Running from PPD: Trying to Heal While Battling an Eating Disorder

Running from PPD: Trying to Heal While Battling an Eating Disorder -postpartumprogress.com

This story starts with a tub of vanilla ice cream and a Costco-sized jar of Nutella but I don’t know where it ends. What I do know is that I was at my wits end after starting yet another round of dieting and intense exercise, only to find myself too soon sliding backwards; tumbling into another downward spiral of binge eating and self-destruction. Back into a daily ritualized routine of excessive calorie counting, agonizing over nutrition labels and trying to push my body further and further to atone for my dietary sins.

I’m no stranger to dieting, body-image issues, and pitifully low self-esteem; my world has always been colored by the idea that in order to somehow be more loved or accepted, there needed to be less of me. There isn’t a conscious memory I have that isn’t tainted by pressure to be smaller, to eat less, to move more—and that if I could just get my shit together and commit to prescribed diet plans and go outside and run, then I’d be okay. Life could actually start because I’d be small and small means you’re happy, right?

After a battle with antenatal and postpartum depression, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder that left me raw, numb and nearly dead, I shakily reached out for comfort in one of the only ways I really knew how—with a trip to my pantry. Despite medication, therapy and family support, I still wasn’t really sleeping at almost eight months postpartum. Insomnia had ravaged me for close to a year at that point and my body and mind were desperate for reprieve.

So I opened my jar of Nutella, grabbed a spoon and began to eat. The thick, chocolaty sweetness provided me that momentary relief I was after. I could get lost in the taste and texture and if one spoonful wasn’t enough there was nothing to stop me from going back for more. I felt like I’d earned it; that no one could blame me if I did a little comfort eating.

The problem was I wasn’t just comfort eating. One spoonful quickly turned to six. Then the guilt would overwhelm me and I’d silence it with a bowl of ice cream with more Nutella. Then when I was nauseated from the sugar I’d dip my hands into a bag of chips and level things out with some salt. By that point I might then grab my peanut butter and shovel it in while eating handfuls of chocolate chips, straight from the bag.

When I finally reached the point where I couldn’t possibly eat another mouthful, I’d be sick and riding high on a wave of sugar coursing through my veins. My binges were always in the evening, so I’d get ready for bed and then spend hours laying in silence as my body would literally shake from the sugar rush. It was during those ugly moments I’d plan my workout for the next day. The mighty purge. My reckoning. Punishment.

My days would start with the same vow to never binge again and in order to make right my food choices from the night before I would have to spend hours exercising. Still carrying deep shame from my birth experience and failed launch into motherhood, I didn’t want to meet other moms and try and find something to talk about.

I didn’t want to try and drag my son to infant swimming lessons and mommy and me bullshit at Gymboree. Instead I chose to fill my monotonous days that began to seemingly blur together with either a hot yoga or spin class, followed by an hour or more of running and cap it all off with an hour long walk with my son in his stroller. I’d restrict my food intake to just enough to keep my hunger at bay and blood sugar from flat lining. This strategy would work during the morning and afternoon, but by the time evening would roll around and my son was in bed, all bets were off. I would binge, eating thousands of calories over the course of an hour or two and repeat this cycle five or six nights a week.

I gained 20 pounds in a month. Overwhelmed and devastated by the number on the scale I knew that my eating was out of control, but I was so utterly exhausted from the months I’d spent trying to find the right treatment for my depression that I had nothing left. Nothing left to ask for help or admit I had yet another problem. My sleep was still a disaster and my exercise program was quickly falling apart, along with my body. But I convinced myself that I just needed to try harder and I’d be okay.

I was able to curtail my binges to a more “reasonable” once or twice a week, meanwhile I pushed through injuries and trained for a 10k race. Something was wrong with my pelvis because of my pregnancy and even though I’d had x-rays, seen my doctor, a chiropractor, massage therapist and acupuncturist, I would lose all feeling in my legs about three kilometres into a run. They would go completely numb but I would just keep running.

I was told to stop. That I was risking serious injury. But I couldn’t stop running; running from my depression, my loneliness and my shame. Running from my failure as a mother, wife and woman. Running from the reality of my heavily distorted eating habits and a rapidly failing body.

