How I Overcame Postpartum Depression & Anxiety
If you haven’t already, go back and read Part One first.
Looking back, I can see that I was the perfect candidate for postpartum anxiety and depression. When reading a list of increased risk factors, I checked almost every box. Here are some of the circumstances that contributed to my experience:
1.) History of anxiety & Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
2.) A traumatic birth experience
3.) Limited social support
4.) Childcare stress
5.) Being a young (23-year-old) mother
Other risk factors include living alone, marital conflict, being ambivalent about the pregnancy and having low self-esteem. It’s important to note that every case of PPD is different. Not all women and men who have it share these experiences. But I can’t help but feel that if I’d been more informed about the circumstances contributing to PPD from the beginning of my pregnancy, I could have sought help and created a plan sooner.
At the time, all I knew was that I was experiencing anxiety, hopelessness, insomnia, troublesome thoughts, loss of interest in activities, loss of appetite, mood swings and panic attacks. I was a mess and I knew that if I didn’t seek help and take care of myself, then I would be unable to be a good mother to my sweet baby. Luckily, my husband was extremely supportive and he did everything he could to reassure me. (Truly, my heart goes out to all of the single mothers and fathers experiencing PPD). But he knew that the situation was too big for either of us to handle alone. Which is why he got off work early one Friday afternoon and we drove to the nearest hospital.
We strolled right into the Emergency Room. That particular day I’d hit a breaking point where I didn’t feel capable of going on without getting help. I wasn’t in a headspace where I was capable of researching psychiatrists and calling around to see who accepted our insurance. Let alone, waiting days for an appointment.
Luckily, everyone at the hospital was very kind and made me feel at ease. (I was obviously not the first woman who’d checked into the ER for PPD). I broke down when describing my symptoms to the doctor, and he sent a social worker in to see me and recommended that I take stronger (but still over-the-counter) sleeping medication so that I could actually sleep when my daughter slept.
The social worker that visited me in the hospital was also considerate. She found a psychiatrist who specialized in Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and accepted our insurance. An appointment was made for that upcoming Monday. She also recommended a few support groups for us to join since we were new parents who were new to the area. In the end, the doctor let me go home because I wasn’t at risk of harming myself or others. I didn’t end up getting to see a specialist that day, but I felt a little better knowing that I only had to get through the weekend before receiving specialized care.
As soon as we left the hospital, my husband and I ended up driving to my in laws to stay for the weekend. We were both feeling a little homesick. I cried uncontrollably and unabashedly that weekend, and no one judged me for it. But my daughter slept through the night for the first time while we were there (and continued to do so every night thereafter, bless her little heart). And the Unisom that I was taking allowed me to get a full night of sleep. Having my mother-in-law around to help look after Stella helped a little too.
By the time Monday rolled around, I was still pretty overwhelmed by sadness. I was also feeling scared to go back home to Seattle to begin a new week. Before I met with the psychiatrist, I was asked to fill out some paperwork. After leading me back to her office, she asked me some thoughtful questions about what I was feeling and experiencing. She listened to everything I had to say, and concluded the appointment by prescribing me 100mg of Sertraline. Honestly, it just felt good to have someone who I could express my emotions to and be one hundred percent truthful with. She scheduled a follow-up appointment with me for the next week, and promised to call and check-up on me before then.
Truthfully, I took my first dose of Sertraline as soon as I picked it up from the pharmacy that day. Although the effects weren’t instantaneous and did not completely cure me of PPD, having something to take the edge off really helped. I realize that taking medication for depression is a controversial topic, and many individuals believe that mental health should be treated naturally. However, unless you’ve experienced that sort of hopelessness and despair, you cannot speak to the benefit of taking prescription medicine. In fact, that first time I picked-up my medication, the pharmacist told me that Sertraline was the number one prescription sold at her pharmacy. Although her words made me a little sad, they also made me feel better and not quite so alone. Different methods work for different people and this is the method that worked best for me.
Of course, taking Sertraline was not the end-all-be-all to my postpartum depression and anxiety. I had to work hard every single day to get up out of bed and fight off the fog that I was in. I began getting dressed, doing my make-up, and going on daily walks despite having a 2-month-old baby. Additionally, I continued to visit my psychiatrist each month and my husband and I joined a community group called PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support). There, we were able to meet other first-time parents and share our experiences with them. Slowly, the fog began to lift and I began to smile and find joy in my surroundings again.
It wasn’t all roses. A word of caution here: if you take meds for any sort of mental health issue, don’t be like me and forget to take your medication once you start feeling better. And please don’t ever go off of your medication without your psychiatrist’s instruction. When my daughter was 2-years-old my depression and anxiety came back, stronger than ever and I was hospitalized for two days. It was a heavy experience that I never wish to revisit but I’ve come a long way since then and its been mostly uphill from there.
Today, I still take Sertraline and that’s okay. Because I’ve struggled with anxiety and OCD since I was 7-years-old, I might be on it for the rest of my life. It enables me to make it through each day without fretting unnecessarily so that I can focus on the things that truly matter. Most importantly, I’ve learned to love myself and embrace my anxiety and OCD as part of who I am. Luckily, I have a loving, supportive husband who does the same.
To be honest, I debated even writing this article because I’m a largely private person and putting it all out there feels a little brazen. But I did it because it’s my sincerest hope that by doing so I can reach at least one man or woman who might be struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety so that he or she doesn’t feel so alone. If you are that person, I want you to know that up to 1 in 7 women experience PPD. Additionally, 10% of men experience symptoms of depression during the postpartum period. Seek help, no matter your circumstances, and you will get better. Taking care of yourself is an essential part of your well-being both as an individual and as a parent. Take heart: it gets easier, I promise.
1.) Carberg, Jenna. “Postpartum Depression Statistics”. www.postpartumdepression.org. Postpartum Depression, 6/25/2019.
2.) “Postpartum depression”. www.mayoclinic.org. Mayo Clinic, 6/21/2019.
3.) “What is postpartum depression and anxiety?”. www.apa.org. American Psychological Association, 6/24/2019.