I refer to myself as a survivor because my existence is a badge of honor. You see, I won my battle with postpartum depression. My army of light (friends and family) shined bright illuminating hope. That army of light reminded me that no matter how bad or worthless I felt about myself, my daughters thought (now think) the world of me. Today, I shine a light for others in crisis, through volunteer work and my work as a life coach.
I write this today for the loved ones of depression sufferers, or those who believe someone you love may be battling this illness.
Educate Yourself On Depression
The best thing those who were closest to me did was to read about PPD and talk to experts. The National Institute of Mental Health defines Clinical or Major Depression as a common yet serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel. Depression also affects the way you think, and how you act. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. Know that it is treatable. 80% of those treated for depression show an improvement in symptoms within 4-6 weeks of starting treatment.*
How I Felt
It has been 8-years since my therapist diagnosed me. Until very recently, I could not describe how depression made me feel. Today, I can tell you this-I felt weighted down. My mind was typically running sometimes to worse case scenarios about myself and my abilities as a mother. I could not fight; I was too busy sludging through life. Controlled and weighted down; eventually, I was so tired that I wanted to sleep forever.
In retrospect, one of the most poignant signs that I was ill came at a Beyonce concert. Know that”Crazy in Love” was my jam! However, when those horns blared, and that beat dropped, I did not move. There was no ass shaking, from me, that night. I stood in the audience staring at the stage.
Exhausted, I could barely breathe. Anxiety took over, I felt like people were staring at me. Eventually, I left the concert early. Later, I cried, realizing that I no longer enjoyed any music. I felt like a physical weight was on my shoulders. Why am I this way? I asked myself. Shamed washed over me when I thought that I should be happy and grateful that I lived what most would consider the good life. There was no joy, let alone the ability to muster the strength to fake joy.
Know The Signs
I was lucky that someone threw me a lifeline. That, someone, understood depression was not about feeling sad but was instead an all-encompassing and incapacitating way of thinking and being.
According to The American Psychiatric Association, signs and symptoms of clinical depression may include:
- Mood: anxiety, apathy, general discontent, guilt, hopelessness, mood swings, sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities
- Sleep: excess sleepiness, insomnia, or restless sleep
- Whole-body: excessive hunger, fatigue, loss of appetite, or restlessness
- Behavioral: agitation, excessive crying, irritability, or social isolation
- Cognitive: lack of concentration, slow to movement or activity, or thoughts of suicide
- Weight: weight gain or weight loss
- Also standard: poor appetite or repeatedly going over ideas
A person suffering from Clinical Depression may manifest all or some of the above symptoms at various times, but the above symptoms are an excellent barometer to pinpoint if there may be a problem.
Depression Makes it Hard to Ask For Help
The reality is that when you are in the throws of this life-threatening illness, you don’t typically ask for help. 9% (or 16 million) Americans suffer from severe depression, yet less than 20% of Americans with moderate depressive symptoms sought help from a medical professional.*
In my case, I did not reach out for a combination of reasons. First, I was too confused and consumed with depression to give it a name. Initially, I felt shame for having the thoughts and emotions associated with depression. Plus with my feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, I was not entirely convinced that I needed to bother with getting help.
I was fearful that if I said, “I am in pain,” that others would think I was ungrateful. Will people say I am a lousy mother for wanting to run away and hide? Doesn’t everyone think about their death? Normal, right? It turns out what had become my “normal” was a symptom of my unhealthy. Luckily, I got help from a friend who saw something and said something.
Be a Door to Professional Help
It takes a village to get help.
I was fortunate that a friend rescued me with an action plan. At the time, while married, I was often on my own with 1 baby and 1 toddler- overwhelmed and labored. Typically, I showed little to no emotion. When I did show emotion, those swung between crying or agitated. In addition to my emotional swings, I spoke negatively about myself. Plus, physically my weight loss was alarming. I would go on extended walks to get the girls to sleep and to keep myself from busting into tears.
She Drew a Blue Print
One afternoon after noticing my extended roaming, my neighbor/friend walked home with me, and once inside with children playing, she sat me down and said,
“I think you have Postpartum Depression. Do you have a doctor?” Looking back, I don’t believe I answered her. She went on.
“Okay, call your OBGYN, whomever delivered the girls. Tell her you need help. Ask her to suggest a therapist, then schedule an appointment for ASAP”
My friend left no room for my cloudy brain’s error and blockage. In reality, she gave me a blueprint and checked-in with me to make sure I was completing tasks. She even reminded me to check my insurance coverage before visiting the therapist. Thanks to my neighbor/angel, my OBGYN, and therapist, I started to identify and heal.
Lend a Hand
You can also support someone with depression by lending a hand. My friend told me how, during her PPD recovery, an angel/friend of hers came over, scooped up her kids and took them for the afternoon. Subsequently, my friend napped and went for a run before picking up her children. In fact, sleep and exercise can do wonders for depression. The onset of my depression was probably brought on by sleep deprivation and exacerbated by other life factors.
The gift of time to yourself, allows for clarity and release, which are essential for anyone’s mental health. For a person suffering from depression, however, the ability to process thoughts and physical activity are steps to recovery.
In addition to taking my meds and seeing my therapist, I developed a better sleep routine, took up hiking, and started to meditate. I could not carve out time, to get better, without my helping hands-my “lights” shining on me.
Be Patient, Be Kind
That’s it. Don’t internalize anyone’s struggle; it’s not about you. Don’t tell a depressed person to “cheer up”or “pull yourself together” or any phrase of the sort.
Instead of showing frustration, a simple “I love you” will go so much farther. They may not hear it right at that moment, but they will remember, and it will help in their recovery. For me, love and support was a security blanket as I struggled with feelings and fear of “what’s next?”
This part, I admit, may be tricky. Looking back, I was like a washing machine on the spin cycle, mulling life situations over and over again. However, if you have the time and mental wherewithal, sit, and listen. One friend would call me a couple of times a week to hear me. I looked forward to that check-in. There was no pressure or expectation of progress, but I knew someone was thinking of me and willing to provide me the opportunity to be heard for free. It was invaluable.
Check-In And Encourage
Can’t call? No problem, a text, a note, a card, or a gesture letting a person know you care can help as they heal. I LOVED my daily text messages from friends and family. “Day by day,” “this to shall pass.” Of course, these motivational sayings are easily accessed via social media, but make it easy for your loved one and send it directly to their messenger or email. It lets them know they are on your mind and helps as they rebuild self-worth and awareness.
Tell them; they are loved, they are supported, and they are appreciated. Love and encouragement is one of the best ways to support someone with Depression.
For More Resources and Information
Help Is a Click Away
Or Call 800-273-8255
You can also download this Infographic from NAMI
*All statistics compiled from the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), the American Psychological Association (APA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), and the National Network of Depression Centers.