Wednesday, December 28, 2011

and so it goes

I've been officially diagnosed with postpartum anxiety. I kinda knew that the diagnosis was coming because I called my therapist and said, "hey...can I come by? I think I have postpartum anxiety." Three visits in, she agreed and recommended occasional talk therapy (she's kinda "on call," so I'm not going every week, but I'll email her when I feel it's getting frustrating and we'll have a visit to check in on my coping skills). She also suggested or some other anti-anxiety med, but since I'm breastfeeding (exclusively), I can't take anything now. Maybe I'll consider meds in the future if this sticks around.

The anxiety is manifesting itself in obsessive thoughts and the beginnings of ocd rituals, like using my right hand to support her head when I put her down to sleep instead of my left. Or repeating certain prayers over and over a specific number of times in order to ward away danger.  I have never had any ocd behaviors before now, so these weird behaviors are how I knew that something was up. I have experienced what I consider to be fairly normal levels of anxiety in my non-postpartum life, and I always thought of it as an endearing aspect of my personality. I imagine myself as a marginal but sweet character in a Woody Allen film. But this level of anxiety is not endearing or sweet. This current anxiety level is much higher. More acute. More painful.

I think it's under control today. Deep breathing helps. Saying things like "these are just thoughts...they're not real" is also useful. I have a list of reality checks that my therapist and I came up with to read over when I feel overwhelmed by fear.

How weird this is. I was stressed out through the pregnancy with thoughts that something would go wrong, and it didn't (except for the C section, but that's a minor inconvenience, not the kind of tragedy I was worrying about). I was stressed out during those first few weeks when she seemed tired and unusually lethargic, all of which turned out to be nothing (after multiple doctor visits and that ER trip). And here I sit, stressed out again without any real reason for doing so.

One of the things that scares me a bit is that whenever I talk to people IRL about my recent anxiety problems, people have a tendency to say things like "it only gets worse from here" and "little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems!" I don't tell them the real level of the anxiety--the ocd stuff or the way that I feel like a cloud of doom is hovering over my shoulders, but given their pat responses, that's probably a smart move. If I had some fellow new mom friends IRL, maybe I could discuss it with them, but I don't have any that I know well enough (yet). But what if they're right and I will suffer this kind of mother-related anxiety the rest of my life? I suppose it doesn't matter and I'll just keep putting one foot in front of the other, just learning to manage this anxiety and accept where I am today. Breathe, Rachael, breathe.


  1. I'm so sorry you are going through all of this. I know I'm not a doctor or anything but I wanted to say that is very safe during breastfeeding (or so I was told by my OBGYN and my psychiatrist) and is helpful with anxiety. I took it for anxiety when I was pregnant and I believe it helped ward off postpartum depression and anxiety later (I also took it while breastfeeding). Maybe you could talk to your OBGYN about that? It sounds like you could use all the help you can get right now. I hope things get better for you soon.

  2. Oh Rachael, I'm sorry. I had the good fortune to have lived life as a laid-back type before motherhood but I never understood how fortunate I was until I discovered what the word anxiety truly means postpartum. It was brutal. I never thought to actually do anything about it because it all seemed to be a fairly reasonable response to a terribly stressful pregnancy and a "difficult" baby.....until the postpartum psychosis started to kick in. It turns out that there was another explanation behind it all: hormones. That sounds like a no-brainer since the postpartum period is all about seismic-level hormonal shifts but in my case it was postpartum thyroiditis. I know that everyone's case is different but I would urge you to have your thyroid levels followed.

    The thing that helped me most on a day to day basis was to have the calming company of others. This was a bit complicated for me because I was terrified of going out of the house and even of inviting anybody in because I was sure that everyone was carrying germs that would end up killing my son (yes, that sounds crazy, but I think you understand how real it was to me then).

    I wish I could swing by and have some tea with you. Please DON'T listen to that stuff about how it all gets worse as they get older. That used to bring me to tears, particularly when it came from my husband. It told me just how little people understood what I was going through.

    As you say, breathe, seek as much help as you can get and remember that this is temporary.

  3. Oh, I am so sorry that you are going through this, though I commend your ability to recognize and effectively deal with the problem. I also carry a fair amount of everyday worry, but gratefully have never experienced this severity.
    As for other people's pat statements, I sometimes wonder if these cliches are used to mask underlying issues or simply to change the subject to something more light &'s easier just to say "oh just wait it'll get worse, haha!" than to open up and really talk about (gasp!) emotions. I'm sure I've done this myself. As much as I WANT to connect with other people, its often hard to make myself vulnerable enough to do so.

  4. Thank you all for your thoughtful and supportive comments. I cannot tell you how much they mean. Really. Without friends in real life to talk to, you guys are my current support system for these difficult feelings.

    I'll definitely keep watching this closely, and if meds become necessary, I'll explore them with my doctor. It's just that the last time I took pro.zac (after a m/c in 2009 that left me devastated and scared), I actually had a hallucinatory reaction (while driving, no less) and am pretty terrified of trying another ssri. That said, I don't want to make things worse by avoiding the help that my doctor might be able to provide.

    Slowmamma, you're right--I should get my thyroid checked asap. I take syn.throid and my levels were fine at 6 week pp checkup, but it's certainly possible that things have shifted since then. I sometimes think I'm out of the big hormonal swings, but I'm only three months pp. Why do I forget that? Three months! In the old days, isn't three months about the time that I'd be getting out of bed and starting to reenter the world with the baby still in my arms?