I was about 5 months pregnant with my third kid. I started having these weird episodes of my heart racing, my mind would go blank and I would get this strange tingley feeling in the back of my neck and fingers. It would happen when I was driving or at work. Totally random. I chalked it up to being pregnant and all of the crazy hormones.
Flash forward 4 months later. I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I remember looking at her sweet little face, thinking how wonderful my life was. We were discharged the following day (I hate staying at the hospital any longer than I had too). We got home, settled in with our girls. Things were so perfect. About 3 days later, my husband and I went to a store real quick to grab a couple of things. I was sitting in the back seat with our daughter. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, my heart started beating real fast. I just remember feeling afraid. I was looking out the window trying to figure out what was going on with me. I was looking around but nothing seemed to register. I started to freak myself out even more. I didn’t say anything to my husband. I had no idea what I would even say. How would I describe it to him? I asked him to stop at the gas station to get some water. Maybe that would make me feel better. While he went inside, I waited there terrified. He came back moments later with a bottle of water. I went to grab it from him and saw my hands were shaking. I quickly grabbed the water so he didn’t noticed. The water seemed to help a little bit. We got back in the car and continued on our way. When we got to the store and as I started walking in, it all seemed like a dream. I remember grabbing a cart, looking up and I felt as though everyone was staring at me. Right away, I wanted to leave. I felt like running back to the car. I kept trying to catch my breath and I felt like I couldn’t. I don’t remember too much else after that. I didn’t know it then but I had my first anxiety attack. Just a few days after giving birth. These episodes continued for the next several weeks. It seemed as they were getting worse. I was also getting restless and was not sleeping very much. During all of this, the baby was very colicky and would scream for a good hour for no reason. She also hated drinking out of the bottle. It would take her at least an hour to drink one bottle. In between her drinking she would cry, she seemed frustrated. We did everything between changing her formula, new nipples and bottles. Nothing worked. The pediatrician had no idea either what was going on. They just figured it was part of her being colicky. When my husband would get home from work, I would hand over the baby to him. I felt as if I was not doing a good enough job. I couldn’t calm my baby down.
One day while my oldest was at school, my 3-year-old and I were watching Daniel Tiger’s neighborhood. The baby started crying. I could not bring myself to even get up to go pick her up. I just sat there, staring at the wall for what seemed like an eternity. My 3 year old asked if I was going to go get her. I snapped out of it. Over the next few days, I started to feel very depressed. I had no energy, just trying to get out of bed was a task. I think at that point I started to wonder if I had postpartum depression. I was talking to my mom about it, telling her something wasn’t right. My mom told me to go make an appointment with my gynecologist right away. My mom also had post-partum depression with my sister. She was telling my how awful it was. Especially because no one ever talked about it. I made an appointment right away with my Dr. I was so nervous. I was not good about talking about my feelings to anyone. As soon as the Dr. came into the room, I just started bawling. I told her about feeling depressed but I didn’t say anything about any of the other things that were going on. She told me that I probably had the baby blues or possibly post-partum and she gave me some names of a few Dr.’s to see. This was a Friday. I called one on my way home but I got a voicemail so I left a message. The weekend came and I started to feel better. Two days of no depression and I didn’t have any of those episodes. On Monday, the Doctor had called me back but I decided not to make an appointment. I was feeling good. I was getting ready to go back to work in a couple of weeks so it was a relief. I went back to work at the end of November. The baby’s colicky seemed to be getting better and things were looking up. I was even going out for a promotion at work. Finally, it seemed I was getting back to myself again.
