It all happened so fast.
Or did it?
There is a constant battle in my heart on whether or not this journey of mine could have been prevented – or in the very least could have been different.
Should I have been more prepared?
But can anyone prepare for something like this?
This journey through postpartum depression, my story, actually began far before I even realized it.
I was in my prime. I finally landed a job that I worked so hard to achieve. I went through hours upon hours – years upon years – of schooling to learn & grow in a field that I was truly passionate about since childhood. And I made it. I was settling into a new state & realized it was time to reinvent myself.
Who did I want to be? I was the healthiest I had ever been in my life. I changed my diet to represent more whole foods. I worked out 5 – 6 times a week. I strengthened a new passion of mine – yoga. I was volunteering an average of 10 hours a week at an amazing organization.
I valued myself & the importance of growing a relationship with, well, me.I was there. I was actually where I wanted to be.
But then. The little red lines. There were two faint, little red lines.
THE BEGINNING OF IT ALL
I got pregnant with a man I had been dating for less than a year. I didn’t give myself any time to truly process my reality.
I just dove in.
In about 5 months we were married & moving into our newly built home.
That’s when my anxiety hit an all-time high. It was hard to manage the day to day tasks that I typically had no problem working through. My job began weighing on me emotionally and all the pregnancy symptoms I’d been experiencing became overpowering.
I stopped working out. I stopped eating healthy. I stopped building and strengthening the relationship I had with myself.
I was sick and pregnant – so I made that my excuse to completely abandon the lifestyle I had created.
Without realizing it at the time, I put my mental health on the back burner, which inevitably created a snowball effect
“Surely the anxiety is just a symptom of pregnancy. It’ll get easier to manage after I give birth.”
That is what I kept telling myself.
I told myself that while I walked into work after a 30-minute panic attack in my car.
I told myself that after a sleepless night full of tears, anger, frustration.
I told myself that after spending an hour in the shower crying silently while holding a soapy loofa.
I told myself that it would all go away because I truly believed it would. I honestly thought that having the baby would relieve me from the anxiety – or at the very least that it would make managing it easier.
WHAT I THOUGHT WAS THE BEGINNING
I made a decision early on in life that my ultimate goal was to be able to raise my children at home full-time. Without going into much detail, I had it in my heart that it was part of my purpose on this planet.
My beautiful, sweet, precious baby girl was born on an early Tuesday morning, which was also my last day of being an employee.
My birth experience went as well as I had hoped and my hospital stay was excellent. I felt the rush of love that a lot of women describe the moment their babies are placed on their chest. I even thought to myself,
“How could life get any better than this”?
And then I got home.
It took maybe three days to realize something was wrong. I had read a lot about ‘baby blues’ and kind of expected some fluctuations in my mood.
But I didn’t expect to cry a good portion of the day (and night). I didn’t expect to lose my appetite. I didn’t expect to lose my drive to get out of bed in the morning.
I didn’t expect the nightmares, the obsessive thoughts, hallucinations, and paranoia.
I didn’t expect to think about taking my own life.
It happened so fast.
I didn’t tell anyone what I was going through until about two weeks into the worst mental spiral of my life. I hit my breaking point when the suicidal thoughts became almost impossible to lift.
A SURPRISING TWIST
After telling my husband, we both agreed that seeing a therapist would be in my best interest. I searched online for about two months before I finally got the courage to call someone and make an appointment.
Before then, though, I spoke with my daughter’s pediatrician and a nurse practitioner (NP) in my obstetrician’s office. It was interesting because my daughter’s pediatrician was more helpful than the NP, who was supposed to be there to guide me. I left her office feeling worse, thinking that my emotions were invalid.
Jump back to the therapist I finally saw, she tried to tell me I had PTSD and put me on some special ‘plan’ which I found out was for a research project she was working on.
“Maybe this is just how things are supposed to be for me,”
I kept thinking to myself after leaving each visit feeling ten times heavier.
I felt like no one understood what I was going through. That each professional I spoke to was hearing my symptoms for the first time, not knowing what to say or how to help.
I wanted to give up.
But, I hit another breaking point when I noticed my daughter, now a few months old would have bad days when I had bad days. It woke me up to the fact that my mental health wasn’t just affecting me, but my family too.
WHEN THINGS STARTED LOOKING UP
I stopped going to my therapist and spent any extra time I had on the internet searching for my situation. I used any knowledge from my degree in social work as I could and put together a plan for myself. I studied as if I were writing another grad school paper – but on my own life.
