PPD and PPA. Two seemingly harmless 3 letter acronyms that are mentioned quickly in a one page article in the back of the most read pregnancy book on the market. Two acronyms that my (otherwise wonderful) OB doctor failed to mention to me at all during my 18 combined months of pregnancy. But Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety slithered up my spine the moment my second child was born and has made its home in my head for the last 3 years.
Nothing could have prepared me for the birth of my son. My daughter, who was 22 months at the time, was a easy labor and an easy baby. My son, however, was born with a condition known as MSPI (Milk Soy Protein Intolerance) that was not diagnosed for the first 3 months of his life. He wouldn’t gain weight, he would cry 24/7, he would only settle down in my arms for maybe 2 combined hours at night, he was projectile vomiting all the time, and I had an unsupporting and unfaithful husband who was away from the house more than he was in it. I was completely and utterly alone in handling my son’s sickness and in handling what was going on in my head.
I was a complete and total mess during this time. I was constantly in a state of panic about my son’s health which grew to just be constant stress about everything in my life. My life narrowed to my son, trying to keep him healthy, but I was drowning. Drowning so completely and no one around me seemed to notice. Eventually, both my son and I saw the right doctors and got help- he came out with his diagnosis of MSPI and immediately improved on the formula and medicine he was given. I, on the other hand, was finally informed of the existence of PPD & PPA. These are two very common problems caused by pregnancy hormones leaving the body that somehow mess with the chemicals in your brain to leave you (sometimes for years after) with Massive Chronic Depression and, sometimes, an Anxiety Disorder.
At first I protested to my doctor- I just had ‘baby blues’, I wasn’t sleeping more than 3 hours a day, my son was ill…. she agreed that those things didn’t help my situation but that something more was going on. My final diagnosis came months after my son was treated. I went to the psychiatrist to discuss finding out about my now ex-husband’s multiple infidelities- and together we sifted through the past year and a half of my actions and feelings. It wasn’t just ‘baby blues’ or all those things I pretended were the cause of my never ending worry. Like my doctor had said months earlier, it really was something more.
Today I live with both chronic depression and anxiety. Some mornings its a knock down drag out fight in my head to get out of bed. My depression comes and goes in severity, even though I am on anti-depressants, and when it’s severe, all I can do is lay in bed or on the couch all day. Depression, for me, is this black cloud-like monster that starts by sitting quietly on my shoulder but that eventually covers me from head to toe. It makes me feel worthless, motivationless and incredibly lonely. Before I found coping mechanisms and got on the proper medication, I literally felt as if I had to put on an ‘Amanda suit’ every morning to hide the blackness I was sure everyone could see clinging to me. Thankfully, now though, most days are relatively ‘easy’ to keep my depression under control.
However, much worse, is my anxiety disorder. I realized after therapy that I have lived with anxiety for most of my life but I just didn’t realize it. I didn’t have the racing mind & heart that accompanies panic attacks until after I gave birth but I had tendencies, even as a kid, that pointed towards an anxiety disorder. For example, as a kid I had to sit on certain sides of booths in restaurants for no reason other than I would freak out if I wasn’t on the correct side. If I fell and got a scratch, I would pick and pick at the scab for weeks- I didn’t want to but there was something inside of me that felt WRONG if the scab was there. If I had a huge test at school the next day, the night before I would get myself so worked up that I’d give myself a horrendous migraine and eventually throw up.
As an adult, my anxiety manifests in different ways than when I was kid. I use it as a bit of humor now to help people understand, but I am literally the meme ‘Anxiety Cat’. Some gems from this meme to illustrate, “Did something embarrassing. Still remember it vividly 6 years later.” “Someone says they like you. Think of all the reasons they would be lying.” “Everything’s going pretty ok, no reason to be upset…. PANIC.” “Doesn’t donate to Children’s Cancer Center at checkout… cashier thinks I’m a monster.” “Friend doesn’t respond to text for a few minutes… They either hate me or they’re dead.”
This is my life. A constant barrage of problems that are mostly made up in my head. But that doesn’t make them any less real for me. That doesn’t change the fact that the silliest things could send me into a very real panic attack. I am on medication to control my depression and anxiety, but they do not completely help. I meditate every day and live a Buddhist lifestyle to help manage my condition. There is a whole other world of peace that one can find if you just let yourself breathe. I try to live by a very common zen quote-
Is there a problem? No. Then don’t worry.
Is there a problem? Yes. Can you do anything about it? No. Then don’t worry.
Is there a problem? Yes. Can you do anything about it? Yes. Then don’t worry.
Obviously that is easier said than done but it has helped me control the stress and tension I feel immensely.
One of the major things about my experience that upsets me is the lack of knowledge given to pregnant women regarding PPD and PPA. These illnesses NEED to be discussed with ALL pregnant women. There are over 3 million diagnosed cases a year in the U.S.! And no one said a word about them to me! Awareness for these horrible illnesses is the only thing that is going to save the new mother who doesn’t understand why she just wants to throw her baby in the crib and run a 1,000 miles away. She must understand that she is NOT a bad mother or a bad person. Being a mom is a tough job – and we, as a society, need to support our new mothers better.
Each day will get better and better- I learn to manage my illnesses more and more as time goes by. And my meditations every day have been extremely helpful in finding peace within myself. I can not stress enough how helpful I’ve found meditating to be and I highly suggest it to anyone suffering from a mental illness. This is my journey, but one that I know I will get through. “Sometimes it takes a journey to find yourself. It’s never too late to be your best self.” – Cheryl Strayed
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Amanda is a homeschooling mother of two who is trying to live holistically. In her spare time, she meditates, reads, writes, and loves all things nerdy. She is currently working towards a Bachelors degree at University of Maryland University College.
Amanda can be found on Facebook.
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