Have you ever been on your deathbed... and then lived to tell about it? A story of post-partum depression and recovery.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of my road to recovery. Oct 28, 2012 was rock bottom and I am now ready to talk about it. To celebrate coming through it. To articulate "it". To hopefully and potentially spur someone else on in it. To be honest and let it all out. This is my story, my song. I can vividly remember the intoxicating smell of chlorine, the oppressive heat, and the waves of dizziness that came over me on Friday, Oct 26, 2012 as I stood on the highest water slide platform with McBaby #1 at The Great Wolf Lodge. We had scheduled this trip long ahead of time and, when it actually came, I thought that perhaps it would be a good distraction from all I was battling - raging hormones, insomnia, panic attacks. I thought that a getaway would help me regroup. Looking back, I know the kids had a wonderful time, but it was anything but a getaway for me. Packing up a 4 year old, a 2 year old, and a 2 month old (yes, that was friggin' crazy), traveling, sleeping all in the same room isn't exactly a getaway. And so, while everyone - even my 2 month old - slept a solid 12 hour stretch, I was awake for all of it. Again. Every second of every minute of every hour. This is what made the next day climbing stairs and swimming with the McBabies so overwhelming.
This was the third day in a row that I'd been wide awake all night. It was the second month that I'd not slept more than 3 hours on any day. I came home even more exhausted and wondering if I was every going to kick this cycle. Lack of sleep (brought on by angel of a newborn) brought on anxiety. Anxiety brought on insomnia. Insomnia brought on more anxiety... you get the picture. My mind was loud, like chaos or white noise, and, at night, it was like things were just falling off shelves inside of my head. I couldn't move forward. I couldn't accept help - not because I didn't want to, or because people didn't offer meals and extra hands, but because I couldn't sift through the layers of what it was that I needed. I was already on medication at this time (an anti-depressant) which had helped with my previous postpartum season. This time, it had been coupled under doctor's recommendations with all kinds of other sleep aids - none of which worked. Everything from various over-the-counter meds to Ambiens, Trazodones, and Lunestas. No matter what, the taking of the sleep aid invoked a panic within me on whether or not it would work, whether or not I could sleep that night, how I would face the next day if I didn't sleep (AGAIN), and that combined with the actual aid become like an adrenaline fire raging to work against the meds. Simply put, these aids were making things even worse, it seemed.
I believed God heard me - somewhere out there, but I'd be lying if I didn't say how abandoned I felt. Where the hell was the God who was with me? Who had created me for being fruitful and multiplying? Who created the newborn whom I so badly wanted to cherish without the demons I was facing. Day after day, I met the challenge of mothering the McBabies somehow. I don't even know how. I think a lot of Dora and cheerios were involved, the loving and gracious help of McHusband and our more-than-words-wonderful parents, but, honestly, I don't remember much.
Fast forward 2 days. Sunday, Oct 28, I was at my end. I had not slept in 5 days straight. No naps, no nodding off, no sleeping in the night. McHubz had even stayed awake the entire night before laying on the couch beside me, rubbing my arms and feet, assuring me everything was okay when the chaos in my brain sounded in the darkness. I'd been in a perpetual anxiety attack for almost a week. This was after almost 2 months of nearly not sleeping and intermittent anxiety attacks - about nothing. There wasn't anything I could pinpoint being anxious about - it was an inexplainable imbalance inside of me. Then, something snapped. I could not walk up our stairs on my own that day. My eyes twitched, my body shook, and my legs would not carry me because of the extreme physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.
I called the doctor on call - unsure of what else to do - and she recommended that it was time to go to the stress center at the hospital. McHusband called them while I sat on the couch in a nearly numb state and then took me down to the hospital (while my parents had the older kids at this point). Being that the testing to see if you fit criteria for the stress center takes place in another building, I went through the difficult experience of being patted down, stripped of my belongings, and told that no one was allowed to come back to the room with me to meet with a social worker. I dragged myself into the room and sat alone looking around at the padded walls and the sparse chairs and the mirrored wall across the hall from me where I knew I could be seen as I saw faint outlines of people on the other side of the mirror.
I began to weep at the thought of my children knowing someday that it had come to this. Here I had a precious, beautiful, perfectly healthy newborn baby and I was sitting without her in a sterile, padded room with people with clipboards asking me stuff, stuff, and more stuff. The guilt was overcoming. "Are you suicidal?" they kept asking. "Well," I kept replying, "I don't feel that I would take any decision like that into my own hands, but I would welcome a car crash or some other reason to escape it all." I'm pained writing that now, but it is the truth. I wanted out of myself.
2 social workers and 90 minutes of questioning later, I was left alone again for about 10 minutes. The latter of the 2 workers came back in and abruptly said "Our psychiatrist says you don't meet criteria to be admitted to the stress center. I'm happy to help you with your things and see you out."
"What? But I don't know what to do."
"You'll have to talk to your doctor."
"I did and she sent me here."
"I'm sorry. Let me see you out."
I came out and that previous feeling of numbness was quickly replaced with a deep and guttural weeping that felt as if someone had died or was dying. That someone was me. I was trapped. I felt beyond repair. I mean no offense or presumption to someone who has walked with someone on their deathbed, but, I also know that I did not have one more day in me. I was physically and emotionally as close to the end of myself as I could be.
