What It's Like to Suffer from Postpartum Depression

Posted by Allison Hietbrink on

... let's see: how old is my daughter? 4 years old, okay ...

So about 4 years ago, I was so deep in the middle of my own perpetual anxiety "attack" that I couldn't see straight, quite literally. I awoke one morning so dizzy that I felt drunk. I was having intermittent heart palpitations so frequently, that I went in for an echocardiogram and wore a heart monitor for 24 hours. Convinced that I was dying, I was a little surprised when all of my lab work came back normal. I was a little annoyed when I was told it was all likely due to stress. I was taken aback when I was written a prescription for TWO different medicines and scheduled for regular appointments with a one-on-one therapist as well as a group therapy session.

I filled my prescription, but I put off taking it for a few more weeks. I was paralyzed with the fear of what the medication meant. I couldn't see my own need to utilize pharmaceuticals for my own mental health. I was scared of the stigma attached to psychiatric medication. I was also irrationally scared of every single side effect possible. It personified all that I feared of myself and my disorder. It meant admitting that I was too weak to conquer this on my own. It was waving the white flag on life: “here I am, too feeble to live a beautiful, blessed, happy life without creating my own issues in my own head.” I felt like a failure as a mother, as a person, as a child of God and someone bestowed with His blessings.

At that particular time, my anxiety seemed to manifest as an intense, irrational fear of death; death of either my husband, my kids, myself or all of us. When you are handed a prescription for something that "could cause suicidal tendencies," you start to panic a bit. Additionally, the thought of being diagnosed with a disorder in which I technically am unable to control my own feelings and emotions at all times was terrifying to a control-freak like myself. Not only was I having to admit that I was not in complete control of my mental state, but then I was supposed to agree to take a daily medication that could possibly cause me to do the very thing I was most fixated on: die.

The truth is, my anxiety was causing me to become depressed. I would never have classified myself as such. I erroneously believed someone suffering from depression looked and behaved in a certain way, but I was depressed because I was hopeless. I was running through a labyrinth of my own fears and everywhere I turned to escape was another wall. It was defeating. It was exhausting. I relinquished my existence to one of perpetual fear and stress. This didn't mean I didn't want to exist. As mentioned above, it was quite the opposite. I LOVED my life. I couldn't even accept how wonderful it was because I was so scared that at some point, the other shoe would drop. I lived in fear of a possible moment in which it would all be ripped away from me.

While yes, lying awake at night for hours, still as stone, listening for any sounds of a potential hazard was exhausting, I carried this burden and accepted it. Yes, grinding my teeth 24 hours per day left me in physical pain, but I ignored it. Sure, my mind was preoccupied with countless "what ifs," but I classified them as "prepared for anything." It wasn't until my anxiety presented itself physically that I realized how bad it had become.

So, two weeks went by as I juggled the idea of continuing along this exhausting, unmedicated path or following a personalized plan from a group of mental health experts. I finally gave in to the idea of medicated treatment when my mom and my best friend both encouraged me to flip the dialog: If I were being prescribed medication for any other illness, would I hesitate to begin treatment for even a second?

You see, we all know that stress is a killer. So why do so many of us allow such a thing to slowly kill us? Because of a stigma surrounding the treatment? Even the more holistic approaches to reducing stress and managing anxiety (such as sleeping, meditating, healthy diets and overall self care) are hardly allowed for in our society. It's no wonder so many people are weary of what it means to utilize medication.

I am thankful for my treatment plan and for the medication it includes. I am proud and thankful to say that I have been working on managing my anxiety with great success for 4 years now.

Sometimes I still get very scared when my anxiety grows greater than my ability to control it. Sometimes I worry that I use my anxiety as an excuse: that instead of treating self-care as a necessary tool to cope with my illness, I use it as a crutch to avoid challenging things. It's a very fine balance between understanding what is a healthy way to manage anxiety and what is considered abnormal in coping.

My biggest fear of my illness is passing it on to my children. I see my son exhibit many of my same anxious tendencies and although it breaks my heart, I still thank God for my blessings: you see, there is nobody more understanding of his neuroses - and how to help him manage them - than myself. It's a tragic bond we share, but it motivates all of my efforts in controlling my own anxiety in the hopes that I can help him control his own. I try to remind myself that in the grand scheme of things, if managing anxiety is our most pressing personal issue, then life is still pretty darn good.

I’m here to tell you that doctors, medication, therapists, prayer and holistic self-care measures are all part of the the beautiful blessings God has granted us. We do not need to live in a constant state of worry. We have many different tools available to help us appreciate and fully enjoy our current blessings without obsessing over potential future worries. I urge anyone stuck in the hamster-wheel of anxiety to seek help. Advocate for yourself. Understand that life in constant fear is NOT normal or noble, but seeking and utilizing treatment measures IS.