Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mental Health Awareness Week: Postpartum Depression ~ My Story

Have you ever not been in control of your own mind?

Let me tell you this.

It is terrifying.

I have had some horrible, awful things happen to me, this is true. The difference between postpartum depression, though and everything else that has happened, is that during every other crisis, tragedy or event in my life, my brain was on my side. At least most of the time.

It wasn't then. 

It was my deepest, darkest enemy. 

It stole my happiness, my sanity and it took my memories.

It reached up from out of nowhere. I had no idea it was coming. It wrapped its cold evil hands around my neck and strangled the life out of me.

It almost ruined my life entirely.

The pregnancy itself had been a difficult one from the beginning. Ironic, considering that it resulted in the only child we were actively trying to become pregnant with. I suffered from hyperemesis through much of it, long beyond the first trimester. At about 32 weeks, I started having regular contractions, 24 hours a day. When they started, I went to the hospital and was given medication in an attempt to stop the contractions. The contractions never stopped or progressed, I just learned to live with them. A few weeks later, I stumbled chasing a toddler and pulled all the muscles, tendons and ligaments between my chest and knees. I was in absolute agony.

Consequently, when the day came that the baby finally arrived, I was exhausted and happy....so happy that the pregnancy was finally over. 

She was beautiful and perfect. She was breathtakingly gorgeous. She was an easy baby. She never fussed, hardly cried. She was a pro at nursing almost immediately and slept through the night within mere weeks of her birth.

She was perfect.

And in my head, all I ever saw was a recurring vision of me taking her and throwing her down the stairs.

Something in me snapped.

I can't tell you how or when it began, but it did. The intrusive thoughts weaseled their way into my head and took up residence. It wasn't long before I was taking every sensory input and twisting it into some horrifically violent way to hurt the baby.

I saw things on television or in movies, and my brain replaced the victim with her, made me the perpetrator.

I heard things in the news, and immediately, my mind would take it and shape it somehow, then spit it back out in the form of visions.

I would be out driving and suddenly realize I was on a mountain road with no idea how I even got there, my mind picturing the car sailing off a cliff.

I read books and they became real. The words jumped off the page and invaded my mind and soul.

Each and every time, she was the one I was hurting. It was always her.

And I didn't know why.

I never acted on the visions, of course. They resided only in my mind, the mind that grew more and more warped as time passed.

I knew that something was wrong, I even knew what was wrong, and I was too ashamed, too afraid to say anything to anyone. I was afraid they would think I was homicidal. I was afraid they would call me crazy. I was afraid they would take my children. 

I knew that I would never hurt her, no matter how many times my mind played these film reels over and over inside my being.

I stuffed it down, I pushed it away, I willed myself to ignore it.

And it only got worse. And worse. And worse.

No one knew. No one had any idea. To the outside world, I was a mother of three kids who were clean, fed, dressed and to school on time. I was together and organized. There was food on the table, the house was kept. No one knew that when I was home alone with them that I would sit on the couch for hours and clutch her to my chest, terrified to walk to her room and change her diaper because it meant that I had to walk past the stairs that I always envisioned myself dropping her down.

I was completely functional to everyone around me, even those closest to me, but I was falling apart inside.

No one knew.

Until one night, over a year later, when the kids had gone to bed and I was up late reading. The writer of that story took a family to the zoo, and my mind instantly created a vision of me tossing her over the railing to the crocodiles.

I gasped. I slammed the book down. I started crying uncontrollably.

My husband, in utter shock, didn't know what to do.

So I told him. I told him everything. I opened up a piece of my soul that night. I told him that this had been happening since she was born. I told him that no one knew. I told him that I couldn't take it anymore. I told him that I was sorry. 

I was ashamed.

I was so ashamed.

He was scared.

His most immediate concern was for my safety and the safety of the children. I promised him that I had never hurt any of them, and it was the truth. The next day, I was in a psychiatrist's office spilling my guts about it all.

She asked if I knew what was wrong. 

I told her I did.

I am a doula. 

I knew better. I had specific training for just this.

I knew the signs. I knew the symptoms. I knew there was something very wrong with me for a very long time, and I had done nothing.

I knew and I did nothing. 

Out of fear. Out of shame. 

I was supposed to know better. I was too smart for this, too strong for this. I could will it away if only I tried hard enough.

