Warrior Mom and two-time postpartum psychosis survivor Heather (a pseudonym), who lives in London, shares the story of her hospitalization after the birth of her second son in 2012.
I was taken to a specialised psychiatric Mother and Baby Unit nine days after the birth of my second son to be treated for postpartum psychosis. I had my own room, and my baby was cared for by the nurses primarily for the first few weeks while I was off in a world of my own. The volume was turned up on my inner monologue. It felt like the speakers might blow. I was uncharacteristically uninhibited. Things got worse before they got better. Just how bad they got can be gauged by the following note I made to myself: “If I was actually god, would I ever find out?”
I could not stop talking. I was full of theories and ideas and puns. When I wasn’t talking, I would write, screeds of concepts falling over one another in a shorthand I can no longer decipher half the time. I wrote lists; I wrote schematics linking my various theories together. I wrote in the margins and on the covers of magazines, I wrote on scraps of paper. I even wrote on a sanitary towel at some point. One night I had no paper left to write on so I covered all six sides of a tissue box.
Sometimes I couldn’t be bothered to write so I talked out loud to myself instead – or, as I believed, to the hidden microphones. I thought recording devices in the walls would make sense because the staff needed to know what was on the patients’ minds. I kept noticing amazing synchronicities which could be put down to coincidence or which could – if you took a leap of faith – be attributed to manipulation. A kind of divine intervention with psychology in place of the celestial.
Every day on the unit was like groundhog day: I started off calm, focussed, trying to relax and go with the flow, or to ‘play’ the ‘game’, as I saw it. I would gradually wind myself into a frenzy of expectation and delusion, anticipating the big reveal where I would get to go home. I got increasingly hectic, until by 1am I was pacing the ward or writing screeds of thoughts.
I wasn’t wholly taken in by my delusional constructs. I realised there are four categories of puzzling anomalies: conspiracy, coincidence, miscommunication and cock-up. My trouble was simply in discerning one from another. I went down one blind alley after another, readjusting my conspiracy/ coincidence/ miscommunication/ cock-up assessment at each stage, learning to de-escalate my delusions to theories of less cataclysmic proportions as I came across them.
Over time, during my stay at the Mother and Baby Unit being treated for postpartum psychosis, I increasingly realised that my theories were nonsense and I was seeing meaning where there was none. The remaining trouble was that now, with my mania on the way out, I was increasingly anxious and seemed to see the possibility for catastrophe at every turn. I felt on edge and spaced out all at once. I learned that this feeling is called depersonalisation or derealisation – it helped somehow to have a label for it, to know that it’s ‘a thing’.
At my Mother and Baby Unit discharge meeting I was prescribed antidepressants at my request. Only trouble is, antidepressants take a few weeks to begin to work. It’s hard to describe what on earth was wrong, but I could hardly bear existing.
But it got better. It was very hard waiting for the antidepressants to kick in, and they took a while. I went and begged the psychiatrist for a higher dose. A couple of weeks after that I started to feel less heavy, more capable, less sleepy. Gradually, instead of being a grinding ordeal, life became a series of triumphs over postpartum psychosis: I cooked a proper meal, from a recipe and everything. I went to the gym. I got out to baby groups. I took the kids to the park with friends. I got started on a diet. The meds started to work, and then they worked some more, and then a few weeks later I was really feeling normal again.
Then I began writing.
Heather’s book, Babies and Brainstorms, is available here.
Photo credit: © freshidea – Fotolia.com