We all know the baby blues can be expected after giving birth. We all know about Postpartum Depression and most of us know about Postpartum Anxiety, but there is little to no talk about any other mood disorder beyond those two. Why is that?
If you have yet to read My Childbirth Story, I advise it before continuing because A. I am now a crowned bad ass and B. It will give some insight into how we got here.
Generic Postpartum Mental Health
During my pregnancy there was a lack of information being given to me in terms of what to expect after having my baby. Beyond leaving the hospital without a Babies for Dummies book, there was no poorly designed trifold brochure on support groups or mental health hotlines, crisis numbers, etc. My records clearly indicated that I have been treated for anxiety and depression for over 10 years now, I was on anti-anxiety medication for the past 5 years, and I was struggling mentally my entire pregnancy. These were all vague talking points during each of my 7 minute prenatal check-ups, but no one cared to discuss with me what was to be expected, what could be expected, and all that can happen to the mind after going through such a life-changing experience. Hormones dropping, life changes, little-to-no sleep, etc.
I remember going to my 6 week postpartum check up and taking a mental health questionnaire. I always am honest with them because I have no reason to hide how I feel and honestly was hoping I would get some help from my healthcare provider. Some answers raised some red flags and after fighting with the nurse on why I wasn’t ready for my routine pap-smear six weeks after giving birth and after being told I still had a few more weeks to heal before I could even go for a brisk walk, I met with a social worker. She asked me some questions, saw that I was pretty stable for the most part, and gave me a swift pat on the back for going and trying some CBD vaping since my old medication was causing some weird side effects and I couldn’t take it.
She agreed postpartum depression is normal and that things will get better soon as she was walking out of the room… Ok? #Bye.
Depression. I’ve dealt with it before. The crying, lack of sleep, insomnia, nightmares, lethargy, lack of motivation, and wishing life would just stop already. She didn’t seem worried, no one gave me any support group info or phone numbers, and they were on to the next patient because ya know… Time is money!
There was no talk about any other type of postpartum mood disorder to watch for which can occur at any point in time with little to no warning. Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Postpartum Psychosis, Postpartum PTSD, Bipolar Mood Disorder, etc. Approximately 85% of women end up dealing with some type of postpartum mental health concern, and yes, depression is the most common, but that doesn’t disregard any other mood disorder and its potential threat.
Beyond Depression and Anxiety
I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Starting around the age of 12 when I was allowed to use a flat iron and curling iron, I started to have these intrusive thoughts of my house catching fire because I forgot to unplug my hairstyling tools. I remember vividly staying the weekend at a friends house and using their straightener. We left for a show and I forgot if I had unplugged it or not (I always did), but my mind was working against me. I was 14-years-old and worrying about what would happen if there was a fire and I was responsible. What would happen to my family? Insurance? Do they have home insurance? I had OCD-anxiety for 6 hours until we got back to their home and all was fine. The entire drive to the show I kept scanning the sky for black smoke. This compulsion of constantly trying to remember if I unplugged something has carried on still to this day. I have to check my stove 5 times before bed, I have to check my locks 5 times before leaving my house, I have to double check all the outlets, etc.
I was on my way to work a few years ago and it was a 20-minute drive. I couldn’t remember if I had locked my door or not and I was about to park at work. I couldn’t let the fear go so I got back into my car drove all the way back home to confirm it was locked, and was 30 minutes late because my OCD and intrusive thoughts of someone breaking in to my house. This was a common situation for me so I would leave my house extra early to allow for me to turn around 10-minutes later to do my ritual of checking, or sometimes I would take videos on my phone of me locking the doors so I could watch it every hour on the hour to confirm my house was secure.
All of this was discussed with health practitioners and therapists but their main concern was my anxiety and depression. OCD was always on the back burner and rarely discussed. At the time, I thought it was normal of an anxiety disorder and that it wasn’t a concern. Now, I realize it was because it was out of their offering as a therapist or doctor and they couldn’t provide me with the proper treatment plan I needed, but they wanted to keep me as a patient.
My OCD always presented itself in different ways but I was always obsessing over things. Situations from my past that I couldn’t let go of, fights from years ago with old friends, embarrassing moments that happened in 6th grade, “Does “so-and-so” still remember? Do they still laugh at me?”, heat tools for my hair, the oven not turned off, the stove left on, my door not being locked, earthquakes, etc. It has been present my entire life, yet we blanketed it with the term anxiety because that is what most people are comfortable treating.