I didn't want people to think less of me as a mother, as a woman. I didn't want them to think that I wanted my child dead. I didn't want them to label me and look at me strange. I didn't want my friends to stop talking to me, to stop trusting me with their children. I didn't want someone to take my kids away. I just wanted it to go away.

The psychiatrist told me what I already knew. That it was postpartum depression manifesting primarily as intrusive thoughts. It was, at times, border lining on psychosis. It was connected to OCD and anxiety. She told me that I may have to go on medication. I said I knew.

I knew it all, but I thought I could fight the demons in my head alone. 

I couldn't.

What happened next, for me, was an epiphany, the strangest most beautiful moment of clarity. In my case, the active suppression of the disorder was a self-perpetuating mechanism. The more I tried to hide it, the worse it got. Once I told someone, anyone, it was as though a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and the fog around me dissipated immediately. Once I stopped hiding it, I was free. The visions transformed into hazy memories, then disappeared entirely.

If I would have needed medication, I would have taken it in a heartbeat. 

It took months after that for me to admit it to those the closest to me. For a long time, only my husband knew. It was enough to keep me safe, to push it away, but I wasn't being completely honest with anyone. 

I clearly remember standing in the street with a friend sobbing as I told her. She had been my doula, she was my best friend, and I hadn't even told her. A day later, I sat in the backyard with two of my other best friends, and I opened up and let them in. We all confided things in each other that day that we hadn't admitted before. 

And I learned.

I learned that the power isn't in keeping these secrets, it is in telling these stories.

I learned the only way to strip these conditions of their power is to expose them to the light. I learned that I had to tell people what was wrong with me in order to get better. I learned that I didn't have a choice. 

I had to share this story because the mere act of sharing it was what saved me.

We have to trust ourselves and the women around us to keep us safe. We have to be brave enough to share our pasts, our presents, our dreams for the future. We will all be better for it. 

It took me a while longer to tell anyone beyond my closest circle, and it took me years to write about my experience here. It has been over seven years since it ended now, and there are times that it seems like yesterday. 

I don't have a single memory of my daughter's first year of life. Not one. What I hang on to are replaced memories that exist only through pictures or hearing someone else tell a story. I look at the pictures and try to remember what she must have been like, but there is nothing. This disease stole that time from me, wholly and entirely. 

I was terrified that it would come back when I was pregnant the next time. It did, but it was more manageable. I made those close to me swear to be vigilant, to pry, to ask uncomfortable questions, to invade my privacy, to make sure that I was really okay and that I wasn't just saying I was.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~`

Postpartum depression is a very serious condition. There are different types of postpartum depression, all of which fall under the larger umbrella of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Postpartum blues are the less severe on one end, psychosis the most on the other end. It affects far more women than we know, because far too many of them keep this secret. With help, with therapy, with the shoulders of those who understand, with medication and with time, it can get better.


Don't let it take a year of your life with your children.

If you develop symptoms, get help. Watch for the warning signs in those you love. Symptoms can include any of the following:

Insomnia
Loss of appetite
Irritability and anger
Fatigue
Loss of interest in sex
Lack of joy in life
Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy
Mood swings
Difficulty bonding with your baby
Withdrawal from family and friends
Visions of harming yourself or your baby


The following symptoms of psychosis are more pronounced and severe, please do not delay seeking treatment if any of these occur. 

Disorientation
Paranoia
Hallucinations 
Delusions
Suicidal thoughts
Thoughts of harming the baby

Women who develop the type of PPD that manifests as intrusive thoughts may only ever have the visions, or it may cross over into psychosis. Psychosis usually presents within the first few weeks, but can occur later. If you are having this symptom in particular, I urge you to get help immediately.

The mental health community takes this condition much more seriously now than it used to, but the medical community definitely has some catching up to do. The first few weeks after a birth are easily the most emotionally unpredictable of a woman's life. In addition to the stresses of caring for a child, her body is being pummeled by constant hormonal changes. Our medical system tends to discharge new moms and babies from the hospital with no intention of a follow-up until six weeks later. Physically, that may be acceptable, but mentally it is not enough. New mothers absolutely need a better support system in place to follow them through the postpartum period.

We must do better. For these women and their families. For ourselves.

