Baby Blues: My Husband Doesn’t Understand My Postpartum Depression

help for postpartum depressionBaby Blues is a column about raising my daughter in the windstorm of postpartum depression. Though discussing the dark spots of postpartum depression, I also share my successes.

My husband knew about my depression early in our relationship. I remember talking about it in one of those epic late night phone calls in our dating days. Though he’d had a roommate with extreme bipolar disorder, he had never dated anyone suffering from mental illness. And when I finally told him about my history with cutting, he said, stone-faced, “if you ever do that again, we’re breaking up.”

It did happen again, but we didn’t break up. However, I quickly learned how very little he understood about depression. When I was lonely and didn’t want to abandon the comfort of the couch, he would tell me just to call someone and wonder why I wouldn’t. Or when I was overwhelmed by tasks that the healthy me wouldn’t bat an eye at, he would ask why I couldn’t just make a checklist and knock those tasks out. The worst of all was when he’d just say “chin up,” or “just stop thinking negatively.”

When I did harm myself again, instead of reaching out to me, he pushed away and wouldn’t talk about it. I can’t blame him—from his perspective, I’m hurting the person he loves the most, so of course he would be upset with me. I started doing my best to explain what depression feels like so he may have a better script for when an episode strikes.

I explained that making a simple phone call is a gargantuan task. Calling a friend is out of the question. And cheering myself up? That’s akin to giving myself bypass surgery. He slowly began to accept that this was how things really felt for me. But he still didn’t understand depression.

We’ve now been married for two and a half years and have a 14-month-old daughter. I experienced a year and a half symptom-free: from when I became pregnant to baby’s nine month mark, when I got my period back. I mistakenly thought that my depression was a thing of the past, that I had somehow defeated it by keeping busy. Now, I see that it was probably my pregnancy and breastfeeding hormones keeping me calm and happy.

I think it’s appropriate that what was once depression is now considered postpartum depression, because what I’m currently going through is a whole new beast. Physically, my symptoms are the same as they were as a teenager—bouts of aches, exhaustion and crying. But the repercussions are different. No longer can I hibernate; I have a toddler who wants to play. No longer can I self soothe with a long drive or a walk; my daughter won’t be happy for more than 10 minutes restrained in a five-point harness. And there’s this morbid irony that my old last-resort coping mechanisms, like getting drunk or hurting myself, are out of the question now that I’m caring for a baby. Which is for the better, of course, but that knowledge makes me feel more trapped than reassured.

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  • Cassy C

    Thank you for sharing so honestly. I know it is so hard for people who have never experienced depression to understand it. It’s also not fair that it’s too expensive for you to seek the professional help that might make it better. I hope that writing helps you to sort it out, even just a little bit. I’m looking forward to more of this column.

  • jenni

    I suffer from depression too. And it is so hurtful that people think that just saying ‘get over it’ will really help you. Luckily my husband understands me and does everything he can to help me.
    I included a comic that I found a long time ago that helps me not want to kill people when they tell me to just buck up and get over my depression. Maybe it will help you. Or, it will help people who don’t understand depression grasp what it is like just a little bit.

    • CrazyFor Kate

      That comic rules, and I wish everyone would read it.

  • K.

    I wish that people would start to understand that depression, like many other psychological illnesses, is the same as having a chronic physical ailment. If, for example, a person’s sciatica started acting up, I doubt that a person would say, “Oh, snap out of it. Just swing your legs over to the side of the bed and get up.” And, as part of the analogy, just as being a caretaker for someone with chronic sciatica is a tough job, it’s also a tough job to be the custodian of someone with depression.

    To that end, Amanda, I recognize that part of this article is venting, but I think that you might have fewer fights and experience less conflict if you accepted that your husband just won’t ever really get it because he can’t, and also that you have to recognize he cannot be everything for you all the time. Caretakers often have their own support network and their own therapists, separate from the person with the actual problem, to give you an idea of how hard that job is.

    But I also put depression in the framework of having a sort of physical ailment because it might help to conceive of your husband’s caretaking of you in the same way that someone might conceive of their own care if recovering from say, knee surgery or something–in other words, you cannot leave it completely up to the caretaker to do everything exactly right. You have to at least give them a target to hit. Put simply, you have to be direct and clear about what you need. I know this is not the easiest thing for someone with depression, but it’s something that helped me handle things in my own life. So just as you might tell a knee surgery nurse that you need her to keep count as you do your exercises or that you want soup for lunch, you might also need to tell your husband that you need him to force you to get out of the house today. If you don’t like the phrase, “Snap out of it!” or whatever, then explain to him why that hurts and tell him not to do it. But with depression, it’s very easy to mire yourself in a state of passive-aggressiveness, which sometimes comes from not being up front about your expectations and then getting angry when they aren’t met.

    The other thing that is important is that sometimes depression can manifest as aggression and anger which is obviously hard on a marriage. Try not to make your husband your punching bag, or maybe more apt–the receptacle for anxiety and frustration. Sometimes, in our household, it worked to tell my husband that anger was a symptom of the disease and that he needs to help me recognize when I’m taking things out on him inappropriately. That way, he’s able to tell me when it’s too much and help me to refocus on what I actually DO need.

    PS–depending on where you are, most major cities have psych organizations and clinics that offer services for free or are heavily subsidized (in part because most of the time, insurance companies won’t cover psychiatric care beyond like, 6 sessions in a year or something). If it’s overwhelming to research that for yourself, perhaps asking your husband nicely if he will help you look for such places would be a good idea–the only reason I got help is because my father had to literally hand me a doctor’s name and contact and say, “Here. Your appointment is 2pm Wednesday.”

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  • Pearl

    I had pnd, and I thought I will never ever get off it. The worst was for about 2 years. I am fortunate my husband was supportive as my parents, but my inlaws think I was just being difficult. I did seek professional help because i do not want to be hooked on medication like some mothers I know. But having said that, if you think you really could not handle it on your own you should seek help. There are not low dose medications which you could wean off easily I was told. Best wishes to you.

  • Lily

    Every single article you write resonates deeply in me because I can relate almost completely. Wow.