Postpartum Depression: What I Should Have Said

Guest post by Jessica Arrington

Arringtons walking.JPG

Recently, I saw a fellow Facebook user post about Postpartum Week. She shared her experience. I was inspired by her courage. I liked her post, thanked her for sharing her story, and turned around to share mine.

I received some of the same feedback—people thanking me for sharing my story. From my life experiences, I have come to believe that talking about our struggles helps us. Yet, when we share our experiences, our struggles, and how we came out on the other side…that, my friends, helps others. When we make the switch from talking to help ourselves to sharing to help others—that is what changes the world.

So, when I was talking to Allison about sharing my experience on Facebook, I told her that there were some responses that I didn’t know what to do with. Comments like, “Oh, I didn’t know you went through that” or “I’m so sorry you went through that.” I just shrugged them off. In my mind I was comforted, but I felt like I was supposed to share. I thought it wasn’t a big deal. Period. End. Of. Story.

My response to them was like a slap in the face—my own face. I’m sure my response didn’t help them, either. Shrugging off these responses does nothing to change how we help mamas going through postpartum struggles right now. So, what do we DO to help Postpartum Mamas? What should we say?

What I should have said was: “Thank you. I’ve learned a lot about what we can do to help moms struggling right now.”

If you are a hubby to a new mom, or if you love a new mom, here are some things you can do:

Say nothing.

Just listen. Odds are, Mom just wants to be heard. Listen to what she is saying, and give feedback when she’s open to hear it.

Help Joyfully.

When she asks you to change baby’s diaper, take out the trash, help with chores. Complaining and grumbling may make her feel bad or frustrated. She’ll try to do it all on her own, and taking on the responsibility all on her own can cause more anxiety and depression.

Get her into community.

There are many supports out in the community to help new moms. If she isn’t doing it herself, stop by her house, bring her food, hold baby while she sleeps. Moms—new moms especially—need community. Be there fore her. She’ll join the other supports when she’s ready!

Gently let her know that getting help is okay and even a good thing.

Honestly, if she’s not ready, she’s not ready and she won’t hear it. If she’s open, let her know that getting help or seeing a counselor is good to do. Check to see how much your insurance will cover or if your employer has an Employee Assistance Program.

Let her get filled up.

Ask her how much time she needs to step away and what does she want to go do. Encourage her to do it. Lovingly tell her to get out of the house and not come back for an hour. If she doesn’t know what she wants to do, she’ll figure it out in due time.

Don’t wait.

Know the signs. Is she acting differently than before baby? Don’t wait until she’s hit rock bottom to encourage or help her. By then, it will be a lot harder and a lot more work for her to get back to her healthy self.

This isn’t an end-all and be-all. Take from it what you will. If one thing works, great! You know the “new mom” in your life best. Use your gut instinct on the things you think she needs, and just show her love.

 The Arrington family welcoming their newest addition!

The Arrington family welcoming their newest addition!

 

Big thanks to Jessica for writing this guest post! Her openness about experiencing postpartum depression has taught me so much, equipped me to walk alongside women with postpartum depression, and inspired me to keep talking about mental health, even when it's hard.

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How to Support a Loved One with Mental Illness

  Photo from Pixabay.com

Photo from Pixabay.com

Years ago, a close friend of mine was going through a heart-wrenching breakup. I had run out of ideas on how to help her, and I was simply unsure what a good friend looked like in this particular situation. So I reached out to someone who did—someone who had been through a similarly devastating breakup—and I asked for help.

“What helped you? What are things your friends did that made you feel loved? What things did they do that didn’t make you feel loved? What are practical things I can do?” I asked.

I was deeply grateful for her response. She had something I didn’t: personal experience. This qualified her to see into the pain my friend was feeling in a way I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried.

Similarly, as someone who’s lived with mental illness, people often turn to me for advice when their loved ones are struggling with mental health issues.

As I’ve witnessed how many people contact me because they genuinely want to love their friends and family well, I’ve been motivated to put this advice onto paper (or screen) so it’s more widely available.

I’m not an expert or a mental health professional (though I am a big fan of those people!). In person or on the blog, I’m simply here to offer insight from personal experience. Over the next few posts I've invited several people to share their wisdom on how to support loved ones with specific mental illnesses, but this first topic is just for you!

As you walk alongside someone with mental illness, here are a few things that may be helpful to keep in mind.

1. Caring—just caring—goes a long way.

  Photo from Pexels.com

Photo from Pexels.com

As humans, we’re built for connection, and we can tell when someone cares. In the throes of mental illness, the stigma and shame can feel overwhelming. Knowing people care about us can be a powerful force.

Don’t underestimate the difference simply showing up can make in someone’s life. People with mental illness are still people, and connection matters to us all.

 

2. You are not responsible for someone else’s recovery. 

We are not responsible for others’ happiness, for their health, or for their mental wellbeing. We are not responsible for the decisions others make, for their backsliding or for their recovery. We are not responsible.

We are responsible for our own actions. We are responsible for acting in love and practicing compassion. We are responsible for our words and our attitudes. We are responsible for ourselves.