I started using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) by acknowledging and restructuring my negative thoughts. I journaled a lot. I started eating better and began a new workout regime. I joined a motherhood group called Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) at my church. I made it a priority to get out into the sun at least once a day (but more if I could). I even found a new therapist that helped me more than I imagined possible.
The little red lines. There were two faint, little red lines.
AN ADDED PIECE TO THE ROLLER COASTER I WAS ON
There I was, feeling better. Eight months into motherhood and I finally thought I could be the mom I wanted to be.
Looking at those beautiful little red lines crushed my entire world. How could I be pregnant? I couldn’t even remember the last time my husband and I had sex.
The day I found out was also the day I lost control again. Any progress I had made in managing my mental health disappeared immediately – all of my PPD symptoms came flooding back.
The sadness, hallucinations, paranoia, obsessiveness, the heaviness in my chest, panicking, the suicidal ideation.
I remember walking into the other room & physically seeing myself lying lifeless in my bed.
The few months following that night are a blur. My husband took some time off of work to take care of our daughter while I, well, had a mental break down. My doctor prescribed me an antidepressant, but my body reacted negatively to it and made me incredibly ill. I stopped taking it before I saw any significant changes in my symptoms.
I researched how to have a miscarriage naturally. I planned out my own death. I screamed at God. I screamed, a lot.
If it weren’t for my daughter, I would have ended my life.
Amid a panic attack one day, I looked at her and just knew something had to change. She needed me to get up and restart.
So I did just that.
A NEW BEGINNING
I picked myself up off the floor and I walked back over to the thick white starting line. I figuratively put a picture of my daughter in my back pocket as I laced my shoes up tightly and began again.
CBT, journaling, eating healthy, exercising, staying outside as long as possible, going to support groups, reaching out to family & friends. I researched all that I could about pregnancy hormones and how they affect your body. Heck, I researched anything I could think of that would help.
And because of all that, my second pregnancy went smoother than my first one. I got to a place where I could manage my symptoms and still feel like a functioning human being. The debilitating anxiety was there on my off days, but I was a lot better off than I could have imagined.
A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE
My labor and delivery with my second daughter was nothing like my first. I felt disrespected from the hospital staff the moment I walked into the emergency room and didn’t really feel at peace for the rest of my stay there.
On top of that, the umbilical cord was wrapped around my sweet baby’s neck, so she was completely silent and purple as she entered the world. My first thought was something along the lines of her being dead, which ended up being an obsessive thought I couldn’t get rid of the first three months of her life.
Whether in a nightmare or some weird stare-off day-dream, I kept picturing my baby’s purple body.
My second postpartum experience was interesting because, from a bird’s eye view, it looked pretty “normal”. I got so good at managing my symptoms, that I too believed I was not experiencing PPD.
Until my daughter’s two week appointment. I filled out one of those PPD surveys that the pediatrician is supposed to look over and I saw it clear as day. Postpartum Depression.
I didn’t want to believe it was true because I didn’t want to think that all of my hard work wasn’t actually doing anything for me. I didn’t want to come to terms with the fact that PPD was still a very active part of my life. It wasn’t until my daughter’s two-month check-up where I finally truly opened myself up to what was going on. That even though I was actively working on managing the hallucinations, they still existed. Even though I was actively working on suicidal ideation, paranoia, obsessive thoughts, nightmares, difficulty sleeping, the sadness – all of it was all still there.
TO BE CONTINUED
I wish I could wrap up this piece by sharing the end of my journey, but I can’t. I am writing this at four months postpartum and am still actively working through my PPD puzzle. Will there be an end soon? I hope so.
I know that I am in a better place right now than I have been in a long time. The symptoms I described all still exist, but they aren’t so apparent these days – managing them is a lot easier and good days outweigh the bad.
If you’re reading this in a similar state, I want you to know things do get better. Times are tough, but so are you. We all are just trying to figure out how to be the best we can be in all parts of life. We are in this together.
Mariah is the mind behind Fiercely Altered, an outlet created to inspire others to be the best they can be. As a licensed social worker turned full-time stay at home mother of two girls under two, Mariah writes about each step through a life filled with managing chronic anxiety & navigating motherhood while simultaneously battling postpartum depression.
She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two daughters where she graciously pours into raising her babies. Her passion lies in lifting up others and helping them get through tough trials in their lives.
If you are interested in learning about motherhood or managing mental illness, make sure to check out her space, http://www.fiercelyaltered.com and/or follow her life through pictures on Instagram @mariahsihotang.