What Postpartum Depression Recovery DOES NOT Look Like

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postpartum depression recoveryI’m going to give you a little tough love today because I care about you and there are some very important things I want you to know. So I’m going to give them to you straight. Here is what full postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression recovery DOES NOT look like:

> Your recovery does not look like the other mom’s treatment plan. You are not her. She is not you. Your plan is the only one that matters.

> Your recovery does not look like a race. It is not about who’s the fastest and the best at getting better. It’s not helpful to hurry. There are no ribbons for who gets there first. In fact, racing too fast can sometimes send you right back to the starting line. Be patient and gentle with yourself.

> Your recovery does not look like doing this all by yourself to prove how smart, or strong, or accomplished or how good of a mom you are. Postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, postpartum PTSD and postpartum psychosis are real illnesses. REAL. They require professional treatment. Trying to prove something is a waste of your energy that is better focused on taking care of yourself so that you can get well. You don’t have to prove anything. (And P.S. Don’t worry. We already knew you were awesome.)

> Your recovery does not look like a refusal to accept that you might have a mental illness. It sucks. I know it. I promise you I know it. The first time a doctor told me I had a mental illness (“postpartum OCD”) I was like, “No way. No how. Not happening.” Except it was, in fact, happening. I had to get past that to be open to getting the help I needed. Also, a maternal mental illness is not a prison sentence. It’s not an indication that you’ve done something wrong, or that you shouldn’t be a mom, or that you can’t handle being a mom, or that you are a bad mom, or that you are weak, or defective, or failing, or all those terrible, horrible bad adjectives we use to describe ourselves in the midst of it. It’s an indication that you have an illness and that you probably have some risk factors that led to that illness, and that it’s important to find out what the illness is and what those risk factors were and then address them. I’ve probably said this ten thousand times but postpartum depression is temporary and treatable with professional help.

> Your recovery does not look like you hanging on until you’ve gotten way too sick because you didn’t want anyone to think you needed help. Everyone needs help. EVERYONE. We know asking for help sucks. But we need you to do it anyway.

> Your recovery does not look like a medal ceremony where you’re standing atop the podium because you made it through without ever taking any medication. Not everyone needs medication, for sure. For many, therapy works just fine. And I don’t mean therapy like going once or twice, but going as often as your therapist says you need to — therapy is a treatment at this moment and not a nice-to-have.  You’re not better or stronger for not taking medication if it’s called for in your particular situation, or for not going to therapy. I’ve seen way too many women get so much sicker than they ever needed to be, and take longer to recover, because they refused a treatment plan.

> Your recovery does not look like you doing all the crafty things that moms say they do on Pinterest or Facebook. Don’t waste your time trying to keep up with other moms, many of whom aren’t doing all of that stuff anyway. You do not have to have the world’s best first birthday party for your baby. You do not have to have a perfectly clean home where you make sure everyone is perfectly fulfilled and perfectly dressed and perfectly fed. Your baby does not need to be reading by age one. Or speaking multiple languages. Your baby just needs you and not all that other stuff. And if and when you are able to take breaks — BREAKS ARE IMPORTANT! — your baby is absolutely fine being with another caregiver who loves him or her, or takes good quality care of him or her. Very fine.

> Your recovery does not look like having the perfect family and the perfect partner and the best support system in the world. Because maybe you don’t. Maybe your family doesn’t understand, or your spouse is not being helpful. I hate that for you. If I had a magic wand I’d make sure every mom with maternal mental illness had the most amazing and understanding and comforting support team around her. It’s what each and every one of you truly deserves. Except I don’t have a magic wand and some of you aren’t getting the help you deserve. It’s unfair and I’m so sorry that’s happening to you. At the same time, I want you to know you can still get better even when you aren’t in the perfect situation. It makes it much easier to have that support, for sure, but if you don’t have that kind of support please don’t think all is lost.

> Your recovery does not look like quitting your treatment plan the first week you feel better. Do yourself a favor and don’t do that.

> Your recovery does not look like smooth sailing the whole way through. You will have good days and bad. You will go along fine for a while and then have a setback and be shocked and worried about it. Setbacks are common. They are not a sign that you will never get better. They are just setbacks. You will get past them.

