The Amazing Synchronicities of Postpartum Psychosis

postpartum psychosisWarrior Mom and two-time postpartum psychosis survivor Heather (a pseudonym), who lives in London, shares the story of her hospitalization after the birth of her second son in 2012. 

I was taken to a specialised psychiatric Mother and Baby Unit nine days after the birth of my second son to be treated for postpartum psychosis. I had my own room, and my baby was cared for by the nurses primarily for the first few weeks while I was off in a world of my own. The volume was turned up on my inner monologue. It felt like the speakers might blow. I was uncharacteristically uninhibited. Things got worse before they got better. Just how bad they got can be gauged by the following note I made to myself: “If I was actually god, would I ever find out?”

I could not stop talking. I was full of theories and ideas and puns. When I wasn’t talking, I would write, screeds of concepts falling over one another in a shorthand I can no longer decipher half the time. I wrote lists; I wrote schematics linking my various theories together. I wrote in the margins and on the covers of magazines, I wrote on scraps of paper. I even wrote on a sanitary towel at some point. One night I had no paper left to write on so I covered all six sides of a tissue box.

Sometimes I couldn’t be bothered to write so I talked out loud to myself instead – or, as I believed, to the hidden microphones. I thought recording devices in the walls would make sense because the staff needed to know what was on the patients’ minds. I kept noticing amazing synchronicities which could be put down to coincidence or which could – if you took a leap of faith – be attributed to manipulation. A kind of divine intervention with psychology in place of the celestial.

Every day on the unit was like groundhog day: I started off calm, focussed, trying to relax and go with the flow, or to ‘play’ the ‘game’, as I saw it. I would gradually wind myself into a frenzy of expectation and delusion, anticipating the big reveal where I would get to go home. I got increasingly hectic, until by 1am I was pacing the ward or writing screeds of thoughts.

I wasn’t wholly taken in by my delusional constructs. I realised there are four categories of puzzling anomalies: conspiracy, coincidence, miscommunication and cock-up. My trouble was simply in discerning one from another. I went down one blind alley after another, readjusting my conspiracy/ coincidence/ miscommunication/ cock-up assessment at each stage, learning to de-escalate my delusions to theories of less cataclysmic proportions as I came across them.

Over time, during my stay at the Mother and Baby Unit being treated for postpartum psychosis, I increasingly realised that my theories were nonsense and I was seeing meaning where there was none. The remaining trouble was that now, with my mania on the way out, I was increasingly anxious and seemed to see the possibility for catastrophe at every turn. I felt on edge and spaced out all at once. I learned that this feeling is called depersonalisation or derealisation  – it helped somehow to have a label for it, to know that it’s ‘a thing’.

At my Mother and Baby Unit discharge meeting I was prescribed antidepressants at my request. Only trouble is, antidepressants take a few weeks to begin to work. It’s hard to describe what on earth was wrong, but I could hardly bear existing.

But it got better. It was very hard waiting for the antidepressants to kick in, and they took a while. I went and begged the psychiatrist for a higher dose. A couple of weeks after that I started to feel less heavy, more capable, less sleepy. Gradually, instead of being a grinding ordeal, life became a series of triumphs over postpartum psychosis: I cooked a proper meal, from a recipe and everything. I went to the gym. I got out to baby groups. I took the kids to the park with friends. I got started on a diet. The meds started to work, and then they worked some more, and then a few weeks later I was really feeling normal again.

Then I began writing.

Heather’s book, Babies and Brainstorms, is available here

Photo credit: © freshidea – Fotolia.com

About Katherine Stone

is the creator of this blog, and the founder and executive director of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the 15 most influential patient advocates to follow. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

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Comments

  1. What an incredible journey, and what courage to tell us all about it. This is an amazing look into something many of us can’t really fathom, especially we fathers. My favorite part? When you began writing.

  2. Thanks for sharing, both of you.

    My experience was similar in that I was just on the verge of PPP, in my opinion, because of my extreme PPA/PPD which actually hit me during childbirth, had 6 weeks to spiral out of control. I was reading 10-12 baby books per day and sleeping only 2 hours per night at my worst. I was begging to be hospitalized, but my doctor insisted that it was not necessary, though I was unsure then and am still uncertain about the speed of recovery outpatient vs. if I had been inpatient. I suppose since bonding was such an issue and no mother/baby programs existed near me in 2007, she was probably correct to keep me at home. I am so grateful for the hospitals that do exist and the moms that they have saved.

    I’m convinced that sharing our stories does help to increase awareness and decrease stigma.

  3. Thank you for sharing, Katherine, and thank you for writing Heather. I too have experienced Post Partum Psychosis, and I was lucky to survive. I read a sample of your book and find myself nodding because I know exactly the highs and lows and suspicions you’ve experienced. It’s a brave thing to reflect and write, and it must have taken a lot of emotional stamina to record your experience. I have sat down and tried to write my own, and I haven’t been able to muddle through it all without freezing in pain and cringing at the memories of my ordeal. I had a nightmare on the third anniversary of my hospitalization that it all happened again. When I woke up, in my home in my bed with my family around me and it was all a dream, it felt like Christmas. I can imagine and I have dreamt of going through the ringer a second time…

    There’s an awareness that comes from losing your mind. When you recover you realize the vulnerability of sanity. I compare it to survivors of cancer and other illnesses that recognize and confront the reality of their own mortality. Oh Heather, thank you for being brave. Sharing stories is so healing for the reader and writer alike! I wish you and your family much peace and gratitude!

    <3

  4. Kris Acker says:

    Congratulations for having the courage to share your experience as we all have different ones that need to be heard! I am so sorry you had to go through such an awful journey but I am so happy you came through your very difficult illness stronger and happier! You truly are a warrior mama! Thank you so much for writing!!!

  5. Heather, so glad you are out of the darkness and shedding even more light by writing. Looks like I gotta go get me a new book to read.