So we've met, become friends, and now I will spill my experience of PPD with you. If you know me personally, you know I'm not one to hide my history of anxiety and depression. I don't know what allows me to be so open about it, maybe my anxiety causes me to run at the mouth and spew all of my worries and experiences onto the person I'm with. Or, maybe I'm very fortunate in the realization that this is a disease that I only have so much control over, and just as I'd share my worries or success with someone if I was fighting a physical disease, I want to share my tools, success and struggles with my mental health disease.
I've always been a deep thinker. At an early age I remember fearing death and wondering what happens to us once we leave "this" life. It would leave a gray haze over me and I'd feel alone in my thoughts. As I progressed through life, I'd have moments in time where anxiety and depression would make a visit, but they never stayed long, and they didn't prevent me from making friends and living life.
As I came into my early 20's, I was in a car accident. I remember doing 360's in the middle of Rt. 32 and each time my car would face oncoming traffic, I would think "this is it". After that accident, I went through an extensive period of fearing death again. My grandmother who I loved dearly died from Leukemia and I thought there was no way I could stay safe from the world outside my doors. To see me in public, one would not think that I carried such obsessive thoughts. I sought out help during this period in life and tried several different medications to manage my irrational fears. I was very fortunate to work with a women when living in Northern, VA who specialized in cognitive behavior therapy. The tools learned and time spent with her were monumental in my fight or now as I see it, acceptance of this disease. My main goal during therapy at that point was to do whatever I could to prevent this disease from being passed on to my children.
When the time came to have kids, I was hesitant, and quite worried about the possibility of suffering from postpartum depression. I knew that my odds of having it were increased due to my history. So in July of 2008 it came as a surprise when I had my first son that I did not fall into a dark hole. Looking back I can say that I definitely experienced my normal anxiety as a girl who always suffered with excessive worry, but I was able to function. I then went on to have my second son in 2011 and managed to push through my postnatal period without any major issues. When #3 came along in 2015, I wasn't too concerned about any major flare ups because I had already made it through two babies successfully. I nursed each until they were a year, and credited the nursing and hormones to a lack of PPD.
When Eli was born, he was diagnosed with a VSD (hole in one of the walls separating the chambers of his heart), and I immediately began to panic. I'm not blaming his VSD on my PPD. I think that it was lying there like an ugly beast waiting to strike, and when it saw my defenses were down and I was focused on what this diagnoses meant, it began to slowly creep in. I now know that a VSD is quite common, and most children's heal on their own, but at the time it put quite a damper on embracing happiness while holding my sweet nugget. Fast forward through the first 8 weeks, and I was constantly worrying that something else was going to happen to him. All I wanted to do was stay in my bedroom away from the rest of the world and protect my sweet boy, or obsess on what else could possibly go wrong with him. He was perfectly healthy and we were told the hole would close yet I had no appetite and could not sleep. Someone would come in to talk to me while I'd be laying in bed nursing him, and I would hear nothing coming out of their mouth. All I could hear were rapid thoughts of what could possibly go wrong with my baby, 2 other children or myself. I began to experience physical symptoms like muscle twitches, vertigo, body sweats, tunnel vision and excessive fatigue ( although I could not sleep) Within that period of time I lost all of my pregnancy weight and was below pre-pregnancy weight. I remember family members suggesting that I get up and do something, come outside and hang with everyone else, go on a walk. All of those ideas sounded horrible to me. I couldn't function and any tools that I had acquired through therapy, or being a yoga teacher were non-existent.
I remember being on the phone with one of my childhood friends Maggy, and I told her that I could not remember what I had done the days prior to our conversation. I was so in my head that I was moving through the motions of life and my responsibilities as a mother like a robot. Halloween came and I was a spider web and Eli was my spider. Tied right to me, intertwined in my web and not able to escape. My amazing neighborhood had a party at our community site and again I was looking around at all these new faces and feeling like I was in a dream. My amazing husband had set up a projector screen in our yard and was playing Halloween movies for the kids. There was a bonfire and the outside of our house was dressed in amazing Halloween décor. The kids were running around so excitedly. We had family visiting and all I could think about was how I could escape past everyone with Eli and get back up to my room as quickly as possible.
I knew that something had to be done and that I couldn't continue life as it currently was. Something in my brain told me that enough was enough that Halloween night or maybe I just became exhausted of the worry. I never had thoughts of suicide, because as we know my greatest fear was death. Luckily for me I still had the desire to get back to my old self, and maybe even evolve during the process of getting there. I sought out treatment of a therapist that I found myself through research on psychologytoday.com. I found an amazing psychiatrist who I knew on a personal level and admired greatly. We switched are relationship to professional and she educated me on PPD as well as treatment options. I was hesitant to take something due to my desire to nurse, but after learning about the safety in nursing while on an SSRI vs. the safety of nursing while having PPD, I decided that I could have the best of both worlds. So I began taking medication about 4 months after Eli was born and am still nursing him today at almost 24 months. YIkes! Time to cut off his supply.
Its hard to look back now and realize that I missed out on the first 4 months of his life. There was very little happiness. I was basically in a fight or flight mode at all times and my nervous system was shot. The physical symptoms I was experiencing were due to lack of nutrients, fluid and sleep, and the mental were due to a chemical and hormonal imbalance.
Do I like taking medication everyday to manage this disease....it's not my first choice. Do I wish that I could have managed it with exercise, diet, essential oils and meditating....um hell yes. However I have to remind myself that just because I'm a yoga teacher who tries to eat organic food while shoving my kids full of probiotics and washing my windows with vinegar and water does not mean that I immune to PPD or stronger than the next person in my ability to fight it. I also have to remind myself that my treatment of choice is not a weakness, but a necessity in order to live my life and practice yoga while having the desire to eat organic foods, shove my children full of probiotics and clean my windows with vinegar and water. Maybe I'll take medication for another year, or two, or three...I don't know and I really have no plan in place to get off of it. Each morning when I take it I look at the little round pill that says W 23 on one side. I try and make up what that might stand for, maybe the W stands for wellness, wishes, worry, wholeness, or Winning!!! The number 23 is my husbands lucky number, but maybe it's mine now.
It is reported that over 950,000 women each year suffer from postpartum depression and this is just the reported cases. Remember that you are not alone, you are not weak or crazy, you are an amazing human being that just gave life to another human being. Take care of yourself so you can take care of the ones you love most.