March 28, 2013

When PPD Strikes*

I try to keep things lights & fluffy around here as much as possible, but every once in a while, something comes up that hits me in my core. This is one of those posts. 

I will warn you that this is about Postpartum Depression. If you are suffering from PPD & do not think you can read this, I understand. It may contain some triggers. 

Two weeks ago, a woman jumped to her death, eight stories, taking her baby with her. The baby miraculously survived. We all saw the news story, but I was surprised to see it fade so quickly & not circulate around the interwebs like most shocking stories tend to do. The general sentiment was that this was a truly tragic and unfortunate event, which is absolutely was, but nobody was talking about it past then. My boss actually knew the woman (they went to high school together) so maybe that's why it was a little more in the limelight for me, but it was still shocking, when so many news stories go viral so quickly, this one didn't linger.

It was rumored that the mother suffered from Postpartum Depression. Is this why nobody wanted to talk about it? Postpartum depression can effect up to 20% of women. The "Baby Blues," which are considered normal, happen much more frequently, but the difference is that they go away. Postpartum Depression lingers, and an individual can show signs & symptoms for up to a year after giving birth.

The Beginning & Following Escalation
I'm here to admit that my baby blues did not go away. Weeks went by where I would cry for no reason. Uncontrollably. We were lucky to have paternity leave for about a week after Lucas was born, but then M went back to work. Since we live 3,000 miles away from family, our help was sparse. My best friend came to visit two weeks after Lucas was born, and I remember crying (again, uncontrollably) when I picked her up from the airport. I was beyond grateful that she was there to help, to be there for me, but I know she will attest to just how bad my Baby Blues were while she was there.

But even then, the sadness didn't stop. I haven't been very secretive about my issues with depression on this blog, and if you know me in real life, I won't ever shy away from the conversation if it comes up and I am questioned about it. But there still is some shame that I feel from time to time. Instead of going away, like they should have, the blues sort of just changed their appearance. A time that was supposed to be the happiest of my life was filled with dread and anxiety. I was insanely protective of Lucas -- more so than I probably should have been. If one thing did not go the way I wanted it to, if our schedule was off, if anybody other than me was responsible for ANY tiny aspect of his well being (my husband included), my anxiety shot to unbelievable levels. In my head, I could feel the crazy, but talking myself down from it just didn't happen.

It was months before the postpartum anxiety went away. Dropping Lucas off at our sitters was awful (no matter how much I trusted & adore the woman who watches him!) Eventually the anxiety faded but again, only to manifest itself into just a general depression. I was angry, bitter, sad all the time, and my marriage was starting to suffer because of it. True, marriage post baby is work regardless, but this was an exceptional BAD.

What surprised me the most, looking back, was the rage. So much RAGE. The anger that I experienced was more than any other aspect of the PPD, which is why I didn't recognize it for so long. When you first think of PPD, let's admit it -- you think of overwhelming sadness. Lots of tears, constantly. And while I had those moments as well, THOSE were so few and far between that I filed them away in the "new mom working full time trying to raise a baby on sleepless nights" folder. But there was a lot of anger at everybody around me, and I am disappointed to say that my husband took the brunt of it.

I hated life. I hated everybody and everything around me. Lucas was the only light in tunnel and lord help anybody who crossed either of us. I considered leaving my marriage, for a very long time, because I thought surely this is not my fault that things are this bad. Every day, for months, the thought crossed my mind. In reality, my darling husband was just trying to cope with that crazy that was going through his wife's head, the best that he could, and I was too deep into it all to see what was going on & how he must have been in complete turmoil. He had no fucking clue what was going on, because again, nobody tells you about this part of PPD. It was new, and scary, and we both were pretty lost in how it was affecting our lives.

The Breaking Point
When my grandfather passed away in February, I hit a low that I couldn't seem to pull myself back up from. It was a hard passing for me, and I hit a breaking point.It had been coming for a while -- I've been sleep deprived for almost two years. I work full time. Army life is not kind to us at times, which means I often find myself parenting solo while also trying to maintain a working lifestyle. We recently found out we will be moving, which adds a whole other level of stress to our lives.  I felt like I had been treading water for quite some time -- not quite drowning, but not quite swimming with ease, either. When my grandpa died, I felt like treading was no longer an option. I just wanted out. Not suicide out (don't get me wrong. Suicide is never the answer, no matter how bad it was) but I wanted to throw in the towel. Run away. Never look back.

To breath again.

It was after that, I made the decision to go back on my prozac. I had been on and off anti-depressants since graduate school, so I was no stranger to them. I had a prescription that I had intended to go back onto after I gave birth. The only reason I stopped taking it to begin with was because of the pregnancy, and I knew, after the Baby Blues didn't really go away, that I needed to go back on them. I talked to my midwife at my six week postpartum checkup. I got the prescription. I filled said prescription. I took them for two days and then stopped. My depression during pregnancy should have been enough for me to convince myself to go back on the meds, but I still didn't listen to my head.

