Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A year ago: A reflection on my struggles with Post Partum Anxiety

A year ago today I was struggling very much with postpartum depression and anxiety. I thought I was just having trouble sleeping and it was possibly hormonal and temporary. But I started to realize it was driven by anxiety. I was reminded of this feeling when I met my friends newborn baby. Just being around her (and already being in a fragile state lately from my illness, move, etc), I felt so much anxiety around the newborn baby that helped me understand the state I must have been in when my baby was a newborn.

As you probably already know, almost exactly a year ago I tried to "fix" my insomnia by taking a variety of medications and trying different things: staying in the guest room (and far away from the baby at night), taking Benadryl, Xanax, Ativan, Ambien and more for sleep. I tried modifying my sleep hygiene, taking baths, relaxing, doing deep breathing, exhausting myself with exercise. Sometimes these worked, sometimes not. While on a three-week road trip vacation, I started to realize how tense I really was and that I might not just be having a sleep problem, but anxiety about the well-being of my perfectly mellow, easygoing baby. When I returned from the trip, I sought help for the anxiety.

I got some sleep meds at the intensive outpatient program (IOP) I attended 3 days a week for 3 hours a day and began to realize and understand that I was experiencing PPA. Still, I had an overarching concern that I would be on sleep medication long term and felt an urgency to get off of them "as soon as possible" even though the doctors continued to reassure me that in good time I would get off of them and they were only temporary (I thought "temporary" meant a week or two. I was alarmed when it turned into 1 month, then 2, etc.). I was concerned that being on them would negatively affect my baby because I was breastfeeding and I felt like I shouldn't NEED the drugs. That plenty of other mothers have sleep problems with a newborn and I should be able to suck it up like they did. I was plagued by the thought that women suffered through this before postpartum was recognized as an illness and shuddered to think about how suicidal I was when I got no sleep in a night. During the IOP, I encountered a lot of people who felt strongly that to take medication for PPA/PPD, they needed to stop breastfeeding. But, I refused to stop.

I tried to taper down because I was insistent that taking drugs to sleep was a bad thing and I should be able to do without them. At the same time I was trying to taper, I went through many major life changes: got a new job with a long and hellish commute, traveled, moved, and had to get used to a new city, new doctors, therapists, etc. And, my sleep started to suffer again. After much suffering through trying multiple medications and trying to taper, I finally gave in. I realized that if I needed to take drugs to sleep, I would. It was better to be able to sleep and be function and feel decent the next day than to try to get off a drug and feel like I was at the end of my rope and unable to function because I was so fatigued and depressed the next day.

There was one point during my suffering and trying of many medications that I considered that I should stop breastfeeding. When I was at my darkest and lowest, I felt exhausted. Tired. Beyond explanation. I could barely function. I thought it was because of the breastfeeding. But I didn't stop and started the Zoloft instead (pretty much a last-ditch effort) and later realized my fatigue and exhaustion was because of the depression I didn't know I was experiencing, not breastfeeding.

Soon, I began to take Zoloft. After just a few days I started to feel like I was emerging from a tunnel of despair. And, it only got better. It made me realize that I actually HAD been depressed--perhaps from all the stressors in my life, perhaps in combination with the PPA. But in a few weeks I felt so good, I couldn't believe it. I was pretty much back to my normal self. And, to this day, I wish I would have tried it sooner. For so long I insisted that I didn't need it. I SHOULDN'T need it. But now I see I may have been able to save myself much suffering and enjoyed things more. But I'm glad I found it when I did. I wasn't sure I could go on anymore and was considering the possibility of going on disability.

One year later, after all these struggles, I don't regret or feel bad in ANY way for taking the medications. In fact, I am THANKFUL for them. More than thankful. I believe they saved me. And, I've realized that breastfeeding while taking them is STILL better for my baby than subjecting her to unknown chemicals in formula. I feel like I made the best decision for me and my family by taking medication and continuing to breastfeed. I've still been able to live my dream of donating milk to other mamas who didn't mind that I was on medication and to breastfeed my daughter even now at 14 months (my dream is to bf until she is at least 2 years old, as long as she wants to). The Zoloft has enabled me to cope with some of the hardest things I've ever done: travel with an active 1 year old, be up at many hours of the night with her, go to work, encounter many life stressors, and more with a normal amount of stress (not a crippling amount).

I soon hope to get off the sleeping medication, but I'm not in any hurry. It's better for everyone if I get normal sleep. I never again want to spend my days and nights being worried and consumed by this concern. I have no need or desire to get off the Zoloft. It has changed my life and I am so happy to have something that has helped me so much.

My words of wisdom to any mothers out there who thinks they just have a "sleep" or "tiredness" problem: PLEASE just consider that you might need help. See a doctor or therapist about it. If you need to take medications, do so and NEVER look back. If you don't want to have PPD/PPA, it's OK. It's not your fault. Just like cancer patients didn't DO anything to have cancer or WANT to have it, they still have to make a choice to treat it and live. Choose life--one you can live fully and without suffering. It really can exist. And contact me if you need support or have questions. Really.

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