Steve Bannon’s Ignorance on Mental Health

 *** This post may be triggering if you are suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) and are sensitive to negative news events***

Here I am, posting again….wow, it’s now 3x in one month.  I haven’t posted with such frequency in a long time.  Guess you can say the state of this country is heavy on my mind.  I had said in my last post that I wasn’t going to talk politics since this site is dedicated to maternal mental health.  I was planning to stick to that guideline.  But then I hit a snag in my plans, thanks to a post I read about Bannon, the individual that Trump has selected to be his chief strategist.  Bannon made a comment about mental health that triggered me so much it had me flashing back to the trigger that set me off on a 6-year journey to publish a book about my postpartum depression (PPD) experience.  What trigger is that?  Well, if you’ve been following my blog for some time and/or you read my author bio, you would know that Tom Cruise and his There’s no such thing as a chemical imbalance comment triggered me back in 2005.  But the outcome of the trigger was good, as I have my blog and book as the end result. And yes, I do thank TC in my Acknowledgments.

There’s nothing good about this trigger related to Bannon, though.  TC is just an ignorant actor. But Bannon is an ignorant white supremacist who will have a role in the White House and will have far more negative consequences than TC ever had.  Bannon made a statement that the cure for mental illness is to spank your children more.  Excuse me?  What.The.Fuck. (oops, forgot to use $ or other symbol to fill in for the “u” for the very first time…..there’s a first time for everything, as they say).  I’ve truly had it with this whole election.  I’ve had it with all the hatred, misogyny and bigotry.  With the cheeto about to become our President and the alt right using him as a tool to ensure there are at least 4 years of revenge for the 8 years they had to suffer under President Obama, they have populated the leadership team with known racists (Bannon, Sessions, Flynn) and ensuring that racism racism becomes the new normal.  My passion for matters related to racism stems from my being bullied as a child for my race.  But I’m not going to digress here (even though anti-bullying is my other passion)……

Note: If you’re a Trump follower trolling this blog post and thinking I’m bullying Bannon or Trump, then think again.  Bullying is DIRECT harassment to them personally.  I’m exerting my 1st amendment right voicing my thoughts on my own blog.  Thank you very much.

<directing myself back on track….>

Bannon, just like I’ve been wishing to tell Tom Cruise in person, I wish I could tell YOU in person, if you’ve never been through mental illness yourself, then:
Shut the f*ck up.  
Shut.Your.Ignorant.Mouth.Up.  

And get educated about mental illness and how it REALLY works.  It’s not mind over matter, you dimwit.  Take a few minutes to read a blog post that may help you see the light when it comes to PPD.  There are plenty of articles from health organizations and blog posts on the Internet for you to learn the TRUTH behind mental illness.  But I’m pretty sure you won’t bother to spend a second to read anything because you think you know it all, don’t you.

Here’s where, if I could be granted 3 genie wishes, one of them would be to make all haters/bigots switch places with the ones being hated and the ones who keep insisting that mental illness is mind over matter to switch places with those who are battling a mental illness (e.g., depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, etc.).  You will learn in an instant that the logic you’ve been upholding is COMPLETELY WRONG.  See my past post on this titled “All It Takes Is One Day.”  One day to experience a mental illness yourself, firsthand……THAT’S ALL IT TAKES to snap you to reality and stop living in a world based on assumptions (that only make a$$es out of you).

And speaking of backwards, as women, we should not let ourselves be dragged backwards when it comes to our rights. We must stand up for ourselves and for each other.  We must work harder than ever to support organizations that will help us stay on track when it comes to mental health and women’s rights, especially during the time that women are most vulnerable–i.e., before, during and after childbirth.  Please join me in doing this!

If you’re a mom suffering from PPD right now, please be comforted in knowing that there are plenty of people in this country and around the world who care enough to make it a goal to help moms like you.  Please reach out to me, reach out to others with blogs, Facebook pages….we will help you get through this.

You WILL get through this.  I got through it stronger than ever before, and so can you!

Peace to you.

Honored to be Selected One of the Top Postpartum Depression Blogs of 2016 by Healthline

On November 4th, I was honored to be selected as one of the Top Postpartum Depression Blogs of 2016 by Healthline.  Thank you, Healthline, for this surprising recognition!

I haven’t blogged about it until now due to my trying to recover from the wind getting knocked out of me by Trump’s election. I’m going to keep my opinions to myself here, since this blog is not meant to be a sounding board for my political views.  Unfortunately, it is influencing me as a person and it is making me more determined than ever before to not lose sight of what’s important. What’s important is that we can’t let hate win, and women must band together and stand up for one another.

My mission to help other mothers will always be my mission. I had my daughter in 2004, suffered from postpartum depression in 2005, started this blog in 2009, published my book in 2011….and I am working on an initiative in New Jersey that I will happily share more about later.   I want to be more involved than I have been in the realm of maternal mental health.  I look forward to seeing what my future holds, but I won’t go about it passively.  I will continue in my blogging, helping mothers who reach out to me via my blog, and other PPD initiatives.  My hope is that we will continue the progress we’re making in maternal mental health advocacy and treatment (doulas, therapists, etc.).  In a world that has enough stressors as it is, we need to be there for one another.

For all those who have been following my blog, I truly hope it has helped you.  My blog has been a great satisfaction to me over the years, as it has enabled me to reach and help mothers around the world with what they are going through.

 

 

Postpartum Insomnia Series – Part 5: VAN

I want to thank Van for sharing her postpartum insomnia experience with us.  She reached out to me via my blog back in January and we’ve corresponded via email since then.  She is nearing the end of her postpartum depression (PPD) journey.

From the time she first reached out to me, I realized her symptoms were very similar to mine.  Every time she reached out to me, I felt like I was experiencing PPD once again. I empathized with her so much, I just wanted to give her a hug and try to do more for her.  But she was very far away.  Thankfully, we were able to exchange emails.  The primary difference between her experience and mine was that she gained weight and craved food, while I lost weight quickly and had no appetite.

Like me, she had a traumatic childbirth experience, hemorrhaging, and a 1-week stay in the hospital.
Like me, she was caught blindsided by insomnia and panic attacks within a few weeks of giving birth.
Like me, she was frightened and had no idea what was wrong with her.
Like me, she was desperate for answers and understanding.

