It’s almost one year later. My sweet, luscious, beautiful baby boy was born on September 7, 2013. His pregnancy was not exactly planned but we were incredibly excited to add another rambunctious boy to our family of five.
Today is August 12, 2014. Yesterday a prominent celebrity died. Suspected suicide. I do not pretend to know any of the details of his death, nor do I speculate or judge him or his actions. It was told that he suffered from severe depression. I am not a 63 year old man who has suffered from alcoholism. I am not a famous celebrity with millions in the bank. But I have suffered from a form of depression. It is a nasty, horrible, awful state of consciousness with seemingly no end in sight.
After I had my fourth baby, I was sitting in the hospital. The nurses hand out those Post-Partum Depression scales (a test to determine if you are susceptible). Of course, one day after having my baby I felt fine mentally. Tired. Yup. High on adrenaline ? Oh yes. Anxious? Maybe a little. But I just had a baby! Cut me some slack. However I filled it out and a feeling of dread came over me. I knew. I knew it was going to get bad. Worse. Worse than bad. I brushed it off. I had a newborn to love.
Post-Partum Mood Disorders don’t always hit right away. And it’s not always depression. PPMD can result in severe anxiety, OCD, depression, Post-partum Psychosis, anger, rage, intrusive thoughts, apathy, etc. Just google Post Partum Mood Disorders and your eyes will be opened.
Six weeks after my son’s birth, I fell apart completely. It was like a switch. I stopped sleeping. I stopped eating. I cried heaving sobs day in and day out for no apparent reason. I begged and pleaded aloud someone, anyone to help me. It was torture to feel this way and yet still have to get up, take care of my four children and put one foot in front of the other. I cannot express the absolute nightmare of my life at that point. I would lie awake each night for days in a row with all-consuming panic attacks. My skin would crawl. I paced the house while everyone slept. The lack of sleep was by far the worst part of the ordeal. Please God. Let me sleep.
After nights of no sleep, it was the mornings that were the most difficult. I feared the day ahead. “How am I supposed to do this?” “How am I supposed to be a good mother?” “How am I going to function?!” “why is this happening?!”
My appetite was nonexistent. I choked down water every day. It was the best I could do.
I googled obsessively. Every medication was going to kill me, or send me to rehab. I’d become a drug addict. I’d lose my children. My family will fall apart. My life is over. There is nothing left for which to live.
I distinctly remember sitting in my car, picking up my daughter from school. It had been a few nights of no sleep and I was borderline delirious. I had already tried leftover prescription sleeping pills the night before, which gave me exactly two hours of sleep. TWO HOURS. I dreamed of downing entire bottles of the stuff, just to get me a few hours of sleep. I later realized how awful those thoughts were. I put these statements out there to give an idea of my state of mind at that time. Anyone who knows me, knows I am NOT a depressed, suicidal, anxious person. But at the time I had no interest in anyone, anything. It wasn’t that I wanted my life to end, I just wanted to escape. I wanted to distance myself from this evil monster. I wanted out. The only thing I could focus on was how in the hell I was going to overcome this awful situation. Who was going to help me? Was I ever going to get better?
I knew without a doubt I was suffering severely from Post Partum Anxiety.** I called our Family Dr and begged her to see me a soon as possible. She squeezed me in that very day. I came into her office practically bouncing off the walls. I couldn’t sit still. I cried. I looked like hell. She took one look at me and knew I was in terrible shape. She sat me down and explained the process, the medications, anything to help me sleep, to control my anxiety. I will forever be grateful to her. For taking me seriously. For saving me.
Here are some of the symptoms of Post Partum Anxiety taken from Postpartumprogress.com:
I did not suffer from intrusive thoughts or thoughts of harming my baby, but many women do. It’s a horrible feeling to have no control over your mind.
I distinctly remember one day, the worst day during the whole process. It was a Halloween party for our church. I was in charge of all four kids as my husband had responsibilities. It was day 2 or day 3 of maybe 3 hours total of sleep. TOTAL. My brain was in a severe fog. I felt as though I were dreaming. It was a very disconcerting, eerie state of being. I took my kids to the party and sat in a corner with my baby in a stroller. It took every ounce of strength to keep myself together. It is impossible to describe exactly what I was experiencing at that time but panic attack comes close enough. I wanted nothing more than someone to take a 2x4 to my head and knock me out. Just KNOCK ME OUT. I spoke to many people that night and none of them, save it be maybe a few friends would have ever known how bad I was struggling. PPMD is a deceiving illness. You never know who is suffering.
