National Maternal Depression Month: 9 Tips for Coping with Postpartum Depression

Do you suffer from postpartum depression? Find out what the symptoms are, as well as 9 tips for coping with it from a woman who’s been there in this post on the Bipolar Parent!

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Trigger Warning: This post contains a brief mention of suicidal ideation. If you are suffering from suicidal thoughts, please talk with someone from the Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Postpartum depression is a special kind of hell. You’ve been told that the time with your newborn is fleeting and magical. That you should be bonding with your baby. That every mother has the blues, so there shouldn’t be anything wrong with you.

But postpartum depression is not fleeting or magical. It interrupts the bond with your baby and leaves you a compromised mess. And it’s not just the typical blues “every” mother gets; if you have postpartum depression, there is definitely something wrong.

May is National Maternal Depression month. The awareness month is intended to acknowledge the seriousness of depression and psychosis during and after pregnancy. Studies show that up to 20% of mothers suffer from some form of depression in the postpartum period.

And you know what they say: “when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” The damage that can be dealt to families when a mother suffers from depression or psychosis is tremendous.

9 tips for coping with postpartum depression - CassandraStout.com

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Psychosis

Postpartum depression symptoms can show up anytime within the first year, though most tend to show up soon after your baby’s birth. If you or your loved ones are feeling three or more of these symptoms, call your doctor right away.

Symptoms of postpartum depression can include:

  • Persistent sadness or anxiety
  • Irritability or anger, especially for no reason
  • Sleeping too much
  • Changes in eating patterns, either too much or too little
  • Mood swings
  • A lack of ability to focus
  • Changes in memory (can’t remember things)
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Anhedonia – Lack of pleasure in usually enjoyable activities
  • Isolating yourself
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Unexplained aches, pains, or illness
  • Interrupted bond with the baby

Postpartum psychosis, however, usually shows up within 2 weeks of the birth. The most significant risk factors for postpartum psychosis are a family history of bipolar disorder or a previous psychotic episode.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include:

  • Delusions or strange beliefs
  • Auditory or visual hallucinations
  • Enormous irritability
  • Feeling pressured to go, go, go all the time
  • High energy
  • Inability to sleep, or decreased need for sleep
  • Paranoia
  • Extreme mood swings that cycle quickly
  • Inability to communicate at times

Postpartum psychosis is a serious disorder of the mind. Women who experience postpartum psychosis die by suicide 5% of the time and kill their infants 4% of the time. The psychosis causes delusions and hallucinations to feel real and compelling. They are often religious. Postpartum psychosis requires immediate treatment. If you or a loved one are feeling any of these symptoms, head to your nearest emergency room.

My Story

After my son was born, I suffered a postpartum psychotic break and committed myself to a mental hospital, where I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. I later wrote a book about the experience. After I recovered from the break, a manic episode with psychotic features, I suffered postpartum depression.

By the two-and-a-half year mark, I was writing daily suicide notes and making plans to die. It wasn’t until I weaned my son and took lithium that the clouds parted. My full recovery took a long time after that, but I was able to recover. I have since had a second child with no ill effects.

But if you have postpartum depression, how do you cope with it? Read on for 9 practical tips from a woman who’s been there.

Tip #1: Get Professional Help

Postpartum depression is a beast that screams for professional help. If you don’t already have a treatment team including a therapist, psychiatrist, and a primary care physician, then make the effort to get one.

(For a post on getting a psychiatric evaluation, click here. For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.)

I know calling and vetting doctors at a time when you can barely hold your head above water sounds about as appealing as sticking your hand into a box of tarantulas. But trust me: the sooner you get help, the better off you’ll be. If you have a friend or a partner willing to support you, delegate the task of finding doctors and making appointments to your helpers.

A therapist can teach you coping skills to better handle your depressive episode. And a psychiatrist can prescribe you medication which can improve your mood and anxiety tremendously. And your primary care physician can give you referrals to a therapist and a psychiatrist.

If you don’t have a primary care physician, go to urgent care or call Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4773. Their website, postpartum.net, enables you to find local resources to get treatment, and support groups for new moms like you. You can also ask your ob-gyn if the hospital in which you delivered offers services to treat postpartum depression.

Tip #2: Take Your Medications

If you’ve been prescribed medication, then do take it. There’s no shame in using the tools that you’ve been given specifically to help you.