In our pride or our well-meaning love, we can berate ourselves for not doing more or fixing everything. However, no matter how hard we try or wish we could change someone’s mental health, we can’t. 

We are not responsible for their recovery, even if we wish we were.

3. Don’t forget about you.

In our efforts to help others, it can be easy to lose ourselves. We sacrifice time and energy, and sometimes we sacrifice our own identity in an attempt to help others find theirs.

In our devotion to others, it’s vital to take care of ourselves, too—to set boundaries, set aside time to rest, and engage in activities that replenish us in all senses: emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

  Photo from Pixabay.com

Photo from Pixabay.com

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Reach out to someone you trust and ask for help when you need it. “Help” might look like a lunch date to process how you’re doing or a quick text to a friend asking for prayer.

It might look like going to counseling or receiving training when you’re closely involved with someone with mental illness.

It might also look like asking your loved one with mental illness for help: “Can you help me understand what’s going on?” or “How I can best love you this week?”

Last of all, don’t be afraid to reach out for help from me or anyone else in your life who’s experienced mental illness! We are here for you, to support you and cheer you on and remind you to take a deep breath when things are hard.

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4 Ways the Enneagram Is Changing My Life

  Photo from Pexels.com

Photo from Pexels.com

I’ve never been overly interested in personality tests, but this one—this one was different. Occasionally I heard friends discuss the Enneagram, speaking “numbers” and “wings” as fluently as a second language. 

Despite my skepticism toward “personality types,” curiosity finally motivated me to complete the personality assessment.

I like the term “assessment” because unlike a test, there is no way to fail; it simply tells you what’s there and what isn’t. As a nurse, I’m well versed in assessing. We assess lung sounds, pain, safety—even poop! 

As a nurse, an assessment is neither a moral ruling nor a categorization algorithm. It’s an observation: this patient has crackles in their lungs; that patient has C. diff. The body’s current strengths and weaknesses are documented, and a plan is formed to move toward optimal health.

Much like a nursing assessment, the Enneagram leaves room for growth and struggle. It helps me identify healthy and unhealthy tendencies so that I can make a plan to move toward health. I won’t get into the complexities of how the Enneagram works, but there’s a brief description below. You can find more at the Enneagram Institute Website.

The Enneagram involves nine personality types, conveniently labeled 1-9. Each person has a dominant personality type (their “number”) and a secondary type (their “wing”), which is one of the numbers directly beside their dominant type. For example, I am a “6,” so my wings could be “5” or “7.” As it turns out, I’m a 6 wing 5. As I’ve studied sixes and other numbers, here’s what I’ve learned.

 
Enneagram of personality
 

1. I’m learning not to take harsh comments personally.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve always struggled with taking criticism or hurtful comments personally. Conceptually, I knew other people viewed the world differently than I did, but I didn’t understand what those differences were. 

Here, the Golden Rule failed me. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” left me wondering why genuinely well-meaning people would use harsh language when I made a mistake or make insensitive comments.

Studying the other Enneagram types helped me move from just knowing the fact that others think differently to understanding examples of other perspectives and why some people have “thick skin” and some (like me) don’t.

2. I’m learning change is hard for me because relationships are so important to me.

In a podcast about Enneagram sixes, Sarah Thebarge commented, “Relationships are everything to me.”

This is when something clicked in my brain. Historically, moving cities (or countries) has been extremely difficult for me (see my ebook on reentry for the raw details). I’ve always wondered at the people who seemingly flow seamlessly in and out of cultures, countries, and cities.

Finally, it dawned on me why it’s so difficult or me. Relationships are everything to me. Any time relationships change (church, community, friendships, etc.), I feel lost and out of control. I feel like my life has been ripped from me because to me, relationships are the essence of a meaningful life.

This insight helps me in two ways: it helps me understand why I feel the way I feel (like I’ve been hit by a train every time I move), and it helps me embrace truth (my life is not over when I move).

3. I’m learning to identify fear-based habits.

My therapist often mentions something called my “pain cycle” and “peace cycle.” Essentially, a pain cycle alternates between feeling distress and reacting to that distress with unhealthy coping mechanisms. Those unhealthy reactions spark shame and more distress, and the cycle continues.

In contrast, a peace cycle involves experiencing distress and then recalling truth and acting on those truths. This leads to internal peace and healthy behavior.

As a 6, my main motivation is a desire for safety and security. Armed with this knowledge, I’ve been amazed at how many of my decisions in life are based on how I feel insecure or unsafe, whether physically or emotionally.

Remembering these feelings of insecurity are a major trigger for my pain cycle, I’m learning to cling to truth in those moments instead of numbing in unhealthy ways.

4. I’m learning to have grace for others—and for myself.

Recognizing others’ Enneagram numbers has helped me immensely to understand what I previously labeled quirks, incompetence, or even intentionally disruptive behavior.

Instead of instantly concluding people are being manipulative or immature, I’m learning to think about their personalities and try to understand what’s going on beneath the surface.

