I thought long and hard if I should write this post as I have never opened up about my struggles with PPD and anxiety other than my closest family and a handful of friends that had dealt with the same or similar struggles. But May is mental health awareness month, so here I am, telling you a little bit about myself.
Before I get into PPD, let me backtrack a little to how it all started. My first struggles with anxiety and depression began in my late teens and lasted throughout my early twenties. I am still not exactly sure what triggered them other than being in an unhealthy relationship. But over the first year of my depression it had gotten so bad that I started to lose weight, A LOT of weight. I had never had that “perfect weight” to that point and, especially being a teenage girl, it can be hard. You’re mad fun of, you’re trying to fit in and find yourself. When I started to lose weight I suddenly got compliments on my figure, I started to fit into those skinny jeans I always wanted to wear. At first, it felt good. But the weight loss didn’t stop. Because I didn’t eat. Now, I would “eat” in front of others but your body can’t store what it needs on half a sandwich, an apple and some chocolate every day. I kept telling myself and others that I don’t have a problem, that I AM EATING THEREFOR I AM FINE! But I wasn’t. My depression got worse and so did my weight loss. I got myself to the point where I was completely miserable and my parents were sick with worry. One day I finally agreed to go to therapy sessions. And even then I told myself that I am only going to make everyone else happy. Well, everyone besides my controlling boyfriend of that time. And after the second session I suddenly realized what I had been doing to myself and those close to me. It was a lightbulb moment! I finally started to pull myself out of the black hole that had started to suck me in all these months ago. And, for the first time in almost two years, I suddenly felt hungry again. Fast forward to 4 sessions later, I had recognized that part of my problem was the relationship I was in and I found the strength to get out of it. I started to talk to my parents again like I used to. I went out with my friends again. And I was myself again.
Now, when I became pregnant with our daughter my OB had asked me if I had ever experienced anxiety and depression before. I told her about my previous struggles and she told me that, although the situation is not at all related, I should prepare myself for PPD and anxiety. And I am so very thankful she brought it up. Even though it made me a little nervous to think about having to fight mental illness again I was not going to be taken by surprise.
Yet, when it did hit me, I was not prepared for the intensity. It came over me like a giant crashing wave. At first everyone tells you about the baby blues but after a few months of it gradually getting worse I knew this was what I had dreaded since the chat with my doctor. Yet, it took me a while longer until I was able to open up about it to my husband. I struggled with it in silence and made myself miserable because I didn’t want anyone else to worry about me, especially not my husband who was gone on a deployment and, in my opinion, had bigger things to worry about. So, I kept on with my daily life as a stay-at-home mom and I pushed it all down. I didn’t allow myself to deal with it until Jennie was about 9 months old. That’s when I broke down and finally spoke to my husband about it for the first time. In the truck. On our way to a camping vacation. I was exhausted and drained, physically, mentally and emotionally. He could tell but I wouldn’t let him help me up until that day because I thought I could do it myself. We talked about it and he listened. I am so grateful that he tried to understand what was going on inside of me because he is not at all a person that would ever get depressed.
After our vacation I started to look into counseling, mostly because he urged me to try it. I wasn’t so sure if it would help or not. But I went ahead and made an appointment. I had five or six sessions and although the counselor listened to me and let me cry it out, I didn’t take much away from it other than “work sheets” that told me how to be more self aware and exercises to calm yourself down with. I felt like it was a waste of time and money, so I stopped going. I figured I could do it myself.
We spent more time camping and traveling and I was hoping that all the distractions would help me get over my depression and anxiety. Our big 2017 trip across the Midwest was amazing but I can’t even tell you how many experiences I missed out on because I was too tired to go outside and do stuff. I was overwhelmed yet again by my always racing mind and I needed to drag myself out of bed in the mornings and mentally yell at myself to get it together. It was then that I realized that, if I don’t get this under control, I would miss out on the most amazing time of our daughter’s life and I would get myself seriously ill again, let alone strain the relationship with my wonderful husband who couldn’t help me because I wouldn’t let him.
There aren’t many photos of me from that big trip because I was either snapping the photos myself and felt I looked too exhausted for photos of me or I wasn’t there when the photos were taken. Looking back I wish I could tell myself that it would get better and that I should just go outside and take it all in. But it wasn’t that easy.
Upon our return home I finally made a few phone calls and found a counselor very close to our house and I immediately clicked with her. After a few sessions we discussed medication and I am happy I made that choice. Because it made a huge difference for me. I didn’t realize how bad it was until the medication began to work in my body. It was like night and day. I could finally think clearer again, I slept, I wasn’t on edge anymore. I could enjoy everyday things again and didn’t have a near anxiety attack when I knew I had to go out in public with Jennie. Because I always had at least 10 worst case scenarios on my mind before when I took her out and about. There is nothing worse than driving down the road with your baby/toddler in the vehicle and suddenly having a thought pop into your mind that the car that’s headed towards you is going to somehow veer out of their lane and hit you, injuring your precious little one. Or startling awake several times at night and frantically checking the baby monitor because you thought you heard a noise in her room and now you’re worried something terrible happened to her. That kind of fear can be maddening.
After about two months on medication it all changed and I began to calm down and enjoy things again. Like I said at the beginning, I didn’t tell just anyone about my struggles, because I was afraid of what others might think. But now I think about all the other women out there that may have the same struggles, feeling alone and maybe think they’re going crazy because no one warned them about PPD, PPA and how they could show up/manifest even months after giving birth still.
If you are reading this and feel like this is something you or someone you know are dealing with as well, please reach out to someone. Your partner, your friend, heck even me. Speak to your doctor, don’t suffer in silence. This is treatable and it WILL get better! I know there are many levels on this illness but a doctor and/or counselor can help you. You owe it to your little one/s, your partner and, most importantly, yourself. There are over 3 million reported cases of PPD/PPA a year in the US. You are not alone!
PS: If this post is a little bit all over the place, I apologize. I am writing this at 4:30 am as I am apparently a terrible sleeper these days 🙂