I want to start by saying that if you’re experiencing postpartum depression you should seek help from a doctor. I am not qualified to provide medical advice and this article should not be interpreted as medical advice.
I hope that by sharing my experience I can show other women that they are not alone in these feelings. I will share how I used creativity as a tool to climb out of postpartum depression and how scheduling creative moments has been a life-changing revelation for me.
I hope creative moments work for you, but I understand that everyone has something different that makes them tick. I have always been drawn to create and so it makes sense that creativity was my path back to myself through postpartum depression. If you’re like me and have a passion for making things then maybe scheduling creative moments will be a game changer for you too.
After my son was born I felt nothing
It’s uncomfortable to admit, but it’s true. When I welcomed my amazing son into the world I didn’t really feel anything. Everything felt foggy and dim. I didn’t have moments of pure joy or even moments of despair. I just felt nothing.
I recognized that what I was feeling was likely postpartum depression, because I had read countless articles prior to giving birth to prepare myself for all of the “what ifs” of becoming a mother. Still, I did not really believe it. This was supposed to be the most joyous time of my life. I refused to believe that my mind and emotions would betray me at this important moment.
So I blamed my feelings of emptiness on the pain medication, and then on lack of sleep, and then on the stress of going back to work, and then on the discomfort I felt in my new, bigger body. The list goes on. Ultimately that feeling of emptiness didn’t go away for a long time.
Shame prevented me from admitting what I was feeling and seeking help
I spent at least 6 months in that fog and now, 2 years later, I recognize that those feelings really were postpartum depression. It was shame that kept me from admitting what was really happening when I was at my lowest.
I felt ashamed that I couldn’t connect with my son. I felt ashamed that I wasn’t thriving in motherhood, in fact I was barely surviving. I felt ashamed that my voice of reason couldn’t overcome this empty, alone nothingness that just wouldn’t leave me alone. I was so ashamed that I recategorized my feelings and refused to admit them.
But now I recognize those feelings for what they were.
My body had just gone through an amazing journey that drastically and quickly changed my hormone levels. I’m not weak for experiencing postpartum depression. It had nothing to do with my mental strength and everything to do with my body working to recover from growing the miracle that is my son. Postpartum depression isn’t a reflection of mental capacity. It’s a symptom of giving birth.
A brief glimpse of joy
While most of the first months of my son’s life are a complete blur, I do have a distinct, clear memory of the first time I really started to feel like myself again.
It was shortly after my husband returned home from deployment. (Did I mention my husband was deployed while I was working through this low, confusing time?) My son was just over 3 months old and I craved nothing more than a few hours to do something that felt productive without any interruptions.
While my husband stayed inside with our son, I spent hours outside in the hot sun ripping out all of the dead plants in our front garden, adding new soil, planting new bushes and flowers and topping it with some mulch.
It felt so good to get my hands dirty and to complete a project from start to finish without any interruptions. It felt even better to look at something that had been an ugly eye sore only a few hours before and see that my hands had turned it into something beautiful.
This was my first venture into what I now consider creative moments and that feeling of accomplishment was a real experience of pure joy for me. Look at what I can create if I just give myself the time and space to actually do things!
Trying to capture that joy and repeat it
After that afternoon I knew something was different. I had felt that little flicker of my inner light and I knew I needed to figure out how to turn that flicker into a full-on bonfire if I wanted to feel like myself again. Allowing myself to get totally lost in creative work that I love really helped to start awakening my feelings. Things got a little less foggy. I remembered what it was like to be totally present in the moment. It was amazing.
When I thought about why that afternoon made me feel more alive and present in my life, I came to the realization that action, rather than just dreaming and planning, really feeds my soul. The hands-on act of creating something beautiful gave me a venue to problem solve, try new things, learn something new, be creative and watch my hard work turn into something beautiful for almost immediate gratification.
I knew I needed to find ways to repeat that afternoon so I could keep building on this feeling of creative inspiration and accomplishment. So that’s when I decided that it was imperative for me commit to bringing more creativity into my life. Creativity is a clear path to joy for me and I needed it.
Creative moments are born
I knew that I wouldn’t often have the luxury of spending an entire afternoon on a project, seeing it through start to finish in one sitting. So, instead, I decided to get comfortable working in small increments. I call those little bursts of creativity, creative moments.
