Long time no post. I’ve been a little busy being a mom-of-two for the last eight-and-a-half months, but I’ve had a lot going on. Are my three readers wondering where I am? Probably not. But here I am anyway with a message on ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ day for a second year in a row.
In the fall of 2017, I had a moment where I realized I don’t want to live like this anymore. And “like this” I mean with crippling postpartum anxiety.
That little f*cker came back with a vengeance.
I developed PPA about three months into being a second-time mom; once the adrenaline of the newborn phase wore off and exhaustion set in. Truthfully, it was no surprise to me considering I felt anxiety during my pregnancy — combined with the fact that I previously had a sudden and confusing bought with anxiety a year after having my first son. But this time it was more intense.
I would put on my happy face and be “on” as a mom all day but then collapse the moment I was alone. I would replay each day worrying about every little thing. The intrusive thoughts would paralyze me. Often I felt too depleted to even talk by the end of the day, including texting my friends back. (If you have a friend who is distant and “different” after having a baby, this could be why.) I would wake up in the night with my heart pounding and my mind racing. It was all-consuming to the point where I couldn’t catch my breath at times. It was dark and isolating.
I had been watching out for the signs for months because I knew I was at risk. While I did recognize instantly when PPA set in this time, I didn’t have the energy to do anything about it. I wanted to find a solution but I felt too overwhelmed taking care of my kids to actually take the steps. How could I find the time to work on myself when I rarely actually have a second to myself? I can’t even drop a number 2 without an audience. I just wanted to get the baby on a sleep schedule thinking I would be okay after that.
But I knew deep down that I couldn’t go on like this.
To give you an example of where my mind would go… One night I put my infant son in the carrier and gently bounced the little screamer to sleep while I was silent crying, as you do when you’re desperate around 11:45pm. I then started to panic as soon as he fell asleep, “What if I bounced him too fast? OMG, what if he has brain damage? Of course he doesn’t. BUT WHAT IF HE DOES?” I took him out of the carrier and woke him up to make sure he was okay. And duh, he was totally fine — albeit rightfully pissed that I woke him up. Cool, let’s start over.
I knew I was being irrational and that he wasn’t accidentally hurt, but my brain couldn’t drop it and I was literally shaking with fear. That was a low-point, although things like that were happening often. It didn’t make sense when I said it out loud but it was real inside my head. It would crush me and I’d fixate on it for days. That night I said, “Enough. Something needs to change.”
It was in that moment I found the strength to take action. I’m a stay-at-home mom-of-two pure little souls who need me and I couldn’t fuck around. I have a toddler and a baby to parent (a lot of days on my own) so I knew I needed to take care of me in order to be better for them as well. Let’s figure this shit out and start enjoying life again, please.
Once I decided I couldn’t live this way anymore, I opened up to my husband, my best friend, and my mom — and apparently I was hiding it well. They were all heartbroken to have not known. Best actress alert! (What should I wear to the Oscars?) They all supported me and wanted to help me so badly, which I was very grateful for, but I knew I could only help myself. However, just knowing they were there for me without passing judgment meant everything.
So at my son’s 4-month check-up, I asked my wonderful doctor if we could talk about me for a minute too. She said ‘of course’ because she has a simple trick called compassionate bedside manner. (Hint hint, other doctors.)
I admitted my mental health was suffering, which was hard to say out loud but only for a second. I told her about my anxiety, and she nodded with familiarity as I relayed my experiences to her. Even ‘the nod’ just meant so much, to know I wasn’t alone because she sees this all the time. I then took a standard assessment to determine the severity and it turns out I have moderate-bordering-on-severe postpartum anxiety, which I wasn’t the least bit shocked to hear. In fact, I was relieved to have a diagnosis, but most of all to hear her say:
“Sometimes the wires get crossed after you have a baby. It’s common and it is not your fault.”
We know our insides don’t always go back to ‘normal’ after it’s been all stretched out and made room for a baby. Did you know that can also include your mind, friend? (We can talk about our pelvic floors another day.)
The next day, I went on a low-dose medication for the first time, and to say it was life-changing is an understatement. I am a happier, more patient, and loving person because of it, with more energy; even on nights where I need to get up three/four times (not as frequently lately, thank goodness.) I don’t feel like a zombie either, which is a side effect I was concerned could happen.
I just feel like myself again, instead of feeling like I was constantly fighting myself.
It did take several weeks for the meds to reach its full effect though, and I want to add that it didn’t diminish my anxiety completely. But the important thing is that it’s manageable and not overtaking my life anymore. For now, I’m content and the plan is to reassess around my son’s first birthday.
My takeaway with this experience the second (and scarier) time around is: if something doesn’t feel right in your heart, listen to yourself. You know you best. I understand medicine isn’t for everyone, but it’s working for me. Find what will work for you. I know it’s difficult to muster the motivation at times or it seems impossible, but I hope you know you are worthy of feeling joy.
Lots of love.
xo – Bri
P.S. for more, follow @Bri_Cook on Twitter and read my #BellLetsTalk tweets today.
[photo credit: my 3-year-old son. Skillz, right??]