I’m happy to welcome Warrior Mom Heather (pseudonym) today, who hails from London, England, and is sharing her story of postpartum psychosis. I really like getting to see what it was like from her perspective.
I’m allergic to childbirth. I’ve had postpartum psychosis, twice, following the births of my two sons in July 2007 and January 2012. I was taken to a specialised psychiatric Mother and Baby Unit just nine days after the birth of my second son. 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, focused, 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’d get 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, 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 postpartum psychosis 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 anti depressants 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: 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.