I know that you may not feel an effect for a couple of weeks, and the first medication may not even work the way you want it to, but I promise, if you stick with them, your meds will help. Stay the course. Work with your psychiatrist (see tip #1) to find the right combination of medication to help you.

Don’t stop taking them abruptly, as they aren’t designed for that, and you will suffer withdrawal symptoms. For a post on what to do if you run out of medication, click here.

You can pull through this. You just need to be patient–and take your meds as prescribed. Give medication a chance, and you’ll be well on your way to recovery.

Tip #3: Practice Self-care

Practice self-care. A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.

Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.

Try to get enough sleep during the week, eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, exercise, and spend some time outside and with other people.

Practicing self-care on a daily basis is difficult. It’s the box of tarantulas problem again. But taking care of yourself will help your depression lift.

Tip #4: Lean on Your Friends

If there was ever a time to lean on your friends, this is it.

Tap into your social network and ask for support during a time when you might be feeling vulnerable. Give your friends a call and ask them to listen to your worries, or join an online support group. If you have a church or social organization, see if someone would be willing to set up a meal train for you. Ask your friends or family to come watch the baby so you can get some life-saving sleep.

Sometimes asking for help is the hardest part of being down and out. Pride is a stumbling block. But there’s no shame in asking for help if you really need it. If you’re depressed, you’re really suffering, and you need the aid of others. Lean on your friends.

Tip #5: Journal, Journal, Journal

When faced with overwhelming feelings, you need to express yourself. Don’t stuff your worries, thinking they’ll go away. You’ll only succeed in making them bigger and harder to overcome.

If motherhood is not what you envisioned, write about how unfair this new normal is. Journal your concerns about your baby. Write down your dreams.

Talking to someone also helps. Reach out to your friends (tip #4) and speak with them about your fears.

However, if you have a rare disorder called hypergraphia, the compulsion to write, then try to avoid writing. During my postpartum psychosis, I suffered from hypergraphia, and was compelled to write multiple to-do lists with hundreds of items each. I filled up a journal my husband bought me on the day of my son’s birth within a week.

If you are suffering from hypergraphia, it is even more imperative that you seek treatment (tip #1).

Tip #6: Breastfeed… But Only if You Can and Want To

Studies have shown that mothers who breastfed for two to four months were less likely to suffer postpartum depression. But for mothers who couldn’t or didn’t want to breastfeed and felt pressure to do so, their depressive symptoms were worse.

If you can and want to breastfeed, then do so. You may feel the benefits.

But if you can’t breastfeed or don’t want to, then don’t, and don’t feel shame. You are doing a wonderful job feeding your baby regardless of how you feed them. Ignore judgmental people, and do what’s best for you. What’s best for you is best for your baby.

For a post on which common antidepressants and antipsychotics are safe to take while breastfeeding, click here.

Tip #7: Schedule Me-time

Anyone juggling the demands of a newborn needs me-time. This is doubly true if you’re depressed. Lean on your friends (tip #4) to watch the baby so you can get out for a walk, take a nap, and practice self-care.

If you can’t bear to be separated from your baby, just try for twenty minutes. You can be alone for twenty minutes. That’s enough time to squeeze in a yoga or meditation session, or read a couple chapters of a book.

You need time off to function as an adult. Losing your identity to the vast maw of motherhood is a real concern. Schedule me-time.

Tip #8: Cry

After the postpartum period, your body is flush with hormones. One of the ways to rebalance your hormonal imbalance is to cry. Our bodies secrete hormones through our tears.

Don’t be afraid of tears. Embrace them. Sometimes, if you give yourself over to a good cry, it can be cleansing.

Tip #9: Practice Infant Massage

Infant massage has a whole host of benefits. The baby’s sleep may improve. Rubbing infants down stimulates growth hormone in underweight babies, and helps all babies’ stomachs. And infant massage also helps the pain of teething.

Most importantly, performing regular infant massage can help you bond with your baby. When you’re depressed, bonding with your newborn can be extremely difficult. Connecting with your baby through your hands may help.

Final Thoughts

Postpartum depression doesn’t have to last forever. If you get professional help, take your medications, practice self-care, lean on your friends, journal your feelings, breastfeed (but only if you can and want to), schedule me-time, cry, and practice infant massage, then you’ll be well on your way to recovery.