My weight continued to climb and I responded with more crash dieting and exercise. The guilt I would pile on my shoulders for every “bad” food choice would result in yet another binge. Meanwhile my body began to burn. I would get numbness and tingling sensations in arms and legs after so much as walking up the stairs. Then the pain started and would go on and on for days.

“Describe it to me”, my doctor asked.

“I feel like a giant bruise or that I have the flu all the time” I replied. “I still barely sleep and can’t think straight most days. I’m terrified of going back to work because I’m in a constant fog and I don’t think I’ll be able to keep up.” Silence followed.

Finally, we landed on a diagnosis: fibromyalgia. With this new problem came more drugs and more weight gain. More binging and comfort eating; guilt and crash dieting. I couldn’t exercise with the same intensity but my sleep was getting better. And my pain was being managed. But my pants didn’t fit.

I kept on with this cycle for months, trying to manage the best I could and lose some weight, but shortly after my 30th birthday it all came crashing down. Another diet, another failure, another binge, and then physical rebellion on the part of my body. Pain everywhere, together with constant digestion issues, complete exhaustion, and a black sinking hole of depression.

I sat down in front of my computer, started researching and was hit square in the face the cold reality that I have an eating disorder—and that I’ve actually been struggling with one for most of my life. A call to an eating disorder specialist confirmed my diagnosis and within a week I started treatment with a nutritionist and psychologist.

The work I’ve done since my diagnosis has been painful and infinitely more difficult emotionally than any I’ve done in the past. We’re digging right into the deepest hurt in my heart and undoing the self-destructive attitudes, beliefs, and coping mechanisms that have kept me afloat.

It’s so much easier to open up that peanut butter and grab the chocolate chips and pretend that the last three years never happened. Or to be seduced by yet another diet and the belief that “this time will be different, you’ll see!” But the relief is momentary and leaves me sick, guilty and ashamed. And I’m done with that. The binge and purge cycle stops here and I’m doing the work now so that this story finds its happy ending.

Babies Are Not Anti-Depressants

Babies Are Not Antidepressants -postpartumprogress.com

There seems to be a notion floating around the internet that babies fix broken people.

They say that it surely must be impossible to be depressed while holding a bundle of joy.

So.

Wait.

You’re basically saying that postpartum depression doesn’t exist.

Did you even realize that is what you were doing?

You are looking at all of us Warrior Moms, dead in the eyes, and saying that you don’t understand how we can be so sad, in such a wretched state, when we clearly have a wonderful life with this new baby.

Let me break it down, because there is clearly some confusion here.

Babies are not antidepressants. Our OBGYN didn’t write us a prescription to get pregnant, thinking it will fix something. Babies don’t fix things.

If you are suffering from PPD, I guarantee holding your baby makes you feel numb, scared, empty.

Society LOVES discounting postpartum depression—calling it cute things like “baby blues” and saying that it’s just our hormones surging and that we will be in tip-top shape in no time. To focus on the miracle that has happened to us.

I felt depressed holding my daughter when she was three hours old, five months old, four years old.

My daughter didn’t fix me, because it’s not her job. You know what did help me?

Therapy.

Medication.

Encouragement from other mothers going through the same thing.

You know why?

Because depression—any form of depression at any point in your life—is a disease. It is a sickness. It is not something that aromatherapy, prayer, or holding a five month old baby can cure.

Do you know what we feel when we hold our babies instead of unadulterated joy? Desperation. We hold them, in all of their beautiful glory, and desperately search for some sort of bond.

It was not the annunciation where an angel spoke to me about this wonderful tiny human I have brought in to the world. My heart didn’t swell nine times its actual size. There was silence, loneliness, guilt.

Telling a woman that holding their baby will cure their depression is the same as asking an alcoholic to hold a bottle of whiskey and expecting them to no longer feel addicted. THIS ISN’T HOW THIS WORKS.

So, if you have never dealt with postpartum depression—whether you’re a man, childless, or just incredibly lucky—I suggest you Google what you are talking about before taking your absurd opinion public.