Christmas Eve, my husband and two girls were heading to church. My oldest stayed at my mom’s as she was sick with strep. I loved Christmas, I loved going to church on Christmas Eve. It was one of my favorite services. It was cold outside so we had the heat turned up in the car. We were stopped at a light and all of a sudden, I started to feel the tingley sensation in my finger and neck. I got the sudden urge to want to leave the car. I know it sounds bizarre. My mind was racing, I couldn’t focus. I started to get really scared. I was trying to reason with myself, telling myself it was going to be okay. We got to the church. The cold air felt good. It kind of brought me back to reality. When we got into the church, we sat behind my sister and brother-in-law and their two kids. A few minutes before the service started, I started to get really hot. I took my coat off. I started to look around and I felt like the walls were closing in on me. I was trying to take deep breaths but I couldn’t. I told my husband I wasn’t feeling good and I needed to get some fresh air. I left my coat, got up and went outside. My sister-in-law looked at me, I think she knew something was up. I must have gotten up abruptly because the lady at the entrance followed me out and asked if I was okay. I told her yes, I just thought I was going to be sick. When I got out to the car, I was trying so hard to catch my breath but I just couldn’t. My heart was racing so fast. I started dry heaving. I was so terrified at that moment. I wanted to call 911 but what was I going to tell them? I seriously felt that if I told anyone what was going on that they were going to take me to an institution and that scared me even more. My husband came outside to check on me. I told him we needed to leave. He packed up the kids and we left. I was trying to explain to him what I was feeling. I was so worried he was going to think I was crazy. Even though we weren’t that far from home, it was a very long drive. None of the feelings were going away. When we got home, he got me a glass of water and some crackers. That didn’t help. I decided I would take a shower. That still didn’t help. I was still very jittery, I kept feeling like I could catch my breath. I told him to just go to his mom’s for Christmas Eve. He suggested that I go to my mom’s (our parent’s live next door to each other). I agreed. He dropped me off at my mom’s. I walked in and she knew something was up right away. I started to blurt out everything that just had happened over the last hour. My mom got out a paper bag and had me take deep breaths into it. She kept telling me everything was going to be okay. After a little bit, I started to feel a little bit better. I kept pacing back and forth in the living room waiting for all of these feeling to go away. My mom told me she thought I was having a panic attack. My mom was so wonderful during this. I was so happy I ended up going there instead of staying at home by myself. This “thing” lasted 4 hours. Once I started to feel better I checked my phone and saw my sister in law had called me a few times. I called her back and she asked if everything was alright. I told her briefly what had happened and she had also said that I probably had a panic attack. I told her how awful it was and this had been going on for some time after the birth of my daughter but it had gone away for a little over a month. She told me I should go see someone right after Christmas. Thankfully, she was in the behavioral health field and was able to recommend someone.
On Christmas day, I was on pins of needles. Not knowing if this was going to happen again. My sister-in-law was able to get a hold of someone and they were able to see me the day after Christmas. Now I had a whole other issue on my hands. I was going to have to tell someone what has been going on. What if they thought I was crazy? That has always been my biggest worry during all of this. My sister in law offered to drive me there and stay while I saw the Doctor. That was one of the most important things someone could have done for me. I don’t think I could have gone on my own. When we got there, I was a nervous wreck. I’ve never been to see a nurse practitioner. I’ve never had to talk about my feeling or thoughts, in fear of people judging me. We got there, I got checked in and waited. It seemed like an eternity. Finally, the door opened, a young lady came out and they called my name. She introduced herself and I followed her down a long hallway into her office. I sat down at the chair, my leg was shaking uncontrollably. She started out by asking what brought me in today. Again, I just started bawling. She handed me a tissue and told me it was going to be okay. I took a deep breath and started at the very beginning. When I got done, she looked at me and said that I was suffering from postpartum depression and that this was completely normal. postpartum could typically last up to a year after the birth of your child. I told her that I wasn’t depressed anymore. That’s when she told me that post-partum is just not depression and that I was dealing with anxiety and panic attacks. I remember feeling such a sigh of relief. I had no idea that all of these things I was feeling and experiencing were a result of post-partum. The nurse practitioner wanted to start me on antidepressants which would help with the anxiety. She also wanted to give me medication to help instantly with the panic attacks. I was nervous. I don’t even take Tylenol for a headache. She assured me that it was the best path. She explained that she was going to try an anti-depressant but it would be a trial and error. We would need to find the one that worked best for me and the right dose. I told her that I did not want to be on the medication for very long. She said that once we found a good medication, she would recommend a therapist for me that would be able to help me with coping mechanisms. I was game. At this point, I had nothing to lose. I went home that night and shared everything with my husband. For the first time, I felt comfortable having a discussion with him about what was going on. I was still embarrassed but I guess knowing there was a name and a cause, it made it tolerable for me. I will say that my husband was so supportive during all of this.