Her frightening experience has resulted in a desire to help other mothers going through PPD.  I figured what better way to start doing so by sharing her own experience on my blog!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

QUESTION:
When/what was the first indication that something wasn’t right, and how long after childbirth did the first sign occur?

ANSWER:
Looking back in hindsight, I felt something wasn’t right shortly after I gave birth but I didn’t think much of it. I attributed it to a traumatic birth (I haemorrhaged and lost 1.5 litres of blood), no sleep, and exhaustion. I remember feeling overwhelmed and very scared. I kept on thinking “What have I done? I don’t want this baby. How am I going to look after this person?” All I wanted to do was get away from this little person, but knew I couldn’t.

Due to my blood loss, infection and complications with the baby, we had to stay in hospital for a week. It was a day after I gave birth and during my hospital stay that the panic attacks started. I remember pacing up and down the ward, not knowing what was happening to me.  I felt an overwhelming surge of adrenalin that made my heart race and made me feel like I was going to die.  It didn’t register that something was wrong.  I just attributed it all to exhaustion, and staying in a busy ward with no sleep.  I thought things would be okay once I was home. I spoke to the midwives about it and they said that what I was going through was normal.  Since they dismissed it, I did too.  It wasn’t until after I was home and the insomnia and panic attacks continued and worsened that I finally acknowledged that something was really wrong.

QUESTION:
Did you suffer from insomnia? What other symptoms did you experience, if any?

ANSWER:
Yes, I suffered from severe post-partum insomnia. I have suffered bouts of insomnia in the past, but didn’t really have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. My past insomnia experiences weren’t as prolonged or severe as my post-partum insomnia. I am not too sure whether it was the anxiety and panic attacks that caused the insomnia or the insomnia that resulted in the panic attacks. For the first four months, my life was pretty much a living hell. I’d have panic attacks 3 times a day, sometimes lasting 2 hours at a time. I was very hysterical and desperate.  Aside from the insomnia and panic attacks, I had a huge appetite and ate 7-8 meals a day. Every 2 hours I’d feel hungry and I didn’t know when to stop.  I would eat throughout the night too. I gained a lot of weight during the first 4 months post-birth. I later found out that sleep deprivation causes changes in the digestive hormones.

I constantly had a dry mouth. I also felt like I had a constant lump stuck in my throat and that my windpipe was closing up. I couldn’t feel my body.  It felt like my nerve endings weren’t working properly.  If you pinched my cheeks or arm I couldn’t fully feel the sensations. I couldn’t feel heat either. My heart would palpitate so much it felt like I was having a heart attack. I felt nauseous pretty much every day.  I couldn’t feel my legs, and felt this constant pins-and-needles sensation on the soles of my feet.  I didn’t know whether that had anything to do with the epidural. I later learnt that all these sensations were symptoms of anxiety. Every time I closed my eyes to try and sleep, all I could feel was the surge of adrenalin through my body.  It felt as though there was a battle between my sleep hormones and adrenalin.  It was a very horrible feeling. I could never relax and I was constantly alert. I developed a fear of sleeping because of all this.  Every night I would get scared about sleeping, wondering whether I would be able to sleep or not. I became very paranoid. I was scared to go out. I became slightly obsessed with certain things. I had certain rituals that if I didn’t/ did do them I thought I wouldn’t get better. I was very desperate to get better and I was so afraid that I wouldn’t. I feared that this would be my life forever. Every day was a battle. I felt I was dying every day. Since I wasn’t sleeping, my mind was very foggy like there was cotton wool in my head.  At the same time, I was very alert and wired. I constantly felt dizzy. Ten months after giving birth I still feel dizzy sometimes.


QUESTION:

Did you see a doctor right away, and was he/she able to help you?  What course of treatment did he/she prescribe? Did he/she diagnose you with a postpartum mood disorder?

ANSWER:
I didn’t see my GP until 10 days after I gave birth. I didn’t sleep at all during those 10 days. I have vivid memories of the day I saw my GP.  I walked into my GP’s office and broke down.  I was hysterical. Tears streamed down my face as I begged in desperation for someone to help me.

My GP wasn’t much help, and he certainly wasn’t reassuring. He prescribed me Zoplicone to help with sleeping and Propanolol for the panic attacks. He said he has never seen anyone like me before and never heard of post-partum insomnia. I wasn’t given a formal diagnosis, but I was referred to the peri-natal team. They did some assessments and concluded that I was very depressed. But I kept saying I wasn’t depressed….. what I needed was sleep. The peri-natal team referred me to a psychiatrist who only wanted to give me anti-depressants, which I didn’t want to take. I was prescribed Paroxetine.  I had to wait 2.5 months post partum until I had my first CBT session. I had 6 sessions in total, once a week. After the 6th session they released me, as they decided I was well enough and didn’t need to continue. If I had a relapse at any point I was suppoed to contact the peri-natal team. So far, I haven’t had to.

 

QUESTION:
If you had to take meds, what was it/what were they and how long did you have to take it/them?

ANSWER:
I took Zoplicone for my sleep and took that for 2-3 month. On some nights I was able to sleep for 2.5 hours with Zoplicone.  On some nights, though, it didn’t help me sleep. I took Propranolol only for a week because I felt it was making my anxiety worse. I was also prescribed Paroxetine, but I never took it because I was so scared of the side effects it’s been known to cause.

 

QUESTION:
Did you have enough resources to help you with your recovery?  What kind of resources did you have (e.g., support group, postpartum doula, psychiatrist, partner reduced work hours/worked from home)? Did you have enough practical help (e.g., late night feedings) with the baby?

