By Madiha Malik
My name is Madiha. I am a Registered Early Childhood Educator (BASc, RECE) and a mama of a two-year-old. A year ago, when my son turned one, I had a severe panic attack while driving. The next four months after that were the most difficult and challenging that I have ever faced. It was around the time I had started weaning my son off from breastfeeding. In the first 2 months, I was just lost and could not find answers. I cannot tell how important your support system becomes at this point. Alhamdulillah, even though my family could also not figure out why I was feeling this way, they were being supportive and positive, which was a huge reason why I was able to help myself.
Symptoms of Post Partum Depression
The stress and anxiety led to a severe upset stomach, chest tightness, breathing difficulties, shakiness, mental zip zap, access to electric energy being produced in my body. Coming out of the bed was like lifting a stack of rocks off my chest. I could not concentrate, drive, and became fearful of being alone. I was experiencing a loss of appetite. Even taking a shower would give me anxiety because the sound of the water would get amplified in my head. I went to see a naturopath and my family doctor who offered advice, but I was still in denial. It was not until one day my husband said, lets not focus on the why anymore, but the solution. There have been many times in my life where I have gone through bigger challenges, so what was different this time that my body went so down? I wanted to learn.
Causes of Post Partum Depression
This is when the change slowly began taking place. Education is empowerment. I learned how the brain chemicals change and why. Being a parent, if you are always running on low sleep, improper meals, thinking about your children all day and you push your own self somewhere deep down. When you are neglecting it, your body is bound to feel the effect at some point. Whether its postpartum or any other time. Our brains have parasympathetic (rest and digest) and sympathetic (fight and flight) systems. Prolonged periods of stress can lead our minds to lose the balance between these systems. Our brain starts producing too much cortisol (stress hormone) and activates the fight and flight response where you feel like you are in an emergency mode. Your body is responding to a threat that of course does not exist. Low levels of serotonin (chemical), found mostly in your digestive system, causes mood disorders, digestive issues, and more. Anxiety affects your memory and undermines the ability of your senses (that is why when we tell someone “look around you and appreciate your blessings” does not work) So, its very important to understand what is causing the imbalance. Sometimes the chemicals cannot be managed just through the techniques we learn and need medication, which is perfectly fine. Whatever will help you be yourself again is GREAT!
Coping with Post Partum Strategies
The good news is that we have a lot of power over these changes, especially when caught and dealt with early on. Prevention as well is better than a cure. So, there are many things we can do to empower ourselves. First is to know that our brains have the ability to change which is called brain plasticity. What we choose to do changes the wiring of our brain and helps it improve. This is why we can come out of depression and anxiety. This is why it is temporary. However, we have to learn how to manually turn off the sympathetic (fight and flight) system. Think of it as locking your car with a key when the remote does not work.
Some of the strategies that helped me:
Full Oxygen Exchange
Abdominal breathing allows for a full oxygen exchange that helps to lower your heart rate (you know the feeling that your heart is beating out of your chest). Read More
I had so much electric zip zap in my head. I always felt like electricity was just running up and down my body. I started following the calm app that helped me learn how to be calmer and compassionate towards myself. It taught me how to let go of self-criticism. It helped me create a healthy physical and mental connection. It taught me to ease back into going outside and letting go of anxious thoughts. Watch a Video
Cold showers would really help to wake up my senses that had become so numb. They gave me a new kind of energy. I could feel my body not just my brain that was always thinking. Read More
I started running after reading a few articles written by people who had overcome their mental health issues and found so much strength through it. After a few runs, I could see the effect. I started feeling happier and could pay more attention. Running releases endorphins (like other exercises) that make you feel happier and calmer and the effect lasts for hours. Read More
I was living in my pajamas. I had to change my routine. Looking and smelling good to yourself can make a huge impact on how you feel about yourself.
We dont realize how tired our muscles and bones become month after month of running to do things for our children. Our bodies need rest and our tensed muscles need to loosen up.
Catching up on sleep
I could not nurse my son anymore because I was so exhausted. My husband would do the nightly duties of giving him a bottle. This helped to get back my night sleep and slowly feeling more refreshed during the day.
I focused on eating mindfully and not eating in a rush then running to the next task. Slowing down everything helped to slow down my brain.
Slowly, I began feeling better to a point I could drive myself to work without feeling panicked. I started practicing deep breathing and positive thoughts that I had learned through the Calm app if I felt anxious in any situation.
Alhamdulillah, I was able to pull myself out of it, but some people cannot. Someone I know lost her life due to post-partum depression (and got called selfish) and I think it is really about time we all came together to validate each other and the hard work that is parenting. People who are going through depression and anxiety are not selfish or ungrateful. Lets break these labels and stereotypes. It is a condition that people cannot just snap out of. They need our patience, our unconditional support, and the reassurance that it is going to be okay.
About the Author:
My Name is Madiha. I am a kindergarten educator (RECE) and mama of a two-year-old. I am passionate about teaching young children and supporting families. My website www.motherhoodwonders.com is a small effort to break the big silence on postpartum depression and anxiety, in particular, amongst the south Asian community.