How Postpartum Depression Made Me A Better Person

by Julie Cwir
A mother with postpartum depression sitting next to her baby while the baby is sleeping.
Thanasis Zovoilis / Getty

Can postpartum depression actually be a positive experience? Don’t get me wrong, I do not wish postpartum depression (nor any mental illness for that matter) upon anyone. It is absolute torture. You feel like you’re drowning in the trenches of the darkest valley. And, yes, postpartum depression has negatively impacted me as a person and as a mom. But in some aspects, experiencing postpartum depression has made me a better person and a better mom.

Attempting to dig out anything positive from the struggles of postpartum depression may seem like a fruitless endeavor. Nevertheless, it’s vital for someone who is healing from PPD, to reflect on the positives of the trials of life. So, if you want to look at the bright side of things with me, here are some ways that postpartum depression has made me a better person.

1. I have increased understanding.

Some people who haven’t experienced a mental illness first-hand (or even second-hand) are oblivious to the real struggles faced by its victims. Some even shun others by their rude or ignorant comments. Women suffering from PPD might hear things like, “Just get over it,” “You need to choose to be happy,” or “You’re so selfish to only think of yourself.”

I now have first-hand understanding of how the brain takes over and controls your thoughts. It’s not simply something one can “get over” or fix by “choosing to be happy.” Sometimes, you simply cannot quiet the negative voices in your head. If people could just flip a switch and “get over it,” believe me, they would. Don’t let the negative comments or quiet judgment from others get to you.

In healing from postpartum depression, you have to be selfish because taking care of yourself and doing things for you is a step in the healing process. Forget what the naysayers are telling you – YOU take care of you and do what you need to do. This is your time for healing. Learning this first-hand has brought a new level of understanding and acceptance of mental health struggles and general trials that the people around me are facing.

2. I utilize my village.

It’s a humbling experience when you feel like you’re drowning, cannot do it all, and need to reach out for help before you are taken under. We all say, “It takes a village to raise a child.” For some reason, though, mothers put all the pressure on themselves, make every decision, and try to carry out every parenting task by themselves. It’s not realistic, and having postpartum depression has shown me that I need a village to help raise my kids and also that I want that village.

For many people, that village will look different. It will be based on the avenues of support you have available to you. Find support wherever you can and however you feel comfortable. You may find your village in the hands of family and friends, or church and community programming, a therapist or other similar professionals, daycare, and then some. I have this vision in my head of a civilization-type video game, creating the perfect village to support its people and help them thrive. Grab a pen and paper now to begin building your village how you see fit. Once your plan is in action, you will find that pressure beginning to release.

3. I’m more compassionate.

I can now be a better support for others going through similar trials because I know what they’re feeling. I understand the kind of support they may need, without them having to say it out loud. I see people’s faces and reactions differently now. I can better see through the fake smiles. I can better hear the lies behind the “I’m doing good.”

You never know what’s going on inside a person. We don’t like to talk about what we’re going through and tend to hide our true emotions. On the worst of days, depression can lash out at the people around us with irritability, anger, or avoidance. Going forward, I try to think how I would like to be treated on my worst of days and treat others with that utmost level of compassion and understanding. On those bad days, I need more grace, more kindness, and more love. So, if you run into a person with a bad attitude in a store, think to yourself what they may be struggling with that day.

I am more compassionate towards my kids. Compassion, in its literal meaning, is to “suffer together.” So, basically, when my child cries – I cry. Let me explain, with my first child, I was more schedule-based and open to sleep training techniques. I’m not saying those techniques are good or bad but in going through PPD after my second child, I couldn’t let my baby cry for more than a few seconds because if I did, my anxiety and depression would go through the roof. My brain would shut down and think it’d be better to die than endure the stress of baby cries.

Even to this day, I make parenting choices that others may see as spoiling, enabling, or avoidance simply because of the extreme anxiety and depression I get from those cries. For better or worse, I am more sensitive to my children’s feelings and needs.

4. I take less offense.

When you have a mental illness, the stress on your brain takes a lot out of you. One coping mechanism I have learned is to care less about what others think. It’s not worth it. It’s not worth that extra brain energy. Caring about others’ opinions only increases stress levels. I do my best not to let those judgmental comments from unwelcome advice-givers get to me.

Repeat after me: SMILE AND NOD.

This goes the same for taking offense. We live in a society that feels you must choose a side and stand up for it. Don’t feel pressured to choose a side – sometimes, it’s okay to be in a grey area. You don’t have to make up your mind on something right away. You don’t have to take on every cause and fight for them. Now is the time for you and your family, so save that brain power for self-care. Otherwise, you may not have the energy to care for your children or your spouse/partner. Once those priorities are cared for and you are healing, you’ll eventually have the mental and emotional strength and capacity to take on a cause. In the meantime, the cause is you.

5. I have more patience.

Patience is a learned skill and to learn patience, you need to experience stressful situations in which patience is needed. Honestly, before I had kids I thought I had amazing patience. I actually do, but having a child with ADHD and then experiencing postpartum depression tested that patience like I never thought possible.

Take this for example: a mom with a colicky baby and postpartum depression will have more opportunities to practice patience than a healthy mom with an angel baby. For a mom with postpartum depression, in those stressful situations, choosing patience will be considerably more difficult. Over time, if you take steps towards healing, practicing patience will slowly become easier. My PPD journey has been four years so far – my patience has grown and my depression-based irritability has decreased.

Are you experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression? A high percentage of women experiencing depression following the birth of a baby don’t seek professional help. What’s worse is that there is no protocol in place for doctors to address the mental health of new mothers. Therefore, we need to advocate for ourselves. You need to be in tune with yourself and your mind. If you need, do not be afraid to reach out. Take care of yourself so you can begin to enjoy life. You may not be able to “choose” happiness right now, but you can choose you. You can choose to begin to add positive elements in your life. Choose you right now and begin your journey to healing.

Your journey isn’t going to be smooth sailing. There will be highs and lows, smooth and rough patches. You need to have a plan in place for those times when things aren’t going swell. You need to know what to do when your patience is being stressed to the max.

Here are some tips for you to turn things around and start seeing positives in your postpartum depression journey:

– Remember the acronym “STOP” when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or impatient. S means to simply stop what you’re doing. Try to stop your thought processes for a brief moment long enough to take a deep breath. T reminds us to take a moment and take a breath. Listen to your breath as is goes in and out of your body. Do this a couple times, then Observe. O prompts us to observe what is going on in our mind, heart, body, and environment. Finally, P is for proceed. Proceed with a new-found grace, new-found patience, and new-found awareness.

– Instill a positive and affirming mindset by saying a calming phrase: “I am a good mom” or “I am strong. I am calm.”

– When things become overwhelming and too much to handle, set the baby down in a safe place or pass him/her on to someone else for a while. Take a break, shower, or simply a few deep, slow breaths.

– Try acupressure for anxiety: 3 finger widths below your wrist, press and knead the center for approximately 2 minutes

– Schedule regular self-care appointments with yourself. This can include prayer or meditation, getting some fresh air or exercise. Spend time doing things you love to do, that re-energize your body and mind.

– Create a peaceful environment: put on your favorite music and maybe even diffuse some oils.

– Keep a journal of your happy moments, reasons to live, and things you love about your children and partner.

– Utilize your village. Regularly call, spend time with, or receive childcare from a family member, friend, or community program. Schedule in your village visits so you don’t get caught becoming too overwhelmed.

– Don’t be afraid to use medications. Talk to your doctor about what’s right for you.