Friday, November 22, 2013

Journey Through the Darkness

One Woman's Personal Account of Postpartum Psychosis and Recovery...  

Part 3 of 3:

Over the next six days, I participated in group activities, talked to the other patients, and watched other people come and go. Whenever I asked my doctor when I'd be able to go home, she said that we'd have to wait and see. I was getting used to having a shadow. Most of them were nice and some talked to me. It took four days before the staff decided I was no longer a danger to myself and I lost the shadow completely. The staff kept asking me if I was happy to be rid of the shadow, but I actually felt a little lonelier. Even if it was someone being paid to keep an eye on me, it was nice to have them there.

The nighttime pills helped me sleep; the daytime pills tried to balance me out. My one and only thought was getting discharged. The focus was completely wrong, but I didn't know that at the time. I was trapped and away from home. I found myself trying to convince everyone that I was ready to go. I wasn't. I was a long way from being better. But the point of being inpatient isn't to get you ready to take on the world again, it's to stabilize you so you can continue getting treatment. I thought it would all be over once I got out.

When I was discharged, I was passed on to a partial hospitalization program. I would sleep at home but by day I would be in an adult’s recovery program. There was group therapy first thing in the morning, late morning brought small group classes, we all ate lunch together and the afternoons varied depending on the day. It could be art therapy or recreational exercise or relaxation. While I was in the program and my days were structured, I did quite well. I didn’t think much of the program at first, not until a day class that gave me some insight into my behavior.

 What was this amazing insight? My husband had been telling me for years but it never quite clicked. I learned that most of what I had been going through was largely me seeing myself as a victim of chemicals and hormones - this was partly correct. My hormones had taken plunge after I'd given birth, but that hadn't started it all. I was severely depressed and suicidal all through my pregnancy. I did not confide my mental state to anyone, not my OB/GYN, my therapist, or family. I was so scared of what MIGHT happen to me that I ignored getting treatment. I had visions of being committed for the whole of my pregnancy. The irony is that me avoiding treatment is precisely what put me in lock-down.

When I was released from the psychiatric inpatient unit and attending the partial hospitalization program, I started journaling again. I was still living with my parents and some days I would write for hours. I still harboured resentment toward my son. I still believed he was to blame for my condition, but I had accepted that he was now a part of the family. I would have to be patient and see if my maternal instincts ever developed.

When I wasn’t journaling, I started reading everything I could about postpartum depression and psychosis, including looking for postpartum support groups. I found one about forty minutes away. I was excited and apprehensive at the same time. I didn’t know what to expect and I was very afraid I would be forced to share my story and then stared at blankly while the others muttered what a horrible person I was. After talking to my parents about it, we all decided that I needed to go to at least once.

My mom went with me the first time. It was a dimly lit conference room filled with young women, held in a hospital I’d never been to before. They chatted away waiting for the session to start. My anxiety started building from the moment I sat down. I looked at them and wondered who would be the first to call me a monster. They gave me the option to just listen but I decided to just get it over with.

Talking through sobs, I shared my story. Everyone listened quietly and let me finish in my own time. When I was done I felt a moment of panic, thinking I said too much, but no one called me a monster  or defective. They went around the room giving their reactions to what I had said. In one form or another, they made a point of saying they could relate. When I said that I wasn't living at home with my baby, one of the other ladies said the same had happened to her. When I said I was feeling resentful, another lady said she was still struggling with that after months of therapy. We talked about our medications. We laughed about things no one outside that room would find remotely funny. By the end of the night I was crying again, but only because I was so happy that I went. If I had to point to one event that helped start things turning around for me, talking with these brave and experienced women was it.

Unfortunately, as the days went on, the resentment continued. When I woke up with the baby in the middle of the night, I resented not being able to sleep. When I was late for work because I dropped him at daycare, I resented having to make the extra trip. When I had to buy formula or diapers, I resented the extra expense. And when he cried for no reason and wouldn’t calm down, I resented my situation.

Advice coming from friends and my therapist now was much more realistic. The sugar-coated clichés were over and I was told that these frustrations were normal. Things would slowly get better. “But when?” I would ask, “Haven’t I been through enough?” No, I had to be patient and appreciate the small victories.

One day, it did. I had picked up my baby after breezing through the diaper change and realized that today had been a good day. Yesterday had been pretty good too. Now that he was happily sleeping through the night, life had gotten much easier.

More good days than bad. Wow.

Sometimes you can't learn a lesson until you've lived through it. I'd been on antidepressants since I was 20. I'd been diagnosed by psychiatrists and spent a lot of time in therapy, but I never really worked on getting better. Maybe I never had a good enough reason. My depression was so deeply ingrained I'd convinced myself I would never get much enjoyment out of life. My perfectionistic nature left me berating myself for falling short of the outrageously difficult standards I set.
When I finally emerged from the shade of postpartum psychosis, I was weary but armed with new knowledge. My two lessons learned were that I could actively affect my recovery, instead of being a victim of my own depression and psychosis, and that I could merge the many aspects of me into a new whole.

My one piece of advice to others, is to be honest with yourself. I believe we all know when we are in trouble or need help. Moments of clarity do exist. Maybe it's just a feeling that something is wrong or identifying a pattern in your behavior that is not in character. Whatever it is, bring it out into the light of day. Call your doctor, therapist, a friend or family member… whoever it is that you trust. When recovering from postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis keeping these thoughts bottled up inside simply gives them a place to breed. If you would tell a friend to find help for a similar problem, apply that same logic to yourself. Seek out others who are experiencing the same thing. The peace of mind that comes from finding other brave souls helps in so many ways. For me, it was the relief that came from knowing I was not the only one and I could recover with my family intact. There are always people out there who have experienced similar situations. There are always people who can help. Don’t suffer in the dark places our thoughts sometimes make for us. Break free.
 Written by H.W.

Hollie Scinta edited this article with permission from the author.

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