During this time I also tried vitamins, exercise, walks, etc. Nothing was working. My husband gave me a priesthood blessing, a common practice among LDS families, whether for physical, mental or emotional problems (this is not just reserved for LDS, blessing can also help non-members). In this blessing I was told I would overcome this problem. I’d become myself again. It was very, very difficult to believe it, I’m ashamed to say.
I began the medication my Dr. gave me. During some nights I was on 3 different medications as well as an SSRI which would take at least a month to give me some relief. I went through days of despair during this time. Some days I would curl into the fetal position and just sob. It was all I could do. My husband and mother were the only ones who saw me at my worst. They kept telling me it was temporary. I never believed them. It was too hard.
My husband was my rock. As cliché as that sounds. He was. He took work off. He helped me to the backyard where he layed out a blanket for me to lie on in the sun. He forced me to eat. He sat with me, held me. I fear where I would have been if it had not been for his support.
I have a group of friends on Facebook, some of which have suffered from PPD. I wrote this to them asking for help during my throes of anxiety (typos included):
I'm not very good. A mess actually. I feel like I'm trapped, like nobody gets it. Everyone is so supportive around me. Casey is wonderful, my dr. is understanding, my mom is helpful, I have a great friend who has been there for me...but I still feel so helpless, and alone. And of course, I have to take meds to sleep which makes my anxiety sky rocket. I hate it, I hate not sleeping, I hate having to take meds to sleep, I hate that I google the crap out my medications and then read horror stories about it. I hate that the meds don't always work. I'm a freakin mess. I wouldn't wish this on anybody. I have zero desire to do anything I used to love. I've eaten like 500 calories the past few days. I barely even get on Facebook or Instagram because I can't stand seeing everybody so happy and I'm in this stupid pit of self pity.
And i hate that I'm complaining so much when so many people have it so much harder. I have a beautiful family and a caring, loving husband? Wow, what a aterrible life. I feel so stupid and lame and annoyingj.
I was truly in the depths of despair. It sounds dramatic, it sounds overkill but it is the only way I can explain how I felt. I had never, ever felt so completely and utterly alone in my life. I was surrounded by loving friends and family but that feeling of gloom and misery was incapacitating. Excruciating. I remember thinking, “How do people who suffer from this long term-survive?? HOW?!” I couldn’t fathom it. To feel that anguish on a daily basis for months, years. I couldn’t comprehend it. I had a newfound admiration for these people. They are my heroes.
The physical symptoms of anxiety are like a cruel joke. Not only are you suffering mentally but your jaw is permanently clenched, your shoulders are hunched resulting in neck pain and massive headaches. You can’t relax your hands and your stomach rebels regardless if you put food in it or not. My son breastfed like a champ, yet I was so overcome with anxiety, my milk would no longer let-down and my body refused to continue to produce. I couldn’t settle my mind, my heart, my body for even one minute. Baths, massages, reading, etc, none of it helped. I felt as if I was on speed. I was on a constant drip of adrenaline.
The only interest I had at the time was to research how to overcome this, how to get my sleep on track, how to control this constant pit of worry in my gut. I came across a book, “Mother to Mother” by Sandra Poulin. It changed my life. It is a collection of stories of mothers from around the globe who suffered from this terrible illness. The very first story, from the author herself-it was like she was in my brain describing exactly what I was going through. I cried. I cried because someone else understood. Someone else suffered as I was and got better! I read her story over and over. It gave me something I hadn’t been able to grasp in weeks. HOPE.
It took three months. Three months of good days, bad days, worse days, better days to finally feel like myself again. Yes I took medication because I know without a doubt it was the right path. It made me whole again. It gave me my sanity.
PPMD is not a sign you are not trying hard enough, nor is it a distinction of your mothering skills. It is a real and true illness. It comes in all forms, from apathetic laziness, to crippling panic attacks to hallucinations and delirium. It affects all races, all ages, all incomes and does not discriminate between first, second, third, eighth, tenth babies. But guess what? There is a way out. There is hope. There is help. Some people choose holistic approaches. Some people choose prescription medications. Some decide homeopathic medications are best. Some decide to rely solely on spiritual guidance. For me, it was a combination. It took time and patience.
But I did it. I survived.
**it should be noted that other medical possibilities were ruled out before starting an SSRI. I had tests done on my thyroid and iron to rule out hyperthyroid and anemia, both of which can cause similar symptoms if not treated. These tests came back normal.