On July 3, 2000, I gave birth to my first child, a beautiful little girl. It was a much anticipated arrival as my husband and I had eagerly tried to get pregnant for six months. My husband had just graduated from MBA school and he had accepted a job states away. We moved when our daughter was two and a half weeks old.
The beginning of my postpartum went well. I had a planned c-section because our baby remained breech, but my recovery was good with one night of the classic "baby blues". Approximately two months postpartum, things had taken quite a turn for the worse. I found myself suffering from severe anxiety. I was constantly feeling "keyed up". I couldn't relax even when the baby was sleeping. I was diagnosed with TMJ and was put on Valium to help me stop grinding my teeth, of which I was completely unaware of doing. I had a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and insomnia occurring with extremely vivid and violent nightmares. I was constantly irritable, defensive, and even at times paranoid. I had terrible outbursts of pure rage, bouts of depression, difficulty breathing, and eventually panic attacks. I fantasized about hurting myself just enough so that I could go away for awhile and have a break to become "normal" again. I became obsessive-compulsive about my house and getting the baby to sleep through the night at an early age. On occasion I lost bits of time and experienced a de-realization like an out-of-body experience. My memory became worse and I was often on what felt like "auto-pilot". I felt certain that I was crazy and I had no idea what to do about it. I didn't recognize it as a possible postpartum mood disorder. I had read about PPD before, but it did not occur to me that it could be me. I had always thought of PPD as a mother sitting at home crying every day, rather than the extreme anxiety that I was going through.
At three months postpartum I sought help from a general practioner, desperately wanting to feel like myself again. She diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and started me on Buspar. I was still nursing our daughter at the time. I took Buspar for almost an entire month without getting better and to top it all off I had every side effect in the book. I quit taking it.
Trips home to visit friends and family gave no relief to my anxiety. I lost a lot of weight and had no appetite. I eventually went back to my GP with extreme lung pain and difficulty breathing. I was convinced I had pneumonia. I was shocked when the doctor told me that my lungs were clear and that she thought it was just a symptom of my anxiety. She ran my blood work for the second time and it pointed to no physical reason for my ailments. She referred me to a friend of hers, a psychiatrist. I figured I had to be completely nuts (something I had been thinking for awhile) if she wanted me to see a psychiatrist. Even as a trained counselor, the stigma of a seeing a "shrink" concerned me. I was afraid that if I was honest that perhaps they would try to take my child away from me. Luckily, the doctor set up the appointment for the following day and made it virtually impossible for me not to go. The following day changed my life forever.
I was finally given a name to all this madness. I was suffering from Postpartum Depression. Once again I was thrown off by the name of the illness. My psychiatrist was quick to point out that anxiety was usually a big factor in postpartum depression and that PPD was an umbrella term that encompassed several postpartum mood disorders including: postpartum panic disorder, and postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder. He started me on Paxil and monitored me carefully and within weeks I was improving. Once the anxiety was under control, I experienced severe depression for several weeks. He assured me that this was normal. Apparently the anxiety had been overriding my depression. My Paxil dosage was immediately increased and I have been doing much better since.
Other than my great doctor care, talk therapy, and medication, I also found exercise to be such a life saver when it came to recovery. Exercise has helped me to feel good about myself and has significantly helped my energy level. My daughter is just about to turn one soon and I am by no means totally out of the woods, but I continue to see the light at the end of the tunnel. There is help for this curable, temporary illness. The impact of PPD is unbelievable, but I must say that I have grown from my journey and drawn strength from the battle.