This was another one of those tough posts to write, but one that I hope will help at least one other mom. Disclaimer: I was never officially diagnosed with postpartum anxiety. I do, however, have symptoms of anxiety, and they have never felt as pronounced as they did during my early postpartum period.
I’m not a stranger to mental health issues. For years, I have dealt with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). I didn’t even know that was a thing before I was diagnosed in 2010.
PMDD is similar to other mood disorders, except your symptoms follow your body’s menstrual cycle. Those who know me well say they can time my meltdowns like clockwork; roughly halfway through my cycle, my moods begin to spike, then settle back to normal once I get my period.
For more information about PMDD, check out these websites:
One of the key points to note is that these symptoms go beyond PMS. They affect you to the point where you literally can’t function. Here is an example:
The year before we got pregnant, I had weaned myself off of the medication I use to control my PMDD because I knew I couldn’t take it while pregnant. In that time, on at least one occasion I can remember, I was so overwhelmed with life that I left work, took an extra long lunch break, drove home, curled up in bed, bawled hysterically, took a short nap, then washed my face and drove myself back to work.
That story exemplifies what the experts mean by “interferes with your daily life” and I try to remind myself that whenever I start to think that maybe PMDD isn’t a thing, and maybe I just had a couple bad days and got the wrong label attached to my problems.
Given my history, I discussed my fears of postpartum depression with my family and doctor. I knew I had a higher predisposition for problems. Thankfully, every prenatal class we took discussed what to look for and where to reach out for help.
What they didn’t discuss (at least not in enough detail for me to understand that it was a thing) was postpartum anxiety.
In the beginning, that oversight wasn’t a big deal. I struggled as all new moms struggle, but I had an amazing support system and everything moved along.
However, my return from maternity leave triggered something, and life just wasn’t good for a brief while. Here’s a snapshot:
- My husband and I fought daily. I usually instigated things. We both dreaded evenings, which is when things usually erupted.
- I couldn’t relax when I climbed into bed at night. I needed sleep; it was still in short supply back then, but I just couldn’t shut down. I sat and scrolled Facebook for hours while my husband and Little Dude slept.
- I was eating my feelings constantly. Yes, I needed more calories to produce milk, but I didn’t need most of the sugar I was packing away.
- I cried for no reason while driving home from work – or, worse, at work. Thank goodness I had an office door to close.
- Every time I got behind the wheel of a car, I would fantasize about all the ways I could die horribly on the way to my destination.
- I didn’t want to leave my baby any more than I absolutely needed to for work. The babysitter offered to keep Little Dude so we could go on a date night on Valentine’s Day, and I felt completely apathetic. No interest. At all. Naturally, this did nothing to help the tensions between the husband and I.
- I actually sat down with my husband one night and explained why I thought I should leave him. He’d be much happier, I concluded, if he could remarry, and my son’s stepmother would surely be a better mother than I was. Yes, I was serious. No, it didn’t go over well.
After my selfless gesture to graciously step aside for a new leading lady, I frantically confessed my struggles to a close friend, who was already part of my inner support circle. I probably needed help, but that I was afraid to get it because I didn’t want to go back on medication. I could handle it, I swore. I just needed to talk.
Thank God for good friends. This individual was honest enough with me to give me tough love, which is exactly what I needed. And I trusted her enough to listen.
She told me that if I stubbornly refused to get help, I was being incredibly selfish. That if I loved my husband and son, I needed to do what was best for ALL of us, not just myself. She was right.
I’m sharing this story with you because I feel like postpartum disorders are still misunderstood. I know many women who have experienced symptoms, and almost nobody’s play out like a classic textbook case.
The best thing you can do to prepare for the postpartum period – after you stock up on supplies and make plans for the early days – is to surround yourself with trusted friends and family who can help keep an eye on you when you are vulnerable.
If you have that nagging sensation in the back of your mind that something – anything – about new motherhood isn’t what you expected, reach out. Your support system can pull you back and help you face reality. (If you don’t know where to start, head over to Build Your Postpartum Support System for help brainstorming who you can turn to for support.)
For me, that meant returning to my tiny dose of medicine and the occasional talk therapy session. We’re all in a much better place thanks to that decision.