What my postpartum depression has been like

Almost one year ago, my daughter Annelise was born. It was a normal, planned pregnancy, a smooth delivery, and a happy homecoming. I was adjusting to being a mom of two under two (which is a lot of work, let me tell you!), but things were really good.

Then, exactly 2 weeks and 4 days after she was born, postpartum depression hit me. It was sudden and scary and I didn’t know what was happening to me. I had never gone through depression before. It kind of took over our lives, in a lot of ways, and has been the major trial we’ve been dealing with for the past year. There have been struggles and tears and prayers and rock-bottom lows – but there’s also been acts of kindness, miracles, good healthcare, prayers, priesthood blessings, amazing support (especially from my mom and my mother-in-law, you are both amazing and I don’t know where I’d be without you!), really good friends, brothers and sisters, my two amazing children, and mostly a husband who’s the best support person I could ever imagine. For all of these things and for everyone who’s helped, thank you thank you. It all meant the world to me.

So now, a year later, things are so much better than they were at the beginning. But I am still struggling to fully heal from this mental illness.

Early on during the depression, I started writing this post that you’re about to read. I’ve been working on organizing these thoughts for a while, editing and rewriting and trying to get it just right. Because for me, going into depression, I understood so little of it. I know that understanding it wouldn’t have prevented it, but I want to help people understand, whether you’re going through depression yourself or know someone who is or even might meet someone who is someday.

I know my experience with depression isn’t the same as everyone else’s; I know it’s different for everyone. So this is just one example of one young mom’s struggle.

Since I’m a writer and a visual learner, I came up with analogies. Lots of analogies. These are the ones that helped me and those close to me understand depression most.

It’s like losing my happy jar

Let’s pretend that everyone has something called a happy jar. You hold it and walk around and catch all of the positive stuff in life, and when your jar is full, you’re happy. When bad or sad stuff happens, it evaporates your happy stuff away and you feel down.

I used to think depression meant that your happy jar was very low to empty. Like lots and lots of bad or sad stuff had happened to you and sucked all your happiness out. But now that I’m going through depression, I realize that was wrong. For me, it didn’t feel so much like my happy jar was empty: it felt like it was just lost.

Others noticed me feeling down, of course, and even knew that I had depression, so they rallied to shower me in happiness.

You’re such a great mom! Your kids are so awesome. Look how clean your house is! Want to go get a pedicure? Let’s enjoy the sun and go on a walk. Have you said a prayer today? Hey, what if we do something fun and spontaneous? Lunch at Chick-fil-a, your favorite!

The frustrating thing for me, though, was desperately trying to catch all of this happiness, but instead watching it just slip through my fingers because I didn’t have my jar.

Not to say that the positivity and happiness and compliments didn’t help at all. They did. They just weren’t the solution. I felt like I needed to give people a disclaimer: “Thank you for the compliments, and keep them coming, but please know they’re not going to cure me. What I really need is to find my jar.” The real hard part was when I kind of felt pressured to feel happier or better, because of all of this time and energy and love people were sinking into me, and realizing that I didn’t. I beat myself up for it, actually. So it just helped when I (and others) understood why.

But still, it’s not the perfect analogy. I don’t think any one single analogy is. That’s why I came up with so many.

It’s like having a weakened immune system

Depression felt like having a really, really weakened immune system. Except it wasn’t my immune system. It was my ability to cope. There are hard things that everyone goes through every day, all the time. Especially common to moms: guilt, comparing ourselves to others, frustration, fatigue, anxiety. And especially guilt. But we’ve learned and have been taught how to deal with these sorts of bad feelings, how to combat them and counter them – it doesn’t make them easy, but we get stronger as we cope: try to focus on the positive, keep an eternal perspective, stay grateful, focus on others, you know.

Depression felt like having all of those coping skills completely gone. So a little guilt over the smallest thing (like seeing that my newborn baby had lightly scratched her face in the night) was blown waaaayyy out of proportion and would almost incapacitate me because I felt like I was such a horrible mom and my children deserved so much better. Or being overwhelmed by something like doing the dishes (which, yes, is often overwhelming to lots of people) would be so overwhelming that I would literally lie on the floor and think that I could never get up. All my coping skills were gone. So it wasn’t like I had more sadness or more regret or more negativity in my life than the next mom. I just had trouble (a lot of trouble) coping with the small everyday hard stuff that happens to all of us all the time (and probably happens in especially large quantities to a mom of a newborn, which is why PPD is so unfair rough).

