Fighting in the Dark: My Battle with Postpartum Anxiety

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post on postpartum anxiety comes from a Climb Leader who said, when she sent it to me, that sharing her story is the only way to begin fighting stigma in earnest. We 100% agree. When we share our stories, we help others and break down the walls of stigma. Every single time. So thank you, Sarah Michals. We appreciate your bravery. You are a true Warrior Mom! -Jenna]

Fighting in the Dark: My Battle with Postpartum Anxiety -postpartumprogress.com

“Motherhood is hard. You’ll get used to it.” These were my doctor’s words when I went to her for help. I had told her that my daughter was thirteen months old, newly night-weaned, and finally sleeping through the night. I had told her that I had a loving, supportive husband. And I had told her that I hadn’t slept in days. And, yes, I had agreed. Motherhood is hard.

So there it was, I thought. The reason that I was sleeping no more than twelve hours a week was due to my inability to cope, to become the mom that I had always wanted to be. When the panic attacks started—while watching a particularly dull episode of Mad Men or reading an article about Britney Spears’s new body—I figured that it must have been from the stress of being a working mom and, again, from my failure to adjust. It had to have been my failure when, with the slightest trigger, I would fly into a rage at my ineptitude to the point where I would punch myself in the head until the flooding stopped. The beginning of my daughter’s second year had become my own personal Fight Club and, according to my doctor, I should have gotten used to it.

For me, as a first-time mom, I didn’t know enough to question her. The only models of motherhood I had ever seen were well-adjusted, functioning women. When I talked to these women, they would say, “I know what you mean. I’m tired, too.” I would nod, and then I would go home and cry beside my baby because I was not them. For whatever reason, I could not adapt. All I could do was crack a little bit more every day.

I already knew what it was like to be tired. My daughter never slept for more than three hours at a time for her entire first year, more often than not in forty-five minute intervals, but that had been nothing compared to this. This insomnia, this five hours asleep—72 hours awake—three hour asleep rotation, was breaking me. I taught my classes and watched college students tilt their heads at my paleness as I spoke without hearing myself. I rode the bus across town and missed my stop because the scenery all started to look the same. Time seemed to spin around itself without progress like the ceiling fan I would stare at from the bed that tormented me.

As I stumbled bleary-eyed into my fifteenth month of motherhood and my fourth month of true sleeplessness, I knew that I could no longer fight against myself; it was going to kill me, and allowing that to happen was not an option. Instead, I had to fight for myself.

The Internet can be a dull weapon, but when you’ve exhausted all other resources, at least it gives you something to wield. I Googled until my fingers hurt and, somehow, I discovered something that I hadn’t found in my million previous attempts: Postpartum Anxiety Disorder. I clicked, and so did my sense of what was happening to me. The symptoms of Postpartum Depression had never fit, but with PPA, I checked every single box.

I called my doctor once again, and I knew that she would volunteer nothing, so instead of waiting, I told her what she had to do, and I told her she had to do it immediately. She sighed and consented. That evening I picked up my new prescription, and a week later my panic attacks had disappeared. My self-loathing had dissipated.

And I was sleeping.

This story began in darkness—the darkness of night after lonely night when everyone else was sleeping; the emotional darkness that had filled up the space for love in my heart; the darkness of the silence that surrounds postpartum mental illness; the darkness of my ignorance and blind faith in a medical system that was never designed for me. But I fought to the surface when I finally knew where to strike.

So many moms live in this darkness every single day, and what I can say is that through all of this, my night vision has gotten better, and I can see you. Other women like us can see you. And there will come a day when you can see yourself again. She’s in there still. She’ll be back.

