It's the first Monday of 2020, and it's time for me to say hello, again!
2019 was a doozie for my family and me. There were some great highlights, memories, and achievements (like launching Homefront Heroes!), but it was also, handsdown, the hardest year of my life. There is no fun way to say it, but I was diagnosed with Late-Onset Postpartum Depression and Anxiety this last fall. I have taken the last 4.5 months off from my personal and business's social media accounts to focus on me, my family, and healing ... and now I'm back!
Most of you don't personally know me, but before I got PPD and anxiety, I would have said I would be one of the last people to ever have this; I have 2 beautiful kids, an incredible husband, a wonderful home, a great extended family, great friends, a college degree, a successful business ... an overall happy life with no history of depression or anxiety. And yet, PPD hit me hard and it turned my world upside-down.
To be honest, I didn't know right away what I was going through - I just knew something wasn't right. Because it took awhile to learn I was experiencing Late-Onset Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, I'll walk you through my experience, step by step.
It felt like this hit me "out of the blue," but looking back - kind of like pressure building in a volcano - I can see various elements adding up, as well as some early signs that I ignored.
- I stopped responding to texts from friends and family; I just wrote it off as I was busy or I had "mom brain" and got distracted before I could write them back, but really, I was unintentionally secluding myself. Something that is easy to do as a military spouse living in a different state from family and dear friends.
- I wasn't sleeping well. Like, at all. This is mostly thanks to my youngest, who at the peak of all of this, was waking up 6-7 times a night ... which meant I was up 6-7 times a night. Additionally, I would stay up after everyone went to sleep to watch a show, read, or goof around on my phone just to have some quiet "me time." But, I really needed that precious sleep.
- Obviously, I had gone back to work. Launching Homefront Heroes was a dream; even though it was a positive and exciting time, it still created some stress (positive stress is still stress) and was a big overall change after being a full-time stay at home parent for the last year.
- I had the opportunity to share Homefront Heroes and my vision with a big company. Although I am grateful for that opportunity, it really launched my anxiety. I was anxious all day, everyday, wondering if that would be the day I would get a special call or email. Every time my phone rang, I would get butterflies and my heart would race in the anticipation, wondering if this was THE call I was waiting for. At the time, I thought it was just "butterflies" and excitement, but it was most certainly anxiety.
I've learned that all of the above (poor sleep, going back to work, stress, anxiety, etc) can all be triggers for PPD, and lucky me: I had them all. And then it got bad - my volcano erupted. In the peak of not sleeping, one night I had my first ever hallucination, followed a week later by a very a bad dream involving my family. Initially I didn't think much of these new events, but I'm a dweller and an overthinker ... I dwelled on these for days and my takeaway was: I was scared and I needed to protect my family - even though I wasn't sure what from.
At this point, I had:
- Waves of being really hot
- Tired. Incredibly tired.
- Anxious all day
- Constant worry about something happening to my family
- Certain thoughts were on constant replay in my mind and I couldn't control them
- I didn't want to touch or hold my boys because I was terrified of the unknown. I was scared and didn't know what was going on.
I didn't know what was wrong with me, but I knew that all of the negative thoughts and feelings I was having were not right, so I tried to make an appointment with my doctor - but they couldn't get me in for nearly 2 months. TWO MONTHS. I knew I needed to talk to someone sooner than that, so I made an appointment to see a counselor. Instead of getting answers, clarity, or some peace of mind, I left feeling more defeated than ever after meeting with her. Her diagnosis was I was either sleep deprived (an obvious) or at the start of a very scary disorder that I don't even want to name. I had a complete meltdown that night; I was so frustrated, confused, mad, terrified, etc. Her words had me questioning myself even more than before; she single handedly made a bad situation exponentially worse.
Now, in addition to all of the above symptoms, I was also:
- My stomach started to hurt every time I tried to eat (I had rapid weight loss)
- Nauseous most of the day
I didn't want to give up on seeking help. Knowing the first counselor wasn't a good fit for me, I decided to try another. The next counselor said I was tired and I had anxiety. While her diagnosis seemed to cover the obvious, it didn't explain all of my symptoms, which left me still confused and scared.
While all of the above was happening, I confided in a few friends and family members - several of whom questioned if it could be Postpartum Depression, and I would instantly said no. I was naive. I didn't know the signs of PPD or anxiety, or even realize that there was such a thing as late-onset PPD. Sure, I had heard of PPD, but I thought that was something that only happened immediately after a baby was born, and as for symptoms: I just thought depression meant sad ... and I had a whole lot more going on than just being sad.
What changed? One day I was driving to Target with my boys when I hit the peak of my PPD: I had an awful thought go through my mind and it shook me to my core. I called my best friend and before I could tell her what happened, she questioned the PPD again and shared a thought her sister-in-law had before being diagnosed with PPD ... it was the exact same thought I had just had. So, when I got off of the phone, I looked up PPD and, for the first time in weeks, I had a huge sense of relief. Everything I was reading was exactly what I had been experiencing!
By this point, I was a little over a year out from having my youngest baby, so I definitely fell in the late-onset category (it's a 12-18 month window, depending on the source). Again, I thought depression just meant someone was sad, and I also didn't realize some of the things I had been experiencing were 'symptoms,' or at all related. I checked multiple, credible sites to make sure the list of PPD symptoms were consistent. And I had most of them.
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble eating
- Loss of interest
- Withdrawal from friends & family
- Thoughts of hurting baby/kids
- Racing thoughts & trouble controlling thoughts
- Constant worry
- Feeling like something bad is going to happen
- Hot flashes
- Trouble focusing
- No sex drive
- Feeling isolated
- Sometimes emotionless
- Feeling like I'm going crazy
- The only thing on some of the lists that I couldn't check off was excessive crying. I would cry uncontrollably when I would talk about what was going on, or think about my kiddos - but other times I felt like I needed to cry, and couldn't.
