For the second part of our Postpartum Self-Care series, I’m thrilled to give you this guest post by my dear friend, Catholic psychologist, fellow blogger, and mama of four, Dr. Shannon Mullen.
If there were one thing I could change about mental illness in this country (besides more effective treatments) it would be a clear outward sign of the disease.
Strange I know, but after so many years in the clinical setting as a psychologist, I have discovered that for so many of my patients the invisible nature of their condition is the source of much of their added pain. This is nowhere more true than with postpartum depression and anxiety.
How easily those with PPD feel isolated and shamed for feeling anything but joy over the new baby in their arms. How helpless they can feel in trying to explain the dysphoria to those who have never experienced it. A broken leg in a cast or hair loss from chemo would engender more compassion and understanding. Ask anyone with an “invisible” autoimmune disorder and they will understand the struggle to feel the least bit understood in their suffering.
Here are my best bits of advice to those heroically strong women fighting day in and day out to hold it together when the world isn’t coming close to understanding:
Start with your marriage. Honestly, even if no one in the world understands your suffering, a supportive and patient spouse can mean the difference between despair and hope. If your marriage is struggling or there are issues that need to be addressed, do not wait until things fall apart. Work with a therapist to address any significant issues and make a regular habit of marriage enrichment activities (including date nights!).
People say stupid things – often. Just be prepared for it. You might gather up the courage to open up to your mother-in-law about your struggles after the baby was born and she might just pat you on the shoulder and call it “the baby blues” and declare, “You should be happy you have a healthy baby!” Lots of people will tell you to be happy and “snap out of it.” This is dumb, and not helpful. Knowing that people (even spouses) will say this can kind of soften the blow when it happens. They don’t know. They just don’t know.
If you are wondering if it might be time for some professional intervention then the answer is YES. People ALWAYS wait too long to meet with a mental health professional. Women especially have a hard time making their needs a priority. Seeking help to restore your mood and functioning also allows you to be the spouse and mother you intended to be. Family life is one giant marathon of effort. PPD is running that marathon with a gorilla on your back. Getting help just makes sense.
Recovery is super slow and super frustrating. Not having an end date for the resolution of symptoms can feel intolerable. The truth is that every course of PPD is somewhat different and the treatments do not apply universally. It may take time to figure out what works in therapy and with medication if that is considered. Hang on, and then hang on some more.
You are not your illness or your mood. Perceived hopelessness is characteristic of PPD and this extends not just to your role as mother/wife, but also your sense of self. It is easy for this mood and anxiety to begin to seep into your identity until there is a hopeless feeling that all these dark thoughts and feeling are the “real you.” This is a lie. Reject it. You are not your PPD. The real you will return once the symptoms are resolved. She is still in there. I promise.
PPD IS TREATABLE — IT WILL NOT LAST FOREVER — AND YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SUFFER ALONE. CALL THE POSTPARTUM SUPPORT INTERNATIONAL WARMLINE FOR HELP AND LOCAL REFERRALS: 1.800.994.4PPD.
Praise Be Jesus Christ! I am a wife and mother of four as well as a breast cancer survivor. With a Ph.D. in psychology, I write with a view of both the psychodynamic and theological. God’s love compels me to write. My blog AmazingNearness.com is my “yes” to God. Thank you for reading! – Shannon