My depression in the past has been triggered by stressful times or big changes in life. My first encounter with it was as an adolescent, trying to navigate those crazy times of surging hormones and middle school! I tried self-diagnosing with encyclopedias, instead of doing what I should have done: talk to my mom about it. It didn't rear its ugly head again (in full force) until the guy I was dating and loved (now my husband!) took a job in another state. When we got engaged, it happened again, as we tried to keep up the relationship long-distance and plan a large wedding. The last time I had a longer episode was when we moved to yet another new city, this time with baby twins in tow. I felt trapped in our rental with the babies, didn't have many of my own friends yet, and it was too hot to enjoy the outdoors. (I did eventually learn some coping skills, which I outlined in this post here.) These were the major episodes, lasting many months at a time, with smaller episodes of just a few days in between.
|So cute. Yet, multiple babies can be very draining, and leave you feeling isolated.|
For me, depression begins with the feeling that a dark cloud is moving in, getting ready to rest right above my head for permanent lodging. Then the darkness seems to settle into my brain and my heart. Scary ideas and thoughts that I don't even feel comfortable writing down flash through my mind. I'm an emotional person to begin with, crying easily, but also easily excited. The difference when I'm in a depressed episode, is that I seem to no longer take joy in...anything. I know rationally that I have a good life, yet everything seems muted.
So, as my twins' birth approached, I read up on post-partum depression in particular, and had the number of a counselor at our church all lined up, just in case. After all, carrying, birthing, and caring for multiple babies can be very stressful, and it was all so new. I was ready. I waited for it to happen. And it didn't. I was relieved, and pleasantly surprised. According to this article on WebMD, I did have some risk factors for PPD, but those factors don't necessarily mean you'll experience PPD. But if you're expecting, it's a good idea to have it in the back of your mind, just in case.
Below is a list of things that help me. Maybe it will be helpful for someone else, too. However, please keep in mind my experience is only with mild depression, and I'm no doctor! Seeking professional help is always a good thing.
- Be aware. Be aware of your family history, of your own tendencies, and of the facts. Sometimes just knowing what is happening to me makes me feel marginally better.
- Talk to someone. Don't keep your feelings to yourself on this one. Let your spouse, or family members and friends know about what your struggles. If they don't know about it, they can't pray, listen, or support. If they love you, there should be no shame in talking about this! True friends will listen with love. If someone reacts poorly to you, that reflects badly on them, not you!
- Remember, you aren't alone. When you share with others, you may find that they have similar experiences. You are definitely not the only person who feels this way! In fact, mothers of multiples are at greater risk for PPD, according to this article.
- Let your doctor know. When we moved to our current city, I let my new general practitioner know about my background at my first appointment. She told me as a good rule of thumb, that if you cannot shake the depression through other means after two weeks, that one really should make an appointment to see their doctor and possibly obtain a prescription. Do your research and decide who you should see: your regular doctor, a psychiatrist (sometimes you need a referral, so you may want to start with your regular doctor first, anyway), psychologist, or other trained lay counselor. Sometimes it's good to get recommendations while you're feeling good, and then those phone numbers are right there when you need them.
- Eat well. Obviously. But when I'm down, my first instinct is to eat junk food, instead of, say, a smoothie or salad. But healthy food can do wonders for your overall mental health.
- Exercise. My doctor said this can be one of the best ways to keep depression at bay. Do whatever is easy and fun for you. For people like me, a walk around the neighborhood refreshes me. When living in Pasadena in a good neighborhood, I could take hour long walks, pushing the double stroller ahead of me and enjoying the weather. It's no wonder my health took a toll when we moved to Houston, in the summer, into a sketchy neighborhood: the heat and humidity and our location kept me indoors most of the time. If you're in this kind of situation, look for online workout videos for free, order some DVDs, or join a gym that has child care (if you can afford it). An idea for when your children are much older: a wonderful older-than-I lady once shared that she would leave her kids in the house, and just take laps around the block. She would close the blinds when she left, and instruct the children to only open them if there was a problem, and then she'd come back in the house.
- Follow your routine. Many decades ago, one family member of mine had trouble getting doctors to believe she was experiencing depression, partly because she had amazing self-discipline: She was dressed and well-groomed; she continued to care for several children and a home almost entirely on her own while her husband worked hard outside the home. But doing those daily tasks and having a schedule to follow can sometimes keep our bodies moving along when our mind won't cooperate, something I touched on in my post "Do The Next Thing."
- Pray. Lean on your faith, if you have one, for support. (If you are a Christian, this article might be helpful.) Sometimes this is all I need. Sometimes I need other things too. I believe taking steps towards caring for our physical needs (and depression is a physical thing) should go hand in hand with taking steps in caring for our spiritual needs, and that these two steps together can be powerful in caring for our mental health.
"...but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint."