Postpartum Panic Attacks: One Mom’s Experience of Full-Scale Fear

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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.

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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  1. I LOVE this post. This is and was me. I have suffered terrible panic attacks since an accident I had a few years ago. It is so great to her another woman's story as no one I know suffers this. Where can I ask for permission to republish this in my blog? Thank you!
    Jenna
    momofmanyhats.blogspot.com

  2. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    I can't give you permission to republish it, but you are certainly welcome to link to it!

  3. This is EXACTLY me. When I started developing symptoms, panic attacks and crippling anxiety was the forefront of my illness. I thought I was losing my mind and since the panic attacks were worse when I left the house I stayed home. That developed into agoraphobia and I locked myself in my home for weeks.
    This is such a topic that needs to be talked more of because I was always feeling like I was going to die. I never knew that this was a symptom of PPD/PPA.
    Thank you SOOOOOO much for sharing this.
    Hugs to you.

  4. Barb Lynch says:

    Panic attacks are the worst. Since I still suffer them from time to time (my daughter is 2 1/2). My husband and I have worked out a rating scale 1-10. If I am in an uncomfortable situation and the "tingling arms" or "floaty/spacy" feeling in my head begins…I give him my number of severity and he quickly takes over watching the kids and getting me home. I've found ativan is amazing for stopping anxiety attacks.
    I also started a "what if" tree when I was having the "what if" thoughts. I took all the "what ifs" and wrote them on a piece of paper (similar to a family tree style) and forced myself to write something positive at the end of each statement….what if this is completely temporary and I'll feel fine in a few minutes. What if I never have another panic attack again…

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your story….it helps us all to better understand the powerful effects of the mind, body , and nervous system …and how those coping mechanism can go completely astray…and defy no logic. But the experience is real !! Glad you are feeling beter !

  6. Heather says:

    Wow- I felt so similar during my last trimester and until recently (Im 6 mo PP). I also am learning to fight this by going to counseling and pretty much never left the hosue for 3 months which was easy to do since all I had to tell people is " Its flu season and the Dr said not to expose the baby". Then April came and I realized that excuse wasnt valid..
    Continued prayers for your recovery (and all the others who suffer from this).

  7. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    You're not the only one that has come up with excuses for why to not reach out to the doctor. It happens all the time. I'm glad, however, that you realized what you were going through was a valid enough reason to reach out for help. Keep taking care of yourself!!

  8. Genny White says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. What an encouragement to other Mothers encountering similar things.

  9. What a great way to capture the exact thoughts and feelings of panic and anxiety. I never had anxiety let alone panic attacks until after my second child 15 months ago. It is still a daily struggle although there is less panic and more anxiety now which is more manageable. Thanks for sharing. I don't think that many people make the connection to it being a postpartum issue that is cureable with the right help.

  10. Holly Ferruggi says:

    This is exactly how I felt in the weeks after having my daughter. It actually lasted through the year and through various tries of medications. It subsided for about 2 years until I was pregnant with my son and a year later, I am still coping. I have found many mechanisms much like you to overcome it and have done countless hours of research to try to figure out the triggers of it. Initially I thought it was a lack of estrogen but as I’m finding, it is a lack of progesterone! I am on a mission to help every woman who suffers to get help and not be afraid of what they are facing, we are normal! While progesterone levels might not be what causes it for everyone, I am a fan of getting the word out even if it only helps one person. Your family doctor can do a simple test to see if this might be a trigger. Best luck and calm vibes to everyone!

  11. I felt almost the same thing, although not as severe, but close. It was not related to pregnancy, as I am a man. It’s great to read this type of thing because I know that I am not alone and not losing my mind. Thanks.

  12. This is amazing that you shared this story, as when i was going through this, i felt like i was the only person in the world, and that i was loosing my mind, i started getting the panic attacks when my son was 8 days old, they were herrendous. i had to call the paramedics on several occasions, convinced i was dying from a heart attack, and the feeling i was loosing control. ive been on meds now for 7 years and they really do help. i remember when health visitors and doctors used to tell me it will get better, i never beleived them, i thought it was the end for me, but fortunatly it does get better with the right help.
    hugs to you

  13. I’m actually going through this now I have birth 2 weeks ago tomorrow and every since leaving hospital I have felt like this I just wish it would go away I keep thinking I have a lump in my throat and that I’m going to die I really wish I could fight this coz its making me really unhappy !

  14. I googled for help and this post has come to my aid. No one mentioned anxiety attacks as a postpartum possibility to me. When I didn’t get depressed I thought whew, misses the baby blues! Today I had a panic attack & now I have an appt. to see my Obgyn. Thanks to your sharing I’m feeling empowered!

    • I hope your appointment with the OB/GYN went well and was helpful to you. We’re thrilled that you’re feeling empowered!! And yes, anxiety attacks are definitely a potential symptom of postpartum anxiety. ~ K

  15. Thank you so, so much. This is exactly what I’m going through and gives me hope!!!

    • Glad to hear it Louise!!

