Saturday, June 03, 2017

a story about mental illness

I seriously contemplated and debated with myself about sharing has been sitting in my drafts for over a month because, well, the internet is forever, and I kept wondering if sharing this on the webnets was the wisest thing to do. The deciding factor for me was simple: I can't claim to be stigma free if I stay silent, and maybe someone will read this and feel less alone because there is someone else who can understand what they are going through. May is also Mental Health Awareness month so it seems that the Universe is telling me it's not a completely terrible here we go.


I am coping with mental illness-anxiety and Postpartum Depression specifically.

My official diagnosis of anxiety in the spring of 2014 helped me realize there is an actual title for everything I had been experiencing for most of my life beyond "I have a lot of feelings" and "I just don't know how to cope with life".

It was liberating-having a word that explained what I was dealing with-even in part-and to know that I wasn't crazy, and I wasn't overreacting or being dramatic; my brain is sick. I had knowledge, and that is an empowering thing. This diagnosis also helped me to discover I'm an empath and a HSP; two more reasons I feel things so intensely. I started seeing a therapist who taught me ways to cope and techniques I could use to alleviate my anxiety as well as how to cope with being an empath and HSP in this messy, horrible (but also wonderful) world. I went from feeling like I was sinking all the time to feeling like I could manage. I learned that people who suffer from anxiety are more prone to experiencing depression than those who do not, and that was a large contributor as to why my lows were so low; the anxiety sends you off into a worst case scenario and that makes it easier for the depression to sneak in and take hold. The best description of anxiety I was ever given is "anxiety is like perpetually hearing the boss/enemy music but never seeing the threat." I was living my life in fear of a threat I couldn't see, and the depression that grew from that only compounded things.

Talk therapy is what worked best for me and after about six months I decided that I was able to try life on my own and stopped seeing my therapist regularly-but I did continue to see her for 'tune-ups' as I felt they were necessary. Fast forward to last May when I found out I was pregnant. It sent me into a tailspin and I spent all my time worrying. You see, Mr. Wonderful and I struggled to get pregnant, and four days before I found out I was pregnant we were given terrible news. Because of this I spent the duration of my pregnancy anxiety riddled and waiting for the other shoe to drop. There was going to be bad news, there had to be because the circumstances around this whole situation is the sort of stuff you only see in movies. Because of my anxiety I can count on less than one hand the number of times I was happy and excited about being pregnant. I was so busy living in fear of the unseen threat I was robbed of the ability to enjoy this thing I had waited so long and prayed so hard for. When we learned we were having twins the joy I should have experienced was overshadowed by the constant fear that I would lose not one, but two babies.

About seven months into my pregnancy I was diagnosed with prenatal depression and once again I started seeing my therapist, but this time I wasn't making the progress I had hoped for. I lived in fear of labor and being responsible for two tiny humans. I second-guessed my decision to get pregnant and was convinced I would be a horrible mother. I was afraid of everything, rational or not, I was scared out of my mind. I tried to educate myself but reading books and taking classes only made it worse. I prepared myself for the inevitable-I was going to have Postpartum Depression. I was already anxious and depressed, major life changes (like having babies) exacerbates both, I had undergone fertility treatments, was due in the middle of January (the darkest, coldest, suckiest part of the year), and I suffer from S.A.D. Frankly, I was screwed.

At 37.1 weeks my blood pressure began to climb and my OB decided the risks of staying pregnant outweighed the benefits of cooking for another week (we had an induction scheduled for 38 weeks), and I was sent to Labor and Delivery. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. After 30 hours and a birth that went nothing how I had hoped for, they were here. Two beautiful, healthy baby boys. My lifelong dream of being a mother was a reality, and I wanted nothing to do with them. One of my first memories post delivery in the OR is one I am so ashamed and embarrassed of only Husband and my therapist know about it. It's an interesting feeling; loving something more than you can imagine all while feeling completely detached from them. I spent my time in the hospital trying to bond and feel what I so desperately wanted to feel-what I SHOULD have felt, but there was nothing. I was faking it. I was a fraud and I didn't deserve to be a mother. I felt guilty because I chose to have the nurses supplement with formula rather than work on breastfeeding so I could sleep. I remember sitting on the couch the day we came home holding our perfect, beautiful sons sobbing because I felt so detached, confused, overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, afraid, and second-guessing. I was home for less than 48 hours when I returned to the hospital with complications. Our boys were six days old and I was already being separated from them. Three days I spent away from my babies; feeling guilty about being away and at the same time relieved that I wasn't there to ruin them and thinking it was better they were in the care of someone more capable than me-all while I should have been focused on getting well.

