[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from a Warrior Mom whose experience with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders may feel triggering for some. Please only read if you feel like you’re in a safe place. But know this: The sun will shine again. -Jenna]

The Sun Will Shine Again: Panic Attacks & PPD

It was my biggest dream to become a mother. When I got married at 30, my husband and I tried to get pregnant right away. I experienced four miscarriages in a year, and we were told we would probably not be able to carry a baby to term.

Undeterred, we turned to adoption. We were matched with a birth mother and bonded with her quickly. We were in the room when our son was born. I held him in my arms when he was less than five minutes old. He had to stay in the hospital for 48 hours with his birth mother during which time we visited him often.

When we went to the hospital for what should have been the final time, we were met downstairs by a social worker who told us the birth mother had decided to parent and had left the hospital with the baby without even saying goodbye.

Since the previous three years had been very tumultuous and stressful for my husband and me, we decided to take a break from our focus on starting our family and work on healing and grieving our four major losses. Thank God we still had each other.

Well, life works in cruel ways at times because within two months of the failed adoption, my spouse’s mother, who we were both very close to, became critically ill and passed away. What should have been three happy years of enjoying being newlyweds and starting our much anticipated family had turned into a series of nightmares and heartbreak.

My husband went to Connecticut for full month to help his father deal with funeral and financial arrangements. When he returned, we slowly started to heal, together. As if an angel knew we could take no more, exactly one month after he returned from helping his father, we found out we were pregnant.

We felt cautiously optimistic at first. As time went on and my belly grew, we became more and more hopeful.

I experienced a wonderful pregnancy. I felt great and worked almost up to my due date. I delivered by c-section about three weeks early due to high amniotic fluid. I was in the hospital for five days and in love with my baby in a way I never thought possible.

During those days, I was on a “high.” I had a perfect little baby. I had constant visitors. My every need was attended to. My work issues were kept at bay. Life was good.

When I left the hospital, things calmed down a little bit, but we had a full time nurse living with us. Perhaps the “high” I had experienced in the hospital began to fade a bit, but things still felt pretty good.

The first week home, I was getting sleep, my family and friends came in and out, my husband was back at work but home at night, and the nurse was a 24 hour companion.

Then, boom.

Two weeks after the baby was born, I got “the baby blues.” I had heard so much about this that I tried to take it in stride. I had regular and frequent periods of feeling very emotional but did the best I could. Then, by week three, I was clearly experiencing something stronger.

By the time the nurse left at week four, I could barely get out of bed. I could not be alone with the baby, had frequent panic attacks, hated being a mother, and couldn’t sleep or stop crying. I had to be “chaperoned” everywhere. I went days without showering because it was “just too hard.” I didn’t eat.

I started seeing a therapist and quickly after that a psychiatrist who prescribed antidepressants as well as sleep medication, to which I quickly became addicted. The only time I felt at peace was when I slept, and I began taking more than the amount prescribed. I would run out of meds early, so I would call other doctors for more meds or steal them from friends and family.

I began to pray every night that I would die in my sleep. Though I felt very protective of my daughter, I wanted nothing to do with her. I experienced vivid fantasies of how I would end my life. I began to refer to my situation as “my private hell; cancer of the mind.”

People would tell me to snap out of it and get annoyed at my “drama,” but I couldn’t. People would tell me “just smile,” and I wanted to collapse on the floor in a puddle.

I somehow went back to work but was “asked to leave” after a few weeks. I remember one particularly difficult morning before I was asked to leave when my husband was getting ready for work and I was supposed to be getting ready as well, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t breathe, and I was panicking. I was lying on the floor with my hands locked around my husband’s ankle, sobbing, begging him not to go. He was dragging me across the floor as I clung to his ankle pleading with me to “get it together” because we needed both our jobs to pay our bills.

My hell went on for almost two years. After the first year, my sister mentioned the name of psychiatrist friend. Somehow I got myself to visit him. Slowly, over the course of the next year, the sun began to shine again, little by little.

It wasn’t all easy. There were moments, even days in a row where I regressed to panic attacks, crying fits, and so on. But little by little, things did get better. I began to make the connection with my daughter that I hadn’t made initially. I began to enjoy spending time with her, even alone.

I don’t know if it was getting off the wrong meds and on the proper meds, or meeting with the doctors regularly, or it just got out of my system. I still have not great days, but nothing compared to the absolute hell of those first two years.

I just recently celebrated my five year anniversary of no panic attacks. Today, I am wrapping up my third year back teaching full time and loving it, though I miss my daughter during the day. She is my absolute best friend and my favorite person in the world—the sweetest, most beautiful, kindest, funniest person I know. The time I spend with her is precious and means more to me than anything else.

We giggle together, tell each other secrets, read books, do special projects, and all the things I dreamed of doing with my daughter before she was born. My favorite time of day is when we snuggle in bed together before sleep time and read books to each other.

Because the “sky” was so stormy for so long, I like to say that today, the sun shines brighter for me than for other people. The grass grows a little greener. Life is not perfect for me or anyone else as I am fully aware. But compared to what I went through for almost two years, it’s pretty darn close.

I want to share my story with other people who feel so miserable they are praying at night that they die. I want to be living proof that things CAN get better. I want to be there for them in ways that people who have not experienced this can’t be because they don’t know; they don’t understand. I want to save lives because I realize more and more how close I came to losing my own.

I want to help other people see that the sun will shine again.

~Jessica Orenstein