See my severe postpartum depression story here: http://circumnavigating-madness.com/2019/10/24/my-postpartum-depression-the-descent-into-hell/
I clutched my cellphone in my hand, ready to call an ambulance.
I stared blankly at the phone in a state of terror.
Images of electric convulsions and being strapped down on a table swirled around my head in a frenzy. This was the culmination of it all – the one single moment that would decide my fate forever.
If I didn’t go to the hospital, I knew I would die.
This was the moment that would change everything – it was my last resort. “Be hospitalized or die, it’s your choice,” I thought. All I had to do was call 911.
I had to relinquish control over the situation, admit that I was no longer in control, and let my fate lie in the hands of something unknown and outside of myself.
My fear was overwhelming, and like a deer caught in headlights, I froze.
“Call the fucking number,” I thought again. It felt like a door of fear I had to walk through – a test of some kind.
In my last act of control, I decided to call 911 and release myself into the unknown. I had no idea what the hospital would do, nor did I know whether I would live or die. It was out of my hands now. It felt like jumping off of a burning ship into the dark waters below.
While I waited for the ambulance, I shook uncontrollably with fear.
As we waited for the ambulance I clutched my husband, sobbing uncontrollably. “I am so scared,” I said.
I must have said those words twenty times. When the ambulance arrived, I got in and accepted my fate.
Black static filled my head as I looked around the psychiatric emergency department for the sixth time in four months.
The dark wave of doom and dread, now at an absolute peak, sent shivers down my spine. Postpartum depression I knew, was so much more than just sadness.
Strong delusions I would die on the waiting room floor drove me mad as I waited. More delusions started convincing me I would undergo ECT or be polydrugged until my heart stopped.
Like the final culmination of a dramatic movie, things quickly took an unexpected turn. I found myself sitting in front of a female doctor who specialized in postpartum depression.
The fluorescent lights made the room seem surreal. A familiar surge of the dark wave filled me, making me clutch the sides of my chair so I would not let go and fall into oblivion.
My body shook with tremors caused by the powerful adrenaline, and I cried hysterically as she questioned me. Expecting to hear the words, “It’s just anxiety,” I instead heard her say,
“My dear, you are very, very ill…,” she said.
She was the first doctor in months to believe the words I was telling her – that is was more than just anxiety, and I was indeed, very, very ill.
The new doctor finally told me that it was postpartum depression – but not “normal” postpartum depression. What I had was a “mixed episode” of mania and depression at the same time…
Two men came to retrieve me from the waiting room shortly after, handed me a pair of blue pants with a matching blue top and told me to follow them. Clutching the blue pants tightly I held my head down, following the men to the psychiatric unit where I would be staying for an unknown amount of time.
Click, snap, click, snap. Strange noises seemed to come from inside of my head as I walked. Click, snap, crack…
I felt a shift in my body and nervous system. A change within me began to unravel, but trying to explain what this change was would be absolutely futile. Something simply…changed.
I was set to spend nine days in the psych ward.
When I entered the psychiatric ward I noticed it was fairly empty, except a few people sitting together at one of the tables in the main area.
A man with long hair tapped me on the shoulder, and told me it was time to go to my room. As we walked, he showed me around the unit and told me where I could find things such as sandwiches and washing machines.
When we arrived to my room he took my belongings and locked them in a safe, telling me he would give them back to me the next day.
“You’re very anxious. You see, it’s my job to know these things. You’re standing there holding your arms in a death grip,” he said, “…take these, OK? They’ll help you sleep”. He handed me five different pills, and without fear I took them all at once with a swig of water.
I watched the door close behind him as he left, and got into the small bed by the barred window. I could not sense the presence of the dark wave in my chest, nor could I sense the doom-like terror that had plagued me mercilessly in the previous months. The drugs hit hard and fast, and very quickly my eyes shut as I drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
There was a hard knock at the door the next morning, making my eyes pop open. “Breakfast…,” I heard a voice say. I flipped out of bed and ran to the bathroom to dry heave.