You don’t have to do all of these tips. Pick and choose the ones that are most appealing. But if you do any of them, do the first: get professional help.

Postpartum depression is a serious condition which requires the aid of doctors. And postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency.

Don’t be afraid to reach out. Trust your instincts. If you feel that something is wrong, then do take the first steps to care for yourself.

I wish you well in your journey.

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9 tips for coping with postpartum depression - CassandraStout.com

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How to Make Time for Self-Care as a Parent During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Are you a parent with bipolar disorder trapped inside with your kids due to the coronavirus pandemic? Read this post by the Bipolar Parent for practical tips on how to make time for self-care!

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A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.

Self-care is simpler than you might think. Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.

As I said in my last post, How to Manage Being Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder, self-care is crucial for your daily functioning as a parent with bipolar disorder. This is true always, but especially true during self-quarantining due to the coronavirus outbreak.

I also shared a daily schedule my toddler and I try to follow, which had room for eating, sleeping, outside time, and work, but not much else.

So how do you find the time to do self-care when you’re stuck at home with small children–and you need to work?

Here are some practical tips that you might want to try while in self-quarantine.

How to make time for self-care as a parent during the coronavirus - CassandraStout.com

Tip #1: Fill Your Child’s “Tanks”

Sometimes, your kids whine and glom onto you like limpets. That’s usually when they have a physical or emotional need.

Often, before you separate from your children to perform self-care for yourself, you need to fill their physical or emotional “tanks.”

Spend a little time with your children before jetting off, and you’re less likely to be interrupted when you do go take that bubble bath.

Set them up with a snack, give them some kisses and cuddles, and play racecar driver with them. Listen to your tween’s ramblings about Minecraft for a while. You’ll be glad you did.

Generally, the happier your kids are when you leave them (provided they can be left; toddlers can’t, which I’ll cover in the next tip), the more time you’ll be able to take for yourself.

Tip #2: Preplan STEAM Projects

This follows my tip #5 from yesterday: to keep your child entertained and busy on their own with independent play, prepare STEM/Art, or STEAM projects. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering. and Math. With Art, that’s STEAM.

Yesterday, I listed several activities my 3-year-old has done and the supplies we have on our crafting shelf. I won’t list them all again here, but if you’re looking for ideas for a toddler, check them out.

As I write this, she was sorting through buttons with a clothespin, placing them into a cup. She worked on fine motor skills and shape recognition, both parts of STEAM for a toddler. She also worked on counting, as she counted the buttons, and pattern recognition as she sorted them by color.

STEAM activities are as simple as that. The last time she did this activity, she entertained herself for an hour with minimal input from me.

This time, she lasted about 20 minutes, and then we made purple playdough. She’s currently kneading and rolling out the homemade dough, then cutting it into shapes with cookie cutters. So far, she’s been entertained for 45 minutes by the playdough alone, enabling me to write.

In preplanning activities, I printed a calendar for March, and spent a couple of hours listing one activity per day. We do this project at 1pm every afternoon. The calendar has taken a lot of the pressure off of me to think of something every day.

Take a couple of hours to preplan activities and write them down on a calendar for April. You can pick up supplies at any grocery store or order them on Amazon.

Two great resources for toddler STEAM projects are Little Bins for Little Hands and Busy Toddler. For older kids, try STEM Activities for Kids.

Preparing STEAM projects takes a little up front work, but the payoff of more time for work–or, preferably, self-care–is worth it.

Tip #3: Prepare Meals on the Weekends

This tip is similar to tip #2: prepare meals on the weekends, also known as meal prepping. If you do as much upfront work on your meals as possible, you don’t have to make dinner during the week.

This saves a huge amount of time, some of which can be used for self-care.

Slow cooker “dump meals” are meals where you place all the ingredients in a Ziploc bag and then dump them in the slow cooker on the morning you want to cook it. The food cooks all day and smells wonderful, tastes great at night, and takes minimal prep on the weekend.

Brown all your ground beef on Saturdays. Chop all your vegetables. Bake and shred that chicken. Soak and cook those beans.

Make cooking a family activity. All hands on deck means less work for you, and the kids get to learn something, too.