My postpartum journey has been really rough. It has included some PTSD from my childbirth experience, it has been full of some very low points of depression, it has been riddled with anxiety, and it honestly took me 6 months to enjoy being a mom if I keep it 100 with you. These were all to be expected and I was prepared for each and every one of them except not enjoying motherhood for the first 6 months of my daughters life. It makes me feel horrible. Beyond that, the thing I was the least prepared for was Postpartum OCD.
Now, we are so used to stigmatizing mental health that most of us honestly don’t even know what each disorder entails truthfully. Khloe Kardashian is the self-appointed OCD queen because she stacks her cookies in a really unappealing way, but since it’s “organized” that makes it OCD. Some people clean their house to the point of perfection, slap on the OCD sticker and there you have it, but folks, that ain’t OCD!!!! Let me yell that one more time for the people in the back. That is not an obsessive-compulsive disorder. The container store is not the Taj Mahal for “OCD”. It is just a big-box store that appeals to you Pinterest users.
OCD is actually one of the most debilitating mental health disorders there are and sufferers are 10 times more likely to commit suicide, and I don’t think it’s because their bathroom cabinets aren’t full of plexiglass containers or cookies in some lame formation that honestly doesn’t even utilize the glass container to its full potential… I digress.
Alright, let us continue.
A little over a month ago I was feeling OK, and by OK I mean I was super irritable, I wanted to be left alone, I was a full hermit, rarely could take care of myself, and had little to no joy. I was triggered easily and had a hard time sleeping. Some days I laid in bed and contemplated my life choices and really wondered if I would be missing anything truly if I wasn’t here.
It wasn’t always that way. Some days were better than others like usual for me. It wasn’t until one day I started to feel really off. For my own personal respect I am not going to dive into all the details, but I felt like I had no control over my mind. I felt like someone had a video game controller and they were controlling my thoughts, my obsessions, and my lack of clarity. I knew then I would need to go to the hospital but I didn’t. I remember crying for hours because I couldn’t get my mind to stop. I couldn’t stop thinking! The more I tried to control my thoughts the more they came and the stronger they came…That’s how OCD works.
It took me three days of mental agony to get myself to the ER. It then took me three days of seclusion in my parents home to get myself able to be a mom again.
Here’s the thing. No one warned me about Postpartum OCD. One of my compulsions is looking things up on the internet. I need constant reassurance, constant research, and I need black and white answers but that’s impossible with any mood disorder. The more I googled how I felt, the more I realized, “No this is not psychosis, this is OCD”, but it took me googling the internet for 4 hours to realize this. NO ONE told me about this. No doctor, therapist, nurse, psychiatrist, no one. I started to feel better once I realized how common this was but then I started to get really pissed off.
I will be completely honest. It took me 3 days to seek help because I was so scared of what would happen to me as a mom. The judgements specifically. “Would they take Shay away from me because I am so not mentally stable?” There was no information to help me realize that this is “normal” in the scheme of Postpartum shit.
After 6 hours in the ER I met a lovely psychiatrist who honestly helped me. He was not concerned at all. This was apparently normal for new moms and he allowed me to leave there with the help I needed of medication and supplements.
Get Help Before You Need It
If I had gone to the doctors before it escalated to a really dark and scary place that I honestly never want to think about ever again, that dark and scary place could have been avoided but I was too scared thinking that for some reason, I was a special case of crazy. I wasn’t and you aren’t either. Mental health is something that needs to be addressed better in this country and I hope one day we can get better access for all people and more accessible information to everyone, because had my husband had been informed during all of our check-ups as well, he could have spotted the signs earlier than me.
As a new mom you go through so much change and everything is new and scary and there is this norm, at least with my experience, that fear-inducing information is the best way to inform people and it’s not. You have the right to live a happy and fulfilled life, but you have to take that scary first step to seek it out.
I am in such a better place now then I have been in almost 2 years and it took for me almost losing myself to the point of no return to get the help I deserve.
If you or someone you know could benefit from getting or receiving help, please refer to these amazing resources below:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255 Available 24 hours everyday
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