By Josee Grenier
In my experience through Postpartum Depression and Anxiety it felt like every fear and trauma I had ever experienced was fresh in my mind. It’s like PPD’s ugly hand had reached deep into my heart in the ‘trauma’ area and just started pulling at things and ‘stirring the pot’. I remember some days just laying on the couch completely exhausted from the onslaught of painful thoughts and emotions. I felt like someone also pushed the ‘off’ switch on all my filters and coping skills. I had zero ability to sort through or process all the thoughts and emotions I was experiencing. I remember spending a lot of time trying to process every thought and feeling as though I could solve this problem through understanding my feelings. It was exhausting and often it would make my anxiety so much worse. It also felt like unless I could miraculously heal from every trauma I had ever experienced, I would never be OK. I felt like I must be experiencing all of this emotional distress because I had done something wrong or had neglected to do something good. I felt broken and like there was no hope that I could ever ‘fix’ this.
My mind just spun out of control wreaking havoc on my emotions. I kept receiving advice from people about what I needed to do in order to get better. This made me feel so burdened because I REALLY wanted to do all I could do in order to get better. I tried eating right, exercising, being around people, taking naps, praying and reading Scripture. The truth is that none of these activities made my anxiety go away. I kept searching for the secret…like surely there was some easy fix that I was just not thinking about. It made it feel like it was my fault that I had this condition and that if only I could do A,B and C, I would be better. I went to a counselor in the beginning of my journey who believed that the solution was to dig into my emotions to try to determine the source…maybe there was some traumatic experience that I needed to heal from…maybe there was a wrong way of thinking that was causing this…maybe I was a control freak and I needed to let go of control…maybe, maybe, maybe.
While under normal circumstances, I am not opposed to this approach of counseling, it seemed only to make my despair and anxiety worse. I think part of the issue was that this approach encouraged me to focus on my anxiety and kind of run away with my thoughts. My thoughts were largely incoherent and anxiety ridden at that point so I think allowing me to indulge them was a mistake. I often left counseling sessions feeling more confused and burdened. After realizing that what I was doing wasn’t working, my husband encouraged me to go see a professional counselor who specializes with PPD. Immediately, after the first session, I felt less anxious and less burdened. I felt like there was hope and like I was going to recover from PPD. What she told me was simple yet freeing. She told me that PPD is a medical condition. I hadn’t done anything to cause it and there was nothing I could do to make it magically go away.
This relieved so much of the pressure I was putting on myself to do things to try to make myself better. I realized that as an act of my own will, I couldn’t just make this disappear. Instead, I began to recognize PPD as a medical condition and I began focusing on ways to cope with this condition until I was able to heal from it. She told me that PPD affects ALL TYPES OF WOMEN. I didn’t have PPD because of my past trauma. Even women who have little trauma in their past experience PPD. This made me realize that I am not struggling emotionally because I am broken. While my past trauma certainly made my PPD way more intense and way more difficult to deal with, it did not CAUSE it. That being said, analyzing and figuring out the traumatic sources of my anxiety was not the solution to the issue. In fact, I found that once my body began to heal and my mind became healthier, the crazy thoughts and painful memories stopped rearing their heads. It is worth mentioning that trauma IS important to process and to deal with but it should be done when you’re emotionally, mentally and physically able to handle it. In the middle of a PPD crisis is not the right time to go digging into trauma, it will just make your crisis worse. She told me that the recovery process is not a straight upward trajectory but rather it is full of ups and downs. I was getting really scared and discouraged every time I would have some good weeks that were followed by another bout of anxiety. It felt like I was never going to get better. It also made me afraid of going ‘downhill’ from there.
It helped me to know that I would experience ups and downs on the road to recovery because it helped me not to be discouraged when the low points came. She told me the best way to heal from PPD is to focus on three things listed below. These three things were easy and not burdensome and didn’t include me jumping through hoops to find a solution:
1. Try to get 6 hrs of uninterrupted sleep for at least 3 nights in a row as much as possible
2. Keep healthy snacks close by wherever you are so that you are feeding your body throughout the day
3. Try to get as much help from friends and family as possible
I hope that these three points that my counselor shared with me can shed some light on your own situation. My hope is also that by sharing my experience and what I found helpful, you will be better equipped to judge if a counselor’s approach will be helpful to you in your recovery. In my experience, the counselor I chose made me feel less anxious, less burdened and made me feel empowered to deal with this crisis. She taught me coping skills for when the anxiety came. She also helped me talk through some of the irrational fears without making me feel like I was broken, without making me over-analyze myself or my past and without stirring up past trauma. I saw my counselor weekly for several months and it helped me to have a safe place to go where I could be completely honest. Counseling was a big part of my healing and I highly recommend it to anyone out there who is struggling.