bipolar parent

Mother’s Day: 5 Things I Wish People–Including New Mothers–Knew About Postpartum Depression

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Trigger Warning: This post contains discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please:

  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255
  • Text TALK to 741741
  • Or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

For a post with a list of domestic crisis lines, click here. For a post with a list of international crisis lines, click here.

Like many mothers who have just given birth (up to 20%, in fact), I suffered postpartum depression.

Most mothers get the baby blues, a period of sadness after birth that lasts anywhere from 4-6 weeks, but postpartum depression (PPD) is so much more severe than that.

On this Mother’s Day, where we honor the parent who gave us life, I think it’s perfect time to let you know what PPD is really like. Or, at least, how my own experience with the illness was and what it can teach you.

5 Things I Wish People–Including New Mothers–Knew About Postpartum Depression

1. Take PPD Seriously

Postpartum depression is no joke.

My experience was slightly different than most moms out there: I suffered an episode of postpartum psychosis that hamstrung me.

But the following three years of postpartum depression kept me from functioning and destroyed my confidence that I would ever be a whole person again.

Indeed, 13 years later, I’m still feeling the effects of my bout with PPD. I used to be a strong, independent young woman who’d just earned two bachelor’s degrees, paying for college by myself by working two jobs. Now I’m nervous, insecure, and almost entirely dependent upon my husband not only financially, but also for things like taxes, buying airline tickets, changing a tire, driving in snow, and picking out phones.

My dependance on my husband is shameful to me. I don’t know how to do those practical things, and I’ve been afraid I’m too stupid to learn. Me, the woman who was smart enough and bold enough to earn two bachelor’s degrees!

I was never this bad off before my struggles with PPD.

And the PPD itself was a living hell. When my baby cried, I cried. I was terrified of putting him down just in case something bad would happen to him—either I’d step on him and crush his chest, or I’d forget about him, and he’d starve to death. I had nightmares of me throwing him down the stairs or boiling him alive.

For the first three years of my son’s life, my home was completely trashed. Moldy dishes piled up in the sink and on tables, unwashed clothes littered the floor, and a figurative ocean of dirty diapers coalesced on the living room floor.

I could not function. When I say that, I don’t mean that I was lazy. I mean that my brain could not parse out “pick up the dirty diapers on the floor one at a time, and you’ll be able to clean the living room floor.” I looked at the whole picture of the mess I had caused and felt completely overwhelmed.

Isolating myself and my infant, we rarely went outside or to mother-baby activities. I did have a Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS) group of mothers and their infants that was set up by the hospital, but after I broke down sobbing at one of the meetings, screaming, “I have PPD and it sucks!” the other mothers alienated me.

I spent all day sobbing. I lost several friends, and found no pleasure in anything, not even my infant, and then felt terribly guilty for not bonding with him in the way I “should” have.

Trying to establish himself in his new, high-stress job, my husband worked 12-hour days and sometimes slept at the office. I was alone most of the day, left to my brain fog and inability to do anything more than breastfeed my baby when he cried, at which point I was also crying.

Postpartum depression is not the baby blues. It’s severe, and if you or a loved one has been experiencing any of the following symptoms, please call a doctor right now:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Crying
  • Reduced concentration
  • Appetite problems
  • Trouble sleeping

2. PPD can be Dangerous to Mothers and Their Babies

There came a point in my PPD two and a half years after my son’s birth that I began dreaming of ways to die. Watching my son toddle around all day and unable to answer his constant questions of why, why, why, I would craft suicide letters in my head.

Suicide is a real risk for mothers who suffer PPD. Over the past decade, suicide attempts during and after pregnancy have nearly tripled. And it’s a silent suffering. No mother wants to alarm their loved ones by spilling their secret thoughts to harm themselves.

Which leads into my next point.

3. Pressure on Mothers is Immense

The pressure on mothers, especially mothers of tiny babies, is immense.

I speak of mothers specifically because dads tend to be praised for their efforts in “babysitting” their babies, which is a whole different problem. Both caregivers are under a lot of pressure, but new mothers, assumed to be the primary caregiver, bear the brunt of the social pressure.

Breastfeeding is touted as what’s best for the baby, and I agree that nutritionally, it is, but breastfeeding in public is met with either derision and ogling, or both at once.

I have been drooled at before. I have breastfed on a toilet seat. I have been scoffed at, glared at, and put on display for both mockers and people who would stare at my breasts and lick their lips lasciviously. All I was trying to do was feed my baby in the “best” way possible.

