Sunday, 5 October 2014

I Wanted to Die, But Loved Her Enough to Stay - An Uncensored Look Into the Postpartum Brain

It is mental health awareness week - a cause that is so very close to my heart. In honour of mental health awareness, I have decided to give all of you a raw look inside my postpartum depression and my journey to hell and back.

WARNING: there is some graphic content....

I know I have given snippets of the story before, but I am going to re-cap briefly how my life was prior to the PPD...

I was a university graduate with a career in Recreation Therapy. Working full time as the manager of a recreation department. I had been married for 4 years when my husband and I decided to start our family. I had a history of some anxiety, but no major mental health issues prior to the birth.

My daughter arrive 4 weeks early - I had had a wonderful pregnancy up until that point, felt wonderful physically and mentally! I was not ready for her yet though...perhaps that had something to do with the "wheels falling off"... but I guess I will never know for sure.

My problems started almost immediately after the birth. I could not sleep the whole first night in the hospital, even though my daughter was kept in the nursery and was not right in my room. I kept waking up in a panic because I heard babies screaming and crying all night long.
When I told the nurse the next morning how fitful my night was, she looked at me a little strange and proceeded to tell me my daughter had been the only baby on the floor that night, and she barely made a peep...

We came home after a few days in the hospital. I did not feel "right", but what is "right" after you have your first baby?? We had a lot of breast-feeding issues which made me feel increasingly isolated and attached to her and the pump.

Mentally I was starting to decline pretty fast. I did not want to be alone with her...I would have scary visions of her downing in the bathtub, or falling down the stairs. Never was I the cause of these accidents in my visions, but would just see them happening.

I went numb. I could not feel emotions anymore - I didn't love her, I didn't love myself, I didn't love this life. I could not laugh, but nor could I cry. The overwhelming sense of dread that came over me when a visitor was about to leave, was indescribable. It was like a 10 foot wave bearing down on me, washing me in excruciating uncertainty and panic that I had made the worst mistake of my life.

One day, about 5 weeks after my daughter was born, I had what I would imagine to be a mental breakdown. I had slept over at my mom's in an effort to "regroup" and "recharge" (you know, don't you just need a good night's sleep??), and in the morning, the wave was back again.
I realized it was time to go back home...and the wave rose, threatening to crash in on me at any moment and I feared I would surely drown this time.

The tears came. I was disoriented, I did not physically now how to get home. Not only was I too upset to drive, but I didn't even know which roads to take at that point - as if my brain had turned to complete mush. I was quickly in hysterics....I did not WANT this little person, take her far, far away from me!

That was the day I was placed in the psychiatric ward for observation for severe postpartum depression. I went on to spend 3 straight months there, then in and out after that, for a total of 6 months spent within the first year postpartum.

During my hospitalizations things seemed to intensify as the doctors tried to find the right medications to keep me from being completely comatose with depressive symptoms. My visions and "hallucinations" would become worse. I would be sitting in my 2nd floor hospital room, and when I looked out of the window, my brain made me see 3 people hanging by nooses off the hydro lines outside my window. I was so scared of these thoughts that I would keep my eyes closed and completely avoid looking in that direction.

This is an excerpt from my journal August 25, 2010

Day 42 in the hospital

"I feel very down today, don't feel like trying, hopeless, hopeless and worried about the future. Almost 6 weeks here and I have no idea what I'm supposed to feel like, but it's definitely not 'better'"

I used to go home every few days for home visits to try and acclimate myself to life outside the hospital. My symptoms became worse as I realized the weeks were going by and I STILL didn't feel any relief. I could not live like this. This is not what life is supposed to be. I was becoming a burden on everyone around me.

I wanted to die.

I fantasized about running my car head on into a hydro pole every time I drove past one. I started wondering how badly would the water hurt upon impact if I jumped off the Skyway Bridge - would it be a fast death?

I wanted to die because I didn't think anyone else wanted me to live. I was drowning everyone in my life that was trying to help me. I was wearing on them in ways that people should never have to experience. I could see it in their eyes and hear it in their voice. My mind told me that they would want me to die because they would be happier (yes, my rational mind knows this is not true, but when you are ill, you do not have the ability to rationalize).

