My Story: Postpartum Depression
The creepy thing about postpartum depression and anxiety is that you can seem completely fine to people who aren't around your for more than a short conversation. I remember family coming to visit me while I was in postpartum recovery at the hospital; they left thinking I was doing great, everything normal. But I was overwhelmingly lost and struck with fear on the inside.
At the time of this photo to the left (about three months after giving birth to my second child), I was facing paralyzing anxiety regularly.
I was still having panic attacks every 2-3 days (some in the middle of the night--the worst), and I felt out of control. Panic attacks and regular anxiety were completely new to me, and the most mind-boggling part was: I did not have a clue why it was happening. But it was. And it was starting to become an exhausting way to live.
My first panic attack was in my postpartum room while still at the hospital. A few hours after giving birth to my second child, Roslyn, I had two panic attacks in this room. Looking back, I can see what triggered me. But at the time, I was com-plete-ly clueless as to why this was happening. I felt crazy. I remember the nurse, after wheeling in an oxygen machine for me (per my request – I felt short of breath, a symptom of anxiety), kindly began to tell me about her own regular anxiety, and how I would really feel better if I had some anxiety meds.
Anxiety meds?!! Scary words to me at that moment.
After breathing with some extra oxygen for a while, and sniffing some lavender essential oil (don’t know if it helped, but it was comforting. I had brought it from home), I began to calm down somewhat. I wasn’t able to relax enough to get any sleep (so sad! I was completely exhausted from labor and the first night of nursing!), so my sweet husband talked me through some “mindfulness” meditation exercises he had learned a while back. Those were the only thing that began to really get through to me and calm me, but it took over an hour of him quietly helping me visualize happy things and places.
Little did I know, this was only the beginning.
After an evaluation by a psychologist and a nice chat with the hospital social worker (who both deemed me ‘normal’), I was finally released from the hospital and able to go home. I so ached to be home, surrounded by familiarity: my children, husband, my own bed. I would finally be able to sleep without being woken by incoming nurses! I was sure that it was just the environment and noise at the hospital that had gotten to me, and that once I got home I would be totally fine.
But back at home and in my own bed, I still had trouble sleeping. Which was frustrating and confusing, both to my husband and to me. I was overall nervous – I’d ask him not to close our bedroom door when he left me alone so I could sleep; he had to mute the TV; I couldn’t even begin to relax unless I knew the baby was asleep; I would wake at the slightest sound of her movement… I mean yes I am a light sleeper, but not that light. I felt on edge. I could recognize how strange my behavior was to some extent, but it was so natural, it was just what was happening. I didn’t feel I had control over how worried or uptight I was.
One night I had gone to bed early to try and catch some extra rest before my baby girl's first night feeding. My bedroom door was open, Abe was watching TV in the next room (silently). While getting ready to drift off to sleep, a flash of reflected TV screen colored light on the wall from the other room sent me into a panic. In hindsight, I know why: at the hospital I had watched TV, and during a panic attack there, similar flashes of light had shone on the wall. (Who knew that would trigger me? Crazy.)
I felt so scared and fearful of this anxiety getting total control over me again, that I decided to call the "Support Hotline", one of the resources they give you in all that hospital release paperwork. You know, all of that paper that nobody really reads when they go home…
I was pretty embarrassed that I needed to call some random hotline, but I was so desperate and unable to control of the anxiety I could feel coming on, that it was the only thing I could think to do. Anything to not have another panic attack. After a nice heart-to-heart with a hotline helper named Rob, I was able to finally relax and sleep.
There – I had made it through two panic attacks. In my mind I justified and belittled them both. I thought, “I only felt panicked at home because the flash of light on the wall, which triggered the same anxiety I had felt at the hospital.” But I failed to recognize how anxious I was minute to minute, hour to hour. Anxiety was always there, right below the surface, bubbling all on its own like a volcano--ready to burst and take over my calm at any moment.
Luckily for me, time went on pretty normally after those first few anxiety-packed postpartum days. In hindsight, I was on enough pain meds from labor that I stayed relatively calm throughout the first month. Then, about two months after giving birth, my toddler came down with bronchiolitis, and the newborn (now was 10 weeks old) came down with pneumonia.