ANSWER:
Fortunately, I had a very good support network of family and friends. My mum stayed with me for 5 weeks. She was brilliant and looked after me, my husband and my baby. I remember one night, in particular. I was having a panic attack, and my mum held and rocked me and sung me a lullaby. That night occurred during the lowest point of my experience with my post-partum disorder. My husband was also very supportive.  He did all the night feeds for about 3 months until I felt I was able to do them.  During that time, he still went to work every morning. He was amazing.   He supported both me and the baby. The focus was for me to sleep and get better, so I slept in a separate room from my baby and husband so I wouldn’t be disturbed. My mother-in-law also came to help with the baby while I was recovering.  My friends visited regularly.  l called my friends whenever I had a panic attack, as I found talking to others helped me through my panic attacks.  Although I had a brilliant support network, nobody really understood what I was going through. I remember one afternoon when I was having a panic attack. I was alone upstairs in my bedroom crying, and my heart was beating so much that I thought I was going to die from a heart attack. I remember feeling so alone and terrified, and crying and praying for all this to end. It wasn’t until I found Ivy’s blog about post-partum insomnia and disorders that I felt less scared.  Reading her blog and other people’s experiences helped me realize that post-partum depression really does exist and it wasn’t just me.  This realization helped with my recovery.

My peri-natal team was very good.  Someone came to visit me every week for 3 months to check up on me. My CBT therapist, Annie, explained to me that my body had gone into survival mode after a traumatic birth, which could be one of the reasons why I was having panic attacks and experiencing chronic insomnia.

I was so desperate to find answers to what was wrong with me that I was constantly on the Internet trying to find answers. I became a bit of a hypochondriac, thinking that I suffered from everything I read about. I thought I had diabetes, thyroiditis, and adrenal fatigue. I consulted a nutritionist and explained what I was going through. I did an adrenal fatigue saliva test and my cortisol level was very high, especially at night. No wonder I couldn’t sleep! He designed a food plan for me to lower my cortisol levels and told me to take certain vitamins and minerals. To my surprise, I was able to sleep better after being on his food plan. Since I was very reluctant to take medication, I sought alternative therapies. I found crystal healing helped with my recovery. Although the crystals may very well be just a placebo, I still sleep with them. On nights I feel a little anxious, I hold my crystals and I’d fall asleep.

 

QUESTION:
When was the first sign of light at the end of the tunnel and you were starting your recovery?

ANSWER:
I can’t really pinpoint when I started to feel better.  It was a gradual process. I took it one day at a time. Slowly, I got out of the house more, I obsessed less over what I ate and when I ate, and I stopped obsessing about my heart rate and Googling my symptoms. The panic attacks became less frequent. I got more solid hours of sleep. I didn’t ruminate as much about how I felt and how my mind was fuzzy. But recovery was such a long process. Sometime it felt like I was taking one step forward and two steps back. I remember emailing Ivy on one of my low days asking her “Will I get better?” She reassured me and said yes. I always looked forward to Ivy’s emails as they made me feel like I wasn’t going crazy.  Slowly but surely I recovered and began to enjoy motherhood and being with my son.

 

QUESTION:
Did you have any more children after this PPD experience, and if so, did you do anything to prepare yourself and were you able to ward off PPD the subsequent time(s)?

ANSWER:
The whole experience did put me off having another baby initially, as I didn’t think I could go through the whole ordeal again. But now, 10 months after giving birth, I think I could do it again because I now know what to expect if I were to have another baby. If I were to suffer from PPD again, I wouldn’t be so afraid and I know it would only be temporary and things will get better.

 

QUESTION:
If you could go back in time what advice would you give yourself before you got pregnant?

ANSWER:
I would advise myself to read up on PPD. I don’t think there is enough awareness on PPD. If you are a first- time mother suffering from it, it’s a very scary situation to be in if you don’t know what is happening to your body and mind.  Throughout my pregnancy no one mentioned PPD. Healthcare providers emphasized pregnancy, labour and giving birth but never once talked about the post-partum period or possible complications during pregnancy and childbirth.  If I had known about PPD, I wouldn’t have felt so scared and isolated. I would also look into hypnobirthing and/or active birthing to have a better and more natural childbirth experience. I would hire a doula to help with childbirth and the first few weeks post-birth.

 

QUESTION:
Did anything positive come out of your PPD experience?

ANSWER:
My experience has had a huge impact on me. I really want to help women going through PPD. I think I’ve grown as a person. I’ve learnt to appreciate the small things. I’m more compassionate and less judgemental and generally happier than I was before my pregnancy.

 

QUESTION:
What would you want to say to women currently suffering with PPD?

ANSWER:
What you are going through is horrible, your hormones are trying to find a balance, and sleep deprivation is beyond awful.  At times you will feel like you are going crazy, but you aren’t. You have hormones that are making you depressed, angry, anxious and/or unable to sleep.

Every day is a battle. Take each day at a time, and do things you think will help you get by each day.  If you think having acupuncture will help, do it.  If you think going shopping will help you get through the day, do it. Do whatever it takes to get through the day.

Get help and support. Get your partner to look after the baby. At the moment, self care is important, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Get medical, practical and emotional support if you haven’t done so already.

I know it doesn’t seem like you will get better, but you will! Slowly but surely you will see snippets of your old self come back and you will be laughing again soon. This is only temporary.

Help Her Get the Help She Needs

My first almost wordless blog post, ever. The words in this image say it all. It is an important message that we, as family members, friends, neighbors or even colleagues of new mothers, should take very seriously.  Permission to use this image granted by Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, founder of The Postpartum Stress Center and author of numerous books on perinatal mood disorders.

Postpartum Insomnia Series – Part 4: AMY

I met Amy in April 2013 at an event that took place at St. Clare’s Behavioral Health of Denville, New Jersey, and co-hosted by the Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey.  I was a speaker at that event.  That night, I met a group of amazing mothers, many of whom I’ve stayed in touch with ever since.  We try to meet up as much as we can, but since we all live in different parts of Northern New Jersey, we’ve only been able to meet up once a year.  Our last get-together was just over a month ago.  With Amy’s son just turning five yesterday, writing up her responses gave her the opportunity to reflect on and appreciate the journey from the time she was was caught blindsided by insomnia and panic attacks to where she is today.

Thank you, Amy, for sharing your experience. Your story, along with the stories of the other moms who have shared their experiences, helps other moms– desperate to find information on what is happening to them–see that they are far from alone in their experiences and recovery occurs with the right treatment and support. One or more of these experiences is bound to resonate with these new mothers .