Not counting the days I was in the hospital for my return visit I had Husband's help for a whopping five days (don't get me started on paternity leave in America) before he had to return to work; after that I was on my own. I was recovering from a C-Section, an abdominal infection, and preeclampsia, and now I had two babies to keep alive, too. Those first few weeks are a blur, but I remember a lot of crying; I cried all the time. I didn't feel like I was bonding with the boys. I felt guilty because I didn't feel what I thought I should be feeling as a mom. I wanted to be grateful but I was resentful of these two beautiful children, and then I felt guilty again because what sort of mother resents her children!? I felt guilty because this is what I wanted; I had what so many women would give anything to have-I WAS that woman a year prior, and here I was second-guessing it. I felt ungrateful. I was empty. I cried while I was constantly apologizing to them for failing them as a mother. I was convinced they would have been better off with someone else as their mom. I didn't sleep because I was convinced the babies would die from SIDS if I did. I was terrified of RSV and sickness so we stayed inside. It was dark and cold and lonely and I began to feel isolated. I stopped bathing. I was terrified that I would end up back in the hospital and wouldn't make it home this time. I was convinced I was going to leave my Husband all alone with two brand new babies. Despite his best efforts nothing Husband did could bring me out of my funk and I started to fight with him. The help I was offered I refused-it wasn't going to be there forever and I convinced myself I needed to learn how to care for two babies by myself. My mom tried to come up and help, but my dad suffered a stroke the day after she came up and she had to turn around and go back home (my dad is ok-thank heavens).

Because staying alive trumped pumping during hospital stay #2 I struggled to breastfeed. My supply wasn't big enough to feed one baby, let alone two. Trying to tandem feed stressed me out and made me feel inadequate. The boys would get frustrated and we would all cry. I was constantly worried they weren't getting enough from me and I felt guilty for that and for preferring to give them formula-at least that way I knew how much they were getting. Husband made me an appointment with a lactation consultant. Christy was wonderful and supportive, and never made me feel less than, but I was still disheartened. I was convinced I was a failure. I decided to pump and supplement rather than nurse in the hopes that would increase my supply, but I couldn't pump as often as I needed to. The babies only wanted to be held and would only sleep if they were on me. I only got a few ounces each pump. I felt like a failure. I began to think that everyone would be better off without me. While I never contemplated suicide and I never had thoughts of hurting my boys I did begin to think it would be better for everyone if I just ceased to exist, and if I happened to have a tragic accident it would be for the best. As the last day of my maternity leave approached I became more anxious and I felt guilty I couldn't stay home with them; I had failed them yet again.

At my six-week visit my OB told me what I already knew-I had Postpartum Depression. She referred me to a therapist since I felt like the one I had seen previously was no longer the best fit for me. I saw that therapist twice and I talked a grand total of ten minutes between the two sessions, I knew more about her than she did about me. While I am not opposed to medications if they are necessary she had me schedule an appointment with a prescriber before I had had one full session with her. I fired her and found someone else thanks to a referral from a good friend and I love her. I do the bulk of the talking, and she didn't push to get me on meds right away. Although I will likely end up on an antidepressant she was willing to let me try alternative methods first.

