[Editor’s Note: Today we present a really important guest post from Kristina Dulaney. It’s important not just because it talks about postpartum psychosis, one of the postpartum mood and anxiety disorders with the most stigma, but because she shares what she remembers of her stay on the psychiatric unit. Kristina’s story may feel triggering for some, so please read from a safe place. -Jenna]
My Experience with Postpartum Psychosis
It was Friday of Memorial Day weekend and I was to spend the weekend with my two children, parents, and sister at the beach without my husband because he had to work. Divinely, I was glued to my chair on the front porch of our town home. Oddly, I had all sorts of thoughts racing through my head that kept me from getting behind the wheel and driving myself and my kids to the beach. My husband didn’t understand, and I don’t think I quite did either.
While sitting on the porch, I made a phone call to my best friend. I recall that I made sense when I spoke with her, but since my thoughts and ideas were grandiose in nature, it concerned her. Then I called my boss and apparently quit my job; I do not have much recollection of that conversation. My husband told me later that I sat down and quoted scripture that he didn’t think I had ever memorized.
He stepped outside for a moment. In that moment, I thought Jesus was returning. I grabbed our kids and begged, “Please save us, our family, and our friends!” I kept repeating those words over and over. Suddenly my husband came back inside and found me looking pale and weak, holding our children. I passed out.
He appropriately called 911. Medical personnel responded quickly. As I became conscious, my nursing knowledge jumped in, I promptly and inappropriately told them to pump on my chest and intubate me. I thought I was on the verge of death. Here I was mentally sick. My husband was very frightened and didn’t know what was wrong with me.
They took me to the ER where I stayed for two nights. Then I was transferred to the psychiatric unit. How does a 30 year old mom of two with no previous history of mental illness get admitted to the psych ward? This is where my memory fails me, but the diagnosis: Postpartum Psychosis.
My Psychiatric Unit Stay
On the psychiatric unit, I had a sitter with me 24/7 to be sure I didn’t harm myself or anyone else. I stayed on the unit for nearly two weeks—two weeks without my babies, two weeks I did not get exercise or go outside. I ate in my room with the sitter not far from me as well as took a shower with the sitter right outside my door.
There are some things I remember but other memories my family told me. My sister informed me at one moment I thought I was Tina Turner, and at another time I thought I was pregnant with Baby Jesus. I do recall thinking I was on the set of Grey’s Anatomy with Bradley Cooper and Mandisa.
It shouldn’t have been a bad place then, right? Oh so wrong; it was a very, very scary place! My anxiety and paranoia were both at an all-time high during my hospitalization. I blamed my husband and family for things that were definitely not true. Believe me, when I am well—and my brain isn’t playing tricks on me—I trust my husband 100% without a doubt or question.
I remember drawing family trees over and over. I thought the hospital was hell and my ultimate goal was to get out of there.
My memory began to return within the last couple of days while in the psychiatric unit. Many people ask me if a switch just turned on one day. The answer is NO; my memory just got better every day. Especially when I was at home, I think it was my safe place and I had a sense of normalcy, or a new normal. I really just think my brain didn’t want to remember the awful thoughts I had while I was in the hospital.
While in the hospital, I was treated with antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, and an occasional injection when my mood and paranoia levels began to increase. I do recall trying to escape and being held down by the staff and probably given an injection to calm me down. Again, I just wanted out of there, it was hell on Earth to me.
To this day, I can hardly wrap my brain around how my mind played such dirty tricks on me. But, postpartum psychosis is no joke.
After spending nearly two weeks in the hospital, I was discharged home. For two whole weeks I didn’t see my babies (5½ month old and 2½ year old). I was so excited to get home and see them! But, my journey with postpartum psychosis was far from over, folks.
When I returned home, things weren’t back to “normal.” I couldn’t be with my children alone. I couldn’t be by myself. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t return to work. Talk about restrictions! I couldn’t be with my own children by myself? No. Doctor’s orders!
I really didn’t fully understand the reasoning behind all of the restrictions. I didn’t even realize I had just been in the hospital for two weeks; I literally didn’t remember. So much of my brain just wasn’t working right and my thought processes were misconstrued. And, from not being able to go outside during my hospitalization and exercise, I was very weak.