******************************

QUESTION 1:  When/what was the first indication that something wasn’t right, and how long after childbirth did the first sign occur?
ANSWER:  After being married for 10 years, we were finally able to have a baby after trying for 3 years.  I had an emergency c-section, we all spent three happy days in the hospital with our baby, and I scored very well on the hospital’s postpartum depression (PPD) survey.  But within in a few hours of returning home, the world dropped out from under me, and I just suddenly and inexplicably wanted nothing to do with my baby.

QUESTION 2:  Did you suffer from insomnia?  What other symptoms did you experience, if any?
ANSWER:  Yes, I had insomnia. I was exhausted, but as soon as I was alone in my dark bedroom, laying on my bed, I would start having very physical panic attacks. I imagined running away, getting in the car to run an errand and just driving west and never going home. I had racing thoughts. I never wanted to hurt myself or my baby, but I fantasized about not waking up and how much I hoped that would happen.

QUESTION 3:  Did you see a doctor right away, and was he/she able to help you?  What course of treatment did he/she prescribe?  Did he/she diagnose you with a postpartum mood disorder?
ANSWER: I saw my midwife within the first week or two. She gave me another PPD survey and I scored terribly. My midwife reassured me that this happens.  She gave me Rx’s for Xanax and Ambien, gave me the number of the Saint Clare’s mental health line, and encouraged me to get professional mental health care. Based on the survey and our conversation, she said it sounded like I was suffering from PPD rather than the baby blues or postpartum psychosis.

QUESTION 4:  If you had to take meds, what was it/what were they and how long did you have to take it/them?
ANSWER: I didn’t end up taking the meds my midwife prescribed because I really wanted to breastfeed, and I had this weird feeling that if I quit breastfeeding, I might actually run away. Breastfeeding was the only thing I could do that no one else could do, so I used it to convince myself that I couldn’t run away.  I truly think breastfeeding helped me stay and helped me bond with my baby even though I absolutely did not want to.

QUESTION 5:  Did you have enough resources to help you with your recovery?  What kind of resources did you have (e.g., support group, postpartum doula, psychiatrist, partner reduced work hours/worked from home)? Did you have enough practical help (e.g., late night feedings) with the baby?
ANSWER: The help I got from Saint Clare’s (in the form of weekly therapy with an incredible therapist AND a bi-weekly PPD support group) was priceless.  It healed my mind. My church was aware of what was going on and was fully supportive and non-judgmental, offering help constantly. My mother and mother-in-law both stayed longer than planned. My husband and I worked out a great schedule where I could get 5-6 hours of sleep each night, with him keeping the baby in the family room and taking several feedings so I could sleep alone.

QUESTION 6:  When was the first sign of light at the end of the tunnel and you were starting your recovery?
ANSWER:  After 8 months of therapy and 12 months of attending the support group, I have a vivid memory of my mom and me in her kitchen a few days before Christmas when my baby was almost 15 months old. We were listening to Christmas music and baking, and I was laughing and we started dancing to the music, and it was an authentic joy I was able to feel for the first time since I had my baby.

QUESTION 7:  Did you have any more children after this PPD experience, and if so, did you do anything to prepare yourself and were you able to ward off PPD the subsequent time(s)?
ANSWER:  We tried to have another baby, but weren’t successful after a year of trying. We may try again, but for now we have finished the process of adoption, and are now waiting to be matched. I do still worry about post-adoption depression because I’m prone to depression after a big transition. I’m preparing myself and will have substantial support lined up.

QUESTION 8:  If you could go back in time what advice would you give yourself before you got pregnant?
ANSWER:  I guess I might tell myself to study a little more about emergency c-sections, worst case pregnancy scenarios, and PPD. But, at the same time, I enjoyed my pregnancy so much, so I probably would have had a hard time accepting that anything like PPD could happen to me anyway. I’m glad I had a happy, healthy pregnancy without too many fears and worries.

QUESTION 9:  Did anything positive come out of your PPD experience?
ANSWER:  Oh my goodness, through my PPD support group, I met some of the most amazing, talented, educated, professional, successful, authentic, vulnerable, and empowering women that I have ever met in my entire life. I also sorted through the depths of my heart and mind with my therapist, learned more about myself than I’d ever known, and learned how to understand and have more control of my thoughts. I have become a more compassionate person. I could go on and on.  This journey has taught me so much about myself, and about life, pain, and love.

QUESTION 10:  What would you want to say to women currently suffering with PPD?
ANSWER:  This absolutely devastating experience will not only end, but it can and will strengthen you. It seems like an oxymoron, but if you fight hard, you will be absolutely amazed at the power that is within you to love deeper than ever before. Seeking real help and being vulnerable, though so hard, is exactly what will help you heal and be everything you want to be.

Postpartum Insomnia Series – Part 3: BRYN

This is the third of my series of blog posts about postpartum insomnia.

I met Bryn recently via the closed Facebook group for Postpartum Support International.  Thank you, Bryn, for sharing your experience on my blog.  I am very glad that the process of reflecting back to the time you suffered from postpartum depression (PPD)/postpartum anxiety (PPA) and putting your thoughts down was cathartic.  I’ve always found blogging to be a therapeutic process, and I encourage all my readers to consider writing/blogging about your experiences. It will truly make a difference and help you process/validate what you went through.

Now, without further ado, here are Bryn’s 10 Q&A…..

* * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * *

QUESTION:
When/what was the first indication that something wasn’t right, and how long after childbirth did the first sign occur?

ANSWER:
My first sign was probably before I even left the hospital. I had a regular check-up at 38w6d and had low amniotic fluid, so I was induced that evening, Friday. Delivered Saturday morning and went home Monday late afternoon. During that whole time, I maybe slept a handful of hours total. Early Monday morning I was a wreck, sobbing about putting baby girl in the nursery so we could sleep and sobbing because I couldn’t sleep. But that just registered to me as Very Emotional First Time Mom. My first official indication that something wasn’t right was trying to sleep at home Monday night and free falling into my first-ever panic attack. I felt very, very dangerous. I remember looking at some scissors and making some very disorienting, strong connections to my panic and danger and those scissors. I actually picked them up and will never forget my husband saying, “Bryn, put down the scissors.” I made DH drive us (me and the three-day-old, poor girl) right back to the ER, where I had another panic attack. My folks had visited earlier that morning, had already driven home (80 miles away) and then drove back to be with me at the hospital. DH’s mom drove to our house to set up helping out with baby girl (So, so grateful to have one grandma who’s a Labor & Delivery Nurse and one grandma who’s a Licensed Professional Counselor Mental Health Professional). I finally got some Ativan and went home to try sleeping with Unisom. This was around 2am. DH’s mom woke me up around 6am to nurse. So, I maybe got four hours of sleep. I remember feeling so incredulous that, even after everything that had happened the previous night, she would actually wake me up. But, um, duh, I do have a baby now. Four hours was generous! I was very much in denial. So, short answer, my first sign that something wasn’t right happened 2-3 days postpartum.

