Someone asked me recently whether I feel “normal” again, years after my experience with PPD and postpartum anxiety (PPA). After a pause while I considered what normal actually means (anyone know?), I responded with a brief description of my year (roughly, as it’s a bit of a blur now) of suffering.
My PPD manifested primarily as a whole lot of rage. Many times, my son could not be calmed despite all my best efforts. I hadn’t heard yet about purple crying or the fourth trimester, and his crying seemed personally directed at me. And I was angry ALL THE TIME at my husband. He wasn’t doing enough to help. Or he wasn’t intuiting or understanding what I needed, for example. My postpartum anxiety meant endless intrusive thoughts; I spent my son’s very short sleeps imagining all the horrible things that could go wrong–illness, accidents, you name it. I barely slept, and when I did it was broken sleep, a half hour here and there. My mind raced 20 of 24 hours, every single day. There were times when I thought I had made a terrible mistake in thinking I could be a mother and sobbed right along with my son.
As my maternity leave came near its end, my anxiety grew and I couldn’t imagine returning to work. My husband was, at that time, partially laid off from his job, so even though we needed childcare only 2 days per week, I could not bring myself to trust anyone with my son’s care. I realized I needed to seek professional help or I’d end up quitting my job. Since my husband was laid off, the last thing we could afford was for me to lose my job too!
I broke down in tears at an OBGYN follow-up, and I was referred to the Postpartum Stress Center, which some of you may know is Karen Kleiman’s baby (no pun intended). At my first appointment there, I knew I was in good hands.
My therapist initiated cognitive behavioral therapy. We discussed medication, but I was resistant to the idea at that time because of my anxiety and prior negative experiences with antidepressants. We came up with an outline for treatment that included excluding caffeine and increasing my exercise and exposure to daylight via daily walks. I started to write a blog, which gave me an outlet for my emotions, as well as several new goals; I learned from my therapist later that goal-making is a powerful tool in the recovery from depression, as is writing. Because I started to use social media as an aid for my blogging, I stumbled upon a community of women (and a few men) called #ppdchat on Twitter; this network of women with perinatal mood disorders (like me) became crucial for me. Finally, I felt like someone (many someones) understood what I was experiencing, and someone was always around (online) when I needed to talk. I also began a daily regimen of quality fish oil capsules and multivitamins, and I fit in as much self-care as any new mother could, generally in the form of once-weekly bubble baths at least.
As for the dreaded return to work, I found my courage (this was difficult, but I was fortunate to have a therapist who knows a thing or two about interpersonal effectiveness and who was very encouraging) and I confided in my boss about my PPD and PPA. She was compassionate and agreed to allow me to one work-from-home day per week on a trial basis, and this went on for 15 months, to my shock and gratitude. Telling my boss about my PPD/PPA was one of the hardest parts of the whole experience, but it was a crucial step in the path to my recovery.
As time went by and therapy and self-care continued, I started to feel more like myself and less like someone who scared me. My confidence at this momming thing increased each day, even though I sometimes didn’t realize this until it was pointed out to me by someone else.
My son is 4 years old now, and I feel great, although it took me a while to get here and of course I have good and bad days, like we all do. But it is difficult to remember the extreme lows of PPD and PPA now, and the anxiety is no longer debilitating. So yes, I would say I feel normal now. If normal even exists, that is!
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