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Dr. Elizabeth Hatchuel




Depression and bravery

I recently finished reading Veronica Roth’s Divergent series. For those who don’t know, the series is about a post-apocalyptic world in which people are divided into groups based on personality traits in an effort to promote a more peaceful society.  While not overly challenging in terms of content, it was entertaining and I enjoyed the way that themes such as love, family, loyalty, trust, and fear were explored.

One of the quotes at the end of the 3rd book (Allegiant) really stood out to me:
“There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.

But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.”

As a therapist who works with depression, I speak frequently to clients about the need to push through painful moments one-step and one day at a time. When you are depressed, this task can seem almost impossible. But it is central to helping make small improvements in the way you feel. And this requires bravery. Sometimes just getting out of bed to face the day requires you to be brave.

Emotional pain is relative—we all feel it yet many of us dismiss the intensity of the emotion because other people “have it so much worse.” I often have clients infer that they should not feel as bad as they do because other peoples’ suffering is so much more significant. They highlight war, trauma, death, and other examples to justify why their pain is negligible and they should just “get over it.” We are all entitled to feel emotional pain. It can be uncomfortable but it’s ours and it warrants attention. Depression might be your body and mind’s way of telling you to slow down and deal with some issue(s) in your life.  Sometimes bad things just happen and it takes some time to rebuild from that experience.

Pain is relative and we are all entitled to feel that emotion, regardless of our experiences.

Pain is relative and we are all entitled to feel that emotion, regardless of our experiences.

Fighting depression does require bravery. While it might not involve laying down you life for someone else, it does involve reflecting upon your life, experiences (good and bad), and deeply held beliefs that drive your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in the present. This can be really hard stuff to work through and it requires bravery. Just like Veronica Roth wrote, sometimes it involves just gritting your teeth through the pain, every day, and slowly moving towards a better life.

Postpartum distress: What IS this feeling?

mom-baby-bondingMost women look forward to the birth of their child with anticipation and excitement. Thoughts and daydreams about “what it will be like” come fast and furious to the expectant mother. While there can be some anxiety surrounding these thoughts, most women believe that it will be one of the most wonderful times in their lives. And many of them are right.

However, for some women the reality of new motherhood can be a rude awakening. Sleepless nights, a screaming newborn, painful/lactating breasts, and intense mood swings can leave women spinning and asking, “What have I done? No, seriously, WHAT HAVE I DONE!?”

Baby Blues

Here’s what you should know: feeling emotional and tearful after the birth of your child is very natural. Between 50-80% of new moms experience the “Baby Blues” within the first 3 weeks of delivery. Consider this a hormonally-driven roller coaster of emotions. You might feel up one minute and down the other. Loving your partner then resenting him/her. And all the while, experiencing a mood that is best described as, well, blue. While this can be a very intense period, these symptoms typically disappear about 3 weeks after delivery.

Postpartum Depression

But for 1 in 7 women, the feelings don’t go away. In fact, they get worse. Instead of joy, they feel anguish. Instead of excitement, they feel resentment. Instead of happiness, they feel a deeper sadness than they have never known. And even worse, they tend to suffer in silence. We live in a society that does not support the idea that the postpartum period is hard and can to lead to such intense negative emotions. When people ask how the new mom is doing and she suggests all is not well, a common response is, “Oh, but its worth it, right?” For the postpartum mom, this is not only invalidating of what she’s feeling but suggestive that she should just suck it up. Or worse, it leads her to interpret these feelings as wrong and she is a terrible mother and person for feeling that way.

Women with Postpartum Depression (PPD) (or Postpartum Anxiety) are experiencing a very agitated depression that occurs following the birth of a child. These symptoms are more than the Baby Blues. In addition to depressed mood, a mom with PPD may feel anxiety, racing and/or ruminating thoughts, scary thoughts, overwhelmed, guilty, inattentive, hopeless, disconnected from their baby and everyone else in their lives, and have thoughts of death,  dying, or suicide. It goes without saying that this can be pretty overwhelming and scary for a new mom! Katherine Stone, the founder of Postpartum Progress, wrote an excellent blog summarizing the wide range of symptoms a mom with postpartum distress may experience: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/the-symptoms-of-postpartum-depression-anxiety-in-plain-mama-english .

Getting Support

Now, let me speak for minute directly to any postpartum mamas out there who may be relating to what you’ve read so far: things can get better. Let me say that again…things can get better. These feelings do not define you. And more importantly, you do not have to suffer in silence. There’s a  chance the people around you don’t know just how bad you are feeling–new moms are often very good at hiding the depths of their distress. Whatever your reason for keeping this to yourself (a topic to discuss on another blog), try letting your loved ones and support system know so they can provide you with help, even in small ways. As I like to tell clients, small things can add up to big things. Therapy is another excellent way to access support during this difficult time. A therapist trained to work with PPD will understand what you are feeling and provide you with non-judgmental support to help you find a way out of the darkness. No matter how dark, scary, or invasive your thoughts may be, your therapist can provide information and guidance. And yes, there is a way out of the darkness.

If you are the partner of a woman suffering from PPD, there is a great book by Karen Kleiman called, The Postpartum Husband. It provides an excellent and succinct overview of the range of symptoms your partner may be experiencing and different ways you can provide them with support.

Just in case you didn’t believe me the first two times, let me say it again: Things can get better. One day at a time.