QUESTION:
Did you suffer from insomnia? What other symptoms did you experience, if any?

ANSWER:
Yes. Monday night I got a few hours of sleep after Ativan and Unisom. Tuesday night, I tried melatonin and didn’t sleep. Wednesday late afternoon, I tried to go to bed early and took Unisom since that worked okay Monday night. I didn’t sleep and was also so whacked out with constant anxiety and mini-panic attacks that I pleaded to go back to the hospital. I begged and begged the ER to sedate me. I was out of my ever-loving mind, clinging to DH and just losing it. At 8pm, after a lot of doc consults and one psych consult (and the number to the local crisis stabilization unit), I finally got a cocktail of Benadryl, Ativan and Haldol. I slept for 10 hours, waking up at 6am and went right back to high-strung anxiety and all-day panic. Thursday night, I tried Ambien and woke up after an hour. Made a deal with DH that I would go to baby girl’s first doc appointment Friday morning and then we would check me in somewhere. We’d spent a week trying to figure out what the hell to do with me and how to get me better, and now it was the professionals’ turn.

QUESTION:
Now, just out of curiosity, do you have a personal history of depression and/or anxiety or other mood disorder?

ANSWER:
I had a brief period of depression in high school after moving cross country my junior year, but that experience didn’t lead to anything that truly interfered with my life the way my PPD/PPA did after I had my baby.  The sadness during my junior year definitely felt different than other times in my life. I remember functioning like a zombie, numb for a few months until I got into the swing of things. My mom says I barely ate for a few weeks, but I don’t really remember that.  I didn’t have any treatment beyond the school counselor getting me involved in the basketball team as a scorekeeper. It wasn’t until after I gave birth that I experienced a mood disorder that prevented me from sleeping, functioning and enjoying the baby that I gave birth to after a very stressful IVF cycle so much so that I truly needed medication to help with recovery.

QUESTION:
Did you see a doctor right away, and was he/she able to help you?  What course of treatment did he/she prescribe? Did he/she diagnose you with a postpartum mood disorder?

ANSWER:
Tuesday, after my first panic attacks, we went back to my midwife to check in with her about all this. They prescribed Xanax, which turned out to not really agree with me. I don’t remember them diagnosing me with a mood disorder of any kind. And I don’t remember PPD/PPA being mentioned. Just that I was having difficulty getting back on track. But I did take the Edinburgh and remembering scoring off the charts, so maybe we had that discussion? I really don’t remember.

QUESTION:
If you had to take meds, what was it/what were they and how long did you have to take it/them?  Did you have enough resources to help you with your recovery?  What kind of resources did you have (e.g., support group, postpartum doula, psychiatrist, partner reduced work hours/worked from home)? Did you have enough practical help (e.g., late night feedings) with the baby?

ANSWER:
I started with Xanax (anti-anxiety) from my midwife, which just gave me jitters and put me out of sorts. I first checked in to a local, free, crisis stabilization unit Friday morning (one week postpartum) in Cookeville, TN where we were living at the time, but once I got fully checked in and started assessing the place (with my vast knowledge of psychiatric help facilities [sarcasm]), I started freaking out that they weren’t going to be able to help me because the doctor had already gone home for the day and I had zero confidence they could get me to sleep that night. I went into panic mode again. The nurse got authorization to give me some Ativan (anti-anxiety). I called my family to come get me, and we headed to Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital instead. The Ativan really helped keep me calm for about an hour or two. I kind of wish I had had that all that first week, but of course, that wouldn’t have addressed any underlying issues.

Vandy Psych checked me in via the ER and a Patient Transfer Unit. That place. I will always remember that place as the lowest of my low points. It was a perfectly fine unit with perfectly great, professional people. That was just where it all came to the point of no return for me. My folks were with me while DH and his mom were with baby girl. We just waited and waited, on furniture that was bolted to the ground, I might add. We had intake and consult after intake and consult. And there were a handful of other folks in the other rooms waiting, just like me, for a bed to open up. Knowing what I know now about the process, they had mercy and definitely pushed me ahead of other folks. I was pacing and freaking out and then pumping and trying to lie down and changing my diaper because I was still only a week postpartum, and pacing and freaking out on repeat. I was so beyond exhausted, my dad paced behind me so I wouldn’t fall over. I pleaded with the staff to get me in so I could just go to sleep. I remember telling anyone who would listen I was this close to just banging my head against the wall to knock myself out. I was VERY aware of feeling this “line” just right there in front of me. I very easily could go ahead and bang my head against the wall. But I knew if I crossed that line, there would be no coming back, not for a long time or without a lot of repercussions. That willpower to not beat my head against the wall or go flailing out of control, letting loose all the fucked-up crazy that was pent up inside me, that was the strongest I have ever been. Ever. I am in awe of myself for not letting go. I guess I come by my control issues and anxiety honestly.

At one point I got pretty worked up and they gave me Atarax (anti-anxiety) to calm down. Man, those -axes do not agree with me. I felt like my soul was trying to come out through my skin and my skin was trying to dissolve off me at the same time. So horrible.

When I finally got to the psych unit, I was given a brief tour and another intake and then some sleep meds. I know Zyprexa (anti-psychotic) was one of them, and I think melatonin (supplement) or Benadryl (antihistamine), or both, were in there, too. This was a bit after midnight and I slept until about 7am. The staff had been told not to wake me and seemed pretty surprised to see me lining up for breakfast.