There are many websites on the internet devoted to meal prepping. Type that term into your preferred browser’s search bar, and you will find sites that list recipes, meal plans, and shopping lists for a week’s meals or more.

Tip #4: Get Support from Your Partner

If you’re lucky to have a partner isolating himself or herself with you, count your blessings.

If you’re burned out and need a little bit of me-time, ask your partner for some support. Ask them to watch the kids for an hour while you take a nap.

Most partners are supportive if you ask, but sometimes we don’t know how to ask or even what we need. Figure that out before you approach your partner.

Take some time after the kids are in bed to make a list of self-care ideas that appeal to you, and the time each will take. Then figure out what is reasonable to ask of your partner.

Don’t be afraid to ask; the worst thing they can say is no, and that opens up a chance for you two to have a conversation.

Be sure to reciprocate as well. If your partner offers you an hour to yourself, offer them the same in return.

Final Thoughts

These times are stressful for everyone, especially parents with bipolar disorder who also have to work at home. You’re wearing many hats: homeschooler, partner, parent, employee, and mental illness manager.

Self-care is critical for your survival. You have to eat, sleep, and spend time by yourself so you have a chance to breathe.

Take care of yourself. Stay healthy.

I wish you well in your journey.

Tune in next week for types of self-care, as well as several self-care ideas for parents with bipolar disorder isolated at home with their kids.

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How to Make Time for Self-Care as a Parent Stuck at Home during Coronavirus - CassandraStout.com

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: The Future Edition

Hello, hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: The Future Edition! Thanks for stopping by.

How are you doing this week? What parenting challenges have you been facing? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you practicing self-care? How has the coronavirus affected your life lately? I hope you don’t have it! Let me know in the comments; I genuinely want to know about you and your struggles.

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: The Future Edition - CassandraStout.com

My (Two) Weeks — And the Future of The Bipolar Parent

I didn’t update last week, and for that I apologize. I was waiting on some news that was time-sensitive.

But now I can share it: I have a job! My friend and frequent commenter, author and mental health blogger Dyane Harwood, was approached by an editor at Verywell. Part of Dotdash (previously About.com), Verywell is a website focused on health and medicine that boasts 17 million unique visitors per month.

Dyane was told by the editor that Verywell needed a contributing writer for their articles re: bipolar disorder. Dyane, bless her, said she was overextended, and passed my contact information and blog onto the editor.

The editor contacted me, and asked if I would be willing to blog for them on a regular basis. After discussing the challenges of being a working parent with my husband, I agreed to take the job.

I am so excited! This is a wonderful opportunity to expand my writing resume and add feathers to my cap. A million thank yous to Dyane!

All of this means there will be some changes to The Bipolar Parent, my personal blog. I will be writing four articles per month for Verywell, and I don’t know if I will be able to continue blogging here as frequently.

My children will be out of school for the summer, and my husband is not comfortable with drop-in daycare for either of them. Rather than writing blog posts while they are in school, I will be writing in my very limited free time after the kids go to bed.

That being said, I need to discontinue the Saturday Morning Mental Health Check ins. I apologize in advance, but I already know that I won’t be able to keep posting on Saturday on The Bipolar Parent while writing for Verywell.

I hope to continue posting on Fridays, but I am uncertain if I will be able to keep up the quantity of quality posts while blogging four times a month for the other site.

I will check in with myself in April (next month) and make an honest decision. After that, whatever I decide, I will check in again in August, three months later, and see if I need to reevaluate my ability to post to both sites.

Whatever happens to The Bipolar Parent, I plan to continue blogging for the International Bipolar Foundation, so you can see me both there and at Verywell. If I’m not producing original content here, I will be linking to both my Verywell posts and my IBPF posts.

I appreciate that you’ve all supported me in my writing. The journey from beginning blogger to contributing writer at IBPF and Verywell has been long, but you all have been there for me. Thank you so much.

I wish you well in your own journeys.

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Apathy Edition

How are you? What have you been struggling with? Let me know!

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Hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Apathy Edition!

How are you? Have you been keeping up with your self-care? How’s parenting going? What have you been struggling with lately? What’s been good in your life? Let me know!

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Apathy Edition - CassandraStout.com

My Week

I’ve just been going through the motions this week. There’s been a serious disconnect between me and everything going on around me.