Oh, the Lord's timing and kindness intervened though right then. Our dear, dear friends - one of our pastors and his wife (the A's) knew what was happening and were praying us through the morning. I called them to tell them the devastating news that there was no where for me to go to "get fixed." They begged us to come over and get a hug and a bite to eat before I went home to the same bed and place of fear and discouragement from which I'd come. Although I said I'd talk to McHusband and call them back, I hung up the phone and said "No, we're not going. I don't want to see anyone like this. No one understands. I want to go home." And for one of the first times in our marriage that I can remember, my husband assertively said "No. We are going." He also added (when I said how terrible I looked to be out anywhere) that it was "believable" that way. Umm...
In the meantime, I called the postpartum support hotline. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it turned out that the lady who headed up that area at the hospital was a close college friend of my mom's. She recommended that I call a nurse practitioner in town who was an OB for 30 years, but now specialized in postpartum mental care. I called and left a message that Sunday morning - thinking I'd have to wait at least a day to even hear something back and then schedule an appointment. The whole thing was too paralyzing to flesh out. This lady called me back 15 minutes later from the Apple/Mac store and asked if I could be at her home office in 15 minutes. Yes, I told her.
I arrived and she assured me that I was not beyond repair. I did not believe her. She told me that she'd walked with many, many, many women in my shoes and my situation was not surprising to her nor did she feel perplexed on how to help. I still didn't totally believe her. She right then and there said that no kind or amount of sleep aid was going to help me sleep if the raging anxiety was still so strong, so I was given a low dose of anti-anxiety medicine to take that was safe for nursing. As safe as a Tylenol, read the go-to book. Nursing was everything to me - my joy, my love, my life. I believed her a little now.
She sent me on my way with the prescription and said that we'd talk the next day. DISCLAIMER: I am not pushing meds here or trying to diagnose anyone else! I am only sharing my story. My story that I couldn't out-exercise, out-organic-eat, out-pray, or out-anything-else it to move out of the cycle. It was time to get medical/hormonal/chemical help, the same way that a diabetic, someone with heart issues, etc. would. I had to, as my Dad said, find the fight within me and ask God for the courage to do what it took to get better. I pray that for you sister if you're in this kind of place!
We left there and did go to our pastor's and wife's house. Thank God. We went into their family room where they did not tell me one scripture. They did not tell me it would be okay. They did not ask me what I was feeling. They just cried with me. She played with my hair while I sobbed about my fatigue, my guilt, my failures, my confusion, my fear of not getting better, my fear of fear itself. Then they fed us warm food. Then they said to go upstairs to the guest room and lie down. As I'd said earlier, numbness had given way to weeping. Weeping now was replaced by anger. I was pissed, frankly. Did NO ONE understand that I could not sleep? They said to go up anyways and just sit in a comfy robe and slippers and do nothing while they held the baby.
The next thing I knew was that I heard a knock at my bedroom door. My sweet friend said "I hate to wake you, but [McBaby #3] hasn't eaten in 4 hours." I had not slept that long consecutively in weeks and weeks. I was shocked. Then she said that in that short window, my husband had taken a leave from work for as long as it would take, my parents had cleared their calendar and were taking the older kids for as long as it would take, and my job was to now stay at their home and sleep. They had all worked it out. They had all taken me to the roof on my mat when I was paralyzed by my life and they had dropped me down to Jesus by working out for me all of the help and details that I did not have the capacity to do.
I stayed that week while they loved on me so well. I slept like I hadn't slept in years, honestly. I'd been pregnant or nursing for almost 6 years straight and my body had shutdown. That week was so restorative. My community, my harbor, was there when I was sinking, when I was lost at sea. They (the A's) made me chocolate chip cookies and shared their Country Living magazines, my favorite things, to make me feel loved - to further assure me that I was not a burden, but a beloved guest, welcome at this home. They (McHusband and parents) did everything in their power to sacrifice their work and time to take on their roles and mine. And they did it joyfully. The kids were loved and happy.
Even though I felt years away from myself, I was, surprisingly, with a solid run of good sleep and the right aids - just days away from a pretty normal version of myself.
I am still on my low dose. I don't plan to even adjust a thing until I'm done nursing. I have fear attached to that (the getting off, it not working at some point, my dependency on it, etc.) which I have to daily surrender to the Lord. I can't sum up the year in between then and now, but I can say that it's been a year of recovery on a path on which I've never walked alone.
If you are in this place, do not wait any longer on seeking the help you need. While I don't believe it's about God wanting us to be "happy", I do believe He wants us to be restored and renewed!
If you are watching someone else in this place, know that most likely, they will not tell you what they need or how you can help - and that is because they do not know nor do they have the capacity to. Take them food. A warm meal is ALWAYS a blessing to someone in need. Send them a card. Cry when they cry. Tell them you're showing up at their house. And, as you can, be available when the time comes that they do know what they need - a listening ear perhaps or your presence.
I am so grateful. This has been a year of angels and demons, in a way, and God has brought me through. He has moved mountains. Happy anniversary me.