Last week Robin Farr wrote a nice piece for Katherine Stone’s Postpartum Progress titled: “Depression setback or just a bad day?”
It was an important, accurate depiction of the ambiguity that can set in and make recovery difficult to understand. Robin did a great job describing how disconcerting setbacks can be and how scary it can feel to wonder whether you need hold tight and wait it out, or whether you need to fortify your resources in preparation for a nosedive into despair. It’s a good question and one that most women recovering from postpartum mood and anxiety disorders confront at some point or another.
I would just like to piggyback onto Robin’s thoughtful commentary on this and point out that this vacillation in recovery is quite common and in fact, the norm for postpartum recovery trajectories. You see, if we were to illustrate this in a crude graph where the x-axis is TIME and the y-axis is SYMPTOM RELIEF, we would see that as one continues to heal over time and continue to get symptom relief, whether from meds, or therapy or just time passing, the course this path takes fluctuates in response to many external factors. The postpartum period, as we all know, is fraught with external factors, most of which, are totally out of our control. Recovery from any depression is always inconsistent because of an array of impediments, but the postpartum period has its own set of additional and unique demands. For example, sleeplessness, hormonal influences, extreme crankiness of self and baby, constant needs of other children, or partner, an overwhelming unpredictability and a feeling of being out of control, just to name a few. These variables, in combination with symptoms of depression and anxiety, impact the healing process with intermittent and abrupt plunges in the process that can feel like setbacks, but they are, in fact, part of the normal course of recovery. With every dip in the path toward recovery, it can feel like you’re starting over or worse, slipping into a dark hole. But keep this graph in your head. The ups and downs are a normal part of the recovery passage. Just keep going.
Therefore, just to insert a point of emphasis into Robin’s excellent review of this universal phenomenon, remember this:
It is normal to feel this way. It is a natural part of recovery from postpartum depression and anxiety. Yes, they can feel like “bad days”, but they are also par for the course and it will be helpful to frame it that way. So when you have a bad day while you are recovering, remind yourself: This is normal. It is okay that I am feeling this way. I am still moving forward through time (x-axis) and still, in general, experiencing relief from my symptoms (y-axis) and therefore my recovery is moving in the right direction, even if I don’t feel so good today. It’s okay. I am getting better.