My Experience with Postpartum Depression, Part 4: Finding Healing

Phew. The last few posts in this series have been kind of heavy. Obviously. We are talking about mental illness, after all! If you need to catch up on my postpartum depression journey, you can read those posts here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

After I had my wake-up call and realized I couldn't just wait for the symptoms of Postpartum Mood Disorder to fade out like it had after my two previous pregnancies, I got right to work trying to get help. I knew that medication wasn't for me–I've never been one to want to use prescription medication for anything. I was also worried about the long list of potential side effects, as well as the possibility that coming off the medication would eventually result in relapse. I knew that for me, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (seeing a therapist) would be the way to go.

I feel like I have to say this, lest anyone thinks I'm dissing meds: If medication is the right option for you for treating mental illness, that's wonderful! What a blessing it is that we live in a day and age that we have access to medication to treat a wide variety of illness, both physical and mental. Medication just wasn't something I felt comfortable with for myself. 

Dustin has a perk through his work that we have access to an employee assistance program, which was basically a hotline we could call where they assisted us to find a therapist in our area who had a focus on maternal mental health. The program would also allow us 3 free visits with a therapist. The sweet gentleman on the line said he would need a few days to get a list of therapists together that were in my area and participated in this program so I could get the three visits and that he would send me an email.

I waited for a few days, and the email came! For the first time in a long time, I felt hope. I called the number for the clinic that was the closest to us (the other two on the list were at least a 45 minute drive from our home, making going to those clinics almost impossible with our work schedules). I got the machine and left a message, thinking someone would call me back and I could schedule an appointment within the next day or so.

Only, nobody called me back. So I called again. Once again, I got the machine, and once again I left a message. This happened another time after that, and I started to feel the hope I was clinging to slip away. Then I started to get angry–I was doing my part to get the help I needed–why was this situation so difficult?

We tried calling the other clinics, only to find out they weren't accepting new patients. Because I was feeling so frustrated, Dustin called the clinic we called in the first place and when he was finally able to speak to someone on the other end, we found out that clinic was no longer participating in the 3 free visits program, and that they had a 6 week waitlist that we were welcome to put my name on, AND that if I made an appointment after that waiting period I could pay the small fee of $100 for every 1 hour session I attended.

I tried not to give up. I spent hours researching other clinics in our area, praying I would be able to find a therapist that would be the right fit and that would be somewhat affordable. My search turned up empty. By this point, I was so angry at God. I was pleading for help, and all my attempts at getting that help seemed to be thwarted. I was absolutely pissed off at my Heavenly Father. I was in such pain emotionally–pain that I can't even begin to describe.

It happened again on a Sunday. Dustin took the older kids to church, I stayed home with Theodore. I had so many thoughts racing through my head, so much anger about my situation I felt like I was going to burst. I started to feel panicked–like I had to get away! I had just put Theodore down for a nap, and I was pacing our small home, my breathing getting louder and more shallow by the moment. I was itching to fling open the door and run. Just run and never come back. Every time my hand reached for the door, I quickly folded my arms tightly against my body and told myself "NO!", and paced away from the door, reminding myself that I couldn't just leave my 7 month old baby behind, alone. By the sixth or seventh time I reached for the door, I broke. Just like I had a few weeks prior, I hit my knees sobbing.

I spoke out loud to God. I felt hopeless. I felt angry. I was absolutely despondent, and I felt so abandoned. "Why are you doing this to me?" I asked. "Why aren't you helping me?" I laid on the floor and cried for what seemed like forever. Finally, when I had no more tears to cry, and my breathing was slow, and my body still and quiet, I felt a very specific prompting whisper in my mind. 

Look for a book. It was such a simple, yet specific prompting. I knew God was talking to me again. I wiped my eyes, and reached for my phone. I opened the Amazon app, and searched for "books about depression." Within a few minutes I came across Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, by Dr. David D. Burns. I had a free sample of the book delivered to the Kindle app on my phone. As I started reading, I felt a wave of peace and calm come over me. Reading that book just felt right. 

By the time Dustin got home from church a few hours later with the kids, I had purchased the full book, and had finished the first 3 chapters. I won't go into the details of the book too much, but a lot of it focuses on how mental illness, and especially depression, stems from cognitive distortions. Basically, our perception of our lives and ourselves becomes so distorted, and this constant, distorted cognition fuels the negative emotion, which then fuels more cognitive distortion–it becomes a cycle that is extremely difficult to break.

The book took me through several exercises in learning about the different types of cognitive distortions, and identifying them in my own thinking throughout the day. One task had me writing out the thought I had, which distortion it was, and what the truth was–what was really happening? What was the reality? What lie had my distortion led me to believe?

That may sound simplistic to you. You may be thinking, "That wouldn't really work for me." I am saying loud and clear, that book saved me. Learning to change my thinking saved me. It may sound simple, but it worked. It really worked. Within a matter of days, I felt motivated to do the little things again. I was finding joy in things I used to enjoy again. In a few weeks, I found myself needing to correct fewer and fewer cognitive distortions. Now, a few months later, I have found that correcting any minor cognitive distortions that do come up has become almost automatic. I have been happier in the last few months than I have ever been. I went through the depths of hell and back to get here, but I'm realizing I may never have experienced happiness like this if I hadn't had such a low to prompt me to change something.

I was talking with one of my coworkers a few weeks ago about some of the exercises I did from this book, and she told me, "That's the exact same exercise my therapist was having me do after my breakdown!" You guys, this book is legit.

So that's it. That's how I finally found my healing. If you need something to help you get started on the road to healing yourself, I really highly recommend Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. It really did save my life. Some people will find that talking to a professional counselor helps greatly, some people, like me will be able to work through their symptoms of depression on their own. Whichever you end up being that book is a great place to start. Anyone dealing with depression has nothing left to lose, but everything to gain. 

If you've experienced depression, how did you find healing?

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