I’ve been living with prenatal/postpartum depression for almost a year and half. Of course, when it started I didn’t call it that because I’d never experienced depression before and I just chalked it up to bad days and hormones (I was pregnant with my second daughter).
But when “bad days” became the majority of my days it no longer made sense to blame the hormones. Things got really dark and I started experiencing terrifying thoughts, never suicidal, but dark thoughts. I signed up for BetterHelp.com on a morning where the dread of getting out of bed was so heavy that I just knew I could not go on like this anymore. (Jump down a section to get into the super granular details on my symptoms, how they started and developed and really crept up on me.)
What was hard for me to understand about depression before I experienced it is that it’s not a choice. It’s not a matter of choosing to be depressed or happy. Most of the time, I couldn’t even tell you why or what made it set in. The best way I can describe it is like feeling a fog slowly creeping in. And sometimes, all you can do is brace for it and feel it all the way through.
Here is another kicker that made my depression worse sometimes. Feeling guilty and shameful about being depressed. I have so much. A happy marriage, beautiful kids, a home I love, family and friends that support me – I have a lot of privileges in my life. How dare I be depressed when people have it so much worse. Yikes. It drove my depression even deeper and made it harder to crawl out of. Regardless of what you have in your life, your feelings are your truth and you get to have them.
So where am I now? Right now, I have more good days than hard ones. Sometimes the hard days last 2-3 days. Sometimes it’s half a day. I’ve yet to have a full consecutive “good” week and I’m okay with that. The hardest thing for me right now is coming to terms with having high days and low days when all I really want is lots of medium days haha. But the truth of my life with two little kids and running two side businesses is that my life IS a rollercoaster. I can’t change that. So what I try to tell myself each day is that I’m doing my best with what I have and if I stay within my own integrity of being honest with myself and with the people around me, that’s a win.
So, why am I writing this blog post? Honestly, because I WISH I could have stumbled upon a blog post like this one when I was in the thick of having bad day after bad day after bad day. It’s not for you to feel sorry for me. I no longer feel sorry for myself. I’m in a place now where maybe writing about this could help someone and that’s why I’m sharing this with you today.
Right now, I try to meet myself with grace wherever I am and not assign meaning to any feeling.
My symptoms and the timeline:
My postpartum depression didn’t happen overnight. And it didn’t happen until 6 months postpartum. Did you know that actually most maternal suicides happen between 9-12 months after giving birth? Which probably means postpartum depression peaks around the 6-9 month mark? But they stop screening you at the pediatrician office after 12 weeks. Also, why is a pediatrician screening for maternal mental health? Make it make sense. But that’s a whole other long post.
I wish I had known the beginning signs and intervened before things got really bad and really scary for me. And this is why I’m sharing the slow roll of what it felt like for me. So that maybe if you recognize any of these experiences for yourself, you can take action on your mental health and be more proactive like I wish I could have been.
First, I started just feeling numb and dissociated sometimes. Like I was physically there but not “there” mentally. When I tried doing things I loved that usually can “snap me out of it” – nothing was working. In fact, it was making me feel worse because you can’t “snap out” of depression. But at this point I did not label it depression and I just categorized into adjusting to life with two kids, hormones, etc.
Then a few months later, I started hearing myself think “but what’s the point?” over and over again. Like, “What’s the point in getting up early if I don’t know how much time I’ll have before my kid wakes up?” or “What’s the point of feeling cute if I’ll just have food stains on my outfit by 9AM.” or “What’s the point of trying to accomplish anything when I’m constantly interrupted?” and on and on and on.
This self-talk got darker and darker, week after week. At its worst I was saying “I hate my life.” hundreds of times per day. And in that same dark, I kept having deep feelings of guilt for bringing my children into a world that was meaningless. THIS feeling and these thoughts were so, so scary for me. Never in my life have I ever felt like that or thought like that. The feeling of not recognizing yourself and not recognizing your own thoughts is really fucked.
I don’t know how to explain this other than this. Depression felt like a possession. I remember one night being deep into this guilt for having children who will only experience pain and meaninglessness – like it was taking over. And somewhere far off in the distance of these loud, overwhelming thoughts I just heard something within me say, “It’s time for help. This is NOT you.” And I started looking for a therapist the next day.
Finding a local therapist within the network on our insurance proved to be almost impossible. And after another really rough night a few weeks later, I signed up for BetterHelp.com.