Except for the basics like pre-scheduled playdates and making dinner, I’ve done literally nothing but sit on the couch and play on my phone, and I’m not even enjoying that. No housework. Not enough engagement with my kids. I’ve had the doldrums lately.

I’ve also engaged in a lot of negative self-talk about my body. I’ve been on my menstrual cycle this week, which didn’t help my mood, and made me feel fat and gross. I’ve put myself down for being about 50 pounds overweight all week, and now I’m putting a stop to that. Negative self-talk has no benefit, and doesn’t help me want to lose weight at all. It just makes me feel bad.

I’ve scheduled an appointment to talk to my therapist on Monday. I called a warmline Friday evening, and the operator I talked to has bipolar disorder, which was very helpful. I could tell she understood bipolar depression, because she’s lived it. I’ll be meeting with my psychiatrist in March, though I might want to call his office and ask for an earlier appointment. We shall see.

So I’m taking steps to address this soul-sucking pit of depression that I’ve found myself in. Please keep me in your prayers.

-Cass

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Apathy Edition - CassandraStout.com

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Tips and Resources for Online Support Groups

internet
A picture of a sign with yellow font on a blue background that reads “Internet Chat Room” in all caps. Credit to flickr.com user Fuzzy Gerades. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

If you suffer from a mental illness like bipolar disorder, then a peer support group can be a valuable asset to you. Having other people validate your experience might be liberating; being able to offer similar support to those around you may be cathartic. Support groups are not a replacement for therapy but can be a useful tool to help you feel less alone in your struggles.

However, finding a local group can sometimes be difficult, so you may turn to the internet to help facilitate a meeting between you and your peers. Read on to find out some tips to make the most of an online support group, as well as a list of resources for internet-based groups centered on people with bipolar disorder.

1. Be respectful

Do I really need to suggest that people need to be respectful of others in online support groups? Unfortunately, yes. Some people can be overly critical of others and attack them personally. Keep away from those behaviors, and your peers will respond accordingly. Correcting misinformation is okay, but be mindful of other people’s feelings while doing so.

2. Don’t release personal details

When participating in an online setting of any kind, you need to stay somewhat anonymous. Sharing your experiences is okay, as long as you don’t offer any personal details like where you live, your age, your real, full name, or anything else that identifies you. There are already documented cases of insurers denying life-saving coverage to people from based on what they’ve shared online. Employers also look at online history when determining whom to hire. If you post anything to the group that can be tied back to you, you put yourself at risk.

3. Try to remain positive

When I say “try to remain positive,” I don’t mean that you should pretend everything is hunky dory when you’re struggling. I mean that you should recognize what agency you have in the situation, and try to remain hopeful that your pain will pass eventually. One of the reasons to attend a support group is to build up the grit needed to reject despair and move forward.

4. Be mindful about what you read

You may ask for and receive advice that is applicable to your situation, or you may find that people share diverse experiences with you that don’t relate. That’s okay. Take what you need; reject everything else. Don’t expect that every word you read will be applicable or even accurate. There is a lot of misinformation about treatments floating around on the internet. Make sure to do your own research rather than just listening to the first source you hear. Support groups are mainly for the sharing and validating of experiences.

Resources

Here’s a list of resources for online support groups. Don’t give up if the first group you find isn’t a good “fit” for you. You may need an in-person support group (which I will cover in a future post) led by a facilitator instead, but give the online ones a try.

+supportgroups is a website with an easy commenting system. You simply post what you’re feeling and people respond on the site, similar to a forum.

bp Magazine Bipolar Facebook Support Group: The tagline for this Facebook support group run by bp Magazine is “Hope and Harmony for People With Bipolar Disorder.” There are over 8,000 members at the time of this writing.

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) runs several 60-minute support groups on specific dates and at specific times on the website Support Groups Central. Join the site as a member for free; you have to fill out a profile, but your attendance in meetings is confidential. You will see a video stream of the facilitator and may choose to allow your own video to stream. This is the most like an in-person support group that I’ve found.

HealthfulChat is a traditional chat room with regulars and new people at all hours of the day. You may need to install the most recent update to Flash in order to log in.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re feeling depressed or manic, there’s a support group for you. Just remember to be respectful, don’t release personal details, try to remain positive, and be mindful of what you read.

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