How Postnatal Depression and Postnatal Anxiety Go Hand In Hand
Postnatal depression (PND) is still a bit of a taboo, particularly for those affected.
The last thing I want as a new parent is to have my ability to care for my child questioned.
So writing this article, while cathartic, is also very difficult. I’ve tried to ignore the PND creeping up on me for several weeks now: once I’ve admitted that I’m in the grasp of its tentacles, I have to face up to and deal with it.
I have a mild case, and in my more rational moments I totally understand that now is the time to beat it. Also, I hope that the platform I have as a freelance writer puts me in the privileged position of being able to help a fellow sufferer, or sufferer’s family. And so it has become a responsibility for me to face this challenge both personally and professionally.
One may have quite a fixed idea of what postnatal depression looks like: sadness, moping, and lack of interest in your baby? Not so for me! I love my baby desperately and have no problem bonding with her or caring for her. I’m not constantly sad or miserable (though I have my moments.)
Rather, I’m persistently on edge for no good reason, apathetic to people and hobbies I know I love – I just don’t feel I love them right now. I’m sensitive and irritable.
I feel isolated and lonely, yet I have no desire to socialise. But mostly I’m anxious and agitated.
While trying to get myself well and looking into the various options available, I happened across some information that was a revelation to me: My symptoms fit a different condition more closely than they do PND!
PND’s Lesser Known Cousin: Postnatal Anxiety
PNA is the lesser-known (though actually more common) cousin of PND, and it presents a little differently.
In fact, a lot of what I describe above is typical of PNA.
Despite the distinguishable symptoms, the two disorders actually go hand in hand, hence the apparent crossover of characteristics: if you suffer from one, there’s a reasonable likelihood that you may also fall prey to the other at some point.
As with PND, PNA can vary in severity, from relatively mild (as in my case) to more acute, resulting in tendencies towards OCD. For more information, check out these links:
How to Recognise Postnatal Depression and Postnatal Anxiety
It’s important to appreciate the difference between what is normal for a new parent, and what tips over into being a problem, or a pattern. The following are symptomatic of PND and/or PNA; but it’s only when these become very regular feelings or traits, or when several present together, that there may be cause for concern:
• Feelings of despair
• Anxiety or general feeling of unease
• Inability to relax or settle
• Irrational fears relating to your baby’s health
• Feelings of hopelessness or inability to cope
• Feelings of isolation and loneliness
• Apathy to previous interests
• Lack of interest in socialising and becoming withdrawn
• Being very sensitive or irrational
• Feelings of inadequacy
• Changes in appetite
• Crying regularly
You may suffer from some or all of the above, and they may come in waves or be fairly consistent. Where on the spectrum of symptoms you lie determines which condition/s have you in their clutches.
As well as recognising the symptoms, it’s also really important to understand the nuances and anomalies of both illnesses.
1. They May Take Several Months to Manifest
Even while pregnant, I was paranoid that having suffered with depression in the past, I was susceptible. When I reached approximately three months postpartum, I was confident I’d swerved PND. Only when I was no longer looking over my shoulder did PNA begin to crawl up on me.
2. It May Not Be Severe
When I suffered with depression in my teens, it was impossible to miss. I lost a lot of weight and it was very obvious to everyone around me that something was amiss. On the contrary, when you’re going through a massive life-change, postnatal depression and/or anxiety can masquerade as inevitable adjustments to your new circumstances.
3. You Can Suffer, Yet Still Have Good Days
Despite having very low days when I struggle to function normally, I also have joyful moments with my husband, celebrating our baby’s milestones and laughing together. Not every day, but they do happen.
4. You Can Still Love and Care for Your Baby
As I said, I have no doubts that I love my baby girl (though I admit to sometimes feeling overwhelmed, and on bad days suffocated even, by her relentless demands – I cannot visit the bathroom without her screaming for attention – and then of course I feel guilty…)
5. Men Can be Affected Too
Less common, certainly, and usually presenting a little differently – but make no mistake, this illness is not confined to women.
6. Toxic Relationships Can Feed the Problem
Though you may begin to question everything about your moods, and be accepting of the fact that you’re sensitive, irritable and irrational at this time – do not allow yourself to be patronised. Your temporary lack of confidence in your own judgement makes you somewhat vulnerable to those with their own agenda. Boundaries are good, and they should be respected, particularly by those whom you love and trust.
7. You Can Hide It
A lot of my friends and family will be surprised or even shocked to read this about me. When it comes to the way I present myself, I’m all for putting on a façade and being strong. In fact, I personally refused to acknowledge this issue until I was ready to stare it in the face and force it to relinquish its hold on me.
8. But You Shouldn’t
There is really only one way to outsmart the black dog of depression (or PNA), and that is to face it and snuff it out. Do not be its friend and blithely acquiesce; you and your family are worth more than that. See your Doctor – or call on your family and friends. The best advice often comes in the form of experience from somebody who actually understands how it feels – as opposed to just regurgitating what chemical imbalances cause it, and what pills treat it.
I truly believe that in milder cases, PNA doesn’t have to become a big deal; it can be nipped in the bud before it’s allowed to escalate, and a little extra support can really make all the difference. On the other hand, the problem may of course be severe, requiring full-blown medical intervention. Either way, it’s imperative that this issue is not discounted; the fact that some understanding can go a long way is no reason to undermine a potentially devastating illness and one that, however mild, should be taken seriously.
I am incredibly lucky to have a fantastic husband and wonderful family. I’m so glad I got past my embarrassment and shame to confide in them about this problem. Their support, alongside that of my Doctor, has been invaluable.
With their understanding and encouragement, I’ve now beaten my demons. With one caveat – I am still an anxious person.
Alas, I believe this is an inevitable part of living with a piece of your heart beating outside of your chest.
Have you experienced PNA, or – more significantly perhaps – have you been diagnosed with PND, but now find yourself more closely identifying with the symptoms of Postnatal Anxiety? Please share your stories below, I’d love to hear from you.