I'm still not out of the woods-about a month ago I had my first experience with apathy. It was unlike anything I've ever experienced, I wouldn't wish that on anyone. I was literally going through the motions for everything in my life when all I wanted to do was curl into a ball and never leave my bed. The guilt set back in. I was failing my boys-again. That seemed to be the only thing I was doing consistently-failing them. I felt like I was drowning. There weren't enough hours in the day. Although the boys have been sleeping through the night pretty consistently I was still only getting 4-5 hours a sleep a night because the bulk of my evenings were going to the babies and pumping. We were eating dinner at 10:00 and I was staying up until 12:00 or 1:00 to try to get things done and I was still horribly behind. My therapist asked me what I could give up to make more time. "Pumping". I said it so quickly it surprised even me. As much as I wanted nursing to be a wonderful, beautiful thing for me it was only a source of stress, anxiety, resentment, anger, and guilt. I was afraid to quit-afraid of being labeled selfish for putting my needs ahead of my children's-even if it was less than 10% of their food source. I know you can't fill someone else's cup from an empty pitcher, but nothing has gone the way I had hoped in regards to becoming and being a mom. I needed something I could control, but it still ended up controlling me. Deciding to wean was an interesting process. There was a lot of guilt and tears, but now that I'm done I'm starting to feel like I made the best choice for all of us. Bottle feeding my boys is actually-dare I say-fun. I am able to focus on them and not worry about how much (or little) I got from that session and I'm not attached to the pump. It's such a relief to know I don't have to haul it around or be at its mercy. I'm sure there will be days I'll be sad or wish I could have done more, but I did my best and I tried my hardest. That's all anyone can ask of me and it gets to be okay.

I have good days and I have bad ones, but luckily the good are starting to outnumber the bad. I'm starting to take pleasure in things again and I finally feel like I'm bonding with my boys-they make me so happy and I can't imagine my life without them, and I am working on repairing my marriage. I still have a long way to go, but I can see the glimmer of a light at the end of the tunnel. Through this experience I have learned a few things:

  • mental illness is not one size fits all, and just because your illness isn't as 'severe' as someone else's it doesn't diminish anything. A cold is a cold regardless of if you are able to function or not. The same holds true for mental illness. 
  • You are not obligated to stick with your therapist. If you don't feel it's a good fit-even if it's only been one session-find someone else. Your well being is what's important. 
  • YOU ARE NOT ALONE. One in NINE women will suffer from PPD. Odds are you know someone who has dealt/is dealing with it without even knowing it. 
  • Getting help does not make you a failure or a bad mom. It's the opposite, actually. You can't take care of someone else when you are not taking care of you first. 
  • Asking for help is not failure. People offer to help because they love you. Don't deny someone else the opportunity to serve.
  • Things will ebb and flow. There will be days you feel great and others not so much. It's part of the process. 
  • If you believe in a Higher Being prayer helps. 
And above all else-YOU ARE A GOOD MOM. (Don't worry if you don't believe it yet; I'm still working on that, too.)


1 comment:

Most Happy Girl said...

My dearest, sweetest Cecily.

Thank you for sharing this. I know so so SO many women who have struggled with and through PPD, including my sister who is mom to three of the most amazing men you will ever meet. She went through many of the same things you described in your post, including the inability to nurse adiquately for only one child at a time. Let me tell you a little about her sons. #1 is quite possibly the most intelligent being I have ever met. He was valedictorian of his high school class, served a mission to Romania, graduated from BYU, and is currently certifying in IT from LDS Business because he just likes school. He and his amazing wife are mom and dad to two beautiful children (2 years and 3 months). #2 is hardest working person I know next to his own dad. He loves fiercely and is defender to all who need defending. He is wise, compassionate, and also brilliant (salutatorian of his high school class and okay that he didn't make val like his big brother). He served a mission to Belgium and France, graduated from BYU, and waited for his wife while she served a mission, saving money so they could buy a house soon after they got married. He and his beautiful wife are expecting their first baby this month. They love animals and people, and their home is a safe place for anyone needing help. #3 is almost as hard-working as his dad and older brother. He is a spiritual giant whose relationship with Heavenly Father and Christ could easily be the envy of GAs. He follows the spirit in almost every decision in his life, from serving a mission to Boston to going to BYU-I instead of Provo so he could meet the amazing woman who is his wife and mother to their absolutely adorable daughter who just turned one. He was also valedictorian in high school. He graduated from BYU-I this spring and has his dream job in his field.

My sister has told me that her greatest fear while raising these amazing men was that she had failed them and ruined their lives. outside of the scriptures, life comes with little to no instructions. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to anything you are going through. You are amazing. I love your pictures and posts about the boys. Always know that you are loved more than any of us can comprehend, by me and others, but most especially by Heavenly Father and Jesus. I love your statement that prayer helps. That is so true. Please let me know if you need ANYTHING ANYTIME.

Love you, my dear sister.