To follow up on my post a couple of weeks ago, I’d like to share a few things that I learned through my struggle with antepartum depression and anxiety. These are universal ideas that can help in any season of life that is bringing you stress or sadness. Ultimately you have to figure out how to best care for yourself so that you can feel like you’re living life again.
Depression and anxiety especially can be very isolating. It’s tough to explain how you’re feeling and even harder to feel like you’ll ever leave it behind. I tried to explain the feeling to my husband in the metaphor of swimming in a river. Most of the time I was floating. Happy and relatively carefree. Sometimes things got harder and I had to swim against the current. But when the worst part of my depression and anxiety stuck, it was like I had a weight pulling me down. I felt like I was drowning.
But there are ways through it. I’d like to share a few ways I survived the last few months and where I’m at today.
10 Ways to Cope
- Consider medication. Many of the things further down on my list would have been impossible for me to do without medical intervention. At first I was extremely hesitant to get on pills. I’ve tried a few in the past and they didn’t work. I was worried about side effects and taking medication while pregnant. But after several doctors talked to me about it, I was desperate enough to give it a try. Within days I started to feel better. The panic attacks stopped. I could think clearly. I could breathe. Medication is certainly not needed in every circumstance, but exploring it as an option is worth your time. While there are many different kinds of counselors or therapists, you’ll need to see a psychiatrist for a prescription. If you are experiencing a hormonally induced depression or anxiety, many psychiatrists specialize in this field often referred to women’s mood disorders.
- Keep your faith. Prayers, duaas, and listening to Quran helped me get through the toughest of times. If you are religious, read passages that will give you comfort. For me, I believe that God doesn’t give us a burden more than we can bear. I believe in being patient during hardship. And I believe in the verse “Verily with hardship comes ease.” (Quran 94:5)
- Be selfish. Forget the guilt. Just like the flight attendants tell you that you have to secure your air mask before you can help others, you have to be healthy before you can be there for anyone else. Taking care of yourself is top priority. Start with sleep and food. Those are huge triggers for upsetting our balance. Cut down of carbohydrates and stay hydrated. I stopped drinking coffee because it increased my jittery anxiety. Move forward with other forms of self-care that you enjoy. For some it’s exercise, for me I like essential oils, warm showers, and using a comforting moisturizer.
- Find things to do for you. So often I’m consumed with doing stuff for my kids, I forget about my own hobbies and interests. Make time for the little things that interest you–even if it’s just five minutes! I realized that I hadn’t picked my camera in months. All of my creative outlets had basically been closed down because I felt no spark of creativity. Getting back into creative pursuits helped me remember that I’m a whole person just on my own and I don’t exists solely as a mother or wife.
- Also, think of others. Helping others makes me happy. So I guess this one goes back to the selfish mindset. But it really is an important part of improving your mental health. Reading stories of how others have overcome struggles, praying for people, offering encouragement, actually getting up and doing something for someone can all make you feel like you are a contributing member of society. I went through a bunch of old clothes and took them to a women’s shelter. It was really nothing much– and I’d like to find time to do more meaningful volunteer work– but I did feel happy that I was able to help someone else out. I appreciated all that I had and admired the women’s struggle and perseverance.
- Distractions are your friend. After starting medication, I found that getting out of the house every day was something I needed to do. I stay busy with housework and playing with the kids. I always have a book to read or a show to binge-watch. At first I worried that distracting myself was just avoidance. But I think it’s possible to do both. You can confront your issues for a small part of the day while allowing your brain to relax or focus on something else for the other parts of the day.
- Google is not your friend. If you are experiencing anxiety, don’t Google stuff. I had such a hard time stopping myself from obsessively searching for answers to the hypotheticals we were given about the baby. In my mind, each thing I found was what would happen to us. While there are many great resources online, it’s not a good idea to start searching when you are in a fragile place.
- Connect with your actual human friends. This was difficult for me because just about all of my friends live hundreds of miles away. And when you’re not feeling well, it’s really tough to go out and make new friends. But friends and family can be a wonderful source of distraction, encouragement and support. Don’t shut them out.
- Really be in the moment. How often do we think back to a time in the past and say “those were the days” ? I can think of so many periods in my life that I look back and feel like I didn’t really appreciate it or take advantage of the situation I was given. Before we had kids, right? What did we do with all that free time?! But it’s not because life just gets harder and harder. It’s that we tend to remember the good. Well I don’t want to look back on this season of my life and chastise myself for not appreciating it. I’m going to focus on the good while it’s right in front of me. The pure joy on my kids’ faces. The brilliant sunlight in the forest. The amazing creatures we find at the zoo. Whatever it is, I want to be here for it.
- Think “positive” I’ve had to reframe thinking positive. Usually when people say that, they mean that “everything’s going to be alright.” In one of our recent ultrasounds, I had pumped myself up to believe that they were going to say that everything looked normal now. They didn’t. What I’ve come to learn is that I should instead think “no matter what happens, I will get through it and be stronger for it.” I can’t control what’s going to happen with my thoughts. But I can control how I see myself in relation to what happens. All of these struggles were put on my path for a reason– possibly one I’ll never know– but I can get through it. That’s where positive thought works.
I am so fortunate right now. I feel much better than I did a few months ago. I know there’s still a long way to go. I am due in mid/late October and I’m not really ready to think about the baby yet. I’m setting my sights for the very short-term only. Like a week max. It’s hard for me when people bring it up or ask questions about my pregnancy. What I’m having? Have we picked out a name? All the typical small talk is still hard. I have no idea how things will be post-partum. But I do believe that I’ll make it through, come what may.