a journal, especially days that feel good. It’s too easy for us to internalize that we are always depressed, or tired, or manic, or incapable. But we are more than that. If and when you have a good day (you will, trust me, they come…) write down what that feels like. See if you can figure out what led to the moment, even if it’s just a flash. In my case, my son was ten weeks old and he suddenly kicked his legs and giggled. I found myself smiling for the first time in a long time, and I believed then, I could get better one day. For you, it might mean a task completed, or standing up for yourself in a situation, maybe having face to face time with a friend. Remember them, write them down, refer to them to help you believe better times are on their way. Find out what promotes a positive feeling in you.
Prepare a list of go-to activities that make you feel better. When your mind is muddled, it’s hard to find a way out of dark thoughts. I kept a list taped to the inside of my kitchen cabinet, on it were things like a trip to the bookstore or a walk. I also had “watch SNL” because laughter was and still is, important to me. Be sure to exercise, sleep adequately, eat right, drink water, take your medication, talk to someone at least once a day. You could list creativity, cooking, photography, writing, nature walk, yoga. Whatever is part of things that need to happen every day for you to recover. I still refer to a daily list for my mental health, it includes sleep, exercise, good food, and water.
If you have a bad day, tell yourself that it’s not permanent. The feelings are not here forever, and tomorrow is a fresh start. Have a plan for a bad day, whatever that may be. For me, I have a close friend whom I trust. She always knows what to do, she just listens.
Recovery from PPMD is possible. After a long time of being depressed, we have trained ourselves to think that’s who we are and it’s easy to fall into old habits, with thoughts of discouragement and hopelessness. I don’t make light of the challenge it will be to be active in your recovery, but the result is one of hope and empowerment.
There will be better days, but they won’t happen by magic.
Medication and therapy are an important part, but reframing how we talk to ourselves and being open to change and implementing suggestions for lifestyle changes by our recovery team, are just as integral. I know it’s not easy, especially at a time when you have never felt more lost or overwhelmed. Recovery is an arduous process that feels endless on some days — there were times when I thought I would never get better, but I assure you, the day will come when PPMD will be behind you. The way to increase your chances on the path to recovery is to take an active role in your personal journey. It’s a lot of work, but there are many people here to help you, and it’s a thousand times worth it.