It’s like a sickness

At the beginning, when I was absolutely convinced that getting depression was my fault and meant that I had had a breakdown and that I was a bad mom, it helped to look at the depression as something like the flu. It totally wiped me out, it was hard. But it was an illness, something that wasn’t my fault, something temporary. I was doing all I could, just like I would have taken medicine and gotten rest for the flu. Now I had to just ride it out until it went away.

Depression really is a sickness. Postpartum depression is like…ooh, almost exactly like morning sickness. It’s this weird, awful very unpleasant thing that pregnant women might go through. Some do, some don’t. Some women might have morning sickness with one pregnancy, but not another. We don’t really know why except it’s probably hormonal, and there’s no way to accurately predict it, or to make it go away. If you get it, you just manage it the best you can. But a pregnant woman having or not having morning sickness doesn’t have a thing to do with her feelings about being pregnant, the quality of her baby, or how good of a mother she’s going to be. That would be ridiculous. Morning sickness is just one of those challenging things that we go through in order to create a new life, the biggest, most amazing miracle on the planet.

Think of postpartum depression in the same way. A new mom having or not having postpartum depression doesn’t have to do with her feelings about getting pregnant, the quality of her baby, or how good of a mother she’s going to be.

I think this is an especially common misconception, and definitely one that I had. I can think of a couple of reasons. First of all, I read in multiple places, books and pamphlets and official websites, about some of the risk factors associated with PPD: not having a supportive husband, an unplanned pregnancy, a difficult or colicky newborn. While a mom in any of those situations certainly may get PPD, just because you have PPD doesn’t mean you’re in one of those situations.

The second reason I can see why it’s a common misconception is that mothers who have postpartum depression probably say those exact lies all the time. “I’m a horrible mother. I never should have gotten pregnant. What was I thinking? I shouldn’t have had a second baby. I’m not cut out to be a mom. Why don’t I love this baby? I hate myself.” All of those are things that I thought or even said out loud. But none of them are or were ever true. That’s the way that depression distorts your thinking.

It’s like breaking both my legs

Later on I found another helpful analogy. Depression almost felt more like being in a traumatic car accident where you break both your legs. When you get the flu, it’s awful and it takes over your life and is no fun, but you take medicine and eventually it goes away and you go back to being healthy. Comes, goes, back to normal life.

But let’s say you’re in a car accident and break both your legs. You go to the hospital, there’s a lot of interventions (like surgery) at the beginning, lots of doctors and medicines and analysis. It’s huge and scary. You have to deal with the mental and psychological and physical trauma of breaking your legs and being in a car accident. It’s scary and big.

But life has to go on. So you’re released from the hospital and put in a wheelchair. The doctors say you will be able to walk again, but it will take time. Lots of time, and three-times-a-week physical therapy sessions with a physical therapist who can help you learn how to use your legs again, use your muscles again, re-learn to walk.

So you do the therapy. You exercise and take medications and pray and do all you can. But it’s a slow process, and really hard at times. Still, life has to go on, and in lots of ways it does. If you’re a mom, you still have to take care of your kids. If you work, you go to work in your wheelchair. You go to social events, you work on your hobbies, you try to be happy. Because you can’t just stop life until you can walk again.

But this wheelchair thing is a pretty big factor in your everyday life. Things are different. You can’t reach up high. You can’t walk or run. You can’t go up stairs. You have to make adjustments. Maybe before you loved to cook and prided yourself on the home-cooked meals you made for your family. But now you can barely reach the stove, let alone the kitchen cabinets. Cooking is completely different than it was before. But life has to go on. So maybe friends and relatives bring over meals a lot. Maybe your husband takes over the cooking for a while. Maybe you make the easy things you can make, like sandwiches. Maybe your family just eats out a lot. And all of that is okay. Because you’re doing all you can to heal. And, through all of the hard stuff and the frustration, you end up not only healing, but growing stronger. That’s what trials do for us.

Depression feels a lot like that. Except instead of my legs broken, it’s my brain. And no one can see it, not even me. But I’m going through therapy and training and medication to try to fix it. It affects my everyday life. A lot of things I could do before (like cooking meals, as a matter of fact) are really hard, and I’ve had to make adjustments. But as much as I can, I try to go on with life: be a good mom, be a good daughter, enjoy my sister’s wedding, put on Christmas, make friends, go on dates with my husband. And, slowly but surely, I start to heal.

