It’s been 19 months since I had my daughter, Ruthie. Those 19 months, as you can imagine, have housed some of my most intense emotions, hardest fought battles, lowest and highest days. It’s been 15 months since I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety.
I remember feeling pretty indifferent to the term postpartum depression when I was pregnant. Pffft… I was on top of the world. No sickness, no health concerns, no food aversions, no sleep disturbances. It was bliss. And I seemed to be in a world of my own in that, most women around me struggling through 24h nausea, extreme fatique, sciatica, etc. I was lucky. And so extremely happy. Depression? Get outta here. I was ready (I was not) and feeling like a warrior woman. My midwives and birth prep teachers would mention the (very good) potential for postpartum depression and I’d sort of glaze over, knowing for sure that I didn’t have to worry about that.
I did. I do. Every single day.
Struggling with depression while trying to be present in what society touts as “the most blissful days of your life” can be extremely painful. You’re made to feel like a vile, self-centered, ungrateful parent. There was a solid month, maybe more, where between my husband, mom, mother-in-law, sister, sister-in-law, father and father-in-law and aunt (yes, I feel obligated to name them all because they each contributed greatly to my recovery), I barely touched my daughter save for nighttime feeding. I couldn’t. Hearing her cry or having her in my arms stirred my fight or flight response. And boy, was that a hard pill to swallow. All I could do was cry. Panic. Wonder how I would ever make it through the day. Wonder if I would ever enjoy being a mother. Wonder how I could escape. Panic. Cry. What could I buy to make this easier? Who could I pay to save me? Who am I. Why did I do this. How do I keep going.
Months of everyone shifting their lives to help me adjust to mine. Months of my husband coming home from work to me crying and broken. Months of not feeling adequate or worthy. Months of guilt over needing help, not appreciating my new role. Months of feeling confused, hopeless and just OVER my life. Void of anything but all-encompassing fear. For my daughter, for my husband, for myself. I was scared to death. Each day was worse than the last. Until, somehow, it wasn’t.
Sometime in the midst of the fear, guilt and pain, I started to climb my way out of depression. Each day there would be a few more moments of clarity. I could see my old self, albeit through a dusty window, and felt hope again.
I consider myself to be on “the other side”, at least today. Tomorrow could be different, as every day is when it comes to mental health, and a bad day doesn’t mean you’re not going in the right direction. Fighting for myself was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do and that’s why my family, friends and community contributed so heavily to my recovery. Without that help, I fear the worst may have happened. But it didn’t. I get to be here for my daughter, my daily affirmation of pure and honest good in this world and my reason to fight harder to get better each day.
I know, whoever you are reading this and maybe nodding your head, that it isn’t easy. I know getting out of bed feels like the fight of your life each and every day. That going to work (whether that’s at home or elsewhere), socializing and pretending to be OK sucks what little bit of energy you have and yet you do it every single day. That knowing your family and friends are worried about you makes the guilt you already feel feel even heavier. That those thoughts in your head can be louder than your own. That asking for help is absolutely fucking terrifying. But you are bigger than this. You are stronger than your depression. Asking for help is the hardest part and once it’s over with, you can start to pull the pieces of yourself back together, in whatever way you and your mental health team decide is best. It’s not a one-size fits all solution and sometimes it takes a while to figure out the right plan of action, but giving yourself the time and space to explore your options means the optimal outcome for you and your fight. Here is some reading on finding the right help for you.
Because each day comes with it’s own set of challenges, and sometimes that means facing my depression head-on all over again, I do a few things for self care that work for me. They are things that I know will calm me, provide a sense of purpose when I’m feeling useless (a large part of my depression), or give my brain a rest. It can be as simple as making a cup of tea and really tasting it. Other times it takes a bit more effort.
—Baking: following exact direction means my brain is occupied. Sometimes that’s all I need to move on from a dip in mood.
—Writing: generally not for public audience, but more to get out anything that’s going on in my head. There are many writing exercises that can help you cope with depression/anxiety.
