It started with euphoria.
In November of 2017, just three days after giving birth to my daughter, I decided to sit alone in the carport of our country home at four o’clock in the morning. Postpartum depression was far from my mind because I felt fantastic.
The absurdity of life as I knew it made me laugh. Suddenly every bad moment seemed meaningless in the scheme of the universe. I let the thoughts come, and let myself drown in a sea of euphoria.
When I went back inside, I couldn’t stop smiling. Returning to my infant daughter sleeping in her bassinet, I closed my eyes and dreamt heavily.
I started feeling obsessive, and paranoid.
One week later, there was a shift in my body – a strange sinking sensation in my chest. When the euphoria faded away, inner terror took its place.
Fearing SIDS or suffocation, I went to extraordinary lengths to protect her from harm, including watching her every minute in the night as she slept. She was so fragile. Anything could happen to her! How could I ever forgive myself if I let something happen to her?
My biological instinct to protect her went into overdrive. I eventually stopped sleeping completely.
My mind saw danger everywhere, so to maintain some level of control I pressured my husband into this unhealthy schedule of watching her in the night with me. It was simple – if we watched her always, she would not die.
My anxiety became unbearable.
I experienced the loss of my daughter as a constant emotional distress that I carried with me everywhere. My husband could no longer leave me alone with her – every time he tried I would frantically call and beg him to come back home.
I felt profound grief, a feeling that only grew stronger each day, manifesting as a pulling sensation between my rib cage. Every time I looked her her face it were as if I could see her dying right before my eyes.
My heart would pound and my hands would shake, causing me to avoid holding her for fear of harming her. I knew I was driving myself mad but I couldn’t stop.
Not knowing what postpartum depression was, I did not think about it. I simply thought I was just anxious, as always.
Delusions and “the dark wave”.
My daughter needed new infant formula immediately. I believed her current brand was harming her somehow, so I drove to the nearest store during the biggest snowstorm of the year.
Panic surged through me as I gripped the steering wheel, trying not to go off the road as white specks of snow slammed into the windshield. I could feel myself bleeding from the stitches between my legs.
“I’m bleeding to death!,” I thought. I couldn’t see the lines on the road through the snow. “If I don’t crash the car this bleeding will kill me regardless,” I thought again. An ooze of blood trickled down my leg and onto the floor of the car, its warmth terrifying me as I envisioned puddles of bright red blood and tissue slowly exiting my body, killing me.
The snow was coming down hard by the time I reached the store. It didn’t seem beautiful at all now. Clutching my phone with one hand and feeling with the other, I patted my hand on my legs to see how much blood I had lost while driving.
There was no blood anywhere to be found.
Derealization and panic attacks took over.
I stumbled into the store and walked mechanically to the baby aisles. Something did not feel right. It felt as though I had been transported into another dimension where everything was distorted or surreal.
I couldn’t breathe. Could I even walk in a straight line? I clutched my arms, put my head down and ran out of the store as quick as I could, fearing I would faint.
When I got back into the car I burst into tears. Like a demonic possession, it were as if my anxiety took on an evilness – a dark wave. I scrambled during the drive home trying to ignore its ominous presence.
Postpartum didn’t apply to me – I didn’t feel sad, I felt scared.
I became violently sick.
My alarm clock went off the next morning, making my eyes pop open. Almost instantly, a physical sensation of dread and despair filled me. Terrified of these new sensations I leapt out of bed and ran to the bathroom. My muscles felt weak, and tired. Everything hurt. “Am I dying?,” I thought.
I called for my husband but only croaks came out. Leaning over the toilet to dry heave, I knew there was something terrible happening to my body.
Cyclical vomiting did not stop.
The dry heaving and vomiting did not stop. The thought of food made my stomach worse – so I sipped water periodically to stay hydrated. Unable to pick myself up enough to stand up straight,
I sought help, which led to a 24-hour involuntary hold.
