Healing the Bizarre—Postpartum Depression

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by Judy Dippel
Springfield, Oregon

This article is an excerpt from Judy’s interactive group study book, A Mother’s Companion: Refreshing Hope for Postpartum Depression and Perinatal Mood Disorders, release in fall, 2009

Ironic as it sounds, I’m passionate about writing about postpartum depression—bringing to light, facts that will dispel myths—and offering the promise of hope and healing to the helplessness we can feel in the midst of postpartum depression. We need not stay in denial or in ignorance. I speak from experience, having endured a lengthy period of postpartum depression, anxiety and panic. Only those who have personal experience with it know how bizarre a condition it is, and how it can begin to unravel a woman, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Most importantly, know it is vital to recognize you are NOT the only one, and that you can get treatment. This will not last forever. But in the meantime, a woman with postpartum depression feels as if she, and her life, is spiraling down before her eyes. I hope and pray that merely reading this short article will ease some of your burden. I’ve experienced it. I have survived it, with the help of God, family and friends. May I dare say, because of it, today I’m thankful to speak frankly to you.

It’s a great privilege to assure you that this won’t last forever. You can find hope, help and treatment. (Please see the Postpartum Support International website and Oregon therapists who specialize in the treatment of postpartum depression listed within this article). Believe me, you will get better!

Many have experienced postpartum depression and perinatal mood disorders. Below I’ve listed a brief description of the complexity of symptoms that vary from woman to woman. You will be better able to put a name on what is bothering you, which alone, can be a tremendous help to you in feeling well again.

The highly unexpected, unfamiliar, medically frustrating, psychologically confusing, downward spiral of symptoms, and turn of events, that may have begun during pregnancy or immediately after the birth of your baby—(yes, it can begin during your pregnancy, or after weaning your baby, or after the loss of a pregnancy, or other times of stress that cause flux to your hormones during the perinatal period). These are all time periods that you could be at risk for postpartum depression or other mental health conditions.

What’s my story?  I know how peculiar it is to wake up with the usual light of the morning sun, only to find the darkness and doom of a sudden depression penetrating and surrounding, nearly suffocating good sense as it numbs our perception of ourselves and the world around us—the familiar and comfortable seeming to have been stripped away, literally overnight.

For me, my symptoms began at 32 weeks gestation, after a bout of the flu and overnight hospital stay where I received the glucose-filled IV fluids. I left the hospital feeling unlike myself. I began to ask, “Who is the person I see in the mirror?” Internally, I certainly didn’t recognize the change of thoughts, feelings and symptoms that I was experiencing, mentally, emotionally or physically. I felt removed from myself, as if a mere observer of me—an unwanted metamorphosis had taken place.

Yes, I know the utter humiliation of admitting bizarre phobias and anxieties out loud, and the plummeting self-esteem and self-questioning that follows a multitude of doctor visits that all too often bring no help or hope for the mass peculiar symptoms—all the time, feeling as if I was walking in a dark fog, a shaded veil covering my former sense of self.

Yes, like you, I know how it feels to simply desire to be a good mom, and wish to do the normal daily activities, yet barely be able to drag mind and body through the day. I know the profound sense of aloneness, shame, embarrassment and fear that consumes when afflicted with postpartum depression and/or perinatal mood disorders.

Right now, I hope you find a small bit of relief you aren’t alone in this challenge. Beginning today, begin look forward to learning through the laughter and the tears, as you take one step, one day at a time. You can anticipate good things ahead. All the while I ask you to remember—this is one of those stressful seasons each woman must determine to walk courageously through to the other side. There will be healing and there is treatment, but recognize, also, there is rarely a quick fix.

Postpartum depression is one of the grueling life episodes that take perseverance. Most thankfully, on this earth absolutely nothing lasts forever or stays exactly the same—whether it brings with it laughter or tears! In Ecclesiastes 1:9, Solomon tells us…there is nothing new under the sun. This is a very worthy verse of truth to make note of. Knowing and believing others have felt and experienced this, similarly to you, is a “must know” for your head and heart, right now, this very moment. Others absolutely have felt as you do.