I knew I had to trust my family and friends, but there was so much I just didn’t understand. I really didn’t understand what was happening and why. I felt like I was being tortured in every possible way and ultimately being kept from my children and away from society. I was still paranoid and felt like people were following me and my family. There was even a day I thought I couldn’t take it anymore and even tried to jump out of my husband’s truck. But, the good news is I got through that day and I’m here to FINISH this story!
As part of my rehabilitation, I attended an intensive outpatient program for a couple weeks, which involved three hours of group therapy daily. Want to know what that was like? Since I was still out of touch with reality, it was like being in group therapy with my entire family! Each person in the room reminded me of someone, either a friend or family member, and that is who I thought it was. I did not like it.
After graduating from the intensive outpatient program, I was then referred to a psychologist and a psychiatrist. I continue to see both doctors to this day. Regular appointments with my psychiatrist assisted to keep my medications managed. At one point my husband thought I was back tracking and it was suggested that he literally hand my medications to me and watch me swallow them. Here I am, a nurse, fully capable of managing medications but my husband stood over me twice a day making sure I swallow my medications! I felt like a child. But eventually, I was able to take my medications without my husband standing over me.
Gradually, restrictions were lifted. First, I was able to drive but not with the kids in the car. That felt so good just to be able to get out by myself without a babysitter! I probably just went to Target and got a Chai tea Latte at Starbucks. Talk about freedom!
Eventually I was able to take care of my two children as well as drive with them in the car. My psychiatrist was impressed with how quickly I recovered and took back my mothering responsibilities. But at the same time, I was pretty anxious and scared.
Since my psychosis episode, my anxieties had increased and having both girls by myself; it was quite a job for one person! I applaud stay at home moms; it’s a full time job in itself! My children went to daycare three days a week and stayed with me two days a week once all restrictions were lifted, which was gradual. I continued (and still do) have anxieties when I keep both of my children by myself. There was even a weekend I had to call on my parents when my husband had to work because I just couldn’t do it by myself—and that’s okay to do. Moms, it’s okay to ask for help because we can’t do it all by ourselves, we can only do so much!
How I Got Through
Many of you are probably wondering how I got through such an experience. My faith is very important to me as well as my family, and I had a lot of people praying for all of us. I’m so thankful for each and every prayer as it was definitely heard. God’s grace covered my family and has and continues to carry me through this journey. The support of my family and friends truly helped me through each and everyday, especially my husband, and especially those days that I felt like I couldn’t make it through.
My physicians, medication,s and psychotherapy continue to aid in my recovery. My recovery is still going very well and I’m doing as well as to be expected. One day my psychiatrist told me it was like I was a soldier who had just returned home from battle, so yes I consider myself a fighter and a warrior over postpartum psychosis. I am a survivor.
You Are Not Alone
I consider myself extremely blessed as I never had ill thoughts towards my children during this whole episode. I have a new found God-given passion to tell my story with other women in hopes to shed light on Perinatal Mood Disorders such as Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum OCD, and Postpartum Psychosis. My mission is to let women everywhere know that they are not alone.
For too long I went around thinking others would think I would be a less together mom if I was on meds, but that’s not true. My husband and I on numerous occasions discussed that I may need to talk about getting on an antidepressant with my physician, but I failed to do so. I’m not exactly sure why, but I just felt like I could fight through it myself. Looking back, if it would have prevented my psychotic episode, I definitely would have asked! Now I’m on meds, and I’ll tell the whole world! It’s for my mental health and well-being!
Postpartum Depression is diagnosed in 1 in 7 women. Postpartum Psychosis is seen in 1 in 1000, so it is more rare than PPD. In fact, my doctor said he hadn’t seen it in over six years! I am now a Warrior Mom Ambassador with Postpartum Progress. Please also visit my Facebook page called Into the light: Thriving after Postpartum Psychosis, PPD/PPA. I also am willing to share my story in person to appropriate group settings if contacted.
If you suspect that you or someone you love has postpartum psychosis, you/she should be accompanied at all times until a professional diagnosis is received and you/she are under the 24/7 care of a healthcare provider.