Since I haven’t been through a psychotic episode myself, I reached out to some smart and brave survivors to help me. I am sincerely indebted to Heather; Teresa Twomey, author of Understanding Postpartum Psychosis: A Temporary Madness; Jeremy; and HK.
The Symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis & Postpartum Depression with Psychotic Features (In Plain Mama English)
What does it feel like to have postpartum psychosis? What are the symptoms? How do you know when you have it?
Below I will share the signs of these illnesses in “plain mama English.” We won’t use words like hypomania or delusions or psychomotor agitation. Instead, we will use the words we hear in our heads when we think about what the hell is happening to us.
When you read the list below, keep in mind you may not be experiencing all of the symptoms below or even most of them. These are not “one-size-fits-all” illnesses. Your experience may be focused on just a few of the following symptoms, and you may not have others at all. Also, as with any postpartum illness, this can occur after childbirth, miscarriage, or other perinatal loss.
You may have postpartum psychosis or postpartum depression with psychotic features if you have had a baby within the last 12 months and are experiencing some of these symptoms:
- You have more energy than you’ve ever had in your life. This is like nothing you’ve ever experienced, and you just had a baby! You feel great. You may even feel like you don’t need sleep because there are things that must get done. Conversely, you are exhausted, have no energy, and wish you could sleep but your mind just refuses to shut down.
- You feel like suddenly you understand EVERYTHING, like your brain is functioning on a new and different level. You are able to make connections you’ve never noticed before between people, places, and things. Everything in your whole life makes sense to you now.
- You keep hearing and/or seeing things that no one else does or that you know are not there. You may have what seems like voices in your head that won’t stop no matter what you do. The voices comment about your actions or tell you appalling things, even that you may need to hurt someone or do something you would never do otherwise. Perhaps you feel the radio, television, nature, or God is speaking directly to you and you alone or giving you secret messages.
- You believe that you can’t trust people or have become suspicious of your family and friends—people you always trusted prior to this. You may even feel like your family, friends, healthcare providers, or the government are out to get you. You may feel they are trying to get rid of you or stop you from doing what needs to be done. You also may feel that people (family, friends, strangers or outside forces) are going to purposely or accidentally harm you or your child.
- You believe you are suddenly unique and special in some way, have some greater purpose, mission, powers, or have been possessed. However, you don’t want to talk about it to anyone because you know, for whatever reason, they won’t understand. Or you feel these same things are true of your baby.
- You cannot remember how to do things you knew how to do in the past—like how to make a batch of cookies, read a map, program your phone, or find the doctor’s office. You may also have trouble focusing, like reading or doing math or following a plot on TV.
- You feel like you are losing track of time. Or time seems either very sped up or extremely slowed down.
- You may be having strange sensations, for example feeling like things are crawling on you.
- You are getting into conflict with those around you. Although there may be real issues between you and others, the fact is that you are getting into way more conflicts with others than you ever used to.
- People who care about you think there is something wrong with you or say that you are angry, sad, acting strange and/or weird. In any case, they note that you are different from how you used to be.
- You may feel as if you are being controlled by some outside force. This force may be telling you to harm someone. Or you may have strange violent urges that have nothing to do with choice. These urges can best be understood if you think of how it feels when you experience the urge to urinate. One has little control over whether one wants to urinate or not, it is just a powerful urge one is compelled to tend to. These strange violent thoughts may present themselves as possible solutions to a myriad of problems.
- You don’t like what is happening to you and are frightened to death. You know that something is terribly wrong and you don’t understand it. You think you’ve gone “crazy.”
- You are afraid you will never get better. You may even believe that the only way to get out of this or to protect the ones you love is to commit suicide or abandon your family.
Though you might fear that you will be locked up forever if you were to ever reveal what is happening to you, you can get better with professional help. There are countless women who have had postpartum psychosis and recovered 100%.
The key is getting urgent help for how you are feeling before you lose all insight into the fact that you are ill, which is what happens with this illness. Get yourself (or anyone you suspect of suffering from this) to an emergency room immediately and be open about being homicidal, suicidal, hearing or seeing things, and describing any other concerns or symptoms you have. You can even print out this symptom list, bring it with you, and share with them the items on it that you are experiencing. Additionally, we have a New Mom Checklist you can print out and take with you or share with your support team.
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.