BEST DECISION EVER. I cannot shout from the rooftops enough how life changing therapy has been for me. How terrified I was to do it. How I thought it couldn’t help me. I do NOT understand the stigma of therapy. No human on this earth is so well that they don’t need therapy lol. Like, why does our society view it as “Oh wow, that person is so broken they needed therapy.” We are all fucking broken in our own way. We need to shake this insane thought that therapy is for the weak.
My toolkit and how to approach it:
These are the things in my postpartum recovery toolkit right now. And honestly most of these are totally free which is awesome.
🚨IMPORTANT 🚨Please do not look at this list and think you need to start doing all of these things everyday. If that was how I started I would have quit day one – I will say this over and over again in this whole guide haha.
Start with one thing at a time. Then add the next tool in a few weeks (maybe months?). However long it takes you to be ready for the next layer of recovery. This is so crucial. The worst thing for my depression was putting myself under too much pressure (there’s a section below of things NOT TO DO) The path to recovery needs to feel easy, not hard.
Personally, I started with therapy even though it wasn’t free because truly I would not have been able to do ANY of the things below it without starting therapy first. Weekly therapy is what gave me the confidence, motivation and energy to start advocating for my own mental health.
One of the hardest parts about PPD for someone who is “normally” extremely self motivated to pursue goals was that everything felt so hard. So draining. Like even getting out of sweatpants felt impossible. And like I mentioned, things I knew that I loved deep down, while in a depressive state, I had no desire or energy to do them which just kept making me feel worse and fall deeper into depression.
So my best advice here is to start so small. With just one thing.
- Designate a main support person.
- Getting outside. (Hot Mom Walks lol)
- The 10 minute clean up ritual.
- Having a predictable schedule.
- Regular exercise.
- Journal audit.
Start with therapy.
That’s what I started with. Once a week talk therapy. And I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Even though I knew I needed therapy I still almost backed out of my first session. I kept thinking “I have no idea what to say. I feel ashamed of the things I’ve been feeling. I don’t want anyone else to know the terrible thoughts I have.” But I knew I could no longer do nothing and this was something. The first 10 minutes were uncomfortable and awkward but then the rest of the session flowed and the tension in my shoulders released.
And to be honest, I still get these feelings each week but I leave EVERY SINGLE SESSION feeling better. Some days my therapist gives me a great tool but most of the time the biggest thing I get out of it is relief and permission to feel. I’ll share something with my therapist that I feel so shameful about and she finds a way to shift my perspective or just make it feel SO normal/unshameful. And the relief I get from it is freeing in a way I can’t quite put into words. And the odd thing about therapy is that on the days where I actually feel good and I’m like “Oh today I actually have nothing I want to talk about” we uncover something I would have never expected. 12/10 recommend therapy.
Of course, therapy isn’t free and I am in a privileged place to afford therapy. Psyched Mommy has really great resources for all things PPD and PPA. This downloadable guide on how to look for therapy help is so great. It was the first guide I used in trying to find a therapist and also has affordable options if BetterHelp is out of your price range.
#2 Designate a support person.
Okay so let’s move on to designating a main support person. For me this person is my husband who had never passed negative judgment on me one day in his life. And I feel insanely lucky to have him. But I think when you choose your main support person, it really does need to be someone who doesn’t judge you or can agree to be non-judgmental no matter what you tell them.
It was so crucial to my process to first be able to communicate what I was going through out loud and get the thoughts out of my head and release them. I think when someone knows what you’re going through, it can make it easier for them to understand why you may do some things out of character. And for my husband, it helped him know that I was having a bad day and I wasn’t mad at him. He knew what I was working through and would encourage me to take myself out to dinner while he did dinner and bedtime with the kids. And just support me in creating space for me to get better.
So, find someone who you can be as vulnerable as possible with. Set a system that you can get support for when you need it. I heard this on Instagram by Dr. Becky Good Inside that you can have a “code word” with a friend for when you need support. When you text that word to them, they know to respond with something encouraging or funny. I kind of love this because sometimes it can be A LOT to tell someone you’ve had a bad day and the thought of just having a go-to word for it feels so much easier.
Meditation is intimidating and a lot of people skip it because they think it’s not for them. All they can see is sitting still, trying to not think, deep breaths, incense, blah, blah, bah. It gets to be whatever you want it to be. Before you skip to the next thing on the list, can I make a case for meditation?