~Sarah Michals

The Sun Will Shine: A Poem on Postpartum Depression

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Stephanie, and she brings a little something different today: a poem on postpartum depression. It’s beautifully written. It’s also a piece many mamas who have suffered postpartum depression can relate to; the imagery is pretty universal. Enjoy! -Jenna]

The Sun Will Shine: A Poem on Postpartum Depression -postpartumprogress.com

Rocking chair moves, dark room,
Blank stare, melancholy doom,
Holding babe, lanky arms,
Tear falling, first do no harm,

Rock forth, rock back,
Losing grip, feeling slack,
Beautiful girl, pudgy cheeks,
Trying to hold close, feeling so weak,

Told you’ll be okay, trying to believe,
Closing your eyes, just feeling grief,
Slipping fingers, baby girl falling,
Quickly catching her, still bawling,

Fixated spot, empty wall,
A big void, emotional overhaul,
Losing the battle, giving up,
Hating the child, yet still in love,

Months gone, still feel alone,
Trying to fane happiness, trying to feel whole,
Body raped, pill after pill,
Combinations played, climbing that hill,

Happy eyes stare, filled of ocean blue,
Trying to love, holding and hugging you,
Dormant smiles, buried deep,
Hiding my pain, inside I weep,

Hour glass runs out, flipped once again,
Feeling less zombie, gaining control of my head,
Hearing you laugh, seeing you crawl,
Suddenly amazed, Inhaling it all,

“The sun is shining,” I say holding you,
“Let’s go out and observe,” just us two,
We both stare in awe, you at the sky,
Me taking deep breaths, pushing your first year to the side,

The rocking chair still sits, alone and bare,
Room still darkens, my mind is not there,
Now cradling you, swaying side to side,
I’ll never leave you, my baby girl, my pride.

– Stephanie Paige, 2016

 

If you’d like to submit a poem on postpartum depression or any other form of a guest post, you’re welcome to send them to editor@postpartumprogress.org

How Sweet It Is To See and Interact with Warrior Moms

How Sweet It Is to See and Interact with Warrior Mom -postpartumprogress.com

Today was kind of a big day at Postpartum Progress.

We Went Facebook Live

First, we held our first Facebook Live Event. Our intention was to talk for ten minutes, some about postpartum mood and anxiety disorders and some about Climb Out of the Darkness. But we also wanted to answer questions from our mamas about anything on their minds.

So we ended up chatting for an hour. And it was the best.

Our Warrior Moms loved it. Katherine, on the camera, loved it. We think her postal worker loved it. (You gotta watch to understand.) The staff, busy in the comments, connecting moms with links and other support, loved it. It really just went way above what we expected.

And we’re thrilled.

From the feedback we received, we’ll be holding our Facebook Live Events regularly. They’ll be loosely based on a topic but, as was the case today, we’ll follow YOUR lead about what we need to talk about during any given experience.

If you want to watch what went down, we’ve embedded the video here. Excuse some of the pixelation and pauses; Katherine’s suburb Internet got a little cranky from time to time. You’ll lose the interaction of being present for a Live Event, but you’ll get some good information on postpartum depression duration, treatment, symptoms, as well as information about the Climb Out of the Darkness—taking place ONE MONTH from today!

You can also view it directly on Facebook and add more comments if you’d like.

2016 Climb Out of the Darkness Video: How Sweet It Is!

Then, as if talking with other mamas for an hour wasn’t cool enough, we launched our 2016 Climb Out of the Darkness Video. We put a call out to our Warrior Moms and Climb Leaders to send in video of themselves dancing with their kiddos and we set it to “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You” by James Taylor. Because postpartum mood and anxiety disorders often make moms feel like they aren’t worthy to be loved—by their children, by anyone. They fear that their babies won’t ever love them.

We know that’s not true.

So this is for every mama who worried that she was doing more harm than good to her baby. For every mama who fought a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder. For every mama who doubted herself but fought hard anyway. For every mama still fighting. For every Warrior Mom, whether you’re participating in the Climb or not. (PS: There’s still time to register. It’s one month from today and we’d love for you to join us.)

Just click anywhere on the video section of that Facebook update and it will play the YouTube video for you. Fancy pants, no? (But if that doesn’t work, you can watch it on YouTube.)