There’s nothing worse on an airplane than a crying baby. Why won’t that mother shut that baby up? Sure, the baby is tired and hungry like everyone else, but seriously, that mother is terrible, or so the thinking goes.

And as a new mother, you’re expected to bond with your baby. New babyhood is glorified as this magical journey where everyone handmakes favors for their child’s first birthday bash (which are “supposed to be” huge) and posts them on Instagram.

The pressure to post your “perfect” life on Snapchat is never more intense than on new mothers. Everyone wants to see the baby’s involuntary smiles that are usually from gas bubbles, but no one wants to see the same baby spitting up or with a blowout diaper.

Especially not on an airplane, which has happened to both me and my husband while traveling alone with our infants.

The pressure on mothers is ridiculous. I beg you, if there’s a crying baby in your vicinity, please, please give the mother a little grace. If she has PPD, I can assure you that society’s judgement is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

4. You Can Conquer PPD

All of this sounds like doom and gloom, right?

But don’t worry. Postpartum depression doesn’t last forever.

If you’re suffering from PPD, you can survive this, and yes, even thrive one day. It will take time, and patience, and maybe medication and definitely therapy.

But I promise you: You can conquer PPD. It’s dangerous, it’s terrible, it’s soul-destroying, but you will live again, and reach your full potential.

Call your doctor today. They want to help you.

If you can’t call your doctor, if your brain fog or your shame about not bonding with your baby prevents you from doing so, get someone close to you to do it. Tap that social support network you’ve so carefully built up.

And if you have no one and are truly on your own, go to the nearest urgent care center. Your life may be at stake.

And you deserve the dignity of a stable, happy life. I should know – I am thriving. My psychiatrist gave me lithium (I have bipolar disorder, so this drug worked for me) and it was like the clouds opened up and I could breathe again.

I no longer suffocated in PPD’s grip. I was able to pick up those dirty diapers and move on with my life, eventually bonding with my baby. I am now going to school for my graduate degree in clinical mental health counseling.

I am happy now. You want that, right?

Call your doctor today.

5. You May Not have PPD with Your Next Baby

After my bout with PPD, I was scared off of having babies for many years. I thought I was done with having children, that my son alone would be enough.

But then, one Christmas, I woke up one day wanting another baby. I talked it over with my husband, who always left our reproductive choices up to me, and he agreed to try for another one.

After a year of trying, I fell pregnant, and insisted that I be safely medicated for the pregnancy.

My daughter was born healthy and happy, and I suffered no ill effects that I was dreading. I had my treatment team (my psychiatrist and therapist) on standby, but I was stunned that I didn’t need them.

By grace of God, I did not have a second round of PPD. But if I did, I would have sought treatment immediately. Never again will I face a pit of depression without getting help, and never again will I allow myself to sink to such horrific depths.

Let’s Recap

This is a strongly worded post, I know. But my experience with PPD was so intense, it almost killed me.

The 5 things I wish people knew about PPD are easy to remember:

  • Take PPD seriously.
  • PPD is dangerous to mothers and their babies.
  • The societal pressure on mothers is immense.
  • You can conquer PPD.
  • And you may not even have PPD with your next baby.

If you or a loved one are suffering from PPD, don’t be like me. Don’t let the dirty diapers pile up on the floor.

There’s an ending to this. And you deserve better.

I wish you well on your journey.

Related Posts:

bipolar parent

October 21st: National Check Your Meds Day

Medication interactions are serious business. You could take two medications which counteract each other, which could make you sick enough to end up in the emergency room, or even die. October 21st is National Check Your Meds Day in the US. Making sure that you’re safely consuming the right combination of medications is important for everyone who takes them. This is true for any condition, but especially so for those who suffer from mental illnesses like bipolar disorder.

On National Check Your Meds Day, you can take your medications–including prescription drugs, supplements, and over-the-counter medicines–into a pharmacy for a review. You can then ask a pharmacist for advice on medication combinations, and adverse reactions of side effects.

How Will Checking My Meds Help Me?

The purpose of this review is to check whether your medications are interacting properly. If your psychiatrist and rheumatologist both prescribe medications for you and don’t talk to each other, then you may end up with two different drugs that don’t interact safely. In addition, prescribing drugs in the mental health field is incredibly patchwork and subjective; two psychiatrists looking at the same patient might prescribe a completely different cocktail of medications. And people on your mental health team often don’t talk to each other either, unless you insist.

A Consumer Reports study found that, in 2014 alone, nearly 1.3 million people visited an emergency room due to prescription drug interactions or overdose issues, which cost over $200 billion to the people visiting the ER. The steep cost of ER visits is in addition to any costs incurred due to missed work and health insurance changes. The price of medication interactions is substantial.

