I never thought about post-partum depression before I developed it a year ago. I had always thought it was just one of those things that happen to a few odd people, and couldn't possibly happen to me. My picture of the mentally ill (MI) was a big rec room with several people rocking in chairs, staring out into space or making strange noises while nurses walked around passing out medication to sedate them. Unfair to the people suffering from MI, but that was what MI meant to me.
I became pregnant with our 4th child and was ecstatic because I had talked my family into one more baby. The pregnancy was difficult with numerous trips to the hospital to stop premature labor. During my 7th month I had an "episode" where I woke up in the middle of the night; my heart was pounding, I couldn't catch my breath, it seemed like a vice had a grip on my heart, I was sweating and feeling unreal. What I didn't know was that was my first panic attack. These "episodes" continued through the rest of my pregnancy and my doctor dismissed them as hyperventilation (maybe she didn't want to frighten me) and told me to breathe into a paper bag when it happened. Due to the stress I delivered our baby a month early. I thought AT LAST this will all go away. I had the opportunity to have a tubal ligation the same day my daughter was born. I thought, this is it, 4th child, time to take care of business. During the tubal ligation something went terribly wrong. The anesthesia did not work right and I became paralyzed on my right side of my body from head to toe. When I was in the recovery room the doctors were very concerned, calling out orders. My blood pressure was falling and they thought I was going to stop breathing on my own because the epidural went too high making it hard to breathe. I had so many medications shot into me and I was so terribly horrified to have what appeared to be frantic doctors holding a tube above my head ready to put it in my throat. Somehow I survived and I went back to my hospital room and told my husband about it. He felt so bad for me. I told him it was okay, it is over now. Boy, was I wrong.
We brought our beautiful baby home and I promptly had major panic attacks when I walked into our house. Each time I laid down to sleep while the baby slept I found myself immediately back in the operating room. I would shake myself awake, my heart would pound, I would be paralyzed with fear. (This was later diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - PTSD) This happened EVERY TIME I tried to sleep. I became severely sleep deprived. I was nursing our baby so there was no time for a break. Within the next two-three weeks I sunk into a deep depression that included the following symptoms:
inability to cope with anything
fear of being alone
fear of going out
obsessive thoughts about lots of things
thinking if baby was dead I would be better
inability to concentrate, couldn't read or watch TV or hold a conversation
inability to make decisions
out of body type experiences, like I was watching myself cook supper
insomnia and wanting to sleep all the time
fear of darkness
fear of being alone with babies
fear of going crazy
feeling like a burden
food tasted like sand
I have been on and off medication for a year now. It is a long story of trying to find the right medication at the right dose. I am not an easy fix, unfortunately. With the help of a therapist I also have attempted to master cognitive therapy approaches to healing my mind. They take a lot of practice. Just knowing how to do the relaxation techniques and how to counter negative thought patterns is not enough. These skills have to be learned and practiced. Support groups, both in person and on-line like this one have helped tremendously. I am not alone in my suffering. Nobody can explain how devastating depression is. Unless you have felt the feelings, one cannot imagine the agony that it can cause. I was always so in control of my emotions and thoughts. I could handle anything and loved handling everything, it made me feel strong and great about myself. I then had the rug pulled out from under me with the PPD sporting its ugly head into my life. It is not an illness that you can count the days until you know you will feel better. It not an illness that others can see the symptoms. I know all the things I should do to make myself better, but without the medicine, I did not have the strength to do them. I have realized that the mind, body and spirit are so closely entwined. I knew this intellectually, but I now know it in my soul. I need to make time for caring for my mind and spirit. Once your emotions have been assaulted so severely as PPD does, it makes you question your strength and your competency. I am not any less intelligent because of this illness. I am not weak, I am sick. I need to give myself time to heal and I will be better and I will come out of this just as strong, just as smart, just as loving.
I feel a great sense of loss because of the lost time with my baby. I have been so inside myself the first year of her life that I don't feel like I have been there for her. Giving up breast-feeding was one of the most difficult choices I have made in my life. It is a bond that I can never have with her. I feel very guilty about not being able to be happy that she is here. I feel guilty about all the stress and burden I have placed on my other children and my dear husband. I know in time I will forgive myself and the further away from PPD I get, the easier it will be for me to look back and see that it was a difficult time, but we all coped.
I have been looking for the silver lining in this experience. I have seen my family pull together like I never would have guessed we could. I have a great, supportive husband who meant the words, in sickness and health. He has encouraged me every step of the way, wiped my tears, held me while I lost it, drove me to urgent care, held his tongue when he really wanted to scream, checked on me and checked on me and checked on me. My teen has proven herself to be competent and compassionate. The little ones have smiled and hugged me and continued to thrive despite the detour their mother has taken in caring for them.
I am also aware that I am very lucky to have such caring members of my family and exceptional friends, both in person and on-line. I have met some great women under the worst circumstances in my lifetime. They need to know that the things that seem trivial to them are the things that have touched my heart. Folding laundry, doing dishes, playing with my children, sending me e-mails to encourage and cheer me through the rough times; these are so kind and I am so grateful to have loving people around me. I have said often that I will never take a good day for granted again, and I mean it. Even part of a day is something to relish. I always though that "seize the day" was a sappy saying, but it is now the core of my soul. I know that a full recovery is just months away and remission from all the awful symptoms is weeks away. I'll never be the same. I will never forget this dark time. I will never be thankful that I went through it, but I have learned from it and I will survive.