Think about meditation like exercise. For many people wanting to exercise doesn’t come naturally. Same for meditation. When you start exercising, IT IS SO FREAKING HARD and you drag your feet to go do it. Same with meditation. When you start exercising, you’re bad at you, you fumble, are clumsy and it feels so unnatural. Same with meditation.
You don’t drop 10 pounds after one day of exercise. You also don’t have a major breakthrough after one day of meditating.
Just like exercise, meditation is a practice. And with making it a habit to practice, the benefits and good parts about it compound. The longer you keep up with it, the better it gets. And the easier it gets to maintain.
Because I’ve spent the last two years keeping a consistent exercise routine (thanks Peloton!) it’s actually harder for me to not exercise for a week.
Also, meditation is about calming not just your mind but your nervous system. And once your mind and body feel calm, then you can start to rewire how you think and have a better grasp on your daily thoughts – which is HUGE for depression.
Lately, thanks to Lauryn Bosstick, I’ve been doing the Joe Dispenza morning meditation most mornings. If I miss the morning which happens at least 1-2 times per week then I do the evening Joe Dispenza meditation which I love too. What I love about this guided meditation is that you spend 10 minutes just calming the mind and the nervous system and then he guides you through future visualizations to truly rewire your brain and create your future. If I miss the morning which happens at least 1-2 times per week then I do the evening Joe Dispenza meditation which I love too. Now, both these meditations are 25 minutes long so I don’t recommend it for beginners. It will be too much, too soon and you might quit before you get started.
If you are a total beginner I love the Mindful in Minutes meditation podcast. It’s super approachable and most meditations are around 10 minutes. My favorites are this 10 minute breath focus meditation and this 14 minute gratitude meditation.
#4 Getting outside. Hot Mom Walks lol
Getting outside! Sunshine. Fresh air. Connection with nature. I know it’s good for me but honestly I’m just NOT an outdoors person haha. And so getting outside is not easy for me at all.
I hate bugs. I’m psycho about sunscreen and hats. My ears are sensitive to wind LOL. I can be such a baby about being outside, truly.
This was one of the first things my therapist had me try to incorporate into my routine after I uncovered just how trapped motherhood made me feel. And she said getting outside, even just in our front yard would help me feel less trapped by being a stay at home mom.
I LOVE listening to podcasts and audiobooks. Like LOVE. I listen to probably 4-6 audiobooks a month and close to 2-3 podcasts per day. I love learning and I love hearing other people’s perspectives. Also, seeing as I’m alone most of my days, it makes me feel less alone and less like I’m going brain dead listening to kid TV shows and movies.
And so to motivate me to get outside and go for a walk, I’d spend extra time picking out a really good podcast to have in one ear.
The first day we went for 10 minutes. The next 15 minutes, then the next week we were doing 20-30 minutes and now I’d prefer to do 45-60 minutes. Which I would have never believed if you told me when I started! It really breaks up the day of the mundane and is kind of a mini break because I don’t have to “fill the time” that Stella is awake with activities.
One thing I want to say here just in case anyone else has this thought is that before we started I felt guilty for keeping Stella strapped into a stroller for so long. I felt bad that she was in the car seat for 40 minutes dropping her sister off at school and felt so bad for “not having enough free roaming time”. Sometimes I still feel like this. And then I remember that 1. She is a baby and all she wants is to be with her mom so why not let myself enjoy that time too?! And 2. I actually think it’s really good for her to not be constantly stimulated with activities. And to have her just look around outside and entertain herself.
I recently had a creepy experience walking alone with her and so I got this little keychain siren called the Birdie. It also has a button that can communicate your location with family or friends. call someone for help or initiate an “emergency call” to get you out of a social setting where you’re no longer comfortable. So I have this on me and pepper spray now so I can enjoy our walk and not feel like I’m on constant danger alert.
#5 Ten minute evening clean up.
I found this tip one night while desperately searching Pinterest for tips to not to be depressed. (Just when you thought Pinterest was just for recipes and interiors.) The woman who wrote the post swore by this one single tip which was “spend 10 minutes each night cleaning up to cure your depression” and I thought it was total bullshit.
