Treating Postpartum Depression (and depression in general)

Hello!  Did you think I'd forgotten about this blog?  I haven't!  Now that my experience with PPD/PPA is mostly in hindsight, I've had a few more thoughts I've wanted to share, but it's been difficult to find the time because I've been extremely busy with work lately.  (I'm still a SAHM, but I work from home for my employer on an hourly basis, which means a lot of nights and weekends lately.)

In my experience, I struggled with two different types of depression.  These are not clinical categories, but just what I experienced.

  1. The type of depression that hits you for no apparent cause.  You wake up, and before any thought has entered your mind, or before you are even fully conscious, you have a sinking feeling in your stomach.  You physically can't get out of bed.  You don't want to face the day, but there's no (obvious) reason behind it.
  2. The type of depression or anxiety that is thought-based.  You think things like, I'm a terrible mom, or I'm a bad person, or No one likes me, or My life is pointless.
Sometimes, of course, I'd feel a mixture of the two.  I'd have panic attacks for "no reason," but I knew that my anxiety about my in-laws moving nearby was the overarching cause, even if I was not actively thinking about it at the moment.

So here's the thing, depression can have both physical (chemical or hormonal imbalance) and thought-based causes.  Medication can help with the first type, and therapy can help with the second.  A lot of times, the most effective treatment is a combination of the two because most people, like myself, don't just experience one or the other.

On medication - talk to your doctor about it.   You don't have to go to a psychiatrist; any family practice doctor can prescribe antidepressants.  However, I'm guessing a psychiatrist might be more helpful if you are struggling with something more than depression, like postpartum OCD or intrusive thoughts.  If you're hesitant to try medication, you could try St. Johns Wort or other natural remedies first.

On thoughts - One thing I've read over and over in the depression literature is that depression is not caused by emotions but by thoughts.  Eg: Sad -> Depressed doesn't tell the whole story.  It takes courage, but if you force yourself to figure out why you feel sad, you will usually find a thought lurking in there that caused the sadness.  Eg: I'm a bad mom -> Sad/frustrated -> Depressed.  Studies have shown that brain chemistry can cause depression, leading to negative thoughts, but that the opposite is also true: changing your thought patterns can actually change your brain chemistry.  (Don't ask me to cite any references...this is a personal blog, not a Wiki article!...just Google it.)  

So what to do about those thoughts?  Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a systematic and widely accepted form of therapy to address these negative thoughts and has been proven in clinical studies to be just as effective as medication in some cases.  If you are thinking of going to a counselor, please look for one who uses a systematic approach, such as CBT, rather than just someone who uses "talk therapy."  You can also do CBT on yourself by following the exercises in the book Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns.  (Don't say it won't work until you've actually tried it.  Really - take a pen and paper and do the exercises, even if they seem too simplistic or that they won't work on you.)  It's supposed to work for not only depression and anxiety but also OCD.  You can also try a free, online program that walks you through the steps at https://moodgym.anu.edu.au.  Again, you really need to be committed to providing honest and detailed answers to some of their questions to expect it to work.  If you're too embarrassed to be completely honest with the online format, then stick with the book and pen and paper at home.

Sadly, one of the biggest barriers to treatment of depression is oftentimes the person herself.  If your trigger thought is, "I'm a bad mom," then of course you won't want to do any silly exercises to make yourself feel like a good mom because you don't think it's true.  It's a vicious cycle that the lie that makes you feel bad in the first place (eg: I'm a bad mom) is what keeps you from getting the treatment you need.  Unfortunately, you are the only one who can decide that you're ready to feel better.  But when you're ready, you'll know it!

Well, I hope this post has been helpful.  I'm not sure if I'll have time to blog in the new year, so I tried to pack as much helpful info in this post as possible.  If you're in need of other resources, please check out postpartumprogress.org.  It has a ton of resources and articles, as well as links to other personal blogs on PPD/PPA.

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Making a difference in the world as a SAHM

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know that the intrusive thoughts I had during postpartum depression led to a more lasting struggle with the problem of evil.  To this day, I can't read about anything (ANYTHING) sad or bad happening to anyone without putting myself in the shoes of the victim or the victim's mother.  In my younger days, I sometimes got into intellectual discussions with my friends mourning how the media had caused us to be so desensitized to the evil and suffering in this world.  Well, here I am, no longer desensitized, and it's pretty depressing (just regular-life-is-terrible-depressing, not clinically-I-need-therapy-depressing).