Please, if you are willing, share your stories in the comment section. Let your voice be heard.

xoxo

4 comments:

  1. THANK YOU. Thank you so much for posting this. My greatest fear/shame in dealing with my Postpartum Depression and Anxiety is the thoughts I have had of harming my son. It is so hard to explain to someone that I would never hurt him, but that I have no control over how my mind works right now. I'm taking my meds and talking to a counselor, but those thoughts are still the hardest to share. I've also been blogging at www.theblogofmamag.blogspot.com and writing has helped so much!

    I was lucky in that I had uncontrollable crying as one of my early symptoms - you can't hide that! My boyfriend was able to get me to the doctor and I was able to start getting treated almost immediately. Still, it's a battle every day.

    Thank you for your bravery and your honesty. HUGS to you.

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  2. I dealt with postpartum depression with everyone of my pregnancies and it seemed to get worse everytime. Thankfully it never crossed to the psychosis side but as I read the rest of the symptoms it as if they are describing that part of my life exactly. Guilt, shame inadaquacy, lack of joy, withdrawing from life and more are all things I experienced everyday. My symptoms started before I even left the hospital. I remember sitting in my bed there and just wishing all my visitors would go home and just leave me alone. I remember everyone around me being so happy about our new baby/babies (we have two sets of twins) and being unable to share in that happiness. I remember fighting not to cry, scared my nurse would find me, that they would think I was crazy and question if my children were safe to go home with me. Which led to extreme feelings of guilt that I was a horrible mother. I felt bad for my older children, as though I had done them a disservice by having more children and stretching myself even thinner.
    In my first pregnancies people who were close to me knew I had the "baby blues" They knew I could and would cry at the drop of a hat. They did not know however all the feelings that went along with it and it was quickly dismissed. "Just give it time they said, it will get better." The one time I did call my doctor's office the nurse told me I had to wait 2 weeks before they would do anything. I never called back, it made me feel like I wasn't "bad" enough for any kind of intervention and that I just needed to suck it up and get on with life.
    During my last pregnancy my husband was laid off from his job. He was still searching for a job when the babies were born. He was home with me alot more. Nobody in this world knows me better than him and it was the worst it had ever been this time. There was no hiding it this time. He was scared, he had never seen me this way, never this bad. For a week or so I was able to convince him not to do anything. "Give it time I said, This isn't the first time, I will come around on my own."
    Thankfully, he stopped listening and called my doc to let him know what was going on. I ended up taking anti-depressants this time. It was the best choice I had ever made.
    I was still overwhelmed, my son had been born with some pretty severe orthopedic issues that required a lot of appointments, several surgeries, he was in serial casting by 5 days old. I was caring for two babies and 4 older children, unemployment was running out and we were facing possibly trying to support 8 people on minimum wage. There were many things that got me through those times. My faith in God and the members of our church~all who have remained anonymous to me even to this day helped pull us through one of the darkest times in my life. But taking control of my PPD was just as important I shudder to think how things could have been had I just tried to deal with it on my own. I wish I had done it with my other children.
    Having babies does not bring back happy memories for me, but mostly just sadness and low points in my life. I would encourage any woman feeling this way to seek help. I promise it will be the best choice you will ever make. Don't be ashamed, you are not wrong, you are not a bad mom. And seeking help will lift that from you.

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  3. The flashes.....thats what I called your visions....I could see every conceivable way not only that I could hurt her but it also grew to how she could hurt herself.....how she could misstep on the ladder to the slide and how she would fall and what it would look like as she landed....and how distraught I would be. ..it took seconds for it to play out in my head....the fear and the anxiety....cold sweaty clammy feeling the upset stomach.... I am pretty sure the only reason I lost the initial weight after her is the stomach upsets that those flashes caused....I couldn't eat....I was functioning that was all I could do.....I did go on medication when she was 18 no old ...by that time I channelled it all into ocd cleaning behaviors. I saw a therapist and started medication but the memories of that time is what spurs me to keep getting treatment....keep working on myself....

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  4. Hugs to you my friend. I was there with you. My 'vision' was driving us off a bridge in the river. I'm glad you were able to share with your husband and then get the help you needed. I'm so thankful you got the help you needed. Your children were safe. But it's you who suffers.

    Thanks for sharing such an intimate part of yourself. You will be helping many by sharing. Letting go is huge.

    Hugs hugs hugs hugs

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