SIX THINGS YOU SHOULD AVOID IF YOU HAVE POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION
1. Scary Stuff
Women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like postpartum depression can be very suggestible. What does that mean? It means you can hear or see something disturbing and then suddenly be convinced it relates directly to you. You can get a scary idea in your head and then not be able to get rid of it—it can sometimes get stuck in there and endlessly terrorize you. It’s best to surround yourself as much as possible with positive images so that upsetting thoughts don’t get the chance to enter your mind.
Avoid horror movies, scary or too real doctor dramas, and scary books. Don’t watch too much news, and don’t surf the internet carelessly. Be very choosy about which websites you go to and which discussion forums you join. Some “mommy websites” don’t have trained moderators running their postpartum depression forums, and you’ll run into well-meaning women telling you exactly what you need to do, and not do, to get better. They don’t know you and they don’t know exactly what you need. Each person responds differently to treatment. Some take meds and some don’t. Some have side effects and some don’t. Some have a great doctor and some don’t. Some get better quickly and some don’t. If you spend all day comparing yourself to what women on the internet have done you can drive yourself crazy. Try to go to safer sites, where trained peer support and/or research-based information are offered, like our SmartPatients forum, your state’s local support organization, or any of our great resources for moms.
2. An Overscheduled Life
Does it all need to get done right now? Really? Or is your health more important? A spotless house, empty laundry basket and dishwasher, three-course meal, and five different mom and baby classes aren’t necessary. The more you give yourself to do, the more you’re likely to beat yourself up when you can’t do it all perfectly. And trust me, you can’t do it all.
3. Thought Monkeys
A fabulous blogger once called the negative thoughts that most of us with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders experience “thought monkeys.” Many of us unwittingly lend a hand to our illness by accepting these negative thoughts; by telling ourselves we are bad people and defective mothers. I love how Sophie, the blogger who no longer has a public blog, brought this to life:
“Thought Monkeys [are] my name for those incredibly destructive, deeply internalized, mischievous thoughts that jump and screech inside my mind, demanding attention, demanding action NOW. Look at us NOW … The Thought Monkeys even have names. In no particular order they introduce themselves as follows: “I’m Not Enough of, at or for Anything”, “I’m A Big Burden”; “I’m Unlovable”; “My name is “The World Would Be Better Off Without Me” and her close cousin “I’m Not Worthy to Breathe In This Air Shared By My Friends and Family”; and my least favorite says “I’m To Blame For Every Abusive Thing That Has Ever Been Done to Me My Entire Life.” Aren’t they sweet? Each one is uglier than the last and they each think they are the most important one. Hateful little creatures.”
Sophie challenges each thought monkey. She avoids believing they are true. She fights back with her own mind, argues with herself that these thoughts are wrong. We have to do the same. We can contribute to and even further our suffering by accepting that these thoughts are reality. They aren’t. They are part of the temporary disease of postpartum depression.
4. Unsupportive People
It may help to temporarily avoid or limit your time with people who blame you for your illness or don’t try to understand, as well as people who are judgmental or don’t support your treatment and recovery path. You need positive and supportive people on your side, so spend as much time with those people as possible. And even if you don’t find them among your friends and family, you will find them among the women who have been through these illnesses, so try and find a support group in your area.
Many recent studies show that both the physical and emotional health of untreated women and their children can be negatively impacted over the long term. Babies whose mothers have untreated depression during pregnancy, for instance, are twice as likely to be born prematurely. Prematurity can lead to health problems and developmental delays.
There is just no good reason to wait it out if you are ill, either during pregnancy or postpartum. Avoid procrastination. I know you’re scared, but it’s important to reach out to a doctor and let him or her know what’s going on. As Karen Kleiman, author of This Isn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression, wrote in a comment on Postpartum Progress:
“Sometimes people feel that a risk is greater if they ‘do’ something or take action, as opposed to just letting things be. Like, ‘If I get on that airplane during the storm, the risk will be greater than if I don’t go.’ That seems pretty clear.
Conversely, there are times when the risk is in fact higher when no action is taken, such as the decision not to do anything in response to having chest pains.
This is the case with women who are pregnant or postpartum. Women who are deciding whether or not to take medication are understandable unsettled by having to make this decision. Often they feel if they ‘take’ the medication they are taking an action or engaging in behavior, or making a choice that increases the risk, or so they believe. Thus, they feel it would be better to do nothing.
But we know that in many of these cases, it is NOT better to do nothing and NOT TAKING ACTION can be detrimental; it can significantly increase the risk potential, particularly for women who are severely ill. So it’s a perception thing. We perceive the risk to be greater if we take action. If I put this pill in my mouth I will be hurting myself or my baby. But it’s a faulty perception. Sometimes the risk is much greater when we do not act.”
This doesn’t just apply to the issue of medication, of course, because not every woman needs medication. It’s simply a great illustration of how procrastination can hurt you in the end. And, by the way, did you know that difficulty making decisions is a symptom of postpartum depression? You may have to push yourself a little bit harder to take that step of reaching out for help.
6. Acting Like You Have A Medical Degree
Unless you graduated from medical school and have completed your residency, you shouldn’t be diagnosing yourself. If you think you might have a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, seek a trained professional to tell you whether you simply have the baby blues or something more. And for goodness sake, if you’re taking medication, you don’t get to decide to stop it cold turkey or reduce the dose without discussing it with your doctor first. Doing that to yourself could do more harm than good.
If you’d like help finding treatment, check out Postpartum Progress’ postpartum depression treatment specialists list. You can also click here for Postpartum Progress’ postpartum depression support groups list.