We’d love if you would take a moment and share this fun (#earworm of a) video on Facebook so that others might learn a little more about postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, the Climb, and maybe just feel a good feeling about their own children.

It is SO sweet to be loved by them; it is so sweet to LOVE them. We want all moms (and their partners) to someday feel that feeling, so we hope you’ll spread it around a little too. You are the best mom for your child. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

See you on June 18? We hope!

4 Things I Wish I’d Known About Postpartum Depression

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Warrior Mom Catherine Barber. She lists the things she wish she’d known more about postpartum depression before experiencing it first hand. -Jenna]

4 Things I Wish I'd Known About Postpartum Depression -postpartumprogress.com

Our culture celebrates the joys of motherhood. We shower expectant mothers with gifts and tell new moms to “enjoy every minute” because babies grow up so fast. But what if pregnancy or motherhood is nothing like what you expected?

Many women have heard about postpartum depression, perhaps when a friend or celebrity shared her experience. But we don’t talk enough about how common, complex, and devastating postpartum depression can be. One in every seven mothers in the United States gets postpartum depression; much of it goes untreated. Suicide has become the second leading cause of death in the first year after giving birth.

I love children and have always wanted to be a mom. Although mental illness and mood disorders like depression and anxiety run in my family, I never expected to have postpartum depression.

Like me, you may have an image of a depressed new mom in your head, who recently gave birth, and is so weepy and sad she can’t take care of her baby or form an emotional connection to them. But I want all mothers-to-be to know postpartum depression may be nothing like this. It is a treatable illness that passes. You are a good mother. This is not your fault. You are not alone.

1. Depression is Common in Pregnancy and in the First Year after Giving Birth

I thought postpartum depression was a continuation of baby blues—the normal hormonal shifts many women experience in the first few weeks after giving birth. It is for some women. But you can develop mood disorders in pregnancy or, like me, when your baby is older. Mine hit when my baby was four months old and we began planning a stressful move.

2. You Might Know Something Is Deeply Wrong, but It Doesn’t Seem Like Depression

I seemed fine to others, and didn’t believe I was experiencing depression and anxiety. I seemed together, but on the inside, I was falling apart. I was completely overwhelmed by everyday activities like grocery shopping, driving, and preparing meals. I was scared and ashamed I was feeling the way I was. I felt like I was going crazy. And I was angry.

I knew something was very wrong and I didn’t feel like myself. As a first-time mother though, it’s so hard to know what is “normal.” You might be thinking to yourself, “This is so much harder than I expected. Other moms seem to be doing fine. Why can’t I handle this? What’s wrong with me?” You don’t want to feel the way you do, but you can’t help it.

3. Recognize Your Symptoms and Find Support

Things improved quickly after I was diagnosed with postpartum depression, anxiety, and panic disorder. I finally knew what was wrong and found great local and online resources. I learned about postpartum mood disorders and connected with other moms who were going through them. We all had different stories and symptoms, but we all loved our babies and wanted to feel like ourselves again.

4. This Treatable Illness Passes

It is not my fault I had postpartum depression. Like physical illness, it was out of my control. I needed treatment to get better. Joining a support group for first-time moms with postpartum depression and anxiety, combined with counseling and medication worked for me.

It was hard to believe the illness would pass when I was in the depths of it. But it did. My daughter, the love of my life, just turned a year old. She is doing great, and I feel like myself again. I can laugh and make jokes, appreciate the natural beauty around me, see the good in people, and discover the world through my daughter’s eyes. None of this would have been possible without knowing I had postpartum depression and getting treatment and support.

We owe it to mothers to talk openly about postpartum depression. One million women in the United States experience postpartum mood disorders; only one in five gets treatment. Let struggling mothers know they are strong, good mothers. What they are experiencing isn’t their fault, they are not alone, and they will get better.

 
Catherine Barber is a first-time mom living in Los Angeles. She works in healthcare and loves exploring Southern California with her daughter. Catherine is Climbing Out of the Darkness with other survivors to raise awareness about postpartum mood disorders this June.