[Editor’s Note: Today’s Guest Post comes from Julia Karas Parker. She wanted to share her story because sometimes she felt discouraged that it took her “so long” to get better. We share her story so other moms who are struggling for what seems like “too long” might feel less alone. But remember: No two moms have the same recovery from postpartum depression timeline nor will they look alike. -Jenna]
The three weeks following my son’s birth, I secretly wondered if I was manic. Never a morning person, I found myself rising to get my step kids ready while I would prepare elaborate breakfasts for my husband. My home was so clean, and I was already only ten pounds from my prebaby weight! I was convinced I was ready to have another baby as soon as medically permitted. I had really found my niche!
Then that Percocet from the c-section wore off. Then I started sleeping a lot. Then I started eating less. Then I started having intrusive thoughts. Then I started to have anxiety about everything. Then I stopped remembering a lot of things. I can only assume that’s because the pain is too much to remember.
I stared blankly at my psychiatrist when she handed me the flyer for a Postpartum Mood Disorder seminar. She’d been treating me for two years for OCD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Why was she talking about anything other than what we’d always talked about? I gave her a weak smile, left, and promptly threw the paper in the trash before I even walked through my front door. [Read also: Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression & Anxiety.]
I wish I had been listening.
The months thereafter are a blur, mostly black spaces of time. I remember my sweet baby boy curled up next to me, sleeping for hours and hours. I joined him in his sleep, until noon, when my husband came home for lunch. Then we moved to the couch for an hour before returning to our slumber for a few hours. Most nights I was in bed by seven o’clock.
When I returned to work, it became impossible to avoid the reality: I was not okay and I was not myself. I drove my commute gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles, certain that I was seconds away from sliding into a ditch. Some days, though, it was more of a fantasy. Throughout the day, I’d close my office door to make desperate calls to my psychiatrist, begging her to give me whatever pill I needed to be myself again.
By the time May rolled around, I was taking a dose of meds 10 times higher than what I was on prior to my pregnancy. I had plans though, lots of plans, and none of them involved a future.
My first Mother’s Day was spent in the psych ward at a local hospital. My first night there, I was so sure that this was a mistake. I was so sure it was obvious to everyone. Turns out convincing people you aren’t losing it when you’ve been losing it for five months is harder than I thought. I couldn’t get a hold of my husband to explain that he needed to get me out, because he was on his way home from getting me in there. So I called my Mom who lives 13 hours away. I was shocked when she told me they wouldn’t be helping me to get out, and this was where I needed to be. I felt angry at her betrayal. I called my husband who echoed her sentiments. I tried to make them understand how badly they were hurting me, but it didn’t matter. I returned to my room where my roommate drew pictures of Jesus.
I’d sleep and sleep until I realized the only way out was to not sleep. So I journaled and smiled at the nurses and went to music therapy and exercise therapy and group therapy and nodded my head while everyone talked.
I was later discharged and tried to go back to work. My doctor immediately requested I be home for a week, to be tried on antipsychotics. My employer fired me the next day. That’s when I learned no matter how many awards you’ve won or lives you’ve changed, business is business, even if you’re in the business of helping others. That was the final blow to my sense of self.
I’d been on nearly every medication possible to treat what I now considered a nonresponsive major depression. My therapist told me she could no longer help me. I went to a PPD support group, but I was the only one there. I was dragged forward through each day by my husband. My psychiatrist suggested Electroconvulsive therapy. I told her inducing seizures was a last resort for me. She said it was a last resort for her too. [Read Also: Can Untreated Mild Depression Lead to Chronic Depression?]
Two and a half years later, I thought I saw myself in the mirror. Well, myself plus 100 pounds (thanks medications). All the things I couldn’t do before, I found myself doing. My doctor was so happy when she saw me, she told me it was the first time in three years that I looked better. That made me happy but it also made me sad. I still have tremors from medications I no longer take. Those long lists of side effects you hear in commercials, they seem worth it, if it means you can live your life again.
And for awhile I felt pretty good. Then a doctor prescribed me a steroid when I strained my back, which has happened almost yearly since I was 14. Less than a week after the last dose, I started having suicidal thoughts. I felt foolish for ever believing I’d be okay. A favorite Amy Hempel quote looped in my head:
“What you forget, living here, is that just because you have stopped sinking doesn’t mean you’re not still underwater.”
And I was sure that it was time to give up.
Evidently this steroid decreased the efficiency of my antidepressants. It took a few weeks to see if I could get back to my baseline. My new baseline, that is. Because I am not the same me.
Here’s what I found journaled during that time:
Now I don’t get manicures because the nail techs comment on my shaking hands.
Now I take medicine to keep me awake, then I take medication to calm me down.
Now I stay in because I believe I have nothing worth sharing with anyone. I am replaceable.
Now I wonder if my son’s early developmental delays were caused by having a mother like me.
What dawned on me today is that when working as intended, the pills make me able to live with myself.
Without the pills, I am up to no good. Without the pills, I am irritable, I am angry, I am hopeless, I am lazy, I am empty. I am disordered eating, I am ruminating, I am obsessing and I am sleeping, a lot. But that is who I am. That is me, when left to my own devices. And maybe I try so hard to be good and to do good because at the end of the day, without the help of my blue pills, my green pills, my orange pills, my white pills and my red pills, I am none of the things that I want to be.
My whole life I spent planning, learning too late that I shouldn’t fool myself into thinking I can plan anything. But I always knew, I’d have my second baby when my first was three. I always knew, I would have my hands full staying home with little ones until kindergarten. I never thought, I would be able to carry a baby while I actually could probably never carry another baby.
I always knew and I never thought and those are my problems.
Shortly after that incident, I decided my good days on medicine were not much different from my bad days. Against all conventional medical advice, I titrated myself off all the pills I had been on for months. I told my parents and my husband, in case I had a decline. But a strange thing happened. I didn’t get worse. Many days, I felt better because I didn’t have all the side effects of all the medications I had been taking.
Eventually, I met with a naturopathic doctor and found great success. And with the exception of the week before my period, I think I’m doing pretty well. But over four years after my son’s birth, I am still undergoing testing and treatment for my hormones. [Read Also: The Best Alternative Treatment Options for Postpartum Depression]
Some may think it’s strange to still consider yourself suffering from a postpartum mood disorder when your son is in preschool. All I know is that I have not been the same since I had him, and only recently have I been picking up the pieces of the shell of the person I used to be.
And I will never be the same, because my body created life. Because now I am a mother. Because I spent years treading water, or clinging to my husband and mother to keep me afloat. Because I went through the life-changing experience of postpartum depression. There is no timeline for how long it takes to heal. [Read Also: Six Things That Can Affect How Quickly You’ll Recover from Postpartum Depression]
So now I take it day by day. I am thankful for those who stood by me and supported me. I still get scared when I have a bad day, that the bad day will turn into a bad week, then a bad month, and that I will descend back into the depression that for years held me so tightly. I still have days where I think I am foolish to ever think I could beat this. But most days I am just thankful that even when I thought I was drowning, even when I thought I had tried it all, I kept my head above water long enough to learn to swim.
~Julia Karas Parker