“This is it,” I thought, “I’m finally going crazy.”
I know the word crazy has a terrible connotation and can be quite disrespectful for those in the midst of a mental health struggle, but those are the honest words I said to myself, folding my laundry, in the quiet of my home, on a very normal Tuesday.
I had a gorgeous seven month old, a pretty decent routine. I felt like I was conquering momhood, finally sleeping, and able to give my husband some attention. I had friends, good friends, I could call for anything. We had recently moved, were both really still students, so impoverished, but happy.
So why, oh why, did I feel so overwhelmed by the simple task of folding a washcloth?
I had a problem and I knew it. I felt fine three-quarters of the time and then the rush of panic would come on, intense, out of nowhere. It never had anything to do with my beautiful baby, my marriage, or anything meaningful. It just was.
The anxiety and panic had its own realm, its own hold on my soul, and I felt like I would never escape it…it felt like an eternal vacuum, but in reality was really about two minutes, and then it would pass.
Every woman’s experience with postpartum anxiety is different, just like every person’s experience with any health issue is different. Just like diabetes and strokes have various symptoms and manifestations in our bodies, so it is with mental health. There is a list of symptoms – someone may experience three of them, or eight of them; they may be intense, or pretty vague; they may be there all the time, every day, or they may be more transient, and come and go.
Being a person interested in health and mental health, I read lots of articles and google searched everything I could, but I couldn’t find anything to match up with what I was experiencing. I found lots of questionnaires asking me if I was feeling blue or having trouble with motivation, but nothing that used words like
However, on that day, folding laundry, I knew I needed help. I asked our family doctor at my baby’s next well visit…
“So is it normal to feel super anxious after having a baby?”
She looked up from checking my baby, and gently laughed, “Well, I think just about anything is ‘normal’ after having a baby! But let’s talk about what you’re experiencing.”
She sat down and asked me lots of questions, she shared a little of her own experiences with postpartum ups and downs, she told me about postpartum blues, postpartum depression, and a gamut of postpartum fireworks, from hormones, to body changes, to life transitions.
For the next half hour she sat with me and figured out some ways to try and relieve my symptoms and put our ideas in order of try now, try if it doesn’t work, and what to do in an emergency. We made a followup appointment for two weeks.
In that office, in a tiny town in Nebraska, my doctor gave me a gift:
I felt hopeful.
14 years later, we know a whole lot more about postpartum anxiety than we did then. It’s a thing. It has a name, and there are people working to have it recognized. When we shine light on a hard topic and give it a name and a realness, we help someone else to walk out of darkness, to feel less alone. We end misconceptions like “crazy,” so people can find truth and solutions instead.
My postpartum anxiety subsided slowly, with the help of three things:
I made a pact with my Dr. that I would do nothing or read a book for pleasure for one hour an afternoon, every afternoon. Sometimes I read a novel, sometimes I read the Bible. This was the first time in my life I ever sat down and read the Bible for reading sake, enjoying the words and soaking in the peace of it. It was a learned skill, cultivating rest, and I’m not sure I would have ever learned it without my doctor’s encouragement and help.
She encouraged me to be more open about my struggle. She asked me to pick three people I could talk to about it that week, and who I could call on at any time if I needed help. As a new wife and mom, I was so afraid that I wasn’t doing life “right” that I was a closed book. I had no idea people were so important in this mom gig. Because of this struggle, and this wisdom, I have since learned that without people, everything is infinitely harder, less enjoyable, and life is laden with guilt and shame. People matter more than most anything – for my own good, as well as theirs.
Doctors and other professionals are absolutely the best people to explain this. Let my encouragement be this: there is a time and a place for medications. There is no shame in utilizing medication as a part of treatment for any physical or mental health issue. It may take time and energy to find the right one, the right dose, and the right timing. My doctor prescribed me an as-needed medication and those as-needed moments came. I was grateful she had foresight to see past my flippant “I’ll be fine” to push a little harder, explaining and reassuring me with kindness and grace.
There is no crazy.
Life is hard.
Life is good.
Christ gives us the gift of one another, the wisdom of people He places in our lives, just for this purpose – to share His Hope in the struggle and His joy in the victory.
For more information on postpartum anxiety diagnosis and treatment, please see the following links, or ask your doctor or local mental health provider. I’d love to hear your story. Feel free to message me from the “About Me” page of this blog or share in the comments below:
lots of resources for individuals and professionals also, symptoms, online support, and more
a really helpful, normalizing article from parents.com
advocacy, awareness, and resources for maternal mental health