1. Don’t make any big decisions
Take the pressure off. On dark days I would obsess on whatever it was that I was worried about at the time and try to solve it. The problem was, it was usually something that had already happened, was out of my control or wasn’t really a problem in the first place and therefore it wasn’t really solvable. My mind would go round and round trying to think it through to the end to either make myself feel better about it or find a solution. Overthinking literally never makes me feel any better or gets me to a solution. You can’t just stop ruminating, as much as you’d like to, but tell yourself you’ll deal with it when you feel better and that to be quite honest, you aren’t capable of making any big decisions at the moment. For example, I stayed with my lovely mum and dad when I was at my worst who helped me look after Mabel and gave me some TLC, and when I returned to Brighton I was absolutely convinced all I wanted to do was to move home to mum and dad. I was ready to pack up and move, it would solve all my problems, I hated Brighton and it was definitely what I wanted to do. After a very tearful discussion with Matt, he convinced me to wait until I felt better. I only agreed on the condition that we could discuss it again when I was feeling calmer. Silly man, I thought, thinking he knows me better than myself. Lo and behold, though, when I felt better I realised that moving wouldn’t solve all my problems at all and that I do love living in Brighton. We might move one day or we might not. But if we do, it won’t be a knee jerk reaction. Silly man did know me better than myself after all…
2. Take things a minute at a time
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘take it one day at a time’ but sometimes a whole day is too big. When Mabes and I have been up since 4.30am, I feel like I’ve done half a day’s work by the time Matt leaves for work at 7.30am, so when you’re a bundle of anxiety and self-doubt, the thought of up to 12 hours before he comes back through the door is just too much. So break it down further, whether it’s hour by hour, feed by feed or minute by minute. If you’ve ever seen ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ she says,
“I learned a long time ago that a person can stand just about anything for 10 seconds, then you just have to start on a new 10 seconds. All you’ve got to do is take it 10 seconds at a time.”
I mean, it’s just a silly TV show but I think the quote is brilliant…
3. Get out of the house
For two reasons: Getting a bit of exercise by walking around, and seeing other people if you manage to make it as far as a baby group. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do this though. It’s just that I found that if I could get myself together and drag myself to a baby group where people didn’t know me, I would have to smile and make small talk and pretend I was OK and I would end up actually feeling OK for a little bit.
As for the exercise bit, I’m not one of those mums who jogs with her pushchair, stopping every 2 minutes to do star jumps in front of it so I can still bond with baby (I really have seen this on Hove seafront). But going for a bit of a walk helps burn some of that nervous energy and get rid of some of the adrenaline that’s giving you such an anxious stomach. It’s better if you can walk with someone else though otherwise you’re in potential overthinking territory…
4. Eat something
I probably should say ‘eat healthily’ but if you have no appetite because of the anxiety/nothing in the house/no time to make anything, just eat anything. Even if you don’t fancy it. I promise it will take the edge off the nervous stomach and give you a bit of energy. (A handful of dry cornflakes to stop me throwing up with anxiety in the morning at my worst! Sorry that’s gross. I promise it won’t get any more gross…until I share my birth story maybe!)
5. Be mindful
This takes practice and I really haven’t mastered it yet but the idea is that you just be in the present moment. It’s so hard to stop thinking about the past and the future when you’re anxious but try to be mindful of what you’re doing whether it’s changing a nappy or having a shower or eating. Neither the past nor the future will change by just worrying about them. Therefore there is no point in worrying at all. Worrying is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.
6. Don’t bother with housework
You’re exhausted from lack of sleep and being so busy and recovering from the birth and battling with those pesky hormones, and the vacuuming and tidying will all need doing again anyway so just leave it for now. Nothing bad is going to happen and you need to give yourself a break. Also, I saw this the other day and thought it was just lovely:
7. Talk to someone
If you find it difficult to talk about your feelings then this is a tricky one. Talking won’t suddenly fix things but will lighten the load a little bit and might stop you from feeling so lonely. My go-to people are Matt, my dad and a couple of friends. I’ve also seen four different doctors at the surgery I go to and they’ve all been incredible.
8. Stop comparing yourself to other people
This is so hard to do because sometimes I don’t think we even really realise we’re doing it. It’s automatic. But it’s very destructive and always ends in negative thinking. ,I’m not as happy as them’, ‘she’s better than me because she’s still breastfeeding’, ‘she’s lost all her baby weight and I look like I’ve eaten a baby’… We’re not all supposed to be the same and we are no better or worse than anyone else, we’re just different. Also, we’re normally comparing ourselves to what we assume about other people. I think Facebook has a lot to answer for; we don’t share average photos of average days, we share beautiful, radiant, filtered photos of us looking blissfully happy, but nobody is like that all the time. People would have no idea about what I was really feeling while posting all the gorgeous photos of Mabel. We don’t really know what other people are going through.
9. Don’t blame yourself
I am still working on this one. I feel like either I don’t really have depression or postnatal depression and that I’m using it as an excuse for my failures, or I do have it but it’s my fault for being such a failure. Either way, I can’t win. But the fact is, postnatal depression is a medical condition that can happen to any new mother, regardless of their situation. It’s frustrating that there is still such a stigma attached to mental health issues; we wouldn’t feel embarrassed about talking about or taking medication for diabetes or asthma, for example, and this should be no different.
Anyway, I hope you can sift through the waffle and take something vaguely useful from this! Even if it’s just one thing that makes things a little bit better I’ll be happy. Let me know what you think and what’s helped you. And remember, (this is Matt’s contribution to the post by the way) it will all be OK in the end, and if it’s not OK then it’s not the end.