I paced around my house hunched over and weak. As the day progressed, a black static like that of an old television set crept into my mind. Still in denial of my postpartum depression, I believed it was something I could control.
Everything was dark, like waking up from a nightmare only to find out the nightmare never actually ended…
Convinced that I was dying of a terminal illness, I went to the hospital alone that evening while my husband stayed with our baby. The doctor who spoke to me carried a harsh and unfriendly demeanor.
He mentioned postpartum depression – to which I replied, “I do not feel sad! I feel sick!”. He didn’t seem to be listening to me at all.
Regretting my decision to go to the hospital I grabbed my things, thanked the doctor and told him I was going home to rest. He said sharply, “I think you should speak to the emergency psychiatrist at the main hospital in the city”.
The way he said these words was accusatory, as if I committed a felony and was being taken into custody.
“Do I have a choice?,” I replied. “I think it is in your best interests to go. You cannot drive yourself though, an ambulance will escort you there,” he replied, “…you’re not going to try and run, are you?”.
I was given two Ativan and told to wait for the paramedics to retrieve me. The dark wave sensation in my chest expanded astronomically – I stifled my vomit and stared at the floor, gripped by a sensation of clinging onto a cliff, trying not to fall into some sort of oblivion.
I didn’t feel depressed, I felt sick.
The paramedics took me to the emergency psychiatric department and forced to relinquish all of my personal belongings. The waiting room was dead silent – some people were pacing back and forth like caged animals – others slept in chairs that were lined up against the far wall.
I would be under a 24 hour involuntary hold so the nurses could monitor my behavior. Frantic, I begged them for a private room but they said no. Instead, I was given a handful of strange looking pills, which I took without hesitating.
Sitting in the corner like a terrified cat, I waited for the medication to kick in.
The minute hand on the clock appeared slower than usual. My eyelids started to close. No longer thinking I could hold myself up in the chair, I ran to an empty seat on the far wall and collapsed into it. Everything was spinning. This was oblivion, and I was falling into Hell.
My eyes popped open after what felt like one second of sleep. My head ached like I was hit with a sledgehammer.
I immediately realized where I was and shot out of the chair like a rocket, raced to the bathroom, and dry heaved. I hid in the bathroom for about half an hour before facing the waiting room where the others were.
The waiting room where no one was allowed to escape.
We all waited for close to nine hours to have our turn with the psychiatrist. As if trapped in some sort of purgatory, many began shouting and hitting the walls, screaming to get out.
I spoke to the psychiatrist for a total of five minutes, and was asked very basic questions about my mental health. For the most part, I lied to her. I just wanted to get out of that place as fast as possible.
The fluorescent lights made the room seem dream like. I ignored my distressing symptoms and spoke robotically in a way that would convince her I was fine to leave.
After writing me a prescription for anti-anxiety medication she hesitantly sent me on my way. As I left the hospital the dark wave sent pin pricks of pain down my arms and legs.
A wave of vertigo struck me in the hallway on the way out, followed by surging panic. I knew it wasn’t over yet.
Agitation and inner restlessness took over.
Putting up a good fight under the idea I could get well without help, I quickly burned out and became hysterical. I could no longer maintain the facade of being functional as the lethargic and doom-like physical sensations crippled my body.
One evening I finally collapsed onto the living room floor in complete and utter despair. Through gasps of distress I shouted at my husband, telling him I could not keep up anymore. My nervous system had descended into chemical chaos.
Back and forth the pendulum swung – alternating by the hour between extreme lethargy and doom to adrenaline and panic. When one state stopped, the other would take its place.
I spoke to my GP about antidepressant medication and hesitantly filled a prescription for an SSRI, knowing the dangers but feeling as though I had absolutely no choice.
My postpartum depression was too severe.
I took an SSRI tablet before bed.
At three o’clock in the morning that night, my eyes popped open. My heart raced a million miles per second and I was covered in sweat.