 

A Note to My Facebook Friend Announcing Her Pregnancy

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Stephanie Koch Pavol. She talks about her fears of having another baby after postpartum depression and how others’ pregnancy announcements make her feel. It’s a real post with real heart. -Jenna]

A Note to My Facebook Friend Announcing Her Pregnancy -postpartumprogress.com

As I’m scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed it hits me again like a ton of bricks: Another friend is having her second baby. She’s cheerfully announcing that her daughter will be a big sister this summer with an adorable picture. Her daughter holds an ultrasound picture, and her husband is beaming with pride.

Facebook friend, I want you to know that I am so, so happy for you. I really am. It’s wonderful that you’re having your second bundle of joy. I know I will someday too.

But what I might not tell you is that there’s a green-eyed envy monster rearing its ugly head right now.

You see, here’s the thing: I so very much want to have another baby too. But it’s so much more complicated for mamas who’ve dealt with a perinatal mood disorder like mine. An illness that robbed me of a happy pregnancy and postpartum period and rocked me to my core.

There are many more things to consider for a mama like me, such as:

  • Will I be confronted with that terrible beast of anxiety and depression again, even despite all of my best planning and coordination with my healthcare providers?
  • If so, am I willing to go through that again?
  • I feel good so good now. When will I be willing to chance that again?
  • Can I go to a lower, safer amount of medication? (Or for some mamas, go off altogether.) How will I do this?
  • If my anxiety and depression come back, how will that affect turning-into-a-toddler son? I don’t want him to see me in my worst moments, like I had before. Can I be strong enough for him?

I hate to feel envious, I really do. I know all feelings are valid, but envy just feels so fruitless to me. So I feel even worse for feeling this way.

But I just so much just want to have the options you do: To not have to plan around the potential dreaded anxiety and depression. To happily get pregnant without having to think through all these shitty repercussions. To gleefully announce my pregnancy on Facebook without this scary black cloud hovering over me.

I’ll be willing to confront all of these questions someday, but for right now, I’m trying to just keep that green-eyed monster at bay. I tell the monster that I need to take care of my mental and physical well-being first. I tell the monster I’m so grateful and happy for the amazing family I have right now. I tell the monster that I am stronger than him. That his challenge has only made be better.

So Facebook friend, please know that I’m so, so happy for you. I just can’t help feeling a little sad for me.

~Stephanie Koch Pavol

Your Story Isn’t Over Yet

I love semi-colons.

True, not everyone uses them right. Sometimes I don’t even use them properly. I just like them; they’re the prettiest punctuation. It’s really powerful punctuation, too. As an editor, I appreciate powerful punctuation. The semi-colon is used when an author could have ended a sentence but chose not to.

April 16th (tomorrow!) each year is celebrated as Project Semi-Colon Day. The project was started in 2013 by a daughter who wanted to honor her farther whom she lost to suicide. The semi-colon represents a story that could have ended, but didn’t. People draw semi-colons on their wrist and share them across social media. I’ve participated the past two years.

In the years since the start of Project Semi-Colon, the symbol has taken storm in the mental health field. When I see someone with a semi-colon tattoo, I know that they themselves or someone that they love is touched by mental illness or suicide in some way. I feel an instant kinship with that person, even if I don’t say anything overt.

Your Story Isn't Over Yet - postpartumprogress.com

This is one I drew in 2014. I’ll be getting the real deal this year on 4/16.

Here’s the truth for moms experiencing postpartum mental illnesses: Suicide accounts for about 20% of postpartum deaths and is the second most common cause of mortality in postpartum women. (Archives of Women’s Mental Health) That’s scary. We know that without treatment, postpartum depression can lead to chronic depression. But we also know that postpartum depression is TEMPORARY AND TREATABLE.

Your story doesn’t have to end. We don’t need to lose any more moms. Your children need you; you are literally the perfect mom for your child. With treatment, with support, with every ounce of effort you’ve got, you can beat your postpartum mood and anxiety disorder. You can come through the dark tunnel out into the light and take your stance among the rest of the Warrior Moms who came before you.

It won’t feel easy. It won’t be easy. Fighting postpartum depression is hard. It’s exhausting work just being a mom and it feels triply so when you’re fighting a mood disorder. But you’re not alone. We’re here with you, every step of the way, waiting for you to continue your story after your semi-colon.

You are not alone; you are never alone.