In previous posts on BlogHer, I've shared a list of symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety, told you the key things you need to know about these and related illnesses, and connected you to a wide variety of resources to help you get better.
I want to acknowledge, though, that it's really easy for me to sit here with my laptop and tell you to talk about what's going on openly with others, make that call, go to that appointment and advocate for yourself. It probably sounds like I'm telling you to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps." (Shudder.)
I want you to know that I realize it isn't in any way easy for you to actually do these things. I know you are in a dark and scary place. You may be so far down that you can't do anything but cry, or scream, or sleep, or hide, or shut down entirely.
I remember the wide gap between the dangerous riot going on inside my head and the stoic, even emotionless face others probably saw on the outside. For several weeks, even though it was likely clear to my loved ones that something about me didn't seem right, I kept the extent of my true feelings inside. I was afraid, and besides, I didn't even know how to form the words to describe what was happening to me.
I think it is quite understandable that I didn't speak at first. It is the very antithesis of every expectation of motherhood, no matter where you live around the world, that a new mother would be sick, miserable and filled with regret, or rage, or defeat.
It is also the very antithesis of our strong survival instinct to raise one's hand and say "Hey! Look at me! I've got a serious problem. The kind of problem (Hello?! Mental!) that a lot of people don't understand, and some even look down on." How can you protect yourself if you tell the truth? You have your relationship, your friends, your job, your neighbors, your health insurance and your reputation to worry about. And then there's the ultimate fear of all fears: What if they take away your child?
On top of these feelings, you really are sick. You may be incapable of even brushing your teeth, much less making a phone call. It's a cruel trick that this illness incapacitates you to prevent you from fighting it. It's like the perfect germ warfare.
Nevertheless, something must be done. You can't stay this way. Your life is too important. Your new child's life is too important. If you can do only one thing, call Postpartum Support International (PSI) at 1-800-944-4PPD. Tell them this is the only phone call you can make and that you need as much help as you can get but you can't do much more on your own. Alternatively, tell the closest person to you to make that call to PSI. Tell that person you need him or her to find out where you can go, make your appointments, check into what your insurance covers, help you with childcare. If you need to, tell that person not to ask you any questions and to simply offer you love and support until you are ready to talk.
I understand the fears you have. I've had them too. But none of them really materialized. And even if a few had, I think I would still have made the same decision to reach out for help. I'll take being healthy over anything else.
Katherine Stone is the founder and author of Postpartum Progress, the most widely-read blog on postpartum depression, postpartum OCD, postpartum anxiety and postpartum psychosis. You can also follow her on Twitter: @postpartumprog.
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