Postpartum depression isn’t a matter solely for mothers of newborn babies.
It’s a lifelong struggle. Even with treatment, a postpartum depression relapse can happen years after the sleep deprivation and breastfeeding days are over.
The best way to describe it is to imagine that a depression gene is lurking somewhere within you. In some people, it is never triggered and lays dormant their entire life. In others, it’s triggered during childhood or puberty, from a traumatic event, or by pregnancy and childbirth.
The problem is, once it’s triggered, it’s more likely to keep happening.
Treatment can manage the symptoms and controlling specific triggers can help to avoid relapses. But it’s not something that is ever cured, and it will never go away because it was always there to begin with. It can only be controlled.
Here are some tips to help you avoid a postpartum depression relapse.
*This post contains affiliate and/or paid links which means that if you click on one of these links and buy a product, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I love from companies that I trust. **Furthermore, I am not a medical professional and nothing in this post should be taken as medical advice. I am simply a mother who has been there and lived to tell the tale.
Identify your triggers
Find out what factors tend to make you feel more depressed. Keeping a journal can help with this. On days when you are feeling extra sad or anxious – write down things you’ve done recently, how you were feeling, conversations you had, medications you’ve been taking, what the weather was like, etc. Postpartum depression triggers are different for everyone.
10 common triggers:
- Sleep Deprivation
- Hormonal Imbalances
- Anniversaries/Birthdays/Special Events
- Marriage problems
- Bad Memories
You can download this free printable postpartum depression workbook which has a section to document specific triggers.
Eliminate the problem
I know, it’s easier said than done. If we could all get rid of pain and stress, then the world would be a better place. Try keeping track of your sleep patterns and monthly mood fluctuations to help you notice patterns and triggers. But once you’ve identified your specific trigger(s), your next goal will be to work at ways to fix that issue in your life.
If you’re uncertain of where to begin to fix the problems affecting your mental health, then speaking to a therapist can help. There are even online psychiatrists available through sites like Online Therapy and Better Help.
Take care of yourself
Mothers are infamous for not taking proper care of themselves. Self care is not just a suggestion, it plays a huge role in avoiding a postpartum depression relapse. Taking time to relieve stress, get enough sleep, eat properly, exercise and meditate will ensure that you stay one step ahead.
Stick to your treatment plan
Of course you’re going to be feeling great after starting a round of anti-depressants or therapy, but that doesn’t mean it’s done it’s job and now you can stop. Any changes to your treatment plan should always be discussed with your doctor, don’t assume that you no longer need treatment just because you’ve been free of postpartum depression symptoms for months.
Find someone to confide in
If you didn’t tell anyone you had postpartum depression the first time it happened, then it’s likely you will also choose to suffer silently in the event of a relapse. Find someone that you can talk to about your feelings. It can be someone close to you, a complete stranger or a support group, as long as they will encourage you to speak up and seek help.
As much as you might try to eliminate stress and other triggers, life still happens and much of it is out of our control. Try your best to plan ahead for situations that overwhelm you. If being locked inside the house during the winter months makes you feel dreary, plan a vacation. If you’re dreading the stress of juggling all the kids during summer vacation, hire someone to help you. Being prepared for a postpartum depression relapse may even be enough to make you feel like you can handle it, should it hit.
Don’t be discouraged
Sometimes, having a postpartum depression relapse is unavoidable. It doesn’t mean that you have failed or that you will never get better. While you may suffer more relapses in the future, each one will be easier to get through as long as you don’t let it get the best of you.
Take away it’s power
As long as your postpartum depression is a secret – it controls you. If you’re constantly afraid of a relapse happening, then it has power over you. The only way to take away it’s power is by accepting and acknowledging it. Tell everyone that you have postpartum depression and that there’s a chance you could suffer a relapse. Then you won’t have it hanging over your head, and you won’t have to suffer alone. Consider becoming an advocate for postpartum depression awareness, joining a maternal mental health movement or blogging about it.
Remember that it’s not about them
If you didn’t know that a postpartum depression relapse was even possible, then chances are, neither did they. “They” being your loved ones, your spouse, family or friends – even your own children. Once you start feeling better, others will assume that you’re cured. And if you suffer a relapse, you will be reluctant to tell them for fear of disappointing them. But it’s not about them, it’s about you and your health, and that’s far more important.