But I was desperate and she was convincing. I decided to include my 3.5 year old and have it be part of her bedtime routine. Each night before we sit down for dinner, her and I spend 10 minutes cleaning up our living room. If it’s extra messy, we break it up into smaller messes (i.e. she cleans up the books, I take the “stuffies”) and keep assigning categories until we are done. Just like everything else on this list, getting started was hard. And gettin the 3.5 year old on board was even harder. But now it’s just part of our everyday and at this point I honestly look forward to it. If you told me that I would actually be excited to do this every night when I started I would have been truly horrified.
But hear me out on why I think this makes such a big impact.
- I think it’s a human thing to exaggerate how long a task we don’t want to do will take, right? And so I really think making this a habit teaches your brain to not avoid simple tasks because they really don’t take as long as you think they will.
- After the chaos of dinner and bedtime, coming out to my living room to decompress before bed feels WAY MORE relaxing when our main living space is clean and clear of kid stuff.
- I wake up early before the kids to start my day on my terms. And so waking up to a clean house is HUGE. It helps me feel calm and helps me focus on the day ahead instead of thinking “OMG my house is such a mess, my life is such a mess.” as soon as I wake up.
This started as just 10 minutes. And after the habit became easier and basically felt like autopilot I added on vacuuming our main living areas and wiping down our dining room table and then I have a washcloth where I clean any kid smudges or stains in the living room. This now takes around 25 minutes. Again, if I had started with the cleaning routine we have now, I would have quit so fast. The key to all of this is to start small and with only a few things.
#6 Having a consistent and predictable schedule
Want to know my exact work/life/childcare schedule? Head on over to this post that’s updated regularly.
One of the hardest parts about when my depression hit hardest is that it hit in the middle of the most insane travel schedule for a family of four with two kids under 3. The “the routine is that there is no routine” was SO CHALLENGING. And so when we returned home the first week of August I was determined to have structure and reliability in our schedule.
We found a part-time nanny and my husband sat down with me one afternoon to see how he could readjust his work schedule to help me. Coming up with a consistent and predictable schedule allowed me to have some kind of “light” at the end of the tunnel to get through hard days.
So if I’m having a rough Tuesday afternoon, I can usually power through knowing that Wednesday the babysitter comes and I can be an adult with no food stains on my clothes.
Now, at this point I don’t make that much profit in that 80% of my paycheck right now goes to affording childcare in order to work. It’s a real bitch to be frank and for a while I didn’t give myself permission to do this because “it didn’t make sense”. In a session with my therapist, she asked me, “but would it make sense if it meant that you’d be happier?” BOOM. Therapy man, just do it. I can tell you now that I’m 3 months in, being happier feels better than any amount of money – truly.
Going to kick this section off with a major disclaimer. I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I AM A PERSON WHO IS SHARING THEIR EXPERIENCE. PLEASE CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS AND DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN HEALTH.
Now that that’s out of the way, HOLY SHIT, I could kick myself for not researching and looking into supplements sooner. I’ve always taken a prenatal vitamin. Long before I even thought about having babies. While working for Victoria’s Secret I was often on set with supermodels and they all took prenatal vitamins for great hair, skin and nails so I’ve been taking prenatals since I was like 23. My current go-to for prenatal vitamins is Ritual. I take them right before bed each night.
The supplements I started taking that truly changed everything for me is Cymbiotka. I listened to the Founder Chevrin on, what else, my favorite, The Skinny Confidential (you can find that episode here) and after researching what nutritional deficiencies can lead to depression I decided to start taking the magnesium and B vitamin supplements from his company.
Things I noticed as soon as 3-5 days in:
- I wasn’t as emotionally reactive, especially with my daughter. I just felt myself being able to stay calm and see the big picture better instead of hyperfocusing on the little things going “wrong.”
- I didn’t feel completely drained and like I need a nap by 2/3PM. I didn’t need to reach for my afternoon coffee and for the first time in over a year, I had energy to actually create and do things in the afternoon.
And then things I noticed 1-2 weeks in:
- I started beating my own personal records in my exercise routines. Like faster than every before and I didn’t change my workouts or add anything additional in.
- I didn’t crave sugar or alcohol as much.
- I was able to be present with the “now” and I felt like the voice that “beats myself up” for not doing this, not being productive, blah blah – that voice got quieter and I didn’t have to wrestle with it as much.
- I felt a consistent calmer and more stable energy source overall.
- I slept better and I already thought I slept pretty great.
- I felt more energetic waking up.