But I was too scared to leave her. She wasn't burdened by me yet - she was looking at ME to care for HER even though I was completely incapable. Would she want me to die? My mind believed she would, but how would I know for sure? If I killed myself, how would I leave this earth knowing my infant daughter would have wished it that way?

My mind would spin and spin around these thoughts until I physically felt dizzy. Deep down I knew I couldn't kill myself. But I needed help and I was frustrated beyond what my brain could hold.

I started to cut myself.

I felt such pain and anguish inside of me, and had no way (I had thought) to let it out. And no one was helping me get rid of the thoughts, the voices, the visions.

When the frustration became too much to bear, and the thoughts would spin so fast I wanted to pass out, I felt the need to harm myself in an effort to make the thoughts stop. In an effort to show people I needed help NOW.

I would take a steak knife from our kitchen, sit on the bathroom floor and swiftly and repeatedly drag the knife across my skin. I was never brave enough to go deep, but I would bleed from my superficial wounds, and I would strangely feel better. Feel a momentary sense of calm in my world.

I am happy to say that I only had a 2 or 3 incidents of the cutting during that first year, but those scars will never let me forget those times that I sat on that bathroom floor. The scars are the reminder of the depth and the horror of the depression. That it would drive me to do such a violent thing to my own body. I am ashamed of what I did, but I also know that it was part of the disease in my brain. I know that was not ME.

September 19th 2011 (Over a year later)

"Felt very down and depressed today. All I could Think of was suicide, yet I wasn't sad about it, just matter of fact. I still feel like I'm plotting my death. I WANT to feel better, but I am losing hope."

I was not getting better, and it had been a YEAR. I don't know how I survived that year, and most of it was a blur. They decided at that point to send me for Electric Shock Therapy where they hook you up to electrodes, induce a 60 second seizure, and oddly enough this seems to help people with depression.

It actually did help me feel a bit happier overall, but really did kill off my brain cells...I don't remember almost that entire year of my life, and my brain began to function as if I had an actual brain injury (memory was terrible!).

The weeks and months went by...I tried new med after new med. I began to believe that "crazy" was my new normal. I began to believe that perhaps all mothers felt this way - that "new mom love" wasn't near as intense as some had described. Clearly they must be lying!

It was 2 full years before very slowly my fog started to lift. I started to smile at Adelyn and she would smile back. My heart slowly began to recognize a mother's love for her child and what that was supposed to feel like.

My daughter would so innocently yet so passionately say "I love you mommy!" and I would feel love, hope, and shame all at the same time. This is the daughter I didn't want. This is the daughter that at time I wished were dead and saw it happening. How could she love ME? I am entirely undeserving of her affection.

Her faith in me gave me faith in myself. Her belief that I was a good mom, made me become that kind of mom. She would express her love for me and that gave me permission to feel and express my love for her. Knowing that she was unharmed mentally by this whole situation, gave me faith that perhaps one day we could be a normal family.

It did not happen over night, but I got better. It happened so painfully slowly that I couldn't even tell you when it happened or what made it happen. By the time she was half way through her second year, I felt much more like myself. I was uncertain about the future and my career, but mentally I felt much happier.

Fast forward to today and my heart that, before, couldn't hold an ounce of love - swells when I see her skip down the stairs off the bus at the end of her long day at kindergarten. I want to hold her and savour every minute with her, enjoying the here and now. Relishing in the normalcy I had craved for so long. I cherish every note she gives me that says "I love mommy", because I know I don't deserve it. I know she loves me from the most purest part in her heart, to love a mom that didn't want her. Her love inspires me to do better and to be better.

Almost 4 1/2 years have now passed since she was born. I am now happier than I have EVER been, and most of that is due to the fact that I have lived through the worst, so now being able to enjoy even the simplest of pleasures seems just that much better.

Through the whole sickness I had lost my career and didn't know where to turn. From all my time at home and desperate to keep busy, I discovered painting and have never looked back.

Today I am beyond blessed to not only be ALIVE, but to be LIVING. I am blessed to have family and friends that supported me - and to have learned the true nature of those that didn't.
I am honoured now to speak out about my journey, to show others that you do not have to be afraid.

People will always judge those with mental health issues, because they themselves don't understand. I feel sorry for those people because they are the ones that will experience their own self-imposed stigma if (heaven-forbid) they ever face a mental health crisis.

Don't add to the stigma - speak out and be real with those around you.

Thank you for reading.

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