Again, after reading about PPD I felt relieved to finally have a (presumed) explanation for what I had been going through. With my newfound knowledge and suspected PPD, I called my doctor back and was able to get in right away. She confirmed I had late-onset PPD and anxiety, and prescribed me Zoloft. Now, with my new diagnosis and medication, I'd like to say it was all hunky-dory right away, but unfortunately that wasn't the case....
It took awhile to get the full benefits of the medication. I had debilitating headaches for weeks, but the headaches were hands-down better than what I was going through before the medication, so I dealt with them. During the first month or so I still had an occasional bad day, felt overwhelmed, was worried with the unknowns, etc. I was certain I would never feel like myself again, or that I would bounce back and be the best version of me for my kiddos. But now, after being on Zoloft for several months, I can say it is a miracle pill for me. I've heard it can take some people several tries to find the right medication, but I'm so happy it worked for me, headaches aside.
Jumping back to a few days after I met with my doctor and got the PPD and anxiety diagnosis: I saw the second counselor again; I was excited to update her on my diagnosis and medication, and talk about coping methods and advice for moving forward. Instead, she said she didn't agree with my diagnosis, and I spent most of my session reviewing my symptoms, re-living and re-explaining everything I'd gone through, and essentially justifying my doctor's diagnosis. Her reasoning: because out of that long list of potential signs and symptoms of PPD, I didn't have uncontrollable crying. She even accused me of just wanting an answer and said "sometimes we read things and make up symptoms to get a diagnosis." I, maybe not so graciously, reminded her that one can't make up symptoms one had before reading about PPD; most of the things on the list were things we'd talked about - others I had been experiencing without realizing they were a symptom/sign of PPD. I left that appointment feeling incredibly defeated, knocked down, and confused.
My story continues to go downhill a little bit thanks single-handedly to that counselor; I'm not going to elaborate since (I hope) it was an abnormality to the system.
But, this is me now. I had a picture-perfect life - never a hint of anxiety or depression, and my world was completely turned upside down by late-onset PPD and anxiety. I'm still on the path to healing. And still accepting and processing everything I've gone. I wouldn't wish this experience on anyone. Ever. It's terrifying, maddening, confusing, frustrating, and embarrassing. I have felt so much guilt for putting my family through this. But I know it was out of my control, and that there is a light at the end of this tunnel. It feels amazing to feel like me again!
In addition to my medication, I found comfort and healing in a few ways: I listened to meditation and affirmation recordings. I found it helpful to talk to people close to me; I had a small group of people who checked-in on me daily … I felt so much better when I was able to talk to someone for a few minutes vs. keeping it all bottled up inside. I took a break from all social media accounts (personal and business). I stopped watching the news and all other negative shows & movies. I’m not big into journaling, but I found it helpful to write stuff down.
A few things I’ve learned in recent months:
- Ask for help. As a typical active duty military family, we don't live near any of our family, so I've gotten accustomed to handling everything on my own; I'm not one who easily or often asks for help, but I realized I needed help and support in this situation.
- PPD and Anxiety do not discriminate – it can affect almost anyone. I had no history of depression or anxiety, no PPD with my first pregnancy, no real family history of depression, and yet, I got it with this baby.
- Don’t judge others – obviously this is a good rule in general, but particularly on something you’re not educated on. I never considered myself to be a judge-y person, but I also never fully understood mental illness. I have a whole new level of respect for those who deal with mental illness.
- Stand up for yourself. If a counselor/doctor isn't listening to you and your symptoms, go to someone else - don't give up on seeking help.
- Be careful looking for information online (although, that's obviously how you found this post :)). When I was looking for info and personal experiences to not feel alone, some pretty dark articles popped up - those are not something someone in a delicate state should be seeing, so just be careful.
- It’s easy to feel punished or ashamed for seeking professional help, but you are worth it – seek professional help. I hate that it took me long to be able to see my doctor or get a proper diagnosis. And no one should feel punished for asking for help - which is something I also dealt with in the "downhill" part of my story I didn't elaborate on. If you are put in a situation that makes you feel punished for seeking help, I am sorry.
- I was not alone. This is a club no one wants to be a part of, but YOU ARE NOT ALONE. PPD and anxiety are so common - it's just not talked about like it should be.
- Love yourself and give yourself grace while you heal.
I'm now approximately 4.5 months out from the peak of my PPD and Anxiety. I was a little apprehensive to share my story and dive back into this dark season, but I'm so happy with how far I've come. I know I am so fortunate I got the help I did (even though it was delayed and I had to see a couple bad counselors) and that we had family fly up to help support us. I did not act on any of my scary thoughts – my kiddos are fine and completely unaware of what I was dealing with (my oldest just knew we had family here to help because mommy wasn’t feeling good) - but the thoughts alone were torture. I would not wish this on anyone, but now having gone through this struggle, I hope I can help just one fellow mama not feel alone. At times, I felt like I would never feel like myself again, but day by day, I'm gladly proven wrong. Keep going, mama.
I don't want to quote statistics, but a lot of people go through Postpartum Depression. If you may be experiencing this, please reach out for help - don't try to face this on your own. It's a dark season, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You are not alone. If nothing else, know I am here cheering you on.
If you want to look up information about Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, please go to legitimate sites. A few I found helpful:
National Institute of Mental Health, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/postpartum-depression-facts/index.shtml
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Postpartum-Depression?IsMobileSet=false
The picture for this blog is not my picture; it is borrowed from Kveller, "This is how I overcame Postpartum Depression" by C.F. Selsky, https://www.kveller.com/this-is-how-i-overcame-postpartum-depression/