For whatever reason, I did not have my anxiety and insomnia symptoms during my long weekend stay Inpatient. They switched me from Xanax to Zoloft (anti-depressant) because I wanted to keep trying breastfeeding/pumping. I stepped down on the Zyprexa for sleep and the last two nights switched to melatonin. After three days, I felt ready to go home, against doc’s advice. I didn’t even sign up to attend Outpatient the next day. I felt great. (My discharge papers diagnosed me with “major depression with postpartum onset.”) DH picked me up, and we drove to his mom’s where they had moved during this time to be closer to where I was. When we arrived, I immediately held my baby girl and immediately went straight back into panic and despair. My doc team and family had decided I wouldn’t sleep in the same room as the baby just yet, so I battled through panic (that I hadn’t felt in four days) in another room and somehow slept fairly well. I RAN back up to the hospital the next morning and begged them to let me in the Outpatient program. I participated in that program for the rest of that week (two weeks postpartum) and had no new meds, but did step up my Zoloft.

At the end of that week, we were going to drive back to Cookeville for baby girl’s two-week pediatric appointment and I was pretty worked up about going back to that house, that bedroom, that no-sleep zone. Doc gave me some super low dose Klonopin (anti-anxiety) and I managed to make it to Sunday without taking any. Sunday night I slept in the same room with DH and baby girl, and actually did a night feeding shift (formula) around 2am, I think. We went to her appointment, refreshed some clothing and stuff and drove back to Nashville so I could finish the Outpatient program that week.

That weekend back home in Cookeville started a set-back. I made the hard, but relieving decision to stop pumping and switch to formula. Pumping/breastfeeding sent me into panic every time and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I went back to Outpatient Tuesday (sobbing to my mom on the drive up there, sobbing so hard she made me drive to her place so she could drive me the rest of the way) and Tuesday night confessed to DH that I was having thoughts of cutting myself. Just something to distract me from this misery that I could not escape. I just wanted it all to go away and there was no magic pill for that. Mom drove me to Outpatient again Wednesday morning and I confessed the same to her. With her therapist hat on, she asked me if I had considered checking myself back in. I just sobbed more. I actually really wanted to go back Inpatient. In there, I was safe and taken care of and structured and understood. If I could just pause Life, and if they could just fix me, then I could go be a mom and a wife and Life would be doable again.

So, a week after being discharged, I checked myself back in. This time, I stayed just over a week. I had all my anxiety symptoms, but was at least sleeping fine. The doc team added Risperidone (anti-psychotic) to my meds and Pindolol (beta blocker). When I was discharged, I was scared. I didn’t feel confident this time going back to Life. I gladly went to Outpatient and continued to sleep apart from DH and baby girl. I did okay over my first weekend back (no Outpatient and no structure made weekends scary) and finished out the whole next week.

After being away for two years, we had already planned to move from Cookeville back to Nashville over this summer. So, after this second attempt at Inpatient and Outpatient, I was four weeks postpartum and we needed to be out of our apartment two weeks later.

Luckily, yes, we had resources. We had a ton of resources. Both our families lived in the area and were a HUGE help. We got moved back, DH started a new job, and I had two more months maternity leave. I no longer felt in crisis, but I also did not see the light at the end of the tunnel just yet.

QUESTION:
When was the first sign of light at the end of the tunnel and you were starting your recovery?

ANSWER:
The light at the end of the tunnel probably came around six months postpartum. I posted on Facebook that “it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t cried or felt miserable and had, in fact, been feeling rather “up” for almost one whole glorious week.” Going back to work was ROUGH. Finally feeling love for baby girl and then leaving her at home with Grandma was ROUGH. I weaned off Risperidone and Pindolol, but stayed on Zoloft. I continued my Psych follow-ups. I tried different counselors, but didn’t find a good fit until almost a year later. Unfortunately, what helped me most, I think, was giving myself permission to be bad at everything except surviving; I was subpar at my job, a crappy wife, I let go of chores and cleaning, and gave up and went to bed around 8pm most nights.

QUESTION:
Did you have any more children after this PPD experience, and if so, did you do anything to prepare yourself and were you able to ward off PPD the subsequent time(s)?

ANSWER:
I am 16 months postpartum and just starting to think about more kids. This time last year, even thinking about more kids was a big Hell No. But, here we are. Baby girl was such an easy baby and is seriously a delightful toddler. Surely, we’re setting ourselves up for a colicky next kid! I will say, we battled through infertility for a few years before conceiving via IVF, and if we didn’t have frozen embryos already, we’d be one and done. We just don’t have the funds or energy for a fresh cycle, and, clearly, the old-fashioned way just doesn’t work for us.

To those ends, I have been reading What Am I Thinking? by Karen Kleiman. Her book This Isn’t What I Expected was a bible for me during Inpatient and those first several weeks. DH and I want to find some counseling so that we’ve strengthened “us” the best we can before a second potential crazystorm. I will likely stay on my Zoloft, maybe step down a bit, but stay on.

QUESTION:
If you could go back in time what advice would you give yourself before you got pregnant?

ANSWER:
Advice for pre-crazy Bryn? I don’t know. Unfortunately, I tend to be a “go through the mess myself” kind of person instead of believing the person who says, “Don’t go that way, it’s a mess.” I got pregnant via a never unstressful cycle. I was commuting 80 miles one way for work a few times a week and staying with my folks (away from DH) a few nights a week (thus not having to commute every day). I had Factor V Leiden which meant I gave myself shots of Lovenox in my belly twice a day during the entire pregnancy until six weeks AFTER delivering. I had an ER scare with severe abdominal pain mid-pregnancy (inconclusive, but definitely not pre-labor/BH). And I was eventually induced a week early because of repeated low amniotic fluid. Whew. I think my advice would be Pay Attention and Take It The F Easy. It’s so easy to look back and see the massive amount of stress I was managing and living with. When the swirling hormone stew that is postpartum became a reality, the control I thought I had of everything that I had been dealing with just fell apart.

QUESTION:
Did anything positive come out of your PPD experience?

