When my therapist suggested I try a light lamp to handle my raging postpartum anxiety, I paused. It sounded a little bogus. A lamp? I'm around lamps all day long, from standing to overhead and everything in between. How was that going to calm my mind so that I could breathe?
It was eight days after I'd delivered my first baby. Exactly five days since we'd come home from the hospital. My daughter was healthy and hungry, and I was an absolute mess. My anxiety had soared to new, unfamiliar levels. Prior to delivering, I'd been working closely with my therapist on maintaining a good headspace, and to my surprise, I got through my entire pregnancy with manageable levels of anxiety and panic. It was there, ebbing and flowing right along aside me, but it was reasonable.
Nothing could have prepared me for the round-the-clock fear that I experienced once entering my home following delivery, though. There was a mixed bag of things at play. A series of new and very serious responsibilities, from trying — and failing — to breastfeed, to having to make constant decisions about the health and wellness of my baby, all cascading into one another.
It was the middle of Winter, and these paralyzing sensations, for whatever reason, were peaking around 4:30 p.m. every day just when the sun was setting—when the house was quiet, and I felt most trapped inside of it.
My therapist noticed the way light exposure was impacting my mood — I was having trouble eating anything at night because the anxiety was so debilitating it was giving me intense gastrointestinal issues — and among the many things we worked on together, she suggested I try a Verilux HappyLight ($99). She explained that light therapy at the right time of day could possibly improve my mood and energy, and reset my circadian rhythm to improve sleep. It could, at the very least, help.
Desperate, I ordered it immediately. Every day at 3:30 p.m. — about an hour before I'd typically trigger — I sat in front of the lamp. We started off slowly with just 20-minute sessions. I placed it on my bedside table (though you can put it anywhere) and sat next to it so that the light hit my eyes from the side. As much as I wanted to do other things while using it, it works best when you look forward. It wasn't exactly relaxing, but it was therapeutic. Like an extension of my healing.
The first day I completed a session I was noticeably energized immediately. More awake. I turned off the lamp and went on a walk, which was great to get outside and get some fresh air. I even walked to the market and ate dinner. Something about eating outside helped. And when I returned home from the walk I felt a little different, too. Rather than the suffocating feeling I was experiencing at home, I was a little less anxious. I looked forward to the next day, when I could use the light again. Whether it was the lamp or my belief in the lamp, I didn't care. That's the way anxiety works sometimes.
While the HappyLight doesn't make any medical claims, and I wouldn't have tried it without the guidance from my therapist, it was a useful tool in addressing and treating my postpartum anxiety. It gave me a regular thing to look forward to every day, and it reset how I felt about the evening. It didn't completely cure my postpartum anxiety, but it was a critical piece. It calmed me just enough, and I believed in it.
Yes, sometimes a lamp is just a lamp. But other times, though, it's kind of like Xanax.