Mornings were always significantly worse, but when I tried to sense the presence of the dark wave – the doom and dread, the anxiety and psychosis that had plagued me for months – it was nowhere to be found.
I fixed my hair in the bathroom mirror, put my hands on the sink and stared at myself for several moments. My face looked unrecognizable. My hair was thin and wispy, my skin was red and dry and my eyes looked sunken in from the months of physical, emotional and spiritual torment.
When I entered the eating area there were many people sitting at the various tables scattered throughout. Most were quiet, others chatting to themselves or watching the television in the corner blankly.
A young girl entered the room in a bouncy way. She had bags under her eyes and deep, dark circles marking exhaustion. Her hair was wild. She sat with me and introduced herself as Beth.
We quickly became a duo, taking walks throughout the ward together, painting pictures, doing puzzles and visiting other patients.
The more time I spent with Beth, the more I felt the presence of the dark wave diminish.
On the third day of my stay, others began to join us on our walks, and at our table. They told me why there were there and the things they endured throughout the course of their lives. “This isn’t my first rodeo,” one woman would say as she told us of her internal war with bipolar disorder type 1.
Like depression veterans they told me of the genuine suffering they experienced, and very quickly we all became friends in a way that would rarely happen in the outside world.
On the fourth day of my visit, we sat in the t.v. room and Beth got us to sing songs. For the first time in months, I laughed.
The diminishing of the dark wave could be felt as a physical sensation all through me – and as all the lights slowly turned back on in my brain, I began to feel joy again.
I felt like I was reborn.
Every day of my stay in the hospital, more lights seemingly came back on inside of my brain. Antipsychotic medication gave me my appetite back, making me eat like a horse and regain my strength.
Many times each day I would go outside and introduce myself to strangers from other sections of the ward, feeling light, free and unshackled by the terror that had tortured me for so long.
My severe postpartum depression was in remission.
I was released on the ninth day, and when I got home I held my daughter for the first time in weeks. No longer feeling afraid, I took my medication at the same time every night, and each day I slowly began taking an active part in our family.
I changed my entire perspective of what happened to me.
Every so often in the months following my hospitalization, I felt grief. I could not believe that something so utterly horrific could happen to a person, especially one that just gave birth.
Missing out on my daughters first few months was time I knew I could never get back, and the fear another episode to that degree filled my thoughts. Despite being well, I was haunted.
One day, I picked up my paint brushes and painted my heart out after watching a documentary on Vincent Van Gogh.
I buried myself in art, using Vincent as inspiration, for he too endured a lifetime of major depression.
My entire perspective of my illness changed rapidly. In my postpartum depression, I learned the sheer strength of my spirit to endure even the most horrific experiences. Through the relentless suffering, not once did I give up.
Every day of my episode I was searching for a cure, and searching for a way to get better. I searched and fought until everything culminated and I simply let go – and it was in the act of letting go that put me into a spontaneous remission of symptoms.
I began actively practising the art of letting go – whether that be letting go of stress and worry, or letting go of the need to be in control of my entire life in general.
If I had a bad day, I would ask myself, “What can I do right now to feel better?,” instead of spiralling into the thoughts that made me so sick in the past.
Most importantly, I realized that what happened to me was absolutely miraculous. Not only did I have a spontaneous remission of symptoms, but the remission happened before I took the medication.
It were almost as if the very act of going to the hospital and walking through the wall of fear triggered something internally within me.
My daughter turned two years old yesterday – and I can safely say that I have not had another major depressive episode since her birth.
Postpartum depression is a serious mental condition. If you think you have postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis you should seek out the help that is available.
Never again will I forget that even in the most unbearable situations, you must never lose hope. I am living proof that even in the darkest, deepest Hell – you can be well again, sometimes in the most unbelievable ways.
“Be clearly aware of the stars and infinity on high. Then life seems almost enchanted after all.”
― Vincent Van Gogh
For more information on postpartum depression visit: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617
For information on postpartum psychosis, be sure to visit: https://www.app-network.org/what-is-pp/