I experienced postnatal depression after my first baby, and while I still feel sad to think back on that time, I'm both proud and fortunate that I can talk about it in the past tense.
I'm asked a lot, "How did you get better?" and I've searched every corner of my soul for that answer. It seems to get clearer as I get more time and distance between then and now.
And now there's new research out that suggests "brain training" is one possible method for future depression treatment. The idea is that the mind's underactive emotional control centre needs to be exercised – and for me, this is the perfect description of recovery. (At this point I'll explain that I was a 'mild' case of PND and I understand that not everyone finds recovery the same.)
Put simply, I had to re-train my brain. It's a great way to describe the process I went through – because it was a process, not just a moment between 'not good' and 'better'. The following things happened during that time.
I had to want to get better
I reckon that would sound strange to someone who's never been through mental health issues, because surely when you're not well you want to get better? But it's not really as straightforward as that. There was this voice that kept calling me to negativity and it was really easy to listen to, whereas fighting it was hard. Choosing the harder path isn't a natural thing, so making the decision to get better was the toughest thing I've ever done.
I took the pressure off
I cleared out my life almost completely (other than my husband and kids!) and got back to basics. I set schedules for things I needed to do, made myself do things I knew I used to enjoy, and avoided things that stressed me out too much. I really needed that space to focus on good. Then, once I reached a certain point, I could build on those basics and slowly get back to more demanding things.
I started learning how to look forward to things again
I was so numb that when great things happened I shrugged, and when bad things happened I gave a little eye roll. I remember picking my daughter up from childcare one day, holding her hand and getting a jolt of happiness, realising I'd been looking forward to seeing her. That's when I knew I was still in there somewhere. I started practising looking forward to other little moments in my days.
I got mindful
This was a huge one for me, because I'd spent my life in one place physically and another mentally. The moment someone told me about mindfulness, I realised I needed to create a life that I actually wanted to be present for, rather than be escaping somewhere else in my mind. That was a defining moment.
I had to learn when to ignore my head
Someone told me recently "thoughts aren't facts", and I liked how succinctly that summed up this sentiment. You can't believe every thought that pops into your head, so I had to find some level of logic to overtake some thoughts.
Recovering from depression isn't simple and there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer. But this idea of brain training is worth watching – and I know from experience that it's definitely worth the fight.
If you recognise the symptoms of post-natal depression, it’s important that you seek professional help.
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