"I can do this myself," I said. "I'm fine. This will pass," I told myself.

It didn't.

Had I ever talked to a doctor again about it, I am confident that they would have diagnosed me with PPD. I most definitely had Postpartum Anxiety. I SHOULD have stayed on the prozac the first time around. I hated myself for going back on it last month, but even just a few weeks into it and I can feel the difference. While no marriage is perfect and we definitely have our issues to work on, like any couple, I am feeling a little less crazy. A little less angry. A LOT less sad. Generally? Just better. And my life, as a whole, is better because of it. My marriage is better. My relationships are better. My work is better.

All in all -- BETTER. Easy? No. I still struggle, and I am sure that I will continue to struggle. I have good days & bad days. But it's manageable. Like I said, it's better.

I still need sleep. Lots of it. But that will come, right?

I didn't talk to anybody while I was going through all of this. As I said before, there seems to be some level of shame in finding out you are suffering from PPD. And that poor woman, who felt like taking her life and her baby's life was the only way out? I know how I felt, have felt in the past, and I can't imagine that dark of a place where taking your own life, and attempting to take the life of your child is the only way out.

Take Care Of Yourself
Postpartum depression can mainfest in many forms. From WebMD:

The "baby blues," which occur in most women in the days right after childbirth, are considered normal. A new mother has sudden mood swings, such as feeling very happy and then feeling very sad. She may cry for no reason and can feel impatient, irritable, restless, anxious, lonely, and sad. The baby blues may last only a few hours or as long as one to two weeks after delivery. The baby blues do not usually require treatment from a health care provider. Often, joining a support group of new moms or talking with other moms helps. 

Postpartum depression (PPD) can happen a few days or even months after childbirth. PPD can happen after the birth of any child, not just the first child. A woman can have feelings similar to the baby blues -- sadness, despair, anxiety, irritability -- but she feels them much more strongly than she would with the baby blues. PPD often keeps a woman from doing the things she needs to do every day. When a woman's ability to function is affected, she needs to see her health care provider. If a woman does not get treatment for PPD, symptoms can get worse. While PPD is a serious condition, it can be treated with medication and counseling. 

Postpartum psychosis is a very serious mental illness that can affect new mothers. This illness can happen quickly, often within the first three months after childbirth. Women can lose touch with reality, having auditory hallucinations (hearing things that aren't actually happening, like a person talking) and delusions (strongly believing things that are clearly irrational). Visual hallucinations (seeing things that aren't there) are less common. Other symptoms include insomnia (not being able to sleep), feeling agitated (unsettled) and angry, and strange feelings and behaviors. Women who have postpartum psychosis need treatment right away and almost always need medication. Sometimes women are put into the hospital because they are at risk for hurting themselves or someone else.
And don't forget to take care of yourself. I learned the hard way, and if we are blessed with baby #2, I will do things much, much differently. Here are some tips that can help you cope with bringing home a newborn:

Ask for help -- let others know how they can help you.
Be realistic about your expectations for yourself and baby. 
Exercise; take a walk and get out of the house for a break.
Expect some good days and some bad days.
Follow a sensible diet; avoid alcohol and caffeine.
Foster the relationship with your partner -- make time for each other.
Keep in touch with family and friends -- do not isolate yourself.
Limit visitors when you first go home.
Screen phone calls.
Sleep or rest when your baby sleeps!

All in all -- do what is right FOR YOU and your family.  Seek help if you need it. Don't be afraid or ashamed to reach out to a friend or family member and talk about what you are feeling. More often than not, you just might find an ally who has been there.


Jodi said...

Hugs!! I totally understand. The depression and anxiety hit me several months after H was born. I started taking meds shortly after. Its still hard at times. Thank you for writing this. xoxoxo

Brittany said...

Jodi: It definitely is hard, and I still struggle some days! But, hopefully things continue to get better, for both of us!

Sunny said...

I am so sorry that you went through this. I had crazy anxiety during the birth and weeks following. There was not a day for three weeks that I didn't have serious crying jags. It luckily got better but it took about six months before my anxiety really subsided. I screamed at an old lady in walmart because she got too close to the baby, I wanted him covered up in public so no one could see him (husband called me michael jackson) and I was constantly afraid the baby was going to be stolen. it was cuckoo for sure. I am hoping this time is better. I do know sleep is huge. We actually scheduled people to come help so I could sleep. and my doc wrote a letter to my husband's command and got extra paternity leave, thankfully they were cooperative. i know better what i need this time, and will be more vocal about it for sure. glad you are feeling better and hope this direction continues. xo

Brittany said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one with the crazy anxiety! If my husband was feeding him, or I could even hear him whimper & M was taking care of him, I would PACE until I knew that things were ok. It was so hard for me to relinquish that control of, you know, letting my husband take care of his child, but when I did, it was unbearable.

And, uh, yeah, I kept Lucas covered, too, when we were out and about.