The good news is that I finally got to the point where I wasn't just mad at God (although I still have a lot of questions for Him), but I wanted to do something about it.  However, I didn't want to compromise my primary role as a SAHM, and as any SAHM can tell you, there is a lot of free time during the day, but it's difficult to use that time productively because it's fragmented.  The minute you think you might have enough time to, say, use the restroom, your older child will decide she MUST have that one toy that is buried in the back of the closet NOW, or your older child will kick the younger child, or the younger child will fall over and bang her head on the floor, and it's all over...window of opportunity is GONE.

So anyway, I have a good friend who spent some time as a medical missionary in a developing country, and I sent her this silly question:

"What can I do to help besides giving money (already do), or adoption (would like to, but don't have the immediate money for it), or going out somewhere to volunteer (because my priority is still to be at home)?"
I was pretty sure she was going to write back and say, "ummm...with all your limitations, I'm pretty sure there is NOTHING you can do to help.  Get back to me in five years when your kids are in school."  But my friend, she surprised me with her answer.  "You can PRAY," she said.  Money and other physical resources always help, but a lot of kids are suffering in ways in which physical provision can only do so much.  These children need God's love and protection, and our prayers!

Well, duh, why didn't I think of that myself?  I think it's because I didn't think praying was really doing something, and I didn't think it would make a REAL difference.  During one phase of my depression, I went on a prayer strike because I was mad at God and was questioning the purpose of prayer.  Well, I still have a lot of questions, but in the meantime, I've been praying for the beautiful, beautiful children at the Butterfly Children's Hospice.  If you are a SAHM looking for a way to make a difference in the world with the limitations of being a SAHM, would you please pray with me for these children, or for whatever hurting people God puts on your heart?  Just take one Facebook break out of your day and replace it with a prayer!






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Not being a "baby person"

I'm not a "baby person."  I think other people's babies are cute, but I'm not dying to hold them or play with them.  Sometimes I forget to offer to let other people hold my babies because I forget that most people, unlike me, actually like to hold other people's babies.  Sometimes I'm taken off guard when people offer to let me hold their babies because it's not something I was wanting to do, although I don't mind.

Not being a baby person hasn't kept me from being madly in love with my own kids.  I love cuddling, hugging, and kissing my babies.  I love the smell of my babies when they're not perfectly clean - there's no sweeter smell to me than that mixture of baby sweat, baby saliva, and milk.  (Only on my own babies, though - I prefer clean, Johnson & Johnson soap smell on other babies not my own.)

Anyway, I wonder how being a baby person affects one's parenting and parenting skills.  Do baby people have better maternal instincts?  Does it even matter?  I'm crazy about my kids, so I don't think I would love them any more if I were a baby person, but maybe I would interact with them differently.

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Searching for Theodicy

When I was in college, I took a brief interest in Christian apologetics - defending the faith through objective and rational arguments.  I thought at the time that it was important for winning people over to Christ.  I then realized that no one (no one!) is ever converted through rational debate.  You could debate an atheist until you are blue in the face, and s/he wouldn't budge an inch.  Faith is not something that can be won through an argument but is the work of God.

Image: Stuart Miles

So for awhile, I thought apologetics was just for people who wanted to argue and that it really wasn't worth my time.  I'm now realizing that apologetics is not just for defending the faith but also for encouraging believers.  Apologetics is, in essence, theology in different clothing, and good theology is vital to our faith.

I don't label myself as having postpartum depression/anxiety/intrusive thoughts anymore, but I still bear the scars.  I recently became lax about staying away from the news, and I read some news articles that shook me to the core.  I was awake almost the rest of the night doubting God's goodness, wrestling with my faith, wondering if I could even call myself a Christian anymore.

That night, I came across the term "theodicy" for the first time, which is basically an attempt to answer the problem of evil.  I think I know deep down that a true theodicy doesn't exist -- as in, there may be logical arguments for the existence of evil, but those arguments will never resolve the pain caused by evil or make it obvious that God had no choice but to allow this world to become as broken as it is.  I'm okay with that - I don't presume to think that I as a human being could ever have the same perspective as God does.  But I also think it's important to strengthen my faith with good theology.  My friend recommended Ravi Zacharias, so I'm looking to get one of his books soon.

And how did I end up getting to sleep that night?  I prayed.  Even when I doubt Him, God is my comforter.




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