> Your recovery does not look like being quiet if your treatment plan isn’t working or your healthcare provider isn’t helping you. You are the MOST IMPORTANT PART of your recovery plan. How you are feeling. How you are following the plan. What symptoms you are still having and which ones you aren’t. Which side effects, if any, you can deal with and which ones you can’t. Speak up. Share as much as you can. This helps your healthcare pro see how things are going and what changes might need to be made to your plan. If a doctor just gives you a prescription and doesn’t set up appointments to keep following up with you, insist on follow up or find a different doctor who is interested (as they should be!) in making sure you are getting better.  You never know who might be the most helpful to you during this time. It could be your OB, or your pediatrician, or your primary care provider, or a therapist, or a social worker, or a community clinic, a nurse, or the other moms in a postpartum depression support group who can direct you to more experienced help. So speak up.

I get so many questions about recovery. How long does postpartum depression recovery take? When will I get better? Why am I not getting better? Why is she already better and I’m not? Do I have to follow this treatment plan? When can I quit this treatment plan? There are so many different answers to those questions depending on who you are as a unique individual. There is not a single correct answer. So your recovery does not look like anyone else’s. It looks like yours.

What matters to me is your individual health. That you give yourself the time and space to get better. Your postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression recovery looks like your plan, based on your specific set of symptoms and risk factors, in your timeframe and on your path. We’re behind you. You’re not alone.

~ Katherine

 

For more on this, you might like this story with 70 unique and individual and wonderful moms, all sharing the thing that helped them recognize they were getting better from postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, and more.

 

Photo credit: © graletta – Fotolia.com

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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  1. Fabulous :-)

  2. Love this. and will refer and refer to over and over again. I just would like to hear from and talk to other moms whose recovery took YEARS (I am over 2 years now!) The longer this goes on, the more I am thinking my recovery is not possible.

    • Oh hon. Please don’t think your recovery is not possible. Please don’t. I know lots of people for whom it took a really long time. That can be based on so many things: How long did you suffer before you reached out for help? Did you get the right diagnosis? What treatment plan have you followed and how has it been working? Is it possible that you’ve always struggled with mental illness and it became more severe postpartum? For instance, I had postpartum OCD. That diagnosis led to me finding out I’ve always had OCD. So I’m recovered, and I’m certainly well from my postpartum OCD but I still have OCD. I always have. So I’m still treated for it via medication. And I’m living a very well and good life.

      If you are still struggling, have you gone back to talking with your doctor or therapist or whichever healthcare provider you were working with to talk about that? What was their response?

      • Thank you, Katherine. Yes, we knew this was a huge possibility for me to have going into my pregnancy. But we were hoping for different. I got back on meds as quickly as possible…I just still feel very scared and incredibly overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by all the work it takes to get well and then it just sends me spinning. I am 5 weeks into a new medication and perhaps still adjusting but feel more anxious than ever. I have constant butterflies in my stomach. Constant. I just made an appointment this morning to see a new counselor on April 5th. I just feel so sad for my son if he doesn’t get to see the best of me and this is all he gets. He is being robbed. :(

        • ElenaQTPie says:

          RamsMommy,
          Your son is enormously blessed to have a Mommy who loves him enough she is clawing up mountains to get better and be her best self for him!!! That’s what you are! Your BEST self AND still trying harder yet!! That’s huge!
          I struggled most after my middle of three children & I felt sooo terrible, like I was robbing him of this ideal situation I SHOULD be able to manage to create for him…it wasn’t fair his big brother got a REAL Mommy & now 2nd guy is just stuck with what I’d become… It was a big far lie for one, I was doing my best & I WAS enough. I used to look into his infant eyes & apologize through my tears… I SWEAR I saw him reassure me with his eyes everytime:
          “It’s okay Mama,
          YOU’re okay Mama!”
          Interestingly, that son has blossomed into a very tenderhearted, kind & generously forgiving little boy. He says those words out loud now with the SAME look he always did…generous loving acceptance and when necessary, forgiveness without reservation, not the slightest inclination of feeling slighted. He’s much more confident than his amazing older brother (both are wonderful) and watching them tenderly care for their baby sister (who’s bright & tough in her own right) shows me what came of my struggles … That in our home we have created an environment where we CARE about & for eachother. We all struggle & suffer at times & in our home /little world, when one of us is in that vulnerable place, we sit by them, wrap our arms around their shoulders & just BE there with them.
          My boys had a Mom with flaws and it taught them to be tender & gentle hearted. I needed tenderness & could articulate that sometimes (“I’m having a hard day and my heart is tender today” or “My angry feelings are REALLY close to the surface today, please be patient with my grumpiness… I’m trying hard to be sweet. You are working hard & being so helpful with ___ & ____…that helps me so much!”