      • I am a mum with 3 kids. exactly this time last year when my youngest wee girl was 8 months old after not feeling great for a few days I took her in the car to the shops and had a massive panic attack when driving.this started a daily fight with panic and anxiety that I can only describe as the worst experience I think i will ever have to deal with. I didn’t sleep for days on end and was living with a feeling of terror all the time, I had dramatic weight lose. My mum took me to the doctors were they prescribed me meds which initially I took very reluctantly. I went to counselling and to be honest at the beginning I think I was to ill to even take in anything that the counsellor was saying. I am a very happy, confident, outgoing person but this period of my life made me question everything about myself like so many others I thought I was losing my mind and was going to be locked away. I kept thinking what if I lose control and do something stupid or out of character cause I just didn’t know who I was anymore. I have in the last number of months made great improvements. I have made sure that I challenge myself everyday and that helps me a lot as I think if you have been able to do something one day no reason why you can’t the next. The meds help but you also need to help yourself at the beginning this scared me so much because I didn’t know how you would even begin to fight this but as time goes on you realise you are the same person and something like this can’t change who you are. So much has come out of this experience that is a blessing. The relationship my husband and I have is so strong and special, I’m much more self aware and have a new appreciation of all I have. I am trying to set up a support group in my local area as this is badly needed. I never thought I would ever feel as well as I do now but time heals and things will get better maybe like me even better than they were before xxx

  16. This is exactly what is happening to me. It’s terrible. Not to mention I am a single mom, and after going 3 months w/o an attack, I had one last night while I was home alone with my daughter! It was the worst thing ever. Now today of course im fearing of having another one, feeling unsafe to watch her because what if I have another one? Im wondering what medication you took, and how you are doing a few years after this was written? Thank you for this article, it really helped me to know that i’m not alone!

    • I can only imagine how scary that must have been for you. I hope you have reached out to a doctor to talk about the panic attacks you are having – you can get help to deal with that! We try not to talk about specific medications here since what helps one mom won’t necessarily help another. That’s a conversation best had with your doctor.
      ~ K

  17. I just had a baby three weeks ago and have been suffering from panic attacks…. I’m going to fight it though, I WILL be me again!

    • I had my baby November 21 and was hospitalized November 22 for 4 days because of panic attacks. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ever since – I finally realized a few weeks ago that I’ve had PDD/PPA all along. Knowledge is power. It will get better.

  18. How are you doing now? In 2014.

  19. i wish i could talk to you

  20. Tina Schröder says:

    Im so Glad i read this. I feel exactly the same since my daughter was born
    She is 5 now. I hope it gets better soon. :-(

  21. i’m a new mom..and i can relate to this.
    thanks for posting.. this is what i’m going through right now ;)
    i’m happy to face the new ME.
    THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS YOU ALWAYS

    • I am going through this right now. It started 3 weeks ago and did the whole ER / every test in the book thing
      I was 5 months post pardom with my third child when I had my first attack brought on by nearly passing out in, of all things, a yoga (not hot) class
      I had trouble accepting that I was having panic attacks but medication is helping
      It’s been rough, I was feeling pretty good these last few days (still having a slight sensation each day) but yesterday while picking up my child from school (with my 2 other children in the car) a big one came on. I kept thinking I think I can get the car in park before I pass out. I didn’t but luckily we don’t live far from her school. Last night I battled episode after episode of attacks. I am trying to stay positive and thinking of this as a “two steps forward one step back” kind of thing.
      After much googling and finding this post has given me encouragement and is the first I’ve posted about what I’m going through

  22. I’m so glad I found this, I had my first panic attack almost a year ago. I got a prescription for meds but am too scared to take them. I have them under control to some extent, I used to have several a day or a whole day of panic but now only when something happens. I do think almost daily I have some terminal illness and just recently started fearing having another baby although that’s what I want. Someday o think I need help and by the next day when I have an appointment I think I’m ok. Tired of it ruling me though.

    • Megan, I’m so sorry you are still struggling with panic disorder. If you aren’t interested in medication have you considered therapy? I think you should definitely follow through on an appointment, because even if you think you are feeling better and don’t need it, wouldn’t it be nice to have someone you could go to if they get bad again for any reason who could give you some tools to use and some suggestions on getting through them? Plus, worrying on a daily basis that you have a terminal illness isn’t something that you should have to deal with. A trained counselor could help you with the anxiety that may be causing those worries. There is no reason to have to continue to be ruled by this, as you say. Reach out for help!! You are worth it.

      • I sure do want to do therapy. I will be making an appointment with my gp very soon.

        • Megan
          I am on meds for this and was very nervous about them at first too. But the more people you talk to about this the more you will learn that others are taking them and they’re a big help when you going through the worst of it. I am starting to wean myself now. I also see a psychologist and it is a great help to just unload my stuff on her. A good book to get to help your brain is the Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne. Some very good relaxing techniques in there. A psych nurse that I know also suggested Mindful Meditation so I am going to look into that as well.

          Take care
          Carrie

          • Thank you so much. It’s days like today when I’m fine I usually talk myself out of going to the doctor but I’m tired of constantly fighting myself when it’s bad so I am going to see a doctor and I may just do as I’m told this time. I hope to be able to do therapy but living in very regional Australia might make that difficult.

  23. Loving it <3 It is already few years since I was struggling with these issues, but still it feels great to read that someone has gone through exactly the same feelings. For me it was 3 months after the birth of each of our two kids when things started to go to very wrong direction. Yoga and temporary medication were the best remedies for me. Now I'm fine and the kids are fine, or great, actually :)

  24. You have said it all

  25. This article was very helpful, i wish i had someone like you to talk to,

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