[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Alexa Lesa about the pitfalls and setbacks while recovering from postpartum depression. -Katherine]
This week has been really, really difficult. To give a little backstory, I’m on medication right now for postpartum depression stemming from the birth of my second son, who is now 16 months old. (I also had it with my first.) I’ve been on the meds for two months, and after they kicked in around week three, I was doing amazingly well.
I’ve been feeling even better this round than the first time. I got a prescription immediately after the birth, then went off nine months later, then back on two months ago after a relapse. I’m not sure if it’s due to a change in the dosage, or some difference in me, but I’ve been legitimately happy, rather than just relying on the medication to keep my head above water. For those of you who’ve had PPD, you probably understand what that’s meant to me.
I was happy and healthy for five weeks, in which I was able to enjoy my sons, keep my house clean, cook a couple nights a week—even when my husband was out of town for a days at a time. I felt capable. Then about a week ago I crashed, hard.
The funny thing is, if I’d been having the kind of issues that I have during the worst of my depression, the last week would have been a good week. I was still able to function, take care of my children, get out of the house, and remember my first name. But I was so unhappy, so unfocused, so… blah. And because I’d been in such a great place just the day before, it was a colossal letdown.
It got me thinking about the process of recovery from mental illness, and how it truly is a process: There are pitfalls, there are setbacks, and there are triumphs, and sometimes all of these things happen in the same week (or even in the same day).
I’m not sure how it works for other women with postpartum mood disorders, but I find that hormonal imbalances—for example, those revolving around menstruation—really throw a wrench in my recovery process. I should have known last week when I started to have very dark thoughts that something wasn’t normal. Instead, I fell right back into my typical PPD pattern of guilt, shame, and doubt. Rather than examining my feelings and attempting to identify their cause, I let myself think that the depression was coming back, and that I’d never recover, and my life would never be good.
Even though I’d had a wonderful month and my medication was working and I’d felt so optimistic, the minute the bad thoughts crept in, I succumbed. I allowed myself to be dragged under, and I wallowed in the negativity. It was as though I had just been waiting for the demons to return and embrace me, and I fell into their arms almost willingly.
Why does this happen? And does it happen to everyone? Or am I the only one who is unable to accurately distinguish a passing sadness from the crippling numbness that is postpartum depression? Now that my hormones are regulating themselves and I am not in physical pain from cramps and backache, I can see that the bad week I’d been having was temporary, and that I’m all right. But while I was in it, I genuinely believed that the medication really wasn’t working, that I’d failed at getting better, and that I’d never be sane or healthy.
Now that I’m writing about this and attempting to understand this small backslide, I see that I need to be more proactive in my mental rehabilitation. If I had been prepared with the knowledge of what was happening with my body—i.e., if I had been more aware of when my period would be coming—I might have been able to prevent the hopelessness that came with feeling as though the medication had stopped working. I might have been better able to deal with the mood swings and crying if I’d known that it’d probably be over within the week.
I’m hoping I’ll be able to take this experience and make next month better. I know I’ll never really be free of the hormones that come as part and parcel of womanhood, so I need to deal with the implications of those hormones. Most importantly, this past week has reminded me that the road to health will be paved with disappointment and hard lessons. I just need to remember what I’m doing here: I’m living life. As long as I’m breathing, I’ve triumphed, and one bad week doesn’t change that.