Post-Partum Anxiety and Depression: The View from Down Here

There’s a darkness within us all– that’s a lesson I didn’t really want to learn. A darkness so deep and sticky that it has the ability to just coat everything in this indescribable heaviness. It crept up on me like a cloud, slowly blurring the lines between the rational and irrational. 

It took me months to find out I was in the midst of the worst depression and anxiety attack that I had ever been in; it took me weeks to reach out for help; and then it took me months to thankfully climb back out. 

Now I have always had an issue with anxiety, stemming from early childhood, which, despite some very low points, I’ve managed to cope very well with. Mental illness in this respect has never been foreign for me. Although when I was much younger I had associated it with shame, as I’ve grown older, my acceptance of it as a part of my identity has led to a source of inner strength.

Nonetheless after my first daughter, it got a little worse. Looking back, I’m fairly certain I had a problem then. That first year was spent hyper-focused on cleanliness and afraid my ex-boyfriend would come back to stalk me. It seems ridiculous now but it was very real to me at the time. 

It was after my second daughter two years later that it became very apparent that something was very wrong. She was 6 months old and I just… stopped… being able to cope. It was a slow yet accelerating slope that I was on until one day, I couldn’t wake up in the morning without having a surge of adrenaline and a rush of panic before I even opened my eyes. Having never dealt with depression before, I felt this nothingness invade my life. Taking my girls outside for walks just meant me having to try a little harder to hide my tears from the public. 

I started to become hyper vigilant with my health. I was convinced that atleast one of my moles on my body was cancerous – although I wasn’t sure which one but I would body scan for hours. Google was that friend to me that just encourages your bad decisions – we’ve all had one – the one girl who supports your decision to drunk call your boss and tell them what you really think. Or the one that tells you that getting that tribal tattoo was timeless (I’m talking to you, Janice). That was Google – and I was obsessed with Googling. 

Everywhere I turned Cancer and illness invaded my psyche and I was convinced I was dying. Life just stopped working. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I would go into the walk-in clinics to panic about something because I was so unhinged that I couldn’t wait for a scheduled appointment. Let me tell you- walk-in clinic doctors are not the most understanding of their profession. I had various random blood panels taken as a way to shoo me away- and each time they came back perfect, I had the rush of relief weighed down by the shroud of shame for being “crazy”.

At my lowest point, I had convinced myself that I had Leukemia without a doubt. My thoughts were uncontrollable. I thought about death and sickness A LOT; I had vivid thoughts on the moments that I would be diagnosed with something (of course, always terminal). I cried about leaving my kids and having everyone move on without me. It all felt so real and like it was actually happening to me – but it wasn’t. Once again, I understand how ridiculous that this may sound but it was a dark reality for me.

And this wasn’t just a me problem – perinatal mood disorders are a family problem. It impacted everyone around me. My husband dropped everything to try to help, jeporadizing his work and his own sanity. He watched me spiral out of control, desparately trying but unable to grasp my hand as I fell deeper.

At around 8 months post partum, I finally had the conversation with my family doctor. I was so scared and embarassed and pessimistic that nothing could help and that he would judge me. Admitting the truth of your rock bottom, especially when it comes to mental health, is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

Gentle and caring, my doctor was so well equipped to handle my concerns. He talked to me like I wasn’t crazy and gave me some options on how I could take the first step towards recovery. He reassured me that I wasn’t alone and it was more common than most people thought. He told me I was brave and strong and that together, we were going to make things grow brighter again. He also ordered a full and extensive blood test to rule out any other causes. And thankfully he did because it turns out that the pregnancy had totally wiped out my thyroid function. So coupled with hypothyroidism and confirmed post partum issues, I finally began not blaming myself. 

That was a year ago and although it seems like a lifetime ago and a different person, the memories of the helplessness are still very vivid in my core. The uncomfortableness in my own skin still lingers but I’m learning how to be kind to myself.

My path involved antidepressants, counselling, thyroid medication, and most importantly time- but it all just started with a hand out for help, a decision to not suffer anymore. I was lucky to have a strong support system with my husband, family, inlaws and friends and of course, my doctor and for that I will always be grateful. 

If you or a loved one is suffering from a perinatal mood disorder, reach out. No woman is immune and it’s different for everyone. You do not have to suffer alone and there is a way out of the darkness as hopeless as it seems. I am living proof that you can travel to the depths of a personal hell and still  find your way back home. And now life is better than it ever was before.

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