Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Don’t Get Any Better – But You Do
It’s been over four years since I had my son and my journey into the world of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, like postpartum depression and anxiety, began.
Since then I’ve spent plenty of time managing my own recovery, but I’ve also spent countless hours providing peer support to other women. The question that’s asked over and over is “when does postpartum depression or anxiety get better?” The honest answer is that they don’t. They keep going, with nothing to stop them from affecting thousands of moms around the world each and every day.
Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Are Here to Stay
You’re probably wondering why I’d make such a bold claim – that these mental illnesses don’t get better. It makes things seem completely hopeless, or even pointless. Postpartum depression and anxiety have been part of women’s experiences as mothers for thousands of years. As science evolves and more research is done into the root causes we understand them better. But we’re still a long way from finding a cure or being able to prevent them in the first place.
After my initial diagnosis I felt incredibly alone and isolated. I couldn’t believe that I’d gone from being a strong, driven career woman, to a quivering hot mess that would have panic attacks when trying to do laundry. Thankfully I was able to quickly connect with other moms who were in the exact same situation. What surprised me and still catches me off guard is the continual influx of moms that have had their world turned upside down by maternal mental illness. On the support forum I was part of I’d see new members arrive each day describing their experiences, and they were now desperately looking for answers.
Through my research and work as a peer supporter, it’s become clear that postpartum depression and anxiety are here to stay. These illnesses don’t discriminate and can be completely ruthless. They don’t care about who you are, where you’re from, where you work or how much education you have. Depression can leave you helpless. Anxiety can stop you from leaving the house. They attack your identity and sense of self. They leave you feeling hopeless, alone and miserable.
Recovery is Always Possible
These illnesses don’t get any better, but the good news is – you do. While postpartum depression and anxiety don’t change, your recovery from these illnesses is always possible. With proper diagnosis and treatment you can get better. You will get better. You are not defined by your depression or anxiety. Your recovery and journey is as unique as you are. The treatment plan you follow will look different than that of other moms.
There is no one “right way” to recover from postpartum depression or anxiety. What works for one mom won’t necessarily work for another. There is no way to predict how long it will take or what kind of set backs you may have. But the most important thing to remember is that while postpartum depression and anxiety aren’t going anywhere, you are. You are moving along a path towards recovery and wellness. There may be different stops along the way, like trying to find the right medication. Or you may spend time in therapy, going to the gym, changing your diet or developing better self-care and coping skills.
Keep Moving Forward
A lot of moms also want to know when they’ll feel like they used to. There is no way to predict how long it will take to feel better. And you might not ever feel like you did before. We tend to hold onto our experiences from our lives before babies and view these through rose colored glasses. When we’re sick we’re desperate to go back to what our previous “normal” life felt like. This makes a lot of sense because it’s all we have to compare our current thoughts and feelings to. It fuels our depression and sadness as we focus on what we think we’ve lost. We long to return to stability, normalcy and predictability – even if it wasn’t that great.
It’s taken me a long time to accept that I can’t go back to my life before I had my son. I held onto the idea that in order to be fully recovered, my life had to look and feel the same as it once had. My brain and body had to bounce back to my old definition of normal. Through a lot of self-reflection, work with a few different therapists and a focus on mindfulness, I now realize that all I can do is move forward. Accepting that I had postpartum depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and now other chronic conditions has been an incredible challenge. Exhausting myself in trying to go back, instead of focusing on the present, has been an exercise in frustration. It’s been a waste of my time, my energy and resources. And I suspect that a lot of moms can relate.
You Can and Will Get Better
If you’re struggling with postpartum depression, anxiety, psychosis or any other mood disorder, know that you will get better. You’ll find treatments that work for you. While you can’t go back to life before your experience with mental illness, you can build a new life. This life may look and feel different but it will become your new normal. While you can’t change what’s happened to your health, you can start the process of accepting it and moving forward. It will require work and it won’t be easy. There will be setbacks. But there is always hope.
For a list of specialists that work with women who have a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, visit Postpartum Progress’ online directory by clicking here. Postpartum Support International has local chapters and coordinators that can connect you with practitioners and resources in your local area. They also have a warm line you can call at 1-800-944-4773 and speak with a peer support volunteer. Pacific Post Partum Support Society also offers a similar service and can be reached toll free at 1-855-255-7999. Stay strong, Mamas.
Shannon Hennig is the Program Director of the Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative.