Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. Methods or statements included in this entry are from my own personal experiences, and are of my own opinion. Please consult a mental health professional should you need more personalized, detailed assistance.
I returned to work from maternity leave part time at the beginning of this month. Two weeks in, I would go back to full-time. I felt confident about this, because my son was in the best care, and I had already been used to being away from him. No separation anxiety for me! I could then use the two weeks to adjust back into the working lifestyle. I wasn’t worried about anything else, because I had been feeling great and had not experienced any Postpartum Depression / Anxiety symptoms for over a month.
The first two days seemed fine. Time fly by quickly. Then, a setback. Without going into details, I suddenly became very stressed and panicked over assignments and changes within the workplace. I went home early, thinking that this minor anxiety would pass. Four hours later – a flood of emotions came, and I felt as if I had relapsed. I felt incredibly sad about my situation at work. I felt like I was in a foreign land and nothing made sense. I worried about not being able to adjust, and that I was no longer needed.
Two weeks later, after I had gone back to full days, it happened again. I felt really stressed and low. I thought that I was no longer really needed at work, and I was wasting my time in the office. I was also, missing out on valuable time with my son. The professional who once was, just didn’t exist anymore. It was early in the morning, and I sat there – sobbing at my desk. I ended up going to a private room because it was painfully obvious to everyone around me that something was wrong.
A difficult aspect of Postpartum Depression / Postpartum Anxiety, is that once you start treatment, you don’t know exactly how long it will take for you to be “cured”. We could be taking the medication, talking with our mental health professionals, and conquering our fears. Yet, there is always the worry that things will come back. Under treatment, I’ve heard women feel like their old selves around a year. Others, who did not get treatment, longer. I have yet to hear of anyone who has completely gotten over it in a matter of few months.
If you think about it, that makes sense. There are chemical changes going on within a mother’ body. There are major changes in lifestyle, health and identity. These things took time to become a part of you. So, it makes sense to me that it takes even longer for adjustments.
That’s what I’m telling myself every day. We are going to have bad days. PPD / PPA or not, bad days don’t disappear. They happen to everyone – we are just a little bit more vulnerable to it right now. However, it doesn’t mean that I relapsed. If I am able to recognize the situation, and utilize my coping skills, then that’s positive. So, it’s not a relapse. It’s a very minor, teeny tiny, minuscule, setback.
The most important thing to think about with these setbacks is recognize that they are temporary – they will not last forever. If you can recognize them for what they are, then you can stop a PPD / PPA thought cycle from happening. If you take a breath, think about exactly what is happening, you can stop those intrusive and repetitive negative thoughts from taking over. You can use various coping mechanisms during this phase, and that will stop negative behaviors (panic attacks) and thoughts.
What works for some people, may not work for others, so it is best if you try things out and speak with a mental health professional. For the two situations above I did the following:
Focus on the temporary aspect of the situation
I told myself that we are only in crunch time right now because of the deadline. Things will go back to normal soon.
Talk to a friend
I called a coworker who was on the same project and asked questions about things that I wasn’t sure of or afraid of. Just talking to another person distracted me from my negative thoughts. It also help validate that it really just wasn’t something I did (or didn’t) do.
Ask for help
I asked the same coworker to help brainstorm a few things on my side of the project since I was out of the office for a bit. Working with someone else made me feel comfortable, and they helped me get back into the groove of things
Change of scenery
Right after I went into crazy crying phase, I went to a private room to cry it out. I walked around, and took deep breaths. I even said some positive affirmations to help me through it.
Address the fears
I was afraid of not being professional and being a good mother. I reminded myself that the reason why I was a part of all these projects is because I was important, and crucial. I am a valued partner in that project, and my participation is needed to make it work. I also reminded myself, that sometimes, you have to be apart from your loved ones to remind yourselves on how much you love them. I thought about how much more exciting it would be to see my son when I got home. I even made mini plans on what we could do when I get home that would show that I loved him (read a book, take a walk, etc.)
Employing these things helped. They didn’t always make the negative feelings go away completely, but they definitely had a calming effect. They also make me realize that I am a work in progress, and that there’s nothing wrong with that. These things can be applied anytime that I am stressed or worried – not just for those PPD / PPA moments. So, if I can master these for something so personal and difficult, then maybe it just makes me more equipped for all those other moments in life.
So there you go – remind yourselves that we are resilient. We can definitely get through it all. There are many more things that I’ve learned to use, but we’ll discuss in another entry – stay tuned to future entries. Positives thoughts, be well!