Susan Petcher: On Getting Back to Yourself After Postpartum Anxiety

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postpartum depression, mental health, maternal mental healthDear New Moms,

I’m sitting in my kitchen with the windows open.  The springs here are cool and wet, and the breeze fills the house with a much-needed freshness. From my kitchen table, I can see my 2-year-old as she plays on the back deck with her water table and a paint brush. Her older sister is at school, which means it is quiet enough for me to hear the birds calling to one another and the sound of the toddler’s feet scampering across the wood planks. I am struck by the peace and contentment in this moment and how starkly it contrasts how motherhood began for me.

My anxiety began during my pregnancy with E. I assumed all expectant mothers experienced the same panic, mood swings, and fret that were my daily companions beginning from the moment the pregnancy test turned blue. The anxiety continued during and after a long and frightening labor, and manifested as OCD and eventually depression. Because I wasn’t “sad” like in all those antidepressant commercials, it never crossed my mind that I might be suffering from a mental illness. I had read about PPD, of course, in my pregnancy books, but denial was the most malicious of my symptoms and kept me from seeking help.

My days weren’t filled with crying, like the illustrations in my books. Instead, I spent every waking hour consumed with a kind of nervous energy that buzzed relentlessly under the surface. When the anxiety built up a critical mass, I would explode into a rage. No one was safe from my wrath. I screamed at my husband, my parents, my mother-in-law… and my 3-day-old infant. I found solace in a perfectly-packed diaper bag and symmetrically-folded burp rags. When the bottle tops and bottoms matched color, a bit of the anxiety lifted. But the smallest discrepancy or disruption in my day—a missed nap, a late snack, an unfinished bottle—triggered a time bomb.

It didn’t take long for the unending anxiety to bring about a deep depression. The love I knew I felt for my child and my husband vanished, leaving a cold apathy in its place. I walked through my day a shadow of myself, and I lost sight of any hope.

I tell you all of this because I want you to know that I believed I would never be happy again. I began to internalize the story the depression told me – that I was a horrible mother who just needed to “try a little harder.”  The vision of motherhood I had held onto for so long faded into what I thought was my new life.

What I didn’t know, and what Postpartum Progress showed me, was that maternal mood and anxiety disorders are 100% treatable – that my depression and anxiety did not have to define who I was. My road to recovery was a long one but, with therapy and medication, I found my hope again, and am more resilient than ever.

If your hope has been stolen from you, read on. Let the words of each mother in the Rally sink into your soul… let us lend you some of our hope. Though I know it feels impossible, you will be YOU one day and your days of darkness will be a memory.

With so much love,

Susan

Susan is an elementary teacher-turned stay-at-home-mom who has her hands in a little bit of everything. When she’s not parenting or teaching piano lessons, you can find her blogging about mental health or crocheting her anxiety away. She writes at http://learned-happiness.com, pimps her wares for yarn money at http://etsy.com/shop/learnedhappiness, and tweets @learndhappiness.

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The 6th Annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health is presented by Postpartum Progress, a national nonprofit 501c3 that raises awareness & advocates for more and better services for women who have postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. Please consider making a donation today, on Mother’s Day, to help us continue to spread the word and support the mental health of new mothers.
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About Robin Farr

Robin Farr is a writer, wife, communications professional, speaker and mom - chronologically, at least. She got mixed up philosophically during her struggle with postpartum depression but wrote her way out of it on her blog, Farewell, Stranger. You can find her on Twitter @FarewellStrangr or on Facebook. Robin and her family live in Calgary, Alberta.

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  1. Yes. Yes. So much yes. Love this, Susan. And you, my friend.