What I would say to someone with a friend going through depression

Sometimes I wished I did have something on the outside, like a wheelchair or something, that people could see so they could know how hard each and every day was. Especially on the kind of better days when I was actually wearing makeup and out with the kids, and they were dressed and we appeared all normal and happy and great. And I smile and talk and interact, but deep inside me something is saying, “No, Paige, don’t do this! You’re fooling them again. Why can’t you just be honest and tell them how you really feel, how hard this really is?”

So I guess what I’m saying is it would have been helpful, sometimes, for people to ask more about it—I mean those who knew I was going through PPD. I think sometimes we don’t know what to say, or we’re afraid of hurting feelings or being insensitive. I know that’s exactly how I always felt (and how I still feel when I talk to people who have gone through trials that I haven’t). What do I say? What if that makes it worse? What would be the best thing she wants to hear from me right now?

And I suffer in indecision until I do nothing at all. So I guess what I’m saying is, maybe we need to worry less about finding the best or perfect thing to say or do, and instead just say something. Do something. Anything. I know, certainly in the church I’m a part of, there’s kind of a culture out there about prayers and being the perfect answer to someone’s prayer. About miracles: being the one to drop off the homemade jam that your sick neighbor, unbeknownst to you, was longing for that very morning. We hear stories like that a lot. I know that miracles like that happen. And they’re wonderful. But maybe more often than not, service isn’t quite as picturesque. Maybe you don’t provide the one thing that she prayed for that morning. Maybe you drop off peanut butter cookies and her favorite is actually chocolate chip. Maybe it’s a little awkward when you talk. Maybe you feel like you didn’t help a ton. But it’s okay. Maybe you don’t need to help a ton. Maybe you just need to help a little. And, believe me, on a bad day, the littlest help can make a big difference.

For me personally, any time I brought up postpartum depression with someone, it was because I was willing (or even really longed) to talk about it, to open up. So when I did and people didn’t know what to say and the conversation died or they changed the subject—that was kinda hard.

So when someone says, “It’s been kinda rough,” you could say, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” And leave it at that. Or you could say (very sincerely and non-judgmentally) “How? What’s been so hard? What can I do to help?” Maybe just that is all you need to do to help. Or, hey, there’s always food. Sometimes just having that sign that someone is aware of what you’re going through and recognizes that it’s hard for you is what you need. I know I have a long way to go on all of this, and I want to be better.

The other thing I want to say is this: If you were like me and assumed something like postpartum depression meant a mom wasn’t happy to have a baby, or that she didn’t value motherhood, or that she didn’t prepare enough, or that she longed for her pre-motherhood life, please don’t. Now that I know what PPD is really like, I feel so bad that I used to think those things.

So I guess that’s the last thing I would say. We never really know what’s going on in other people’s lives. And that applies to all trials and difficulties, not just mental illness. So let’s judge less. We really just never know. For me, one of the good things that’s come from this experience is a huge and humbling lesson in learning that there is good in everyone and everything, that there’s no one right way to be a mom, and that comparing myself to others (in either a self-defacing or self-elevating way) is never ever a good thing.

What I would say to someone going through postpartum depression

I know nothing I say will probably help much. Maybe you’re even reading this right now and thinking of all the ways it doesn’t help. I remember feeling exactly like that. But my heart goes out to you so, so much. If you were here I’d give you a big hug, even if you’re a stranger and even though I’m not much of a hugger. I just know how crazy awful staggeringly horrible depression is. I wish there were something I could say. But I don’t think there really is one solution. Just like, if you went through a car accident and broke both your legs, there’s not one magical serum that will make them unbroken. Instead, there are lots of things you can do: modern healthcare, exercise, physical therapy. Things to facilitate the natural healing process.

Just like there are things you can do for depression: exercise, talking to people, rest, getting help around the house, therapy, time for yourself, medication, workbooks, on and on. But you don’t have to do “the one” thing (or especially all the things) in your treatment plan to get suddenly “normal again.” For me personally, the workbooks my therapist gave me didn’t do much, though I heard how helpful they were to others. And I went through like four different medications before something even vaguely helped. And I wasn’t ever awesome at eating healthy or keeping a daily log of my feelings, like I was told to. But exercise, therapy, rediscovering my hobbies, and even distracting myself with a good TV series all helped. No one ingredient just “clicked” to fix it all. Lots of things just helped a little, slowly but steadily.

And finally, to my friends and family, if you ever want to talk or hear more or open up, I’m here. Seriously. Call me, even out of the blue. (Or email or message or text—I remember how overwhelming making a phone call felt.) I know how helpful it was, having someone to talk to or just to listen, especially someone who got it. And if I could in some way help or make you feel even a little better, I would feel like what I went through would be worth it.

