It started in the hospital, hours after the birth of my daughter. The worry, the persistent worry. Where was she? Why wasn’t she brought to me? Hours passed where I should have caught up on sleeping as once we were home that wouldn’t happen. But I couldn’t. The first night in the hospital after she was born I tried to fall asleep, I really did, but that worry kept me tossing and turning. I missed her little wrinkly body, the soft cries, her sweet skin. Why wasn’t she brought to me yet? It had been 3 hours since her last feeding. I rolled over trying to convince myself everything is fine, she is probably still sleeping.
Toss, turn, toss, turn. Another hour gone. I woke my husband who was there with me asking where she was. My voice getting louder, “She needs to be fed.” He consoled me, “She’s probably still sleeping.” Ugh, I was beginning to hate that answer. I rolled over and tried once again to sleep. Another hour went by, 5 hours since her last feeding, and I made my husband get her from the nursery.
My Postpartum Anxiety began just hours after my sweet daughter was born but I didn’t know it yet.
I was told while I was pregnant that I was more at risk for Postpartum Depression due to my years of struggling with Major Depressive Disorder. Never once were the words Postpartum Anxiety uttered to me. I was also told that Postpartum Mental Illnesses would not set in for at least a couple of months. To that I respond now with a belly laugh and a big sarcastic “Ha!”. Boy, were the experts wrong back then, over eleven years ago.
When I brought my daughter home two days after her birth I was kind of in a euphoric trance, so giddy by the presence of her and the shear fact that this tiny human was mine. But the anxiety was there. I worried about how much she ate, or lack thereof, since she would fall asleep on the breast after 5 minutes. I would worry about the color of her bowel movements and the frequency of her urinating. I worried she was sleeping too much. Everything I thought was typical for a first time mom especially since those experts said that these illnesses do not show up for a few months.
I never expressed my full worry until the physical symptoms started. Then I couldn’t hide it anymore. The excessive worrying was just the beginning. Insomnia set in. I tried to sleep so badly, but thoughts ping-ponged in my head. It hurt too much to think. I couldn’t focus. I just couldn’t. Crying bouts came next. It started with me shedding tears three to four times a day and then it gradually increased to where I was sobbing more than six times a day. Then the nausea set in. First, it was minimal, like a postpartum “morning sickness” with constant dry-heaving. After a few days, I began to vomit. If I ate something, I was running to the bathroom to throw up within five minutes. It got to the point that I couldn’t even smell certain things, like chicken, without going to the bathroom to throw up.
And then the flight instinct of Anxiety kicked in. I started to dream of ways to remove myself from my current situation. My husband deserved better. My daughter, who I began to hate, deserved better. My friends and family deserved better. Although I never had suicidal thoughts, I started to plan my departure. I was going to run away. The plan was set… how I would leave, when I would leave… the only thing that kept me from actually leaving was the lack of a place to go. I wanted to be around someone I knew but I didn’t want them to contact my family.
Luckily, within these weeks of fighting with myself, I did begin to see a Psychiatrist and Therapist. Along with them, my husband and parents were keeping a good eye on me. One month to the day my daughter was born, I admitted myself into the Short-Term Psychiatric Unit at the local hospital. A decision I had to make for the well being of my family and most importantly, myself. It was there that I learned that I had been suffering from Severe Postpartum Anxiety and because of it, its sister, Postpartum Depression tagged along.
Like with any Anxiety Disorder, it can cohabitate with another Mental Illness and usually does. In my case, I let myself suffer so long with Postpartum Anxiety, that its sister moved in and I was double-whammied. The hospital saved me all those years ago. It saved me from running away from the man I love and the wonderful beautiful child I brought into this world. It gave me the beginning of myself back. I will always be grateful for that. This does not mean my story is over.
For the next two years, I saw my Therapist weekly and the Psychiatrist when needed. There were still a lot of emotions I needed to work out, a lot of coping mechanisms I needed to learn. And while I can’t stand that my Postpartum Anxiety turned into Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I have learned to live with it. I have learned to accept I can’t get my daughter’s infancy back and although it took awhile, I am okay with that too. I have learned to accept the things I cannot change.
Stephanie Paige is a 30-something who has struggled with Major Depressive Disorder since age 14 and Generalized Anxiety Disorder since age 34 with Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety mixed in there. She is the mother of one beautiful preteen daughter. With the strength of her husband, parents, and her child, she has survived 6 bouts of Severe Depression and has become a huge advocate of Mental Illness. She advocates through words on her blog, spaigewrites.com, Stigma Fighters, The Mighty, and Postpartum Progress Inc. She wants to let others know they are not alone and that is her striving force to sharing her story.
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