It’s both hard to believe it’s already been two months and that it’s only been two months since I stopped being pregnant and started being a parent.
It’s also been six weeks since I wrote my post about postpartum depression. And while I still have days or collections of days where it’s a harder fight than others, for the most part, things are definitely better. I feel more like myself more days than I don’t, and I also can go several days without crying, which is AWESOME. (I know that sounds super depressing, but if you’re going or have gone through it, you understand.)
How to Get Through Post-Partum Depression (or Any Depression Really)
If you or someone you know is struggling (this sounds like the beginning of a PSA for a helpline, but it’s not), here is the three-prong strategy that helped me (and continues to do so).
#1: Know That Some Days are Simply There to Be Endured
This is especially hard to swallow if you are a bit Type A like I am. I generally have a list of things I want and expect to get done, and when things start hitting the fan, it starts this spiral of guilt, frustration and ennui that’s hard to break out of.
For instance, there was one evening where I was on my own with Pip, during which I intended to get some freelance work done, fit in a workout and clean up the kitchen (while also fitting in at least one pumping session). Pip slept long enough for me to pump, but he woke up crying literally 5 minutes into my workout. Not just whimper-I’ll-put-myself-back-to-sleep-don’t-worry-Mom-crying, but full-on wailing. I stared at the monitor for a few minutes to see if this was temporary, and then I went up, dutifully replaced his pacifier and calmed him down, and then went back to my workout. A minute later, more wailing. I tried to ignore it for a few minutes (please no lectures about cry-it-out), since I knew he was neither hungry nor needed a diaper change, but it was not to be. He kept crying, and I couldn’t complete the strength moves because I was also crying and couldn’t pull enough energy to complete them, even though I knew I had enough muscle strength. I retrieved Pip, who was not content to be anything but held, and we spent the rest of the evening watching Mad Men on Netflix. And once I gave into the fact that that was going to be the extent of my achievements for the night — and forgave myself for it — I felt strangely better.
There will be days like this. Forgive yourself for letting go of your to-do list on those days. Even when those to-dos are imperative to accomplishing your big goals and/or lifelong dreams, they will keep. The Universe is understanding.
#2: Give Yourself Things to Look Forward To
Whether it’s a date night with your significant other, a solo trip to a coffee shop with a book or a laptop, or an hour to get in just one focused workout, schedule things during the week — EVERY WEEK — to look forward to. Preferably several times a week. These events are absolutely necessary in my experience to surviving those Days That Must Be Endured.
I have an incredible network of support here (code name: Grandma & Grandpa with support from The Aunts) who love to babysit and have yet to turn down my frequent requests. I know not everyone has a network like that, but it is very important that you still find a way. Here are some quick ideas:
- If you have a significant other, give him (or her) some bonding time with the kiddo. They will both be fine (even if he or she experiences a few Hours That Must Be Endured).
- Hire a babysitter.
- If you cannot afford a babysitter, find a moms’ group and offer to trade.
#3: Tell Yourself a Different Story
I was reminded of this when I attended Jillian Michaels’ Maximize Your Life tour on Mother’s Day (an accidental but great gift to myself). The ability to choose our own narrative is perhaps our greatest power as human beings.
Here are two ways to put this into practice.
- Reframing: Wikipedia does a pretty great job of explaining the psychological concepts of cognitive reframing/restructuring, but in short, it’s the process of looking at a negative situation and reprocessing it into a neutral or positive one. For instance, my Night of Defeat and Mad Men could be reframed from “my failure to get stuff done” to “my success in soothing my kiddo and catching up on Mad Men.” Finding the humor in situations is also a fantastic use of reframing.
- Look for small victories: Instead of focusing on the things that go wrong (or not according to plan — see the reframing in action?), look for the small victories — the super efficient diaper change, the spit-up you caught with the burp cloth before it landed on your clean shirt, the phone call you got through without the kiddo crying in the background. I think it is probably always possible to find more small victories than defeats. Sometimes you just have to look for tinier victories.
Better Days Ahead — Really
Everyone always tells you that it gets better, and it does, but that doesn’t make the Now any easier to handle in any real way. Because the truth is, no one can really tell you when it will get better. For someone you know, it may be six weeks. For another, it might be six months. For you, it could be even longer. That’s why it’s important to find ways to endure right now. Try the strategy above, but also, let me leave you with a little affirmation.
Even at your weakest, you have enough power to create moments where it feels better, at least for a little while. When you start finding those moments more often, they will start finding you back. Seek irony and laugh at it. It takes a lot of effort, and some days you will fail. That’s OK. It’s not really failure. It’s a test of endurance, and you are building strength for new challenges. You have permission not to enjoy every moment. You have permission not to miss every moment years down the road. But do what you can to find those that you do enjoy and that you will miss, and cherish the heck out of them. That’s enough, and so are you.