Following gives you a glimpse of what you or someone you know may have, or be experiencing. Please contact any of the following to seek expert counsel and treatment, accurate information and hope. www.PostpartumSupport.net (Postpartum Support International) Wendy Davis, Ph.D., Portland 503.246.0941 [email protected], Csilla Andor, MSW, LCSW  www.Fourth-Trimester.com,  Corvallis: (541) 231-4343—Amy-Rose White, MSW, CHt.,  Eugene (541) 337-4960 or [email protected] www.wellmama.net.   Book recommendation: Beyond the Blues: A Guide to Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression. Shoshana S. Bennett, Ph.D., Pec Indman, Ed.D., MFT.

Baby Blues: For the vast majority it is this condition, which will pass in a couple weeks:             “I’ve been home with my baby a week. We’re doing great, but I’m stressed and irritable with my husband—tears well up at the oddest times. I hope I can relax and quit crying soon. My house is a mess. It’s frustrating and I just feel so overwhelmed.”  Jessica, age 22

FACTS: When Is It More Than Just the Blues?

Postpartum Depression:

“Each morning when I wake up, I have a horrible feeling of dread. I try to fight it. I think I can make it go away, but it won’t! I’ve never felt like this before. In fact, I don’t even feel like me. It’s like I’m watching myself go through the motions of life, with this inevitable ‘gray’ doom hovering over me. Some days I feel better than others and some days I’m just so angry and irritable at everyone around me. I feel so guilty.”  Sarah, age 26

Obsessive-Compulsive Mood Disorder:

“ I’ve always been a ‘neat-freak’ but now I find myself cleaning the baby bottles over and over again and sometimes checking the baby’s diaper     several times an hour. I’ve been afraid to tell anyone, but I often have these strange, scary pictures of something bad happening to my baby. They just pop out of the blue and I can’t control them. I know I would never hurt her, but I feel like I need to protect her from me. I spend so much of my day making sure she’s safe.” Erica, age 30

If lack of sleep and disturbing thoughts keep churning, please know these thoughts, are in fact, rooted in a high level of concern for your baby, rather than a true desire to harm your baby. Please seek professional help, because this is more common than you may think. It is treatable and like all of the conditions, are treatable and you can be helped.

Postpartum Anxiety:

“My heart-rate is way too high all the time. I have hot sweats, I’m dizzy, shaky and can’t concentrate. I have irrational fears and phobias that consume my mind every waking hour. I’m sure I have a horrible illness—I am so afraid! Doctors treat me like a hypochondriac. I know I’m going crazy, but I can’t bring myself to tell anyone.” Lisa, age 33

Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder:

“I’ve always been a ‘neat-freak’ but now I find myself cleaning the baby bottles over and over again and sometimes checking the baby’s diaper several times an hour. I’ve been afraid to tell anyone, but I often  have these strange, scary pictures of something bad happening to my baby. They just pop out of the blue and I can’t control them. I know I would never hurt her, but I feel like I need to protect her from me. I spend so much of my day making sure she’s safe.”  Erica, age 30

Postpartum Traumatic Stress Disorder:

“Within a few days of the birth, I started feeling so strange, almost numb, as if in a fog. I cry every time I think about the birth and feel like no one understands, especially since my baby was born healthy. I’ll feel normal, and then suddenly feel sick, scared, and panicky as an image of the labor comes to my mind. I’ve started having nightmares of old, painful memories     and it makes me not want to fall asleep.” Allison, age 27

Postpartum Bi-polar Disorder:

“Sometimes I can hardly get out of bed, and I feel sad and empty for days and days. Then I feel like my normal self and I can stay up cleaning, ironing the baby’s clothes, and putting them away, repainting the kitchen, and getting meals made ahead for the week. My husband works nights so I might as well stay busy when I have the energy. I’ve felt like this before, but my lows have felt a lot lower since the baby was born.” Trish, age 34

Postpartum Psychosis:

Occasionally a woman may have a more severe disorder which is known as postpartum psychosis. This is rare; this disorder occurs in 1 to 2 percent of mothers—1-2 mothers of every 1000 babies born.  If a woman hears voices, see’s images, or otherwise believes things no one else hears, sees, or thinks is rational—totally loses touch with reality, and is not bothered by it, you must seek professional help for her. Psychosis is a real possibility, and it is important to facilitate immediate treatment.