—Walking: getting outside, breathing in the clean air and realizing how big the world is sometimes makes my thoughts feel less important and it becomes easier to quiet them.
—Breathing Exercises: this works for nighttime or daytime for me, whenever I can’t calm my thoughts or if they become intrusive. Have a look at some of these. Meditation can be HIGHLY beneficial in the midst of panic/fear/sadness.
—Reading: escaping to another world via a good book is a surefire way to remove you from your own head.
—Friends/Family: just last week I reached out to a friend telling her I was having a hard week and needed someone to make me laugh and forget about my sadness that happened out of nowhere. And BAM, there she was. I felt better almost instantly.
—Art: Over the holidays, I worked on painting a lot of my gifts with Ruthie. It was extremely calming.
—FOR PARENTS (specifically Moms suffering with PPD): Something that was absolutely 100% vital to my healing was sleep. And that is the hardest solution with newborns/babies/toddlers and we don’t always feel comfortable leaving them. But if you have family or friends that you trust, SAY YES when they offer to help. Do something just for you – go for a 2 hour nap. Have a bath. Go to a coffee shop and read a book. Or just watch people and take some deep breaths. or binge watch something you’ve been dying to get into. But say yes. Let people help. They will be as happy to help as you are to have time to yourself. I promise.
Finding your own self-care methods is MONUMENTAL in managing your mental health. There will be days that you need to use them all and days where you may just need to deep breath your way through a stressful moment. But knowing they are in your back pocket in an overwhelming situation alone can be calming.
Today (January 25th) is #BellLetsTalk day. Every time you talk, text or join in on social media using that hashtag, Bell will donate 5¢ more to mental health initiatives in Canada. So whether you’re the one struggling or the one supporting, talking and ending the stigma around mental health is your job. OUR job. Because 20% of Canadians will suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives. Because only 1 in 5 Canadian kids struggling with mental health gets the help they need. And because once depression is recognized, help can make a difference for 80% of people who are affected, allowing them to get back to their regular activities* – this is an illness we can actually DO SOMETHING about. So let’s do that. And please remember, it’s going to be OK. You can overcome this. And should you find yourself in a position where you need to talk but you don’t know who will understand or listen, please reach out to me. I don’t know your struggle and I am not a professional, but I am walking my own challenging path and know how helpful an ear can be.
And on the days when you’re feeling like yourself (or if you’re supporting someone struggling and want to do something kind), make your tomorrow-self some cookies. Because we all know that finding the time to cook and eat can be cumbersome while suffering with mental illness.
Peanut Butter Oatmeal Toasted Coconut Cookies
makes 2 1/2 dozen
I love these cookies dipped in my morning coffee. They aren’t totally sugar-packed and contain lots of healthy ingredients to both fill and sustain you. I make them both with and without chocolate/raisins as my daughter doesn’t like chocolate (?!). If you don’t add the chocolate chips and raisins, I’d add a little more sugar (maybe 1/4 cup) as they lean towards the not-sweet-enough side.
1 cup coconut oil, softened but not melted (think room-temp butter consistency)
1 cup smooth or crunchy peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup toasted (unsweetened) coconut
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp sea salt, more for garnish (optional)
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks
1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 350.
In a large bowl with hand mixer (or stand mixer), cream together the coconut oil, peanut butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, on at a time, until full incorporated. Add the vanilla extract and stir to combine.
In another bowl, mix together the flours, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt to combine. Pour into the wet ingredients and mix well. Add in the chocolate chips and raisins, if using.
Roll into balls just smaller than a golf ball and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until edges are golden brown and the tops just starting to brown.
*stats from cmhc.ca
**note: this is NOT sponsored by Bell or anyone else. This is written purely for personal purposes.
***IF YOU ARE IN DISTRESS, PLEASE CALL 911 OR GO TO YOUR NEAREST EMERGENCY CENTER.