Somehow feeling the “evilness” of the presence of the medication in my system, I became psychotic. I ran in circles, trying to run from my symptoms as if it were a physical presence outside of myself.
Prior to taking the medication I was convinced I could not possible get any worse, but the SSRI unleashed a fury so powerful it exasperated my symptoms to levels so unbearable
It didn’t feel like postpartum depression – it felt like I was going to die any minute.
I became so distressed I stopped eating, showering, changing my clothes and going outside. I paced in circles for hours, banging on the walls, screaming to the ceiling for help.
These bizarre symptoms terrified me, and I knew I had to go back to the hospital immediately. I began to wonder if I would simply die of my own terror.
Every attempt to get help was ignored.
I went to the hospital five times seeking help. I begged for help – only to be turned away each time and told it was “just anxiety”.
Each day I became worse and watched my husband care for our two month old daughter and five year old son by himself, crippled by the guilt of what I was putting him through. Despite trying to help, I simply could not function.
Eventually I stopped being able to be near my own children at all. I spent hours each day pacing in circles around my house crying and muttering things. Like entering another dimension, my brain simply stopped working properly all together.
For many weeks I thought I died and was stuck in some sort of middle-zone, existing as a ghostly ‘walking-wounded’. No one could tell me what was happening to me.
The words “postpartum depression,” irritated me because it felt like a blanket term for a condition they had no real explanation for.
I was told it was all, “just anxiety”.
At my fifth hospital visit, a doctor gave me the drug Prozac, telling me it would “cure me,” and alleviate the out of control symptoms I was experiencing.
During my weeks on Prozac I had extreme drug-induced nightmares. One in particular involved a young girl and her Youtube channel. In the dream, she crawled out of the compute screen and said, “I can’t take it anymore”, and shot herself.
For the first time in my life, I felt a complete disconnect from the source, or some omnipresent force I had always felt throughout the previous years. I could not feel joy, happiness or gratitude – only terror and doom. I believed the universe had abandoned me to die meaninglessly.
Electrical “pricks” hit my limbs like being injected with tiny needles throughout the day. When I tried to think, a black static would cackle from within my mind in place of coherent thoughts.
Every drug only made me sicker.
I had weekly visits to a psychiatrist in the city as part of an outpatient program. During one session, I asked the psychiatrist if I would ever be well again, looking for any bit of hope I could get my hands on.
She replied, “I don’t know, I’m not a fortune teller”. Postpartum depression translated into “sadness and an inability to cope,” not what I was experiencing.
It didn’t matter how I articulated my symptoms, everyone assumed that rest and help with the baby would make it all go away.
Months of hopelessness.
For six weeks I isolated myself in the basement, trying to sleep throughout the day to escape the symptoms, only to have terrifying nightmares. Inner agitation made it impossible to sit still and focus on a movie or even read a book.
At one point I visited the nearest church to talk to a priest in an attempt to magically manifest the resolution of my illness, but the church was closed.
I spent many hours in the day with spiritual teachers reciting things in my headphones, trying to find some sort of enlightenment or awaken myself into spontaneous remission of my symptoms.
I desperately tried listening to emotional instrumental music, hoping to feel something – anything but the terror that possessed me every second of each day. Nothing touched my symptoms – I simply got worse.
If someone didn’t listen to me soon, I would die.
Not only was I fighting for my life, I was fighting an internal war that appeared completely invisible to medical professionals.
It was four months later that one doctor finally acknowledged my symptoms as real. This day was the official start of my recovery.
It wasn’t all in my imagination after all – this was something bigger and more terrifying than “just anxiety”. If only I accepted my condition in those early days. Instead, my denial pushed me so far into the abyss I came close to not being able to escape it.
See my recovery story here: http://circumnavigating-madness.com/2019/11/04/my-recovery-from-severe-postpartum-depression/
For more information on postpartum depression, see: https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/postpartum-depression
For information on postpartum psychosis, see: https://www.app-network.org/what-is-pp/