The Dangerous Path of Self-Medicating for Postpartum Depression

The Dangerous Path of Self-Medicating for Postpartum Depression -postpartumprogress.com

I’ve always felt as though I have an addiction-prone personality. When I find something I like, I latch onto it until I own it, have mastered it, or have tired of it. It only took me a few weeks to fall in love with my husband, and we were married within six months of the time we started dating. When I pick up a new hobby, I work at it for hours and hours on end until I can’t stand it anymore, then leave it behind for a new obsession. This happened with scrapbooking, crocheting, cooking, swimming, and so on. As a teenager, I dabbled in several substances (which I won’t write about in depth here), and I became a habitual user of the ones I liked.

I was 19 or so when I had my wisdom teeth removed, and I didn’t use any of the prescription painkiller that was given me. The memory of the person I was when I was using was too close, and I didn’t ever want to be that person again. After I delivered my first son, I begged the nurses not to bring me Vicodin; I didn’t want to touch the stuff, but they brought it to me anyway. I ended up taking it because I was in so much pain from a large episiotomy plus a tear. I felt so sick afterwards that I flushed the rest of the pills down the toilet and went the rest of my hospital stay with no medication.

I’d promised myself after I got over the issues I’d had with substance abuse that I would never use any type of “mind-altering” drug, including pain killers*. So the fact that I was nearly forced into using one at the hospital was a little devastating to me. But I was just thankful that I had the presence of mind to flush all the pills down the toilet.

When I had my second son, I got yet another bottle of prescription painkillers at the hospital. But this time, I’d been dealing with antenatal depression for the past six months. I was emotionally fragile, in physical pain from labor, and terrified that I might have another round of postpartum depression to deal with now that the baby was outside of me.

I don’t remember when I took the first painkiller from that bottle. Maybe it was the day I got home from the hospital, maybe it was two months later for some random ache or pain. I don’t know. But what I do remember is that I fell asleep. I fell into a deep sleep that lasted eight hours, and I woke up refreshed. It was the first time in months that I’d slept through the night, and I nearly cried with relief that morning.

I told myself that I would just take half a pill until the pain was gone. But I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t give up the sleep. I tried to go a night without taking the painkiller, and I was up all night, hardly a wink of sleep. The very next night, I took two pills and knocked out so hard that I didn’t even hear my husband leave for work in the morning.

Not only was I sleeping, but I felt none of the anxiety, sadness, or mood swings that I’d been feeling for the last six months of my pregnancy. I kind of just floated on a cloud, oblivious to everything that was going on below. I totally checked out of my life, my kids’ lives, my husband’s life. I was on autopilot, just waiting until the day was over so I could take a pill and fall into a dreamless sleep. The PPD I had was bad, but this was worse; I was taking myself out of my own life by choice. At least with the PPD I knew it wasn’t my fault.

The guilt was immense, though. I kept telling myself I would tell my husband, but I’d make an excuse and put it off until the next night and the next night, until finally I only had two pills left; I’d gone through my entire prescription, plus a nearly-full bottle we had in our medicine cabinet from some surgery.

Telling him was mortifying. I was so ashamed that I had fallen back into an old, old pattern: medicating my pain with a quick fix. I cried as I told him what I’d done, and he tried to comfort me and encouraged me to flush the rest of the pills. I couldn’t do it, though. I laid in bed and sobbed as he found the pills where I’d hidden them in the back of the cabinet and flushed them for me.

I only share this story because I know it’s relevant to other women with PPD. Self-medicating is all too easy in the world we live in, where you can get a prescription from a doctor by just mentioning that you felt a twinge in your lower back. And for a person with a mood disorder who has contemplated suicide and is on antidepressants (i.e., me), narcotic painkillers can be especially dangerous.

Of all the things I’ve written about regarding PPD, this is probably the most difficult for me to communicate. It was a very risky thing I involved myself in, it was completely irresponsible, and when I think of all I could have lost if it had devolved into a full-blown addiction, I lose my breath.

The road to recovery from PPD is lonely, it is unpredictable, and it is full of temptation. Temptation to give in to the demons and accept life as it is, even though you know it’s not what it should be; temptation to get up and walk out when things are too much to handle; temptation to use a substance to make it all go away, even if only for a few moments.

In sharing all this, I just wanted to let you know that giving in to the temptations for one day (or even a month, or a year) doesn’t mean you’re a lost cause. It is possible to take a good look at yourself, think, “What the hell am I doing?” and make things right.

*This is, of course, excluding antidepressants and other medication used to treat mood disorders.

~Alexis Lesa

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. Your honesty about this will help other people be more honest with themselves. What a gift you are for sharing your stories, pain and humanness. And good for you for opening up to your husband who seems to be so full of support.

  2. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    This is SUCH AN IMPORTANT TOPIC. Truly.
    My own mother didn't realize she had PPD and she self-medicated with alcohol. I understand why she did that, of course, but am so sad that she didn't have better help and ended up having a terrible period in her life due to alcoholism. I'm quite sure there are many, many mothers who have found ways to try and make themselves feel better that led to problems in their lives, whether it's drinking, taking prescription or non-prescription drugs, eating, overspending … whatever.
    Thank you Alexis.

  3. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    I meant overeating, not eating, of course.
    Eating is good. It's kind of important. 😉

  4. Katherine, Thank you so much for being open enough to post this. I have a history much the same and sometimes I feel only as strong as the opportunity is available.

  5. This had to be difficult to post, and I just want to thank you for the honesty that you bring. This is SO important to be aware of, and your personal story really made it sink in. Thanks again for being willing to put it out there.

  6. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Just want to be clear that Alexis wrote this, and she deserves the credit.

  7. Well then thank you Alexis =)

  8. Thank you Alexis for this. One question, what if a woman is having a ppmd and is doing this (abusing perscription drugs. Should she first go to a place specializing in drug addiction or ppmd? Or does it not matter? Any thoughts would be useful.

  9. Hajara, I tend to think that a woman suffering from a PPMD and having some other type of problem should first see a psychiatrist, preferably one who is familiar with her history. If that isn't possible, any type of doctor is better than doing nothing at all. A psychiatrist will be able to first attempt to determine the causes of the abuse, then find the appropriate treatment.
    I hope that either you or whomever it is you are asking for will get well soon.

  10. I can relate to your article. I developed PPD and just was on the verge of losing it. I took some of my husbands painkillers and that started the full blown addiction.
    The pills made me feel good, gave me energy, numbed any pain. I took them for 6 months until his prescription was done. I went through horrible withdrawals..I cant believe what I put myself through.
    I still crave them, its a struggle but Im getting through it. Everyday is hard with PPD!
    I think PPD is a serious disorder and I think more support is needed to help get it treated correctly.

  11. What do you do if you have PPD and get narcotics for a chronic pain condition?
    Your article makes me feel like I'm a bad person for taking what I need to function physically. You might want to add that to this article.
    Mamas, what ever gets you through the day, do it.

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  1. […] I ended up going with my younger son to Costco, where I’d planned to go earlier to pick up some groceries. After going through the store and putting the food on my list in the cart, I went back around again looking for stuff I didn’t need. I threw in a sweatshirt, a new book, some unnecessary snacks for my children, and a 10-pack of colorful gel pens. When I arrived at the table of Fablehaven books, I realized I’d officially passed from shopping to self-medicating. […]