So before you even suffer from a relapse, tell your loved ones that it’s possible this could happen. Ask them to help you eliminate your triggers and watch for symptoms that your postpartum depression is returning.
Don’t feel guilty or selfish because this is your life. It might be in a mother’s nature to put others before themselves, but when it comes to postpartum depression – you come first.
It’s been 7 years since my battle with postpartum depression first began. I consider myself a survivor now but living in the aftermath of postpartum depression is nothing like life was before it.
*This post contains affiliate links which means that if you click on one of these links and buy a product, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I love from companies that I trust. Furthermore, I am not a medical professional and nothing in this post should be taken as medical advice. I am simply a mother who has been there and lived to tell the tale.
1. Expect it to never go away 100%
I had hyperemesis gravidarum with all three of my pregnancies and it was horrific. But as soon as I pushed the baby out, the nausea went away instantly. Postpartum depression is not like that.
With treatment, you will get better. The days will be brighter and the fits of sadness and rage will become fewer and far between. But it will always be there, deep down inside. It will be hard to forget the dark days and there will be reminders of them everywhere.
You may go months, years even, living happily as a postpartum depression survivor and then suffer a relapse during a strenuous week of sleep regression or the flu. My personal postpartum depression treatment requires a consistent self-care routine and I’ve noticed that symptoms tend to rear their ugly head if I don’t keep up with it.
I think of my postpartum depression like a wound. It happened and it healed but the scar remains. Most days I forget all about it but it is always there.
2. Expect to feel guilty
We know that postpartum depression is NOT OUR FAULT. But accepting that fact is much harder to swallow. As moms, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and we often feel guilty for something – our fault or not; we’re not spending enough time with our kids, we’re not giving them the best clothes, food, toys, education, etc. – you name it and a mom’s felt guilty for it.
But the guilt that a postpartum depression survivor feels is much worse than your average mom guilt. The things we said or did while we were in the raw days of postpartum depression were not us. We couldn’t control them, we couldn’t anticipate them and we didn’t mean a word of it.
But we remember all of it. And if there were witnesses around, (i.e. an older child or spouse) it’s likely they remember everything too.
So no matter how many times we tell ourselves that it’s not our fault – we can’t help but feel guilty for all the things we said or did during the battle.
3. Expect to have different relationships
Postpartum depression changes you. You can never go back to being the person you were before this.
Your relationship with your spouse or significant other will either be stronger or broken entirely. They will also be a changed person because you can’t watch someone else go through something like postpartum depression and not feel anything about it afterwards.
But if someone has loved you and stuck with you through the darkest of days then they are a keeper. If they ran for the hills then you didn’t want them anyway…
The same could be said of your friendships except it’s unlikely they even knew you had postpartum depression.
If you alienated yourself from everyone while you were suffering but did not give an explanation why then you will probably need to do some damage control in the aftermath.
4. Expect to be a stronger woman than you were before
It goes without saying that postpartum depression survivors are some of the strongest women who exist. (Ok, all “survivors” are strong – perhaps this one sounds cliché… but being forced to suffer from depression during a time in your life when you should be MOST happy is just plain cruel.)
Once you’ve doubted every single decision you’ve made, questioned your reason for living and hurt people you love – there is not much left that will scare you. You will reach a point where you think you just can’t handle it anymore – but then you do.
You learn that the limit to how much you can handle is much further than where you thought it was…
5. Expect to WANT to tell your story
While you may have felt ashamed or embarrassed about your condition at the time – afterwards you will be proud to say “I beat postpartum depression.”
You will recognize the all too familiar pain in other women and want to help them. Since you are stronger now, you don’t care who judges you for what.
And while writing or talking about your experience will be hard and will likely stir up all the guilt you’ve been working so hard to abolish, the freedom you will gain from it is unlike any other.
Sometime in the aftermath of postpartum depression, you will WANT to tell your story, whether it’s to your closest friends and family or complete strangers.
And when you do, others will sympathize with you and relate to you and perhaps you’ll even save a life…
If and when you are ready to share your story – click here to find out how.