I’m not mentally “putting myself in their shoes” or trying to think like someone else—because the truth is I will never be able to see or understand the world like someone else does. 

However, I can learn about the ways other people think, appreciate the things that are important to them, and set boundaries when those relationships start to turn toxic.

Overall, the Enneagram is helping me to appreciate weaknesses and strengths, my own and others’. It’s helping me to celebrate how I will never understand the way my friend Lindsay thinks  or the way Kris makes decisions. It’s turning frustration into interest, condemnation into curiosity.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing I’m learning from the Enneagram is this: not only do I need others, but others need me, too.

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Freedom from Hustling—in Weddings and in Life

This morning I woke up with bobby pins in my hair and with eyes still heavy from sleep. When I was finally upright, I rubbed my eyes and was shocked when dirt came off onto my fingers.

Wait, that’s not dirt. It’s mascara. Whew. 

As the fog cleared from my mind, the events from the previous day came flooding back. 

Preparation. Decoration. Flowers. Makeup. Laughter. Pictures, pictures, and more pictures.

My sister’s wedding.

  Stock photo from Pixabay.com

Stock photo from Pixabay.com

My sister Christina got married yesterday, and it was beautiful. Surprisingly, I had no urges to cry during the ceremony—not even when my dad walked Christina down the aisle in her stunning white dress.

While Christina read her vows, I realized I wasn’t emotional because I had already been treating her fiancé like my brother-in-law. It was a huge adjustment for me when they’d gotten engaged, but he had slowly won my heart as a new brother.

In contrast to my positive emotions the day of the wedding, stress and anxiety plagued me in the week leading up to the big day. Worries about the wedding flitted in and out of my head like gnats that follow you around on a hot summer evening, vanishing for a moment and then stubbornly returning.

Why am I so anxious? I wondered. I’m not even the one getting married!

I took an afternoon to pray and journal, and I finally realized why I was stressed. As maid of honor and sister of the bride, I was convincing myself I was responsible for ensuring the wedding weekend ran smoothly. 

The assumption that I was responsible for these things sounds appropriate unless you’re intimately familiar with weddings (and with my family). The days leading up to weddings are often chaotic and stressful and involve scores of last-minute details and last-minute conflicts.

To put it simply, weddings are unpredictable. No one can guarantee they will run smoothly—not even the best wedding coordinator in the world. We can do our best, but we cannot ensure perfection.

Though I was relieved to identify the source of the anxiety, I was also perplexed. If I wasn’t responsible for a smooth wedding process, who was?

Later that day I took a moment to breathe, and when I closed my eyes a picture formed in my head of God with open arms, a Father ready to care for my tired body and frazzled mind.

Peace flooded my soul as I accepted His invitation—not only to hold me but also to be ultimately responsible for the wedding weekend.

I flashed back to a time months before, when wedding planning was just beginning. My family talked about the key things everyone wanted for the wedding, and the list kept getting longer and longer.

As I sought the Lord’s guidance, I thought of Mary and Martha. Martha hurried about to prepare and was concerned with the details (two key parts in wedding prep). In modern-day language, I’d say she was hustling and busting her butt.

During this time, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. Despite the chaos of unfinished projects and in the midst of the time crunch (two more common themes of wedding weeks), she sat still.

And Jesus said, One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

One thing is necessary. 

Just one thing.

It’s not the wedding dress or the catered food or the vows or even the bride-to-be.

Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. This was the better portion.

If in the process of planning and preparing for the wedding we sat at Jesus’ feet—if we honored Him and came to know Him better through the process—all would be successful. Even if the wedding schedule was thrown off or the toasts were botched—even if the food was terrible or the rings didn’t fit—there would be no regrets.

Not if we knew Jesus more. Not if He was honored. Not if we were sitting at His feet.

One thing is necessary.

The evening before I traveled to meet my sister and help finish wedding projects, I realized just how crazy Mary was. Mary was the host of a giant party for Jesus (this was no small ordeal! He was the long-awaited Messiah, the actual incarnation of God), and she consciously chose to ignore what I would call bare necessities. 

The food. The seating. The cleanliness of the venue.

Some would call her irresponsible, a poor planner, a procrastinator, or lazy.

Jesus called her the one who chose the better portion. I’m so proud of my sister because I think she chose the better portion.

As I remembered Mary and Martha, I found I had been running from my spot at Jesus’ feet, convinced my hustling was necessary for a smooth wedding.

But there was my Father, arms open wide, beckoning me back to Him.

He was inviting me back to the place where I belong, the place where I can rest and trust He will take care of the details—the details that seem so important that no one else (not even God) can be trusted with them.

In impeccable timing, this song came out last week:

The arms of my Father
Are open to me
Here in your presence
Forever I am free

It’s no human’s responsibility to make sure a wedding runs perfectly, even if we take on the burden and label the task ours.

It’s no human’s responsibility to make sure a life runs smoothly, either.

It turns out that through this wedding process, I have indeed come to know my Savior more intimately. We’re free to trust Him with our weddings and with our lives.

Only one thing is necessary. If we choose the better portion, it will not be taken away from us.

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