I’ve been depressed on and off for a good portion of my life–talking to my doctor, I’d say it started right around the time I was 15 years old. Things weren’t going well at home, puberty was raging full-force, and I didn’t really have anyone I could talk to–I was really paranoid that if I told anyone anything bad, they’d tell my parents. Those times were particularly dark not only because I had no idea why I felt so hopeless and inadequate, but also because I had no one to tell me that what I was experiencing wasn’t my fault; I had virtually no support.
I can’t even imagine how different my life would have been if I’d had a support network, like the one I’ve found in the online community. Would I have nearly flunked out of my freshman year of high school? Would I have been sent away from home to live with near-strangers during the most formative years of my adolescence? There’s no way of knowing for sure, but I’d like to think my life might have been very different.
I am lucky, I know this. I survived depression, postpartum depression, and antenatal depression. I have a loving spouse and two beautiful children. But all this doesn’t stop me from wondering if I might have made better choices and lived a better life if those around me had had any inkling of what was going on in my head during my depressive episodes.
Trying to give assistance to someone withpostpartum depressionis very difficult; the PPD sufferer herself rarely knows what she needs, so is often at a loss for words to describe how she might best be helped. But in my own experience with PPD, as well as in my experiences living with people with depression, there are ways to make life easier for a person with a mood disorder. These tips are not universally applicable, of course, since PPD is different for every person, but putting them into practice is almost certain to make the relationship with a PPD mom better.
1. Use care when criticizing. No relationship is perfect, and there are bound to be issues that need to be resolved between couples. Ignoring these problems is a recipe for disaster, but at the same time, talking to a person with PPD about their shortcomings can be exceedingly frustrating. When I am in the midst of a depressive episode, even the slightest indication that my husband is unhappy with me can send me into a tailspin of self-doubt and guilt. He has learned that in order to get through to me, the best way to talk is by using “I” terms, rather than “you” terms. For example, instead of saying “You never listen to me,” he’ll try to say something like, “I get frustrated when I feel as though I’m not being heard.” This way, I’m less likely to get defensive and put up walls between us.
2. Just listen. Talking was one of my best treatments when my PPD was at its worst. Even when I didn’t want to talk, as soon as I got going I couldn’t stop myself. And even when I said hurtful things and accused my husband of being a jerk and not doing his part (which wasn’t true), he almost always managed to hold his tongue and let me say what I needed to say. Usually, I would realize how wrong I was, and would apologize of my own accord. In the meantime, I would have gotten out a lot of the negative feelings that had been poisoning my mind, and I’d be able to move on from there. His being there to listen, rather than telling me I was wrong or trying to fix my problems, was the best thing he could have done for me.
3. Give her space. Sometimes, I just needed to be alone. No noise, no distractions, no responsibilities. Often, the pressures of motherhood combined with the symptoms of postpartum depression made me feel as though I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to run away, but knew I couldn’t. So when my husband would sense that I needed a break, having him tell me I could just leave the house for a few hours and go anywhere I wanted gave me permission to get away, guilt-free. I didn’t have to ask for the help, so I didn’t feel like I was a bad mother, or a burden to my husband.
4. Remember, it’s a 24-hour job. Offering emotional support to a woman (or man) with PPD is a round-the-clock endeavor. Often, I find myself awake at three in the morning, certain I will never be happy. It’s not abnormal for me to be on Twitter in the wee hours, allowing my online friends to talk me off the ledge. At those times, I am so thankful for technology and the blessing it’s been in my life. However, I know that even if I didn’t have my computer, I’d have my husband. I could wake him up at any hour, and he’d be there to help me in any way he could.
Supporting a PPD sufferer is not a task for the faint at heart. It can be tiring, frustrating, and messy. But it is a valuable service, and I know for a fact that I will always remember and be grateful for those who have spoken a kind word, offered a helping hand, or even just smiled at me on days when I could barely put one foot in front of the other. And if you are suffering right now, and feeling guilty for being a burden to your family: don’t. You are sick for the moment, and you need help. Your family loves you and wants to be there for you, more than anything. You deserve that lifeline, so grab it and hold on tight.
What are some methods of PPD support you’ve found helpful in your life?