What does postnatal depression look and feel like?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, this is what post-natal depression is:
Possible psychodynamic causes of postnatal depression
Your baby (in the normal course of events) projects his own fears and negative feelings into you because he does not yet know how to manage the intensity of these negative emotions. His mind is too young. So he uses an elusive, fascinating unconscious process called projective identification to get rid of his troublesome, negative feelings. He puts his intolerable feelings into you. You then are expected to carry or hold your baby’s hatred, rage or terror until he is able to taken them back and digest them for himself.
The problem with this is that maybe, because of your own past difficulties, current stressors or shaky internal resources, you might psychologically not be able to manage or withstand your baby’s negative feelings. In a similar way to your baby, your own mind will try a number of different things to get rid of the difficult emotions. These tactics that your mind might use in attempt to get throw out negative emotions are often not in the interests of mental health and they can make you feel quite mad, depressed and often very anxious too.
The negative feelings such as extreme fear, hatred and rage do not only come from your baby though. They may also be triggered in response to having had your life highjacked by the process of becoming a mother and the huge demands that are being placed on you. So you could be feeling intensely angry with your baby for causing you so much strain and trauma, but you will be trying not to blame your baby or let your feelings be known to him. You will be wanting to protect your baby from your feelings.
Where do your negative feelings go?
Something that was previously quite benign in your own mind becomes bad. The badness has gone from you, gone from your baby and is now located in, for example, your mother-in-law. In your mind she becomes a wicked, horrible lady. Your spouse becomes insensitive and a bad, irresponsible father to your child. Watch out for these kinds of feelings. Even if they have some element of truth to them, they are probably more a reflection of your mind taking strain as a result of motherhood.
Anxiety and panic
From a psychological perspective, when you feel intense hatred and rage and when you project those feelings onto some outside place, that place becomes filled with your own hatred and rage. That means that the place of your projections becomes, in your mind, exceedingly frightening and dangerous. That is why you feel anxious. You are afraid of the frightening and dangerous thing on the outside that actually originated from inside of you. You are afraid of your own destructive feelings.
When the negative feelings are turned on yourself
Self-hatred can be a central feature of depression and it is linked to the feelings of guilt that are so common in post-natal depression. Feelings of self-hatred are often present when there are suicidal feelings. Just like you can hate someone so much that you want to kill them, you might also hate yourself enough to want to kill yourself. If any of this is feeling true for you, see a psychologist or a psychiatrist without delay. In addition to psychotherapy, medication can be prescribed for you which will help you to manage the powerfully destructive feelings.
You own vulnerability
Being a new mother has its challenges and its losses. It can challenge the relationship between you and your spouse as well as other relationships in your life. You can and probably will temporarily lose aspects of your own identity, like your career and the time to pursue your own interests. Your child suddenly occupies a huge part of your mind. Your physical life and all other aspects of your life are relegated to the back seat. Although the full-time and all-consuming aspect of this decreases after the first few months, you might not be able to pick up on your life in an undistracted way for a long time. Everyone knows that babies are a lot of hard work but some people are not aware of the fact that the process of taking care of a baby can put considerable strain on the psyche of the mother. Look for support within your own community. It will offer you a chance to connect with others and to feel valued, supported and understood. Above all, take special care of yourself during this extremely important, precious but difficult time.
© 2009 Jenny Perkel