#8 Regular exercise
I feel like this one is a dead horse (lol) because it’s basically the Rx for everything. But at the same time, if you don’t have a regular exercise routine and it is quite literally the number one fix to most things in your life (and it’s free!) why the heck aren’t you doing it already?!
Also, if you haven’t read Burn Out: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, I highly recommend it. It gave regular exercise and an even more important role in my physical and mental health.
If you’re curious (I know I always am with other people!) here’s my exercise routine right now:
I aim to hit 25 miles a week on my Peloton bike. (You could aim for 10 miles of free running)
I aim for 3 weight resistance workouts per week. (Tons of free videos on YouTube.)
Hitting 10,000 steps as much as possible.
I aim for one yoga class per week and try to stretch before bed most nights.
I love listening to podcast episodes and audiobooks. There were two audiobooks specifically that helped me move into a recovery phase.
Breaking the Habit of Negative Thinking and Self-Talk by Eckhart Tolle – This book really helped me with the deeply negative and sometimes vicious self talk I was having in the depths of my depression. It really unlocked the meaning of meaning for me and helped me move towards more positive self talk without affirmations which made me feel worse (more on that below).
Longpath by Ari Wallach – Remember way up in the beginning I talked about how I caught myself on the slippery slope of “what’s the point of life?” Well, this book really helped me get out of that hole. I love the way Ari talks about how healing the past and having a vision of the future affects our present. His story is so fascinating and he really talks about this “Long Path” theory in a captivating and motivating way. I highly, highly recommend it.
#10 The journal audit
Okay so I started doing this after listening to this Jenna Kutcher podcast episode. When you are in a depression fog, clarity is so elusive you feel like clarity is impossible to achieve, and so when the fog started to lift and I was able to feel true hope for the future again, I wanted to really simmer in the process of finding clarity. And so, since the beginning of October I’ve been answering these three questions each night:
- What energized and excited me today?
- What drained me/did I dread today?
- What did I learn about myself today?
I can’t wait to spend my birthday weekend re-reading through it all to collect insights. I love a good data research moment haha. Do you want me to share my findings after? Could be a fun podcast episode!
Things that DID NOT help me.
In my experience, there were some things that I tried because I read that they could be helpful. But when I tried them and they didn’t help, it made me feel worse and deepened my feelings of being a failure. So not only do I want to share this so maybe you don’t feel alone but also, some of the things that I mentioned above, they won’t work for you the same way they did for me and that is TOTALLY okay and normal. What I wish I knew is that just because one thing didn’t work for you doesn’t mean you’re incapable of reaching a recovery state. I am here to tell you that it’s not only possible but it’s inevitable that you will reach a recovery stage. I was in the dark once too and desperately felt like I’d never get out.
- Positive Affirmations. This article is great about how to become and feel more emotionally stable. But here’s what happened when I tried implementing positive affirmations. Saying positive things felt so far away from the truth that saying them made me feel so much worse because of that. It made me feel more like a fraud and failure that I couldn’t believe the kind things I was trying to say about myself. Luckily this is when I heard about Eckhart Tolle on a podcast and downloaded his audio presentation on Negative Self Talk. That helped me neutralize the negative self-talk until I was ready to say and believe positive things about myself.
- Vision boarding/goal setting/thinking too far in the future. Like I mentioned in #10, clarity and having a vision of the future was so short sighted in my worst phase of PPD that thinking more than one day ahead overwhelmed the shit out of me. I read that it helped some other people but when I tried it was way, way too much to chew. And so instead of daydreaming and setting future goals, I focused on what I wanted to do tomorrow – and that was IT. Just one day at a time.
- Watching TV. I thought that “escaping” by watching uplifting and funny TV shows would make me feel better but it wound up making me feel worse. I got to a point where it started to feel like it was stealing my time. And so I turned to podcasts instead and while I still watch an hour-ish of TV at night, turning it off during the day has been huge.
A final note
If you’re experiencing postpartum depression or any kind of depression please know that you are not alone. You are not a failure. It’s extremely common regardless of the small number of people who talk about it. It is more normal than you think. But you do need support. Please don’t deny yourself the support that you deserve. Find your designated support person. Get talk therapy. Get outside. Take what feels good from this blog post, leave what doesn’t. You matter. We need you. You are loved. Take care of yourself. And please never be a stranger, my DMs are always open – I always check my requests! Here for you.