As one who has struggled with post-partum depression, I thought I'd share a few of the things that I've used over the past four (nearly five now) years to avoid re-entering depression. They're things you'd probably find on any site talking about depression, especially post-partum depression and Christian sites. But I think that perhaps it'll be slightly valuable to share my experience anyway - even if only to give glory to God for what He's done and is doing in my life.
I've heard it said that 100 percent of depression is anger turned inward. I think it was this that kept me from admitting that I was depressed, even to myself, when I was. I didn't want to admit that I was angry. I'm not sure I had any idea that I was angry. I'm not convinced that's true by the way. Some depression, especially post-partum - really can be horomonal. But mine was related to anger.
At the time, I'd been married a couple of years, had two babies, a very busy husband and high expectations of what both he and I and my life should be like. He, in particular, didn't live up to my fairy tale ideas (neither did I, but my thoughts were more accusing toward him). I was just finding out that the man I was married to wasn't the same as the man I thought I had married. (Never mind that I wasn't the same either. Marriage changes you).
That began about two years in the dimness of a mild depression. It wasn't major, and I don't think it's really necessary to go into what the depression looked like for me. I'm guessing that everyone's depression is a bit different. Mine was mostly negative thoughts and lack of energy/ambition.
When it lifted, though, my life changed, and I recognized that I needed to take steps to reduce the likelihood of ever going back there. Here's some of the steps I've taken (or things I've learned), in no particular order.
- I started doing something outside of what had been my world (that is, the house). I had to find something that I didn't have to do as a wife and mother, but that made me feel like I was doing good. For me, this was taking a part time job - it used my mind, took advantage of my education, and gave me something that I could be good at. It's pretty easy in a home to see a lot of failure in yourself and others. Now when I think about this for others, I think that volunteering somewhere is almost the perfect solution. I needed to get out of myself and do some good for someone else.
- Recognize when I'm vulnerable. For me it's not so much a certain time of the month as when I'm tired. It goes without saying that the most tiring times are just after having a baby, so I'm susceptible to post-partum depression.
- Get some exercise. When my fifth baby was born, I felt especially on the brink of going down again. He had a lot of preemie problems, and it would have been easy to blame myself for them. I had troubles maintaining a house and work, and had financial worries too. So I started walking every day, just a short distance. The fresh air and circulating blood and mini-escape really do wonders.
- Eat right. Pay attention to what you've been eating when you start to get depressed. Sugar sends me down. Usually in the form of chocolate. Not that I'll give up chocolate, but at least I recognize it, right?
- Own the anger. Learn to forgive. You cant forgive if you won't admit there's a problem. In my case, there really wasn't -- he wasn't sinning against me. But I still had to forgive him. Most people have real wrongs to forgive, and people that don't deserve forgiving. Jesus asks us to forgive them because He forgave us. We can do this for Him. And He helps us.
- Focus on others. Intentionally bless someone else. I remember it taking all my energy to go visit a neighbor during this time. It still amazes me how much that visit meant both to her and to me. Yes, this is really the first one again. I really think God created us to live not a self-centered life, and that we stay sane when we do so.
- Be thankful. Romans 1:18-21 is, I think, a root of many bad things, especially divorce. Here's the progression. 1) forget to honor God as God (ie, He's the center of the universe, not me), 2) stop giving thanks 3) become futile in your thinking - "it's no use", "he'll always be like this" - this is actually losing hope 4) darkening of your foolish mind. Yep. The great thing about this progression is that it's reversible. Starting to notice all the little gifts God gives is a way to honor God as God. Suddenly things aren't so hopeless.
- Remember that God sees. Matthew 6 talks about God seeing when we fast, or give, or pray. It encourages us to do good in secret. My problem was that my doing good was too secret. No one in their right mind really cared how many diapers I changed in a day, and I wanted some affirmation. I had to learn the truth that God does see. And more than that, He notices. He notices that I changed that diaper with patience and love, not a spiteful attitude. He notices that I was up three times last night and am really trying not to be snippy this morning. And he rewards those deeds done in secret. It's worth doing things just because God will see them. This has saved me from becoming bitter dozens of times. It's far better to let the anger go (especially the petty anger, which is usually my problem), knowing that God sees how hard it is to let it go and will reward it.
- Memorize scripture. It gives your mind something to do when you're too upset (or too wired from the chocolate) to sleep, or when you'd rather stew on your anger that you won't admit you have.... not that I know anything about this of course!
- Do something to improve your situation. I read this quote on humblemusings.com, and now I can't find it. It was something to the affect that someone who lived for a long time surviving in the wilderness said that the key to staying sane in long term intense situations is to always be doing something to better your situation. I wish I could find that quote. Last weekend I was having a huge pity party -- life just doesn't work out like I wish it would sometimes, you know? I was in the bathroom pitying myself to tears, and remembered this admonition. I ended up re-arranging furniture, and the new arrangement really is helping life be more smooth. Not only did it give me some needed physical exertion, but it improved my situation.
- Set aside a regular time and place to pray. Beth Moore suggested this as a key to staying sane as a Christian businesswoman. I think it's key to a lot of things, businesswomen are just so busy that it's more obvious. For me, I didn't have a place, and it kept me from really taking the time. So I instituted the morning walk. That's my place and time to pray. Nothing else. Well, except walk. I don't use it to review my memory work, or to stew about problem or to plan my day. Instead I notice the trees and thank God for their unique shapes, and pour out my heart (that is, my whining) to Him and such. It's a good way to start the day. I wish I did it more regularly, but now that it's cold, I usually stay in bed.
- Write. Blogging has become a good emotional balancer for me. I have a private blog for things to public to write here, but most things that I take the time to write out are actually here. It forces me to thing through things in something that seems to me like a logical manner. And it gets things out of my system.
- Vent. I used to think that if I said something (or otherwise got some frustration or worry out of my system), it would make my fake problem more real, give me more credence to be mad and just make everything worse. I'm learning that's not the case. If I can vent while remaining respectful (this is a delicate skill), then it can be very good and helpful. My husband is a good listener, and will let me work through something verbally to him. I don't use this often, but the few times I have, it has been helpful. The key for me is to do it in a way that is still respectful and kind and even honoring. Which is probably why I rarely use it.
- control your mental input. I had to learn that I don't stay sane if I watch the news. It's too scary for me, it makes me paranoid. Do what's necessary to "take every thought captive", and prevent the bad ones from dominating.
- Keep a sense of humor. Enjoying a good laugh lifts a lot of stress.