Disclaimer: The following article mentions the topic of suicide or other sensitive subjects, which may trigger negative thoughts and feelings for those currently suffering or still recovering from a mental or mood disorder. Reader discretion is advised.
If I could tell people two things I have learned the first would be that postpartum depression and anxiety manifest differently for each person and can even differ from pregnancy to pregnancy. Secondly, don’t be offended if someone other than yourself notices the signs before you do–let them help!
My oldest child had a traumatic birth. After 20 minutes of doctors fighting to keep her alive, she was life-flighted from our small medical center to a NICU two hours away. At the end of her NICU stay, I saw a video detailing all the ways a high-risk child could get sick and how to keep him or her away from people. I internalized this information in an unhealthy way.
Upon taking her home, I kept her within three feet of me always. Sleeping, showering, anything…three feet away. When my husband left for work each day I would go downstairs and get whatever snacks and activities I needed for the day and not leave the room again until my husband returned. Slowly, I began to feel better, and so I never talked to a doctor or got any professional help.
After the birth of another daughter and then a set of twins a couple of years following, I still felt fine. However, five years after the twins were born, my sweet son was born and things started to unravel fast. For me, it didn’t hit until about eight weeks after the birth (the late arrival of symptoms was a big reason I denied it being postpartum depression for so long). I wasn’t sleeping well, I was agitated all of the time, and I felt no motivation to do anything. Breastfeeding went terribly. My son had terrible eczema and was in pain and fussy all the time. I stopped participating in activities I usually enjoyed. I didn’t socialize much, and even when I did, my anxiety prevented me from enjoying myself. I didn’t cook or clean. I couldn’t function and would sit for hours staring at the wall or playing mindless games on my phone. I thought everyone hated me. And then the recurring thoughts started. I would say to myself “I’m not good enough. I can never be enough for all these people. I’m ruining their lives by being here. The best gift I could give them is not being here.”
When I finally shared my thoughts with my husband and told him I needed to exit the picture so he could remarry a more qualified person to raise our children, he was outwardly calm. But, I could see in his eyes he was panicked. He told me that my thoughts were not rational and that I needed to find some help. At first I was mad, but finally agreed to seek help. My doctor agreed that I needed help and prescribed medication and therapy.
I started the medication, but put off therapy. After a few weeks I didn’t think the medication was working, so I secretly stopped taking it. Shortly afterward, my whole family was in the car when things imploded. My son started screaming, which sent me into my own fit. In turn, this scared my older children. As I looked around and saw them crying, I wanted to calm down but couldn’t. In that moment I decided the best thing to do would be to exit the moving car. Fortunately, my husband was driving and held me in place until we got home.
I started back on my medications and finally began therapy. I had loved ones checking to make sure I took my medication, and I could see the difference my medication made in my life. I was on the medication for about six months and am still continuing with counseling. I’m so grateful for the immediate help of medication and also the lasting tools I’m gaining in therapy. People might have assumed I didn’t get help sooner because of pride or stigma. However, the reality is that I was so entrenched in postpartum depression and anxiety that I didn’t even see it as a problem. I mistakenly thought postpartum depression was just about locking yourself away from the world like I did with my first child. I didn’t realize that the anger and agitation I felt after my fifth was also rooted in postpartum depression and anxiety. Luckily I had a spouse, family, and friends who knew better and pointed me in the right direction.
When someone lovingly tells you that it’s time for professional help, believe them and give it a try. When someone tells you that you are loved, valued, and needed here, believe them. You are worth it!