A creative moment is a period of time where the only focus is on a creative project. The goal isn’t to finish the project. It’s just to get working and get lost in it for whatever amount of time I have. I know I’ll be interrupted. I know my time will be cut short. But for a little bit, I can get lost in creating something and I know I will leave that moment feeling so refreshed.
Those moments force me to be fully present and that presence leaks through into the rest of my life. I’m a happier, calmer person because of them.
When I slowly started including creative moments in my life, I didn’t have a name for them or any kind of structure to make it work. I just knew that I needed to regain my sense of self, and creativity was the path to do it.
Through these brief and simple moments that little flicker of light I felt from my afternoon in the sun slowly got brighter. And my capacity to feel again grew, too. Over time, lots of time, I slowly came back to myself.
Why creative moments work for me
Creative moments work for me because creating things makes me feel like I am moving forward. There is a clear beginning and a clear end. I can see my physical progress toward my end goal and each step toward that goal is a step forward.
They are a way to interject myself into my every day when each day is focused primarily on caring for others. I love my family more than I could ever express, and taking time in my day to feed my soul makes me a better partner and a better mother.
How to schedule creative moments
Whether you are a working mom or a stay at home mom, time that is just for you is limited. It is even more limited when you have a spouse who travels at least 60 percent of each year like my active duty husband. But, I learned from my low, low times that making time for myself has to be non-negotiable. It is important for my mental health and in turn has a huge affect on my ability to be a happy, present parent.
Non-negotiable does not mean inflexible. Life with kiddos is unpredictable. Your planned creative moment may be postponed by a nap strike or a sick child or a million other things. I try not to get frustrated when things don’t work out.
When I was working full-time my creative moments were limited to the weekends during nap time. They were short and it took forever to complete anything, but the act of doing something, even really slowly helped me to get out of my funk and move forward.
Creative moments have led to creative days
Now that I stay at home with my son I am lucky to have time for creative moments nearly every day. My brain is most awake and alert in the morning, so I try to wake up early and take some time to create before my son wakes up. Right now for me that usually means writing. Then, when he naps I often take that time to create something physical. After bedtime it’s often more writing or, if it’s been a long day it’s a beer and Netflix.
This full day of creative moments has been a 2 year process of intentionally deciding to make creativity a priority in my life. It’s not perfect and some days I don’t get any creative time at all, but if the opportunity arises, I always take it.
Making creativity a priority means that other areas of my life fall a little farther down on the totem pole of importance. My house is messier. The meals I cook are simpler. Dishes sometimes pile up in the sink. Laundry doesn’t always get done. You get the idea.
But my life is so much more FULL because of it. I am happier and I am present in my son’s life in the way that I dreamed of when I was living in the void of postpartum depression.
The power of creative moments beyond postpartum depression
Investing time in creative moments has changed my life. It started when I was in the depths of postpartum depression and with every little step farther into the creative world I feel myself growing and becoming more of the person I want to be.
To be clear, a few moments of creativity did not instantly pull me out of postpartum depression. In fact, maybe it was only the passage of time that helped me to overcome that dark period. I truly don’t know.
What I do know is that incorporating creativity into my life when I was feeling empty was like a lightning bolt in a dark sky. I saw a flash of joy that ultimately led me to seek more. I found my way back to the real world by chasing those lightning bolts, and now I can honestly tell you that I’m living the brightest life I could have imagined.
Creative moments allow to be more than a mother. They give me the space and permission to continue to challenge myself and grow as a person while I focus the majority of my energy on raising my amazing son. These moments are imperative to my mental health and my life.
You're not alone
If you’re in the middle of that empty nothingness that is postpartum depression, you are not alone. Let me say it again, you are not alone! I felt empty too and I know how awful it is. If you’re feeling this way please reach out to your doctor. Please confide in your spouse or a close friend.
I kept my condition a secret out of shame, but I know now there is truly nothing to be ashamed about. Our bodies have just performed the most amazing feat imaginable. We brought life into this big world! And when that new little life leaves our bodies, we need time to recover. The effects of childbirth are more than what we just physically see.
Postpartum depression is not a sign of mental weakness. It has nothing to do with mental capacity. Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that our bodies just went through the amazing and fast transformation of growing a life and birthing it into the world.
If you’re feeling empty, disconnected or stuck in a fog, I understand. You’re not alone. There’s a light at the end of this deep darkness, and it is so worth chasing.