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.
[This article from Harvard Health goes into great detail about what causes depression and relapses.]
Here are some tips to help you avoid a postpartum depression relapse.
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, and so on. Postpartum depression triggers can be different for everyone.
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. Sometimes, it’s difficult to determine the root cause of our symptoms on our own. Cognitive behavior therapy is a great exercise to help with this. There are also licensed online psychiatrists available that you can have video chat sessions with.
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, sleep well, eat properly, exercise and meditate will ensure that you stay one step ahead. You can even create your own, dedicated self-care space to escape to when you start feeling low.
Try this 30 Day Self-Care Challenge from This Mama Needs Chocolate!
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.
Seeking treatment for postpartum depression is important. Don’t assume that it will go away on it’s own. Getting an official diagnosis of postpartum depression can be empowering. Knowing that you suffer from a mental health condition can validate everything that you are feeling and help you to accept that this is not your fault.
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.
Get this FREE printable PDF Quick Reference Guide of National Crisis Support Numbers in the Running in Triangles Free Resource Library, available exclusively to subscribers of the Postpartum Depression Survival Guide. Click here to subscribe.
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. If you’re planning a relocation, take steps to avoid feeling depressed during the move. 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 get 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. While postpartum depression is a long term battle, it doesn’t mean that you will need to fight it forever. With the right treatment, you can live symptom free.
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. Share your story, 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.
Contrary to popular belief, postpartum depression does not go away on it’s own. And a postpartum depression relapse does not only happen when you have another baby (although that can be a trigger). Many mothers find themselves battling the symptoms of depression years after giving birth. It’s discouraging and annoying and definitely unfair, but with the right self care routine and treatment plan, it doesn’t have to ruin your life.