Today I came across an article by Susan Dowd Stone, reproductive mental health expert. The article was about the myths of postpartum depression that keep moms from getting help. I thought I knew what I would be reading, but I was wrong. I got a surprise.
It started out describing depictions of postpartum moms on popular TV shows. Not all of these were positive or accurate. She went on to wonder how these shows could possibly encourage suffering mothers to reach out for help. And I agreed – the sensationalism on TV shows makes a lot of things look pretty scary.
Here’s where I got my surprise. Susan said that many moms would see those shows and be relieved that she certainly wasn’t like one of “those crazy moms” on TV. Often, a mom with postpartum depression is more agitated with activity than slow and lethargic. Since they appear to function, depression can be easy to write off – both by the mom and those around her.
Here are some of the phrases that most tugged at me from her article:
-plowing through each isolating day
-toughing it out, week after hellish week
-crying to herself and hiding the extent of her disability from those she loves and even
-because their symptoms do not equal the extreme drama portrayed in such stories, that they do not have postpartum depression
-she feels she merits no special notice
Whoa, folks. We are talking about me here back in the days of my depression. In the years since my recovery, I have often wondered how in the world that I, a trained mental health counselor, could somehow misunderstand my own depression. I have had trouble explaining it to friends and family who seemed surprised to hear that I even had it at all.
I know that I looked pretty bedraggled the first several months after my oldest daughter was born. She needed lots of medical attention at that time and was still eating in the night a couple of times. I was missing a lot of sleep and rightfully looked run down. But that was easy to explain and excuse. It was the rest of the time that I was more confused about.
It just dawned on me know how this could be true. Though I was a counselor at the time, I now think I had a pretty narrow definition of what depression looked like in real life. I clearly knew what the tearful sad depression was like. I was somewhat familiar with the anger and depression connection. But I had really no idea about the over-active distracted depression. Horrible on the inside, but busy-busy on the outside.
That was absolutely me.
I plodded along, wondering when the hell would end (it’s interesting how many accounts of postpartum depression include the word “hell”). But I didn’t identify depression because it didn’t quite look that way to me. And if I had a narrow definition of depression, those around me probably did as well. Part of my shame had been how I could save myself – I thought I “should have known better.” I can see that I simply didn’t
possess the understanding even from a professional standpoint to recognize it as depression.
It’s kind of scary how well Susan has written this, like she was there in my head when I was suffering. Even after six years of recovery, I can discover something new and profound about my experience. A sigh of relief for someone who really gets it.