ANSWER:
I remember feeling incredibly raw and vulnerable during those first several crisis weeks. And that actually felt good. To just be so real and open and honest and bare with those around me. Everyone knew what was what and I just didn’t care what folks thought of me. I was in crisis. I was a mess. I was fighting for my life. And I REACHED OUT. I RAN to help. Maybe it’s because of growing up with a therapist for a mother, but I had zero shame in seeking help. I had shame about failing my daughter, my husband, burdening my in-laws, scaring the hell out of my parents. But I didn’t have shame about sharing the hell I was going through and hoping someone could reach down and help pull me out. I see that as a positive.

QUESTION:
What would you want to say to women currently suffering with PPD?

ANSWER:
I have no idea what to say to others going through this. I don’t know that anyone could have said anything to me. I babbled and raged and folks listened and I started meds and I kind of feel like I just waited it out. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I made sure I felt safe with the folks around me in case I fell, and then just gritted my teeth and kept going. It REALLY sucked. But it doesn’t now. That’s probably not very inspiring or life-affirming, but maybe that will resonate with someone.

 

Postpartum Insomnia Series – Story 1: MRS. J

I want to thank Mrs. J for sharing her postpartum insomnia story with us.  She reached out to me via my blog a little over 2 months ago and we’ve corresponded via email since then.  Her twins are now just over 3 months old, and she is relieved and happy to report that she is well on her road to recovery and able to appreciate motherhood.  Mrs. J has had 4 other babies before and did not previously experience prenatal depression, postpartum depression (PPD) or postpartum anxiety (PPA).  Though, looking back, she thinks she might have had mild PPD before, now that she knows what having PPD is really like.  Like me, she was caught blindsided by insomnia, though hers really started before childbirth but was nevertheless what started her on her journey of perinatal illness.

Now, without further ado, here’s Mrs. J’s story.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

When Ivy asked me to share my story on her blog, I jumped at the opportunity. Had I found her blog before things escalated with me, I believe I would not have gotten as bad as I did.  Because of my experience, I want to offer hope to other moms who are suffering with PPD, PPA, and dreaded INSOMNIA that is one of the worst things anyone can ever go through, especially after just having had a baby….or in my case babies. That’s why I am sharing my story.

I gave birth to four healthy children before I found out I was pregnant a fifth time. At my 8-week ultrasound, the ultrasound tech looked at me and announced I was expecting twins. TWINS! Wow, that threw me for a really huge loop. After my initial shock wore off, I started to feel rather excited to take on this new experience.

My pregnancy was long but pretty uneventful up until my 7th month. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, which in itself is not too big of a deal.  You can control it with diet, which I was able to do. But I had been diagnosed with cholestasis during my last pregnancy, and it started rearing its ugly head again in this pregnancy. Cholestasis manifests itself with severe itching, usually on the palms of your hands and the bottoms of your feet. I started to have trouble sleeping when they tested me for cholestasis and during the 10-day wait for the test results. I couldn’t shut off my mind to the worry of having a vaginal twin birth (which was my hope!) and worry that I would have to be induced early for the cholestasis diagnosis and the negative impact it could have on the health of my babies.

I started to really have problems falling asleep. My doctor recommended I take Benadryl to help me sleep, and I was able to fall asleep and stay asleep for at least 6 hours the first two nights.  But on the 3rd night, I couldn’t fall asleep. I tried everything from warm baths with Epsom salt to drinking warm milk and avoiding television.  I wouldn’t touch caffeine with a ten foot pole. Everything you could read about “sleep hygiene” I tried. Nothing worked. I would pace the floors and move from my bed to the couch and back to my bed, all while my kids and husband were sleeping restfully. I called my OB office countless times and they wanted me to try Ambien. I was terrified to try Ambien, as I had never had to take a sleep aid before and I’d read horror stories of people doing things that they couldn’t remember doing while on Ambien. On the first night, I made my husband stay awake to make sure I didn’t start sleep walking and drive off into the night. I can now look back and laugh at this. I took the Ambien at 9:30 that night and was up by 4:00 in the morning. The second night I took it, I slept for maybe 4 hours. The third night I only got an hour of sleep. I was exhausted. I couldn’t nap during the day. I couldn’t sleep during the night besides a few hours here and there. I was calling and calling my OB office for help, but they couldn’t understand my desperation. My friends and relatives couldn’t understand either, but then again, how can you really understand such desperation until you’ve actually been there.  None of them have been through this before.

My OB suggested I go on Zoloft but I was having anxiety about taking an antidepressant while pregnant and I told her I wanted to try Prozac as I was on that before and it had helped with my General Anxiety Disorder. You see, I’m no stranger to anxiety and panic attacks but this was a whole different ball game. I never had trouble falling asleep like this in the past. It’s ironic that I am someone who’s always preached about how important sleep is to mental health….and yet I can’t sleep!  I have always needed a full night’s rest to feel good.  Why was this happening to me?!

Somehow, I managed to muddle through the last 3 weeks of pregnancy.  I was supposed to be induced at 36 weeks because my liver test results for cholestasis showed elevated levels. But 2 nights before I was to be induced, my water broke. Since I wasn’t 36 weeks yet, the hospital policy required me to be transferred to a bigger hospital.  The doctor on call there told my OB that he was going to perform a C-section. I was pretty devastated, as I wanted a vaginal birth and both my babies were head down on the ultrasound. Turns out, I progressed way too quickly and couldn’t be transferred.  Three hours after my water broke, I delivered two healthy little preemie boys. They didn’t need NICU time, thankfully.  But once I got back to my room, I started to hemorrhage.  I was terrified. My husband was in the nursery with my twins and not by my side when I started gushing blood. My OB was called in and was able to scrape all the clots out (ouch!).  To say I was exhausted at this point is an understatement. I probably looked like death. I certainly felt like I was on the brink of death.

Even after weeks of not sleeping, being up for 30 something hours straight, giving birth and then hemorrhaging, I only managed to sleep 4 hours the first night after giving birth.  I thought my body would shut down for hours from sheer exhaustion, but it didn’t. On the second night in the hospital, I asked for Ambien and I was able to sleep for about 6 hours.

