Some moms start suffering panic attacks as the chief manifestation of postpartum anxiety. Panic attacks can involve having a racing heart, tightening in the chest or chest pains, shortness of breath, hyperventilating, dizziness or feeling weak, numbness and tingling and/or muscle cramps. People who are having them often don’t recognize them for what they are. Instead, they may think they are having a heart attack, or a stroke, or are suffering from some awful disease. Amy from Twisted Tiara was kind enough to share her postpartum panic and postpartum anxiety experience with the readers of Postpartum Progress:
A year ago, if you’d invited me to the beach, to shop an amazing sale, or even to meet you for coffee, I would have said no. I would have told you I had an upset stomach or a prior commitment.
In truth, I have Postpartum Anxiety and Panic Disorder. A year ago, not long after the birth of my third child, I was reluctant to leave my house unless I had absolutely no choice.
I have had some anxious tendencies all my life, which I understand much better in hindsight than I did at the time. My last pregnancy and postpartum period, however, brought forth panic like I had never known. I felt edgy, nervous and agitated all the time. The full-scale panic attacks began during the pregnancy, and worsened after delivery.
The panic attacks seemed to come from nowhere. They would often begin with difficulty concentrating, dizziness, or a tingling sensation under my skin; almost like my entire body had “fallen asleep”. The initial feeling freaked me out and heightened my perception of every little sensation in my body. My thoughts turned to potential causes of the symptoms – was it a heart attack, a seizure, a tumor, a stroke?
The fear of dying or having a medical crisis increased the panic, which only caused more physical symptoms. I would shake, sweat, develop phantom pains all over, and believe I was a hair’s breadth away from passing out. I felt completely out of control.
I developed phobias. I became afraid to drive, because the helplessness caused by the panic made me feel incapable of maintaining control of a vehicle. Horrifying thoughts of passing out behind the wheel and killing my children plagued me. I hated to do the dishes because I was afraid to handle the sharp knives. What if I had a psychotic break and stabbed myself, my children? I didn’t trust myself to stay me – it was as if a hideous beast was lurking beneath my skin, poised to take control and destroy my world.
“What if,” became my mantra. My thoughts constantly strayed to, “What if (insert horrible incident here)?” I began each day in fear of my own mind – “What if I have a panic attack today? What if this time I really lose my mind, permanently?”
I hated being alone. I was sure that I was dying of an undiagnosed disease, and that it was only a matter of time before I dropped to the floor in front of my daughters, traumatizing them for life and abandoning them against my will. More than once, my husband had to hold me and convince me that I didn’t need to go to the emergency room. Still, I had a complete cardiology workup, MRI, and so much blood work I’m surprised I didn’t run dry.
Day after day, I white knuckled it, pissed off at this damn disease of postpartum anxiety for robbing me of happy days with my family, yet too fragile to fight it. More than once I found myself thinking, “If I have to feel this way forever, I’d rather be dead.” My family was the only thing that kept me getting out of bed in the morning.
I began talk therapy, during which I was given advice on using cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to manage my phobias. I struggled through months of trial and error before finding medications and dosages that helped quell the symptoms enough for me to start gathering strength again.
I built my arsenal of weapons against the panic. I loaded my mp3 player with meditation and affirmation podcasts that I could listen to as I drove. I took note of anything that relaxed me, so I could turn to it when I felt my anxiety build. (These things are so random – anything from having my daughter brush my hair to listening to Harry Potter audio books.) I wrote quotes and positive messages on index cards and carried them with me. “You are in control.” “It is going to be a great day!” I listened to empowering songs. I started keeping a journal. I learned creative visualization techniques.
I also committed to anxiety prevention. I limit the things I do out of obligation, and I remove myself from triggering situations without feeling too guilty. I pay attention to my diet, since hunger, thirst, or sudden drops in blood sugar seem to leave me vulnerable to panic. I try hard to get enough sleep. I take my meds correctly.
I’m still fighting, but I have hope again. Last summer, I thought I was a lost cause. It took a lot of time and effort, but now I know I have the power to defeat the panic. Everyone does. If you’re struggling, please keep fighting.
When you’re ready, I’d love to meet you for coffee.