For 3 months straight (Jan - March 2016), our house was the sick house. Roslyn had pneumonia and needed 2x daily breathing treatments for wheezing; Jensen (my toddler) had bronchiolitis (also needed 2x/day breathing treatments for wheezing); Jensen had a double ear infection (both ears - so dizzy!); he also experienced a febrile seizure. My husband and I came down with bronchiolitis; the whole family took turns having pink eye; I got food poisoning. "When it rains it pours.” Never was the phrase more true, and it about broke me.
Normally, I would have scheduled little outings with the kids as soon as we all began feeling better. But my constant anxiety (which was somewhat called for with two sick babies, but not to this extent) drove me gradually toward depression. I stayed at home, even when things were getting easier. I was not happy. *One important detail here: throughout this time my husband was in his last semester of college for his engineering degree; he was gone 7am until midnight almost every day. An observant husband can be a protective factor for preventing PPD. Ideally, the husband would be the first to help his wife get the medical attention and psychological help that she needs. But because of his schedule, my husband didn't notice my numbness and didn't identify my apathy towards my children that started to develop.
Like a frog that boils gradually in warming water, I became dangerously depressed without even knowing it. My husband noticed I wasn’t happy, and he voiced that, but I don’t think he realized how bad it was… He wasn't there during those long days when I would lay listless on the couch, my children running around me in a blur. I was miles away from the moment in the fuzzy, quiet parts of my ill mind...All I could get done was the survival stuff: feeding the kids, changing their diapers, barely feeding myself. The miraculous part through all this was that I was still able to connect to the music and songwriting part of me, and I wrote some really impactful songs during that painful and confusing time.
I did recognize that there were a couple of days I was mostly laying on the couch, and I told my mom about those. She called me regularly during that time and played a big role in being the first to get me the help I needed. She doesn’t live nearby currently, but was praying for me from afar and activated her "friend force". Pretty soon the local church Relief Society was bringing over dinners. My Visiting Teachers (church friends assigned to check up on me) were taking my kids in shifts... It was all miraculously beautiful, the help I was able to get. But I was so sick, I couldn't even reach out to make that help happen. My mom had to do it for me.
She lined up short-term help, which eased my pain somewhat. But how did I eventually get the long-term medical attention I needed for my PPD and anxiety? Well, it’s quite the story. I’ll make it quick for you:
In the midst of my sneaky depression, a cyst burst somewhere in my abdomen. After a long night of abdominal pain and a fever, I left my kids with a visiting teacher and drove myself to the ER. An ultrasound confirmed that a cyst had indeed burst, and I was told to make a follow up appointment with my OB. While I was annoyed at this long chain of medical events, what I didn't know was that this chain events was going to be my saving grace. The cyst rupture got me in front of medical professionals for the first time since really being depressed, and eventually led me back to my OB’s office, where I was able to meet with a female Physician’s Assistant and talk about my anxiety from the beginning. I was prescribed an antidepressant and I have been so much better. Back to my normal self.
I hope that my postpartum story has taught you one thing: that there is HOPE! That there is LIGHT at the end of any and EVERY tunnel. Through our Savior Jesus Christ, as well as the help of medical professionals and modern medicine, we can be healed completely, and once again have our health and happiness in this life. Many women have (very bravely) reached out to me privately to share about their own struggles, and have asked me if they are depressed or not. I am not a medical professional! Don’t be like me and wait for months until you get help. If you are concerned that you might have depression or anxiety--whether it is postpartum related or not--go to your doctor, your OB, or a therapist and talk it out. You might find that what you’re experiencing is not true PPD or anxiety, but you also might find that your symptoms are related to PPD! Either way, you will feel better having validated all that you have been experiencing by sharing it with someone who can help. It is worth the peace of mind – and it is especially worth your and your husband and your children’s quality of life. Take care of yourself!
P.S. - If you'd like to take my free quiz to better understand mom burnout/how you can avoid it or heal from it, it's right here.