After two nights in the hospital everyone was healthy, so they sent us home. The first night home, I didn’t sleep at all. Not ONE minute. I was delirious. I was still taking Prozac at that point.  I called the OB and asked if I could be prescribed something besides Prozac and Ambien. She told me I needed to call my family doctor because she can’t prescribe anything other than the general sleep aid and antidepressant. I called my family doctor and got in the next day. He prescribed Xanax to take at night. So, here I thought this would solve my problems. It worked the first and second night, but by the third night (again!) I woke up after an hour of sleep and couldn’t fall back asleep. I didn’t understand how this medication would only help for a couple days but then it wouldn’t work anymore.  I’ve never experienced anything like this before.  Not knowing why I wasn’t sleeping even though I was exhausted added to my anxiety.

I thank God every day for giving me such a patient husband. He took care of the twins, and we sent our 4 other kids to stay with family. I started feeling desperate again, so I called my family doctor to see what he could do for me. His only suggestion was to double my Prozac dose.  The increased dosage didn’t help.  Now that I look back, I realize I wasn’t being as honest as I should have been. I should have told him that I didn’t think I could make it through another day.  On the ride home from that appointment, at every intersection I wanted a car to plow into us and just end it all. My husband and twins were in the vehicle and that didn’t matter to me. I had lost all will to live. I tried thinking of my kids and how much they needed a mother, but I still did not want to live anymore. I felt so hopeless and desperate.  It was on that ride home that I texted a friend to tell her that I think I needed to check myself into a psych ward. She texted back saying that if that’s what I felt I needed, it was the right thing to do. It was what I needed to hear, but it was the hardest decision I’d ever had to make in my life.

At that point, I didn’t know what I needed, I didn’t know who could help me, and I thought no one in the world has been where I was.  I just knew that I felt scared, alone and hopeless.

Once in the hospital, the first night was hell.  I was still on Xanax. I didn’t sleep at all. I wanted to die that night. And then to be in this strange place, with people yelling out all night long…..I’d never imagined I would ever need to be in a psych ward before. I wanted to disappear.  I didn’t want to exist anymore. I feared I would soon be hallucinating and hearing things. I reminded myself I was in a safe place. It was where I needed to be.

In the hospital you are exposed to all different kinds of mental health suffering. It was really frightening, eye opening and even fascinating. I had so much ignorance regarding mental health before that. In that psych ward I saw people with depression and anxiety like me, people having psychotic episodes, people addicted to drugs, old people with dementia, and war veterans with PTSD. It was so interesting to learn from the nurses, doctors, and other patients and see how much help people needed and can get for their mental health problems.

After 6 nights of trial and error I went home.  I was on the antidepressant Zoloft, the antipsychotic drug Seroquel as a sleep aid, and Vistaril on an as-needed basis for anxiety. I was terrified to go home and be in the same place where I had such horrible memories the month before. We sent the twins to stay with family. The only ones home with us were our two oldest children, as they had to go to school. I wore ear plugs, turned on the fans for white noise, and slept alone. I managed to sleep 5 hours….still not a full 6 or 7 hours like I would normally sleep, but it was so much better than before. I still felt like my life was never going to be “normal” again.

I remember hearing the train go by not far from our house.  I recalled the story of a mom suffering from PPD who threw herself in front of a train and killed herself. I felt I was going to do that.  My mind and body were so tired and I was in such a bad place that I could understand why she would carry out such an act of desperation.

After visits with a therapist, a new family doctor, and supportive friends and family, I slowly but surely started feeling better.  I started to have good minutes that would turn to good hours and finally turn to good days. Slowly but surely, I was able to sleep longer and longer stretches without waking.  If I did wake, I could fall back asleep.

I truly, truly, truly did NOT have any hope at all until I found Ivy’s blog and began reading her experience and the experiences of other moms in the same situation in the comment threads. It was such a blessing to read all of that and realize that there IS hope. THERE IS HOPE. I read about people who said that they felt hopeless and thought they would never return to their old selves again.  I FELT THE SAME WAY!  When you are in the midst of fighting dark hellish days, it is so hard to believe that life will ever return to a state of normalcy. But IT WILL. If you’re reading this and are experiencing dark days, please know that IT WILL GET BETTER. DO NOT LOSE HOPE and don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

My husband stayed home for 6 weeks to help me with the twins (once they came home) and the other two kids.  He also helped with the twins’ night feedings. But after he went back to work, I experienced a major setback. My comfort, my support, my rock was leaving and it felt terrifying. After he went back to work, my doctor upped my Zoloft dose and thankfully my mom stayed over the first week and helped with the twins at night.  A few family members helped with nights after my mom went home. It wasn’t until my twins were 13 weeks old that I felt confident enough to not only try taking on the night feedings with the twins but to also starting weaning off my sleep medication. Thankfully, as I write this, I am no longer dependent on my sleep medication! I am only on the Zoloft and I plan to stay on it for as long as necessary to make sure my brain chemical levels stabilize.

Just as Ivy’s husband feared at one point that she would never get better, my husband feared I would never recover. It was very tough for our husbands to watch us suffer and not be able to fix any of it. It was hard for our family members to watch us suffer and not know how to help us feel better.  If you are like me and have loved ones who do not understand the extent of our suffering, do not get frustrated with them. They can’t understand because they haven’t been through this kind of hell before.  They don’t understand that you are not being dramatic, and that you can’t just calm down, close your eyes and fall asleep.

I know you can’t help how you are feeling and you can’t control your anxiety levels or will yourself to sleep. In fact, the more you try to control it, the worse you feel. Just know that it will get better and you need to give your body time to adjust to your medication.  You WILL get better.  It just takes time, and I know that when you’re suffering, it feels like time is deliberately tormenting you by crawling so slowly.  Hang in there and try to avoid looking too far ahead.  Take one day at a time.  Once you get the right help, the days will go by quicker and easier.

I look back at these last few months and can now say I am thankful in many ways for going through what I went through. I have gained so much insight and have a whole new outlook on life and on mental health. I’ve learned that PPD and PPA are not due to some character flaw.  It’s not my fault I went through it.  I’m a survivor and you will be one too!

I am now enjoying motherhood and feeling so incredibly thankful for my two little twin boys.  They are such a joy and blessing!  I can now relax with my few cups of coffee during the day and not fear that darn caffeine will keep me up at night.

Hallelujah!