There is also a human cost. In January of 2000, the Institute of Medicine reported that up to 98,000 deaths occurred from medical errors on a yearly basis. Up to 7,000 of those deaths were due to adverse drug interactions. That doesn’t seem like much, but to put this in perspective, keep in mind that 6,000 Americans die annually from workplace injuries.

This problem is easy to mitigate. Any experienced pharmacist will be able to inform you about the side effects are of your medicines, especially if you’re taking two or more medications that might contradict each other.

History of National Check Your Meds Day

With the passage of the Durham Humphrey Bill in 1951, all drugs were classified as over-the-counter medications or prescription drugs.

After the Consumer Reports study found that so many people were ending up in the ER due to medication interactions, the study’s editors collaborated with the US Department of Health and Human Services to create a holiday where people could address this issue. Then, on October 17, 2017, National Check Your Meds Day was born.

Other Services the Pharmacist Can Offer You

Other services the pharmacist can offer when examining your medications include:

  • Sometimes, doctors prescribe drugs to manage your side effects when a lifestyle change will control those better or just as well. The pharmacist can suggest ways for you to talk to your doctor about reducing your reliance on prescription drugs.
  • Check if your dosages are potentially too high or too low. This advice will not replace a qualified doctor’s, but can give you a starting point to talk to your doctor about lowering or raising a dose, or stopping a medication.
  • Encourage you to talk to your doctor about refills lasting 30 to 90 days.

Final Thoughts

Getting your meds reviewed by a pharmacist on Check Your Meds Day is a good idea. If you have medications that don’t work with each other, addressing that will safeguard your physical and mental health, and save on costs. Your pharmacist can even advise you on whether you’re taking the right prescription drugs and give you ways to talk to your doctors if you want to change your meds. Your pharmacist is there to help you. Call your local pharmacy to see if the business is participating in National Check Your Meds Day, on October 21, 2019.

Related:

Uncategorized

When to Disclose Your Mental Illness to Your Dates

Dating with a mental illness, especially bipolar disorder, can be a minefield to navigate. You need to find someone who will support you in all aspects of life, including your struggles with your mental conditions.

When to Disclose Your Mental Illness to Your Dates - CassandraStout.com

Finding such a person can be daunting. A lot of people who have little experience with mental illnesses tend to think that people with bipolar disorder are “crazy” and out of control. Stigma and awful stereotypes are very real. Some people may bolt as soon as they hear the word “bipolar.”

You have to communicate honestly with your significant other about your disorder, but first you have to disclose to them that you have one. But when do you disclose to your dates that you have more to deal with than a neurotypical person?

Honesty is the Best Policy

You may have a million questions when it come to dating. For example, when do you disclose your illness? Will you be honest on the first date or will you wait until you’ve gotten to know your date before letting them know? If you can’t work and are on disability due to your illness, how do you explain what you do? When do you let your date know if you’re on meds?

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. Dating looks different for everyone regardless of their mental conditions. When you disclose should always be up to you.

If you are just dating casually, disclosing your mental illness isn’t that important. But if you are looking for a long-term relationship, disclosing that you suffer from mood episodes should be your highest priority.

If you can hide your illness and let your boyfriend or girlfriend know months into a relationship that you’ve been keeping something so big a secret from him or her, then he or she might feel betrayed and break up with you, or worse.

When it comes to dating with an illness that is hard to hide and impacts your life every single day, then honesty is the best policy. Letting your date know on the second or third date, before either of you has invested too much into the relationship, is better than waiting until you’ve moved in together.

Tell your date about your disorder before you make any long-term commitments to that person. Explain what he or she can expect when you suffer a mood episode. Let them know what steps you usually take to manage your disorder, and the treatment team you have in place.

This way, your partner won’t be shocked when your moods and behaviors suddenly shift, and may even be prepared to help you through your mood episode.

Final Thoughts

Explaining your mental illness to your dates before you make a long-term commitment is crucial for your relationship to thrive.

Some people may run for the hills when you disclose your struggles. Let them. They wouldn’t have been capable of supporting you or committing to the whole you anyway. Find someone else who you know will be able to remain strong in the face of your mental illness.

Dating with a mental illness can be difficult. But if you are honest with your date about your mental condition before feelings start to grow, then you avoid the risk of alienating them and suffering from a hard breakup.

I wish you well in your journey.

When to Disclose Your Mental Illness to Your Dates - CassandraStout.com

Related: