By Postpartum Support Charleston Group Leader, Amber Weakley
As I sat on the floor of my bathroom, crying for the fourth time that day, I felt so alone.
So alone in my own house.
This house that included my loving husband. He would do anything for me. He loves me so much, but he doesn’t understand.
Not only was I a new mom trying to maneuver my way through a maternal mental illness that was rendering me unavailable, but my own marriage was suffering. How could I help him see what I was going through so that he can help me out of this depression.
I need him to understand.
Countless mothers that I’ve met have come to me with a similar story - their partner or close family member doesn’t understand what they are going through, and they are lost. It is terrifying and isolating when the people who mean the most to you are just as lost as you are.
Let’s find a solution, or at least try to bridge this gap between you and your confused family. I recommend starting with answering eight questions to help you and your loved ones find each other.
How do they view mental health?
In order to be able to help them understand and learn about what you are going through, you have to take into account how they currently view mental health.
Do they have any family members who have suffered from a mental illness? How do they react when they see mental illness in the media? Do they show emotions easily, or are they more impassive? Is this your mother, partner, or your child?
Take this into account when confronting them. Also, acknowledge that there is a stigma surrounding mental health - the more that we talk about it, the less it seems so abnormal.
How should I communicate?
First, decide whether you have the ability to sit and talk with your family, or if you would be better served by writing a letter. If you can’t seem to find a good time to sit down and talk it out, maybe a letter would be better.
Or even if you have been so struck with your symptoms that you don’t think you could calmly sit through a talk, consider a letter so that you will be able to get all of your thoughts out. Do what makes you the most comfortable and what you think will enable you to communicate most clearly.
What’s the right time and place?
If you are planning to sit down and talk with your family or partner, be sure you plan the ideal time to do so. Don’t plan a talk unless you know you are going to be able to give 100% of your attention, and your family/partner can do the same.
Additionally, be sure you are in a safe and comfortable location where you will be able to talk about your feelings openly. Timing and location are important.
What do you want out of the conversation?
Before you begin your conversation, ask yourself what you want to have happen.
What would be the most beneficial to you during this period in your life? Would you like a break from your routine childcare, or more help with housework? Do you simply want a listening ear and no comments in return?
Let your loved one know what it is that you need from them. This information will be helpful even if they don’t fully understand your maternal mental illness.
What is and how do I process talk?
Whether writing a letter or talking in person, begin your conversation with process talk.
Process talk is defined as talking about what you are going to talk about. This is one way to add detail to what you are telling them and helping them understand.
For example, say “I want to talk to you about my postpartum anxiety. It makes me really nervous to bring this up and I hope you can listen and try to understand “ or “I need to tell you about how I’m feeling regarding my postpartum depression - I feel guilty about it so please take me seriously.”
Add a bit of detail regarding how you are feeling about talking - whether it makes you angry, sad, worried, nervous. Be specific.
How specific should I be?
Put the real words to what your symptoms are, how they affect your life and your ability to take care of your baby. In addition to using big words like “depressed” and “anxious”, describe how these emotions feel and how your life has changed.
For example, instead of saying “I’m so depressed lately,” say, “When I wake up, I automatically want to return to bed because I have no motivation to get up and take care of the baby. I’m on the verge of tears all of the time, which makes it near impossible to concentrate and get any housework done.”
Be honest and clear about how you feel and how it affects your daily life.
Should I involve them in my recovery?
Absolutely! Sometimes, an easier approach if you don’t know how to communicate where you are or what you need quite yet is to involve your loved one in your assessment and recovery process.
Sit down together and take the screening test with your loved one. This will allow you to simply answer the questions about your feelings, and not have to come up with them on your own. (https://postpartumstress.com/get-help-2/do-i-have-ppd/) This can also be a good resource to make notes about your symptoms, as the screening asks all kinds of questions about your emotions.
Inviting them to a therapy session with you and allowing them to see first-hand what this process looks like, and how the therapist assists, may be helpful. Moreover, encourage them to attend their own therapist - he or she may be going through an emotionally tough time as well, and this will benefit everyone!
Should I share some resources with them? If so, what?
Yes and yes! Share books, websites, blogs, articles - anything that will educate them about what you are going through. Below are resources that I personally recommend that will help you relay your emotions and struggles to your loved ones.
Talking to kids - use age-appropriate language, don’t place blame, talk about good days and bad days
**MAKE A PLAN and Talking points**
How he can help YOU
This may be the hardest struggle of your life, and your family needs you now more than ever. Encouraging your loved ones to understand what you are going through will not only benefit your recovery, but will positively affect your entire family.
Reach out, communicate your feelings, and find your path to having a family that supports one another. If you would like support or to talk through approaching your loved ones, we are here for you - get in touch today.
Special thank you to Caroline Adams, our counselor support group leader, for providing material for this blog post. Members of our closed support group can listen to her talk on “Talking to a partner or loved one…”. Local moms can join our group here.