It was eight months after I had my first child before I realized that the “new” me was actually sick. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD). Antidepressants and talk therapy brought me back from the abyss. I later realized that I also suffered from postpartum anxiety (PPA) and postpartum OCD (PPOCD). When we decided we wanted a second child, I talked to a therapist and a psychiatrist about it. We had a plan. It’s a good thing we did, because at 34 weeks I was dealing with intrusive thoughts that were increasing in severity. I went back on antidepressants and this time I was able to function and enjoy my baby when she arrived.
I never imagined that I would end up with postpartum mood disorders. Twice. While I am not the same person I was before mental illness, I have arrived on the other side a happier person. There is something about being a survivor of mental illness (or a warrior mom, as those with antenatal and postpartum mood disorders identify ourselves) that makes you more self-aware. I’ve discovered that I’m a happier person in four ways:
- Empathy. I find myself more understanding of other people’s needs. Extending grace to others provides me with a greater sense of peace.
- The importance of self-care. Through therapy, I learned my triggers for stress and anxiety. I need sleep, a shower and my morning cup of coffee. Sometimes that means making Hubster get up early to be with our two early birds so that I can shower before he goes to work. Sometimes it means setting the alarm 30 minutes earlier than I want to wake up. Sometimes it means closing my laptop before my to-do list is complete. But it keeps me functioning!
- The art of saying “no.” I am aware of my limits and I know what happens if I overextend myself. I have been freed of the need to people-please and am in control of my own time.
- Empowerment. In the thick of postpartum depression, I didn’t think the dark clouds would ever lift. I didn’t think I would be capable of feeling joy ever again. I thought my old self was lost forever. Now that I’m on the other side, I feel like there is nothing I can’t conquer.
Are you a survivor of mental illness? How has it changed you?