34 thoughts on “What my postpartum depression has been like

  1. There are no words to describe how proud I am of you right now. I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder. You are such a beautiful woman – inside and out – such a kind and sweet spirit. I loved reading your post. I greatly admire your courage and tenacity. I love you and Josh and those 2 beautiful kids! I can’t wait to see you guys in a few weeks.

    Love you,
    Melissa :-)

  2. Oh, my dear, beautiful Paige. I’m so glad that you wrote your feelings and analogies, and shared them with us. And I’m so impressed with your maturity and clarity, as you didn’t blame our religious culture because you didn’t receive immediate relief from such a debilitating trial. “Ensign moments” give needed inspiration and compel us to greater good, but are almost always the exception, and not the rule. I loved your idea of just doing SOMETHING, not expecting it to be the exact words/service/loaf of bread that they’d been pleading with the Heavens to provide. And having recently gone through a similar experience, I could identify with so much of what you said. Anyone in the world can be learned, but it takes experiences like these to make us wise. And you, dear Paige, are wise beyond your years. Love you~

    1. Thank you, Lisa! This means a lot coming from you, because your writing has definitely inspired me before (especially that post about Thanksgiving two years ago). I’m so sorry you’ve gone through something similar. It’s so tough! You’re amazing and I love you!

  3. Paige you are so brave for sharing such a difficult time. thank you for writing about it and for helping me and so many others understand this depression more – and understand you more! I had no idea how difficult the past months have been for you and I’m sorry I didn’t ask better questions. thank you for helping me know how to be more supportive. I am so grateful for your friendship and your honesty. you are a beautiful, amazing, talented woman! we are all lucky to know you!

    1. Thank you, Shar! And oh, don’t be sorry! You’re an amazing support, even just reading what you write (I have a collection of favorite/most inspiring blog posts that have to do with life/motherhood, and there’s several of yours on the list for sure!) I’m lucky to know you, too! Thank you for your comment. Posting this was kind of scary but something I felt I needed to do, so to know that it has helped makes all the difference.

  4. Paige, I struggled with postpartum after my first and I think you explained it perfectly. I am due to have a baby May 1st and reading this reminded me that I need to stay up on what I am doing and thinking so I don’t struggle with it again. Thanks for sharing! Love, Allison (Josh’s cousin)

  5. I have not had children and thus never faced PPD. I have however suffered from depression for the majority of my life. I was even on anti-depressants for 7 years and was convinced I’d have to be on them forever. I have never “read” nor heard someone describe the conditions of depression so well as you just did. It’s frankly remarkable how well you put the difficult excruciation of depression into words. I have tried many times to explain it to others but could never do it justice as you have. Particularly your analogy of a happy jar–I was simply convinced I never had a jar, didn’t just lose it, but was never given one in the first place. I’m so very grateful to have learned otherwise. Thank you for putting into words which I always failed to do.

    1. I’m so sorry you’ve had to struggle through this for so long, Julia! You are amazing to do so. And yes, you definitely have a happy jar! I totally know how it feels to be convinced you never had one – so convinced of something so untrue. I had a lot of those. I’m so glad to have helped! Thank you!

  6. Paige,
    I haven’t met you but served with your husband in France. I just want to thank you for your well elocuted thoughts on postpartum depression and ways to help understand. I suffered in many a same way and it feels so relieving just to feel understood. Also, I know many are opposed to eastern medicine, but I had struggled south after my first baby that I was willing to try placenta encapsulation for my second. It is supposed to help hormonally and is dehydrated and mixed with Chinese herbs and never touches your mouth so it isn’t gross except in theory. It may have been sheer dumb luck, but I only had baby blues for one night and never again with this second child and it has been night and day different. Just another “something” to try if you have another! So happy you are coming up again, and so happy you have a good support system!

    1. Aria, thank you! So sorry you had to go through this too, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone ever. But I’m so glad you found a way to manage it! I’ve never heard of placenta encapsulation, I’ll have to look into that. Thank you again!

  7. Wow Paige! That was incredible to read. You are amazing , brave and an awesome role model. I love all of your analogies. You reminded me that hard things or hard times rarely just disappear. It takes time to heal. There is something about that process that changes us. I wish you didn’t have to go through all of this, but I’m so grateful you are wiling to share. You helped me understand lots of things about life at a time when I needed that. Love you girl!!

