One night, with my 2-year-old safely ensconced on the couch with a glass of milk and an episode of Sesame Street, I slipped away to be alone with my racing thoughts. When my husband found me in the nursery, I explained that I was mentally going through my to-do lists. "On the floor of your daughter's bedroom in the fetal position?" Yes. I know that, to my husband, I am a bit of a puzzle, and that's never more true than when it comes to my postpartum anxiety (PPA). I wish my partner just knew certain things about my PPA.
As a pregnant person with a history of depression, I was on high alert for postpartum depression (PPD). My medical team and I decided to attempt to "inoculate" me by keeping me on my anti-depressant during pregnancy, and it worked. Postpartum anxiety, however, hit me like a ton of bricks. I just wasn't expecting it, and neither was my husband, who was tuned in for signs of the baby blues, but not anxiety. Like many women with PPA, I went undiagnosed and untreated for quite some time. I knew I wasn't depressed, but I was also sure the out of control worry, hyper-vigilance, and restlessness weren't normal.
It came as a real surprise to my husband when I said I wanted to seek help. PPA is a "hidden" disorder, and I think he just couldn't see how much I was struggling (and I wasn't helping by suffering in silence). Thanks to the stigma surrounding mental health, it can be something I have trouble talking about. It's not entirely fair of me (holler if you've heard "I'm not a mind reader, damnit!"), but I do wish my partner just knew the following things about PPA without me having to say it:
That I Love My Life
I think this is what is hardest for my husband (and anyone on the outside looking in, for that matter) to understand. I get it. I have an objectively awesome life: a beautiful home and family and work I love. The insinuation is that my anxiety has something to do with dissatisfaction with my circumstances, and that couldn't be further from the truth.
The thing about anxiety is that it's just always there, under the surface. Sure, certain situations (a miscarriage or a deployment, for example) can trigger it or exacerbate its symptoms. But it's not like if I just had this one missing thing in my life (more money, another baby), my anxiety would go away. Having anxiety doesn't mean I don't appreciate what I have.
That This Is Very Real For Me
It's not that I think my husband really believes that I'm faking it, but I do sometimes feel like he thinks I'm making it a bigger deal than it really is, or that I could handle it better. I'm not trying to be a martyr; something really is wrong with me.
Because it's in your head, people tend not to think of mood disorders like they would other chronic conditions, such as diabetes. It's unfair because it's not all that different. Postpartum anxiety even has physical manifestations, including dizziness and nausea.
That His Words Matter
For many of us in relationships, our partners are our safe people. That sometimes means that they get the worst of us. We go along all day playing nice with people who aren't really that important to us, and then treat each other like crap. I am 100 percent guilty of this, and I know I need to work on it.
What I wish my husband understood is that because of my anxiety, an offhand remark like, "Don't make this about you" can really throw me for a loop. I will ruminate about it all night, especially because what he thinks matters to me. Although I'm the first to admit that the negative sticks with me longer than the positive, I need more, "You're a good mom," "You've got this," and "I love you." (In return, I'll cut out the "dumdum" name-calling. Deal?)
That I Can't Just "Stop Worrying"
Believe me, if I could switch off my anxiety, I would. It's not that easy. Depressed people can't just "cheer up" and anxious moms can't just "relax" any more than an asthmatic can just "take some deep breaths." When it comes to mood disorders, there's a lot that just isn't under our control.
That I'm Not Weak
The fact that I suffer from postpartum anxiety isn't reflective of some so-called lack of moral character. Just because you experienced a difficult time in your life, and pulled yourself out of it, doesn't mean you know what I'm going through. It's not the same thing.
Actually, the fact that I have crippling anxiety and still manage to take care of our child, household, and work responsibilities means I'm strong AF.
That I'm Taking Steps To Manage It
No, postpartum anxiety isn't something that I can control, but it is something that I can manage. When I practice my lion-mind mentality, do a sun salutation, take my medication faithfully, and see my doctor and therapist, I am taking the steps that are within my control to manage my condition.
Partners need to not only encourage these behaviors, but help make them possible. Take the baby for a walk around the block so mommy can meditate.
That I Need Reassurance
I've always been an insecure person. When I was a little girl and my mom got mad at me, I would ask her, "Do you still love me?" I think a lot of it stems from the fact that my biological dad was an unreliable presence in my young life. I'm always afraid I'm going to be left behind.
Moms with postpartum depression and anxiety have fears. However irrational they may seem to our partners, we need some reassurance. Remind us that you're not going anywhere, and cliché or not, a little "everything's going to be OK" never hurt anybody.
That I Need Help
I can't really complain too much, because my husband does a great job of taking things off my plate. I get easily overwhelmed, so when he assumes all turkey-related responsibilities at Thanksgiving, takes a load of towels to the laundromat when the washer is broken, or handles drop-off and pick-up on his off days, it goes a long way toward easing my mind.
Partners need to be aware, however, that the help the mom in their life needs can sometimes only be provided by a medical professional. They should facilitate that need instead of choosing to consider it a failing on their part.
That I Don't Need Him To Fix It
It's in my husband's nature to see a problem and want to fix it. My stepdad is the same way, and my grandpa was, too. I think it's how they were raised. I totally appreciate that he sees me having trouble and wants to make it better. When it comes to my postpartum anxiety, however, sometimes all I need is for him to listen and console. I need to be supported, not fixed.
That This Could Take Some Time
I'm two and a half years postpartum, and anxiety is still very much a part of my daily reality. Can I even call it postpartum anymore? I don't know. I know it must be frustrating for my partner that I'm continuing to have symptoms so long after the birth of our child. I just want him to know that this is a process, and I'm grateful to him to sticking by my side as we figure this out together.
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