How My Postpartum Depression Created a Panicked, Angry Monster
There is one basic principle of postpartum disorders that can never be understated: everyone’s experience and symptoms are different. Symptoms vary greatly, treatment options differ, and how individuals respond is… well, individual.
Reflecting on my therapy sessions, there are three distinct ways postpartum depression (PPD) affected me. I’m sure there are more, but these are the main ones. I got very angry, had panic attacks and felt stuck in a life I no longer wanted. None of these are who I want to be, nor are there accurate representations of who I am. It’s the PPD talking.
Very few people, if any, would characterize me as an angry person. Opinionated, sure, but I am rarely angry. When M. was born, I lived in a state of anger. Dog barked at that mailman? Instant yelling. WiFi was slow? Skyrocketing blood pressure. On one particularly stressful evening, I walked into the corner of my bed frame. You know the kind: a sharp corner that stabs you out of nowhere. Healthy, pre-PPD Cassie would’ve responded rationally. Perhaps an, “Oh sh*t!” or “Ouch!” However, PPD-Cassie raged.
Before B. could even blink, I was yelling at the top of my lungs. I went on and on about how much I hated the bed frame. I hated all the clutter in the room that caused my pain. I hated everything about my new house. Sweating and panting, I burst into tears. I felt like my house was out to get me, and I was being swallowed up in it. All of this over a penny-sized bruise. This type of response was not isolated either. It was every single day.
Beyond the anger, I was also having increased panic attacks. Since college, I’ve gone through periods of panic attacks. I know my triggers: being rushed to get out the door, overstimulation (especially noise) and technology hiccups. In college, I frequently had to take a break from picking out an outfit; I had to sit down and breathe. Then, I had to pick out a whole new outfit because I sweated through the first one. While it happened occasionally before, now I was having constant panic attacks at home. If something didn’t go absolutely perfectly, I had a panic attack. If dinner didn’t work out as planned. If the TV was too loud. If the dog was barking and the baby was screaming. Panic. Panic. Panic.
On one particular occasion, my laptop had to run updates. When it restarted, the wifi wouldn’t recognize my network. I had been trying to fill out a passport application for our honeymoon. After working on it for over an hour, B. came home. He found me hysterical. Sobbing, I screamed at him about how life wasn’t fair, everything was wrong, nothing was ever simple anymore and I was a huge failure at life. To be honest, I have no recollection where the baby was at that time. B was completely caught off-guard. He didn’t deserve that treatment. I was screaming at my husband over Windows updates. It was at that moment my loving and usually patient husband also lost it. “Cassie! You have got to get help!” I replied, “I know! I’m trying to but the doctor’s office won’t return my calls!” I told him I felt like I was sinking into a dark pit, and any time I tried to claw my way out, I fell further. I was hopeless.
Intrusive thoughts and hopelessness are common PPD symptoms. In fact, intrusive thoughts are relatively common in new moms without PPD. These thoughts can be terrifying, although they are never acted upon. Examples include suicidal ideation, images of hurting your baby, and running away. I won’t go into the details of what I experienced, but let’s just say there was an instance where my husband ran out of the house searching for me, only to find me hiding in the basement.
Again, PPD looks different for everyone, but it is always treatable. Only you and your support system can decide what is best for you. However, what is so important is seeking help. After eight months of therapy and medication, I am happy to report that all three of these symptoms have been mitigated. I now feel empowered and equipped with tools to manage symptoms when they arise.
Follow this journey on the author’s blog.
If you or a loved one is affected by postpartum depression or other postpartum disorders and need help, you can call Postpartum Support International’s hotline at 1-800-944-4773.
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Thinkstock photo via AntonioGuillem