    1. Aunt Sunny, thank you!! You and your whole family are role models to ME. :) Thank you, thank you for your comment. It means so much to me. Love you too!

  8. Paige you are amazing!!!! I haf PPD after my son was born it was a long and trying battle!!! Your words were amazing and comforting to me becuase even sometimes now I look back and think what was wrong with me!! I’m hugging you from afar and just wanted to tell you I understand!! Praying for you and your sweet family!

  9. Well written Paige! I struggled with it after my kids too, more so with my second one. You did a wonderful job putting it all into words. I’m sorry you’ve had to walk this path but I truely believe Heavenly Father gives us trials so we can speak up and help others when they walk the same or a similar path.

    1. Thank you, Angela! So so sorry you had to struggle through this too. It’s downright awful, there’s no way around that. But you’re right – I’ve come closer to so many who have gone through this before and have helped me, and now starting to do the same for other makes me grateful for the whole experience.

  10. Paige, Beautiful writing….. Your words have not only helped you but they are going to help others. PPD is real and many suffer in silence. So many of us do not admit our hardships and struggles. Sometimes we don’t even know how to, especially within in the church. We all need to be more real and be more understanding of ourselves and others. Our trials are not only for us but they are for others. When we take our trials and use them to educate and help others (after) we are not only helping to heal ourselves but opening the door for others to heal and to let them know they are not alone. You have a wonderful family who loves you and supports you 100%. Others are not as fortunate. We can be there to help and lift others. Thanks again for your words of wisdom and experience. Everyday is a day of learning!!!

    1. Thank you so much, Lynette. What you said is so so true. It’s hard to open up – I think we all feel like we’re the only one with problems, but of course we never are. Being more real and understanding, like you said, is what we all need.

  11. Well written truly from the heart and such thought provoking analogies with viable solutions and encourage mr for others battling this and desiring to understand and help someone else. Thank you for sharing from your heart.

  12. Paige,

    This is a really really insightful article. Thank you for having the courage to write it. I’m so sorry you had to pass through that terrible abyss.

    Paige, what would be helpful for me is if you wrote a few more paragraphs in your article about specific things husbands should and should not do. How can we alter our perception and thinking to help us deal with it.

    I’m sure Josh had his own struggles during this time period. I would be really interested in knowing how to deal with someone with depression.

    1. Dave, thank you so much. And that’s great feedback, thank you! Sometimes I feel like I have so much to say about this I could write a book. I would love to do another post focusing specifically on husbands and close support people. And I know Josh would have some wonderful insight. So watch for it soon. :)

  13. Thank you so much for writing this. I had no idea just how bad it was and what you were going through. I know we haven’t known eachother very long but I can tell you are such a kind, genuine, and loving person. It makes me so sad to think of what you’ve been through and especially how I haven’t been a help and support. You said so many good things, ways to help people understand. I hope you are completely healed soon and that not only is your happy jar found but that it’s filled all the way to the top!

    1. Thank you, Becca! And you only had no idea because I hid it so much – I’ve been learning how to talk about it and be open about slowly slowly the whole time, little by little. Thank you so much for your kind words. :)

  14. Dearest Paige-paige, thank you for this post. I want you to know that I’ve shared it with many people who have gone through similar challenges or are currently struggling. It hit home for me in many ways too. I am so glad you decided to share it! I think you’re an amazing person with powerful insights!

    1. Thank you, Rebekah! I really do want to help as many people as I can with this. Thank you for sharing it. Miss you!

  15. Paige, thank you so much for this. I am experiencing ppd also (for the second time) and I am so excited to share this with my husband and the close support people who know about this. Thankfully most of them have never dealt with this and have no understanding, I’m hoping this will shed some light for them. It is so incredibly hard to put this illness out there for everyone to know about so I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your courage! I pray that you are better, that your jar is now full, and that you never have to experience this again! God bless you!

    (ps, I wanted to ask you a question and could not find where I can contact you. Could you email me so I can ask your advice/opinion on something?)

    1. Thank you for your comment, Andrea! I’m so sorry you have to deal with PPD and pray that you can get through it as best as possible. I’ll definitely shoot you an email right away.

  16. Paige!
    What can I say that hasn’t already been said. My earliest memories of you are your kindness, goodness, tenderness and creativity at age 10. It’s great to see that the storms in your life have only intensified your gifts and talents in helping and loving others and yourself.
    Please shoot me an email with your contact info I would like to talk when you have time.
    All my love and gratitude,
    Becky

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