Do I suffer from Postnatal Depletion or Postnatal Depression?
Self-diagnosing is never a good idea, but it’s still important to get to know your condition
I had it tough after giving birth to the love of my life; I felt miserable, I was tired, and I couldn’t see a way out from the situation I was living in. I remember going to a Gp and a postpartum counsellor where I poured my heart out. I was quickly diagnosed with postpartum depression and invited to follow weekly therapy sessions.
I’m so grateful for the medical system that took me on board and helped out after listening to my concerns, although they, unfortunately, missed the point, as I knew I wasn’t depressed, but utterly exhausted.
I was suffering from a severe form of postnatal depletion, caused by the massive overwhelm of raising a child without support, while sleep deprived, undernourished, and in constant pain thanks to a newly diagnosed autoimmune condition. I needed a nap much more than I needed to attend a counselling session.
This is why I’m so passionate about speaking up about postnatal depletion and bring awareness on how it differs from postnatal depression.
Postnatal depression is the name given to depression that develops between one month and up to one year after the birth of a baby. It affects about 1 in every 7 women who give birth in Australia each year. Research in Australia has shown that the peak of incidence of depression postnatally doesn’t come within the first year after birth but happens four years later (Serrallach 2018).
There are many signs that someone may be struggling with postnatal depression. Some of the more common ones include:
- having a very low mood
- feeling inadequate and a failure as a mother
- having a sense of hopelessness about the future
- feeling exhausted, empty, sad and teary
- feeling guilty, ashamed or worthless
- feeling anxious or panicky
- having trouble sleeping, sleep for too long or have nightmares
- worrying excessively about their baby
- feeling scared of being alone or going out
In some cases, women may experience thoughts about leaving their family or worried that their partner may leave them. They could also have ideas about self-harm or harming their partner or baby (Beyond Blue 2019).
One symptom that distinguishes depression from depletion is the inability to derive pleasure from the things you used to enjoy. In depletion, life at its core still feels good. In depression, there is no joy in the experience of motherhood and in the activities that we used to love in our “previous” life (Serrallach 2018).
Another common sign is insomnia. It is normal for mothers to wake up multiple times at night; a depleted mother will usually fall back to sleep within few minutes, while the depressed mother, due to a biochemical imbalance, takes hours to fall back to sleep.
Moreover, a depleted mother is quite vocal about how miserable and anxious she feels, while a depressed mother can’t tell the difference, and it’s very common for the people around her to pick on what is wrong before she does.
Both postpartum depression and depletion are life-consuming and take the joy out of motherhood in their different ways.
In both cases, I would invite you to:
Get a correct diagnosis
If you feel that life and joy have been sucked out of you, or if your partner makes a comment about your fragile state of mind, book a consultation with your trusted doctor as soon as you can. Postpartum depression is easily diagnosed through a 2 minutes quiz; your doctor will then be able to direct you to a counsellor or organisation that can support you through this fragile stage of your life. If you have a sense that something is wrong, don’t wait for it to go away, as it won’t get better by itself, and you need all the support you can get.
Ask for help
We all need help, and sometimes we need lots of it. If you find that you can’t do it by yourself, be honest with your partner, friends, and relatives, and tell them what is going on in your mind. It is ok if you don’t know what you need, and being able to vocalise how you feel is a great step towards a better life. Becoming a mother is life-changing and overwhelming on so many levels, and no one expects you to do it by yourself. Speak up, and allow people in.
Move and Breathe
When you are exhausted and miserable, exercising feels like a task; it is fine, you don’t need to exercise. But you need to move your body, allow the blood and oxygen to run through your muscles, and you need to breathe, from your belly, in a conscious manner, for at least 5 minutes, every day. Movement and breathing can increase vitality and dramatically decrease anxiety in less than a few minutes. The good news is that you don’t need to leave the house or get changed to do that.
If you are dealing with depression, you are going to find it very hard to get motivated; in that case, you may want to rely on your partner or friends to prompt you to move or take you out of your bubble. Remember, it won’t last forever.
Go Back to the Foundation
If you are depleted, sometimes is as simple as eating nourishing foods, sleep as much as you can and get sun-kissed by plenty of vitamin D. If you are depressed, it’s a little bit more complicated than that, but you still need to have a good foundation:
- Eat regular nourishing meals to heal your body
- Replenish your gut microbiome and keep your sugar level in check
- Hydrate every day to revitalise your brain cells and to keep up the milk production
- Take the right supplements under the supervision of a qualified nutritionist
- Go for a walk in nature, every day
- Expose your skin to the sun for at least 10 minutes a day
- Lay down whenever sleeping isn’t available
- Stretch like a cat, and hug your baby when you need a quick pick me up
Take the shame out of it
You are exhausted.
You have a chemical imbalance in your brain.
What’s shameful about it?
Postnatal Depression affects more than 1 in 8 postpartum women worldwide; unfortunately, almost all women go through postnatal depletion. You are not alone.
Be vocal about your condition, and instead of apologising for how you feel, start sharing your story so you can support someone else that is going through the same.
You are a survivor, you are a warrior.
Do you need to nap more than other people? So be it!
Do you need to take medications for a period of your life? So be it!
You are taking charge of your health, family, and life. Be proud of yourself.
One last word: PLEASE avoid self-diagnosing yourself, and avoid pushing through the pain without complaining. If you feel that your life could be better, talk to a specialist. TODAY!