In a recent People magazine article, Gwyneth Paltrow is quoted as saying that following her diagnosis of postpartum depression, she chose alternative therapies instead of medication and it worked.
While I applaud Paltrow's ability to overcome postpartum depression, I think her holier than thou implication that downward dogs over drugs is the better way lest she be forced to heed the advice of her pill-pushing doctor sends a dangerous message to moms.
Like Paltrow, I, at one time swore by alternative therapies. Unlike Paltrow, I wasn't able to overcome postpartum depression without medication. No amount of therapy, exercise, abstinence or extra sleep helped me like it did Paltrow and moms need to know that's OK.
After the birth of my second daughter, I was at the ready with my alternative arsenal should postpartum depression rear its ugly head again. The first time I went through it, my doctor suggested medication but I was so against it. I thought postpartum depression was something I could beat on my own and I didn't want any of what I thought were unnecessary chemicals floating around in my body.
I thought I developed postpartum depression because I wasn't taking care of myself physically or mentally. In essence, I thought it was my fault and my duty to correct my erring ways. I thought I had to grow up in order to grow out of it with lots of meditation, yoga and dandelion tea along the way. So, instead of taking the doctor's advice, I suffered through it for four long years and I'm still dealing with the repercussions today.
When the intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and panic attacks returned with a vengeance a second time, I was dumbfounded because I had already done so much work on myself but began in earnest to meditate and practice yoga anyway. By then, I had already cut off all alcohol and sleep wasn't a problem. Nothing was a problem, except for this damn postpartum depression which I couldn't figure out why and how was back despite all my alternative work.
I began taking medication. And then, surprise, a miracle occurred.
I share part of my story in the new mental health anthology, Brainstorm Revolution, about a night in the ER when I had finally come to terms with the fact that I had postpartum depression and that I was going to need more than alternative therapy to get me through:
"This is postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety and who knows what else? Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder? Postpartum bipolar disorder? Postpartum psychosis? These are real maternal mental illnesses, that, for the first time, I'm beginning to realize are biological, physical illnesses that require medical attention and not Deepak Chopra."
I began taking medication. And then, surprise, a miracle occurred. Or rather, science prevailed. Within five weeks, my symptoms were gone and I was able to enjoy motherhood unlike the unnecessary suffering I went through with my first.
And that's when I realized that postpartum depression or maternal mental illness as we should really be calling it, is not my fault or the result of some personality flaw that needed fixing. It's actually a complex set of biological, physical illnesses of varying degrees that cupping isn't going to cure.
For many moms like me with moderate to severe postpartum depression, medication isn't an alternative, it's a necessity, complemented with things like therapy, exercise, better nutrition and sound sleep — if you're lucky enough to even have access to these.
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Look, I'm not naive to the fact that the pharmaceutical industry doesn't always have our best interests at heart, that less chemicals in our bodies is a good thing, that health care providers need more training, and that maternal mental health care in general needs a complete overhaul. All that is true, but that doesn't mean medication is bad and only for "certain people."
Telling others about how you successfully thwarted your doctor's efforts to put you on medication for an illness that affects moms in different ways, in my opinion is bad, super bad if you're a celebrity moms look up to. All that does is reinforce stigma and prolong or prevent moms from seeking help.
Medication isn't a last resort. For many moms, it's the first alternative.
So don't listen to all that goop.
Listen to your doctor.
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