Article by Erika Mitchell
I have struggled with this statement for a long time now. I found myself very resistant to answering the simple question – ‘what have I learned?” In part I am resistant because I don’t want to credit such a dark and lonely time in my life with imparting any wisdom or growth. I also struggle with the answer because in so many ways I am still learning the lessons that started with my postpartum depression and anxiety.
Once I sat myself down and really dove into my experiences I decided the biggest lesson I have learned (and am relearning all the time) is to ask for help. It seems like such a simple thing (it is something I am always admonishing my frustrated 3 year old to do) but it is one facet of my life I have constantly struggled with. It was my inability to ask for help that made navigating depression and grief as a young adult so disastrous and it was my slow discovery of asking for and receiving help that made overcoming PPD/A possible.
I am learning that I am not alone. The more I reach out for help the more I find people who want to help me. I am also finding other people like me, people who I can help in turn.
I am learning to be gentle with myself. I need to cry sometimes. I need to ask for help sometimes. I need to let go of my expectations. I need to breathe. These things do not make me weak; they make me human.
If a day is feeling totally overwhelming then I need to step back and deal with one hour. If that hour is too much to handle then I need to step back and deal with one minute and if I cannot handle that minute then I need to focus on one breath. Just one breath at a time.
I’ve learned that the priority list must start with me. I need to practice self-care so that I am able to take care of my children, so that I can be a strong and healthy partner. I need to check in with my husband when I’m feeling that dark place creeping back in so he knows I may need to hold on to something solid until I am strong again.
I’ve learned that all I can do is enough. That is a very tough one to live. All I can do is enough. How often do we worry about managing everything? Some days I can study for school, entertain the kids, clean the house, bake cookies, run errands and make dinner. Other days all I can cope with is getting dressed and feeding my children; that is all I can do and it’s enough.
What I’ve learned from PPD/A is to be gentle with myself, to change my expectations and to practice self-forgiveness. I’ve learned how to breathe. I’ve learned that one moment at a time is the most I need to focus on. Most of all, I’ve learned that asking for help may be the strongest, most courageous thing I can do.