          • Wow. I needed to read that. I hope it sinks in. I just get so so scared because he is two years old! I missed out on so much. I remember talking to him through my tears too. and him seemingly saying, you are fine, you are more than fine, I love you too. etc. Now, he still sees me crying, and then I feel guilty bc aren’t I supposed to be strong? and not let him see me cry? When he sees me cry now, he says “are you crying? Wait……” and then he runs and gets me a pacifier. are you kidding me?! Too sweet. I wish the pacifier was all it took. Your message to me is beautiful and appreciated and from a complete stranger….I thank you SO much. I will keep working. Just keep feeling like I was robbed, he was robbed, etc.

            • Jackie Benedict says:

              It’ll get better! It’s a hard time for you. I remember thinking “why do all the other mom’s appear to be so happy, connected and all together?” Well, if they were, (most weRe not), they didn’t get challenged in the way you did. IT WILL GET BETTER! It’s like you’re a soldier during a war. Wartime reality is an exception in many ways to peacetime. Hang in there!

    • I was on and off antidepressants for about 7 years after my second was born. Yes, it can take YEARS! I still lean towards a depressive state at times, but have learned methods to both identify it and address it before it gets too bad. But if I ever get to the point again where my own efforts aren’t enough, then I will not hesitate to go back to the doctor. I’ve seen the difference between untreated and treated depression, and I will not subject myself or my family to the untreated state if at all possible.

  3. Brilliant! We love you, Katherine! Thanks for all you do.

  4. These are terrific reminders not only for people with diagnosed postpartum mental health concerns but those of us who have mild anxiety. I especially took the paragraph about not keeping up with Pinterest moms to heart. Every new mom could tape that to her fridge and remind herself it doesn’t matter if the kid’s clothes match or if the dishes are done or if the baby food is all homemade.

  5. Jackie Benedict says:

    Right on. Every woman’s illness and treatment is as different as every woman. Sometimes you find you may have chemically shifted into longterm (perhaps lifetime treatment). Good therapy can lead to a new life you never would have discovered without it. AND yes, medication is sometimes a necessity to recovering to a more balanced state. Sometimes my postpartem turned lonterm depression/anxiety/OCD seems like a no win situation with Meds and side affects. But the alternative would be ……… me gone. Love yourself enough to be taken care of.

  6. Recovering (active -ing not complete – ed) from PPD has been arduous for me. As in SUPER HARD because I refused to accept each step until it hurts so much I either accepted or went into heart failure (not for real but it does really hurt my heart). I refused medicine for 12 months because I was TERRIFIED that Charlotte would be poisoned through her breast milk. I refused therapy for 6 months because therapy is really hard and eating chocolate is easier (and tastier). I prayed for life to “get back to normal” until I remembered that life is never normal when you have a baby too soon and move in with your hesitant partner and travel to Israel and get a new job and finish school and move again etc etc. Normal is silly.

    In the end I took the medicines, admitted that life was not working, accepted that depression is a chronic illness that I have had for decades. I went back to therapy, started acupuncture, went back to AA meetings, and accepted that I felt like crap until I didn’t. Because feelings are not facts and they do not dictate our actions. Actions and feelings are different things. And PPD is OK. It IS NORMAL for some people. It happens. And there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to be ashamed about.

    • We’ll said,and just to add to this,THOUGHTS are not FEELiNGS! Just because there’s a crazy unwanted thought that leaps into your brain,that doesn’t mean you feel that way because that’s not what is in your heart,it just happened to pop into your brain unfortunately.

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  1. […] Progress is a patient-run organization, this is reflected in the walk as well as the talk. Posts like What Postpartum Depression Recovery Does Not Look Like address moms and those who may be suffering from PPD directly. The language is frank, empowering, […]

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