I have battled anxiety my entire adult life and as someone who has dealt with it head on for many years, I know my specific triggers, signs and symptoms. My anxiety symptoms are strong physical sensations (knots in my stomach, heaviness in my chest) and irrational thoughts that I make seem real and possible. Jumping to conclusions - often the worst possible outcome, and believing that it will happen. I had a good handle on my anxiety and had worked hard through the years to come to a place where I could find my calm quickly. A few months after I gave birth to my son I felt those familiar symptoms and saw the signs, but I knew something felt different. It felt less me "jumping to conclusions" and more feeling REAL. It felt less in my head and more in everything. It felt angrier, heavier and all encompassing. I would be filled with rage in an instant, something that never happened to me before. Burning hot rage, and I didn't understand why. At times it felt hopeless. Sometimes everything felt heavy...SO heavy. My chest felt like there was something sitting on it and pushing down, and I couldn't take a deep breath no matter how hard I tried. I felt misunderstood, I sobbed often for no reason, and I felt like I was going crazy. I was worried about my relationship. I was worried I had lost myself. I was worried about SIDS (okay I was actually obsessed about worrying about SIDS) and I obsessed over his breathing, checking multiple times in an hour that he was breathing while asleep. The nights felt eternal, and I wasn't sure how I would make it through the next day.
Looking back now, so much of that time seems foggy. Some days I wasn't really living, I was just existing. But it would come and go, and so I would convince myself I had a handle on it and I could manage. One day my partner looked at me with an expression I can't even describe and just said "it feels like you HATE me". And I had nothing to say back. Because sometimes I did hate him. And I hated that. It was then I realized I clearly did not have a handle on it. My breaking point was when Asher was 5 months old. I was on the phone with my mom while shopping at Superstore with Asher, telling her about how overwhelmed I was feeling when my dad got on the phone and told me that when I got home he wanted me to call my doctor and make an appointment. And then I was to call them back and let them know the date and time of my appointment. I was being held accountable to my well being from someone else and that was the final push I needed. I promptly called my doctors office an hour later and completely broke down sobbing when the receptionist told me he had no appointments available until the following week. Bless her HEART she calmed me down, asked me questions and told me that I was not alone, that she had been in my shoes after her own children. She told me she understood, she would talk to him and have him call me asap. Thirty minutes later my phone rang and we shortly had a plan in place.
My plan included calling Mental Health and Addictions Services to set up an assessment for attending the Post Partum Depression group (Saskatoon: 306-655-7777 or click here), filling out the intake survey for the Online Therapy program put on by the University of Regina ( link is here), and resuming the low dose anxiety medication I had been taking for a few years before I was pregnant with Asher. My plan started that day, and within weeks I was attending the PPD group every Wednesday and sharing my story with other women who understood everything I was saying and felt everything I was feeling. I was working independently on the Online Therapy course and applying my new coping tools, I was taking my prescribed medication daily and I was talking to my partner, family and friends. I will not tell you it all magically got easier and I felt a million times better right away, because it didn't. There is no quick fix, it took time - but with the right plan and support system in place, and a lot of effort and intentional work it DID get easier and I DID feel a million times better.
What worked for me might differ for someone else. I believe Western Medicine is crucial and works for a lot of people, and I also believe that a holistic approach may work better for others. Everyone is different and unique, and everyone's body needs different things. I am not here to tell you one is better than the other for you, but I am here to tell you that no matter your beliefs there is an approach and plan that will support you in your journey to push through Post Partum Depression or Anxiety. And it starts with reaching out, communicating and asking for help. It is SO hard, and you might feel so alone. No matter how you feel I promise you - you are NOT alone. You are not broken, you are not wrong, you are not a bad mom or partner. You are HUMAN. Your body - physical and emotional as a whole - just grew a human being and brought them into this world. You have hormones taking you on all sorts of highs and lows, all on little to no sleep. It is unbearable and crippling at times. It's exhausting when you are already an exhausted new mom. It's strong, it takes a hold of you when you are at your most vulnerable, and it is dangerous if left untreated. It took me months to ask for help, and if I could go back I would reach out much sooner. There are amazing programs and people in place to help women suffering from Post Partum Depression and Anxiety, and I encourage all new moms (and moms to be!) to research the supports available to you in your town or city, and to communicate with your doctor and your partner, family and friends.
Sometimes I feel it again - the rage, the heaviness, the sadness - and most times I can take a few deep breaths, take a minute and release it. And some days I can't - and those days are when I reach out, talk it through, use the tools I have learned - and am extra gentle and kind to myself. I remind myself that I am human, I am a good mom, and I break through.
ps. I am ALWAYS here to talk. If you are struggling with PPD, PPA or anxiety and want to talk, have questions on any of the supports I used, or just want to know someone else knows (really knows) how you are feeling - my email is firstname.lastname@example.org - please reach out. And mama? You are doing a GREAT job. <3