Over the next couple of months, I tried at least 3 medications. They all took at least 2 weeks to start working. One didn’t work at all, one made me depressed and one made me feel completely numb. I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t sad. I was incapable of feeling any emotion at all. That one was the scariest. During all of this, I was still trying to be the best mom, wife and boss pretending I had it all together. I ended up getting that promotion at work. I remember one day I was holding a meeting with the staff. I was in the middle of talking and I had a panic attack. My mind when completely blank mid-sentence. My heart was racing and I just needed to leave. I excused myself, letting them know I need to get water and I would be back in a few minutes. I went back to my office, took a klonopin, drank some water and paced a little bit waiting for me to get it together. The worst part was going back into that room as if nothing happened. Everyone seemed unfazed when I came back. I got good at hiding it. The medication definitely helped in these situations but also left me drained and sleepy so I only took it in an absolute emergency.
I remember going back to the nurse practitioner after the third anti-depressant didn’t work. I was starting to feel hopeless. I never contemplated suicide. However, I remember thinking to myself, I’m not sure how much more of this I could take. I just wanted to be back to normal. The inability to have any control over your thoughts or feelings is debilitating. The feeling of being out of control. The NP told me to hang in there and that we would find one that worked. I started taking the fourth medication that evening. After about two weeks, my daily anxiety started to lessen. As time when on, my panic attacks were starting to get less severe. For the first time in months, I started to feel better and feel that I had at least some control in my life. My next visit with the NP was finally a positive one. She thought it was a good time to make an appointment with a therapist. I made an appointment as soon as I left. Even though I was getting better at talking about what was going on, it still wasn’t easy and the thought of having to explain my story again to a complete stranger was nerve wrecking. Also, I’ve never seen a therapist so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The next two weeks seemed to fly by. I went to the appointment. The lady called my name and I followed her back to her office. She of course asked me what brought me in so I again started at the very beginning. This time though, I managed to hold in the tears. After I was done, she handed me a check. She asked me to read through them and check everything that I had felt over the last several months. I don’t recall everything on the list. I do remember checking several including tingling of the fingers, rapid heartbeat, racing thoughts, and sweaty palms. Once done she asked which one’s I had checked. When I told her, she said that those are classic signs of panic attacks and anxiety disorder. Many people suffer from this whether it’s from PP or something else. This was the first time since this all began that I actual felt normal. To physically hear from someone else’s mouth that other people experience the same things and see it written on paper. It was a turn pager for me. I no longer felt so alone. I had literally isolated myself for 6 months trying to battle this on my own.
I saw the therapist once every two weeks. Each visit I got more and more comfortable and actually looked forward to these visits. The Dr. was amazing. The panic attacks started to dissipate as I started to learn how to manage them and my every day anxiety pretty much disappeared. During a visit, my doctor agreed that things were going so well that she felt we no longer needed to meet.
They say that postpartum typically lasts a year. At that one year mark, I went to visit my NP for a follow-up visit as I wanted to start weaning off the medication. I felt that I was strong enough to do this on my own. Worst case, I went back on it. She lowered the dose, I went back in two weeks for a follow up and that was my last appointment. I did ask the NP at my last visit if I decided to have another child, what the odds were of me having the post-partum again. She told me that it could go either way. I had two pregnancies that were perfectly fine. I kept that in the back of my mind. Either way, I was feeling great. This continued for 4 full months. My husband and I knew we wanted another child. We decided that we would try for another baby. At that point, I was willing to risk the odds of going through it all again. I got pregnant right away. 6 weeks into the pregnancy, I started bleeding. Went to the doctor on a Friday for blood work. On Monday they confirmed that my HCG levels were not where they should be and that I was probably miscarried. We did another blood test and a few days later they confirmed. I was devastated. I remember crying uncontrollably in the shower. About a week after that, I started experiencing anxiety. And of course, panic attacks soon followed. I went back to the nurse practitioner and they put me back on the antidepressants. When I asked if it was all of the hormones from the miscarriage, she told me that it was probably all of the stress I was under. I stayed on the meds for a good 6 months. Again, after I started feeling better, I weaned off the medicine. My husband and I decided to try again. I got pregnant a couple of months later. I have to be honest, I was super excited but at the same time, very nervous.
Flash forward two years later. My husband and I now have 4 beautiful girls and one very handsome boy.
The anxiety has never gone away but it has been tolerable. After having my son, it came back after several months but it was not nearly as bad as it was the first time. I don’t think that I will go back to “normal” and I believe that the anxiety and panic attacks will always be a part of me. But I have found ways to cope and manage. I look back on this journey and wouldn’t change anything. This has taught me how truly strong I am and that I can accomplish anything. It has also taught me not to be ashamed of what I went through. One of the things that I think that has helped me through this is getting to the point of being able to talk about it. It took me a very long time to get there but I’m finally there.