We wrapped up our dinner at Cornucopia and drove home, just like any other night. We hadn’t been getting along well that day, disagreeing about everything under the sun. We drove home in almost complete silence, avoiding continuous pointless arguments. I walked up the stairs in our condo about ten feet ahead of DJ. While walking up the stairs, it hit me. Suddenly the world began to spin on its axis and everything looked severely distorted. Vertigo. DJ went to get Ollie ready for bed, while I went and sat on the edge of our bed. I tried to stay grounded, the battle I fight each and every day, but this feeling was different – more intense. I started to panic, telling DJ that I “feel weird”. Considering the fact that I have said those exact words to him at least once a day for the last four months, he responded with, “I’m sorry, babe.” That definitely wasn’t the response I was looking for, but I can’t blame him for thinking it was anything more than my average “weird”. I felt drugged; my mind raced thinking that my pepsi had been drugged at dinner. That was the only explanation for feeling this out of body, this suddenly. As I began to spiral, Oliver began to cry hysterically and inconsolably. I used to think that he always just has horrible timing with his crying fits, but after months of my suffering I realize that he and I share a connection deeper than I understood. When I am in distress, so is he. Needless to say, the sound of a crying baby as the background noise to all of this was the cherry on top of my shitty sundae. I felt pulled to nurse him, to sooth him the way only I can. But I couldn’t, and I felt helpless. I went to the bathroom because I had started to feel like I was going to vomit. I sat down on the toilet to try and gather myself. The world was spinning still, even more. I felt like I was sitting inside of a tornado of sounds and lights and overstimulation. I couldn’t get out of it and I certainly couldn’t stay in it, I was trapped. From what I remember, I looked at the ground and I saw a face, and then multiple faces. It was the face of Jesus, the one we all know well. I’m not a particularly spiritual person, so this vision didn’t bring me comfort in the slightest. I remember thinking that I was on the verge of losing complete grasp of reality, and I just needed to hold on to my small piece of solid ground and get through this storm. After what felt like an eternity, it passed. Only long enough for me to fall apart and express my utter fear and horror to DJ, before the storm picked up again and I was too paralyzed to talk. These “episodes” came and went several times that night before I was finally able to fall asleep and feel the relief I had been so longing for.
From what I know now, this was the first of many horrible psychotic episodes that led me to receive my new diagnosis of Postpartum Psychosis. Yeah, it sounds intense to me, too. To catch you up, I’ll share a little tidbit of basic info on my condition. Postpartum psychosis is the most severe form of postpartum psychiatric illness. It is a rare event that occurs in approximately 1 to 2 per 1,000 women after childbirth. It appears in most cases, postpartum psychosis represents an episode of bipolar illness; the symptoms of postpartum psychosis most closely resemble those of a rapidly evolving manic (or mixed) episode. Evidently, I’ve had worsening postpartum psychosis all along. All of the visual disturbances and dissociation, the depression, the paranoia, the panic…all of it was something serious that was going unnoticed. Not only was I going untreated for my illness, but the medications that I was taking (Zoloft, SAM-e, tryptophan, and St. John’s Wort) were all worsening my condition and pushing me further and further into mania.
When I first received my diagnosis I felt a plethora of things; relief, fear, shame, loss, and anger. Oh, the anger.
I was initially very relieved to have a professional hear my awful situation and not be surprised or worried. She sympathized that what I’ve been experiencing is horrifying and sends most women to the hospital, but also was sure of what I had, and that it can be treated. I felt a new fear. There’s a certain fear that comes along with living in a dark and scary mental state with no diagnosis, no hope and no sure sign of recovery. I have felt that fear for the last four months and had almost gotten comfortable with it. But this new fear came from having a diagnosis that was bigger than I could cope with. PP was something I had definitely read about here and there, but it was the “worst case scenario” that I would see at the end of every article. The, “if you have thoughts of suicide or hurting your own child, or are seeing/hearing things that aren’t there, call 911 immediately,” type of warning section. I had brushed over those parts because of course I would never be the one to get plagued with that crazy illness. But, here I am.
I live with fear. I was fearful prior to my diagnosis, not knowing when I would feel relief, if I ever would get better, and the fear of getting worse. Now, I live in fear of my own brain. The thing about psychosis is that it feels (and is) completely out of your control. You can destress, exercise and meditate all you want, but it is chemical and will ebb and flow as it so pleases. After having my first episode, I proceeded to have multiple each day in the three weeks following. I would be feeling somewhat balanced one minute, and be spiraling out of control the next. I would be experiencing a peaceful sleep, then awoken at 3 a.m. to a delusional fit that I needed to “plan something”, followed by a crippling panic attack when I realized I was losing my mind. I am scared all the time that my brain will take over and I won’t come back to reality, or worse yet, I will do something horrible while I’m out of control.
I felt shame. It was hard enough to share with the world that I was struggling with extreme baby blues, then even harder to own postpartum depression and anxiety. But now I was forced to face the world with a diagnosis that not only scared the shit out of me, but was sure to scare everyone around me. The word “psychotic” carries around a lot of baggage. People who are clinically psychotic are not trusted. They are feared, pitied, and looked at as unpredictable and dangerous. I know this, because this was my perception before my diagnosis. And although I would love to argue that I am none of those things, right now, I am.
I now had to mourn a new loss; the loss of the old Hannah, the loss of my clean bill of mental health, the loss of my old life and self. Though I know this suffering is only temporary, and I will level out in time, I will always be someone who had postpartum psychosis. As PP can also be an underlying case of bipolar that has been awoken by the huge hormonal adjustment, and I have bipolar disorder in my family, this could also be my bipolar finally showing it’s ugly face after laying dormant most of my life. I try not to allow my mind to follow that path, but I worry every second of every day that I have forever lost the me that I have always known. The me that was able to be carefree (to an extent) and know that everything would land in place, the me that knew no matter what external forces were thrown at me, I would be stable and strong. I no longer have that confidence, I now feel breakable and vulnerable. I will mourn the loss of that Hannah forever.
I stifle my anger, every moment of every day. I am filled with a heat and rage that I’ve never known before. I am constantly agitated, by those around me, by my child, by a stray hair. You name it and I am angry about it. Not only do I feel angry, but I feel less capable to control that anger and not act on it. For the first time in my life and my life with my son, I have felt unsafe to care for him alone. I have had to be basically babysat by my mom and sister until DJ gets home from work, because if Oliver is to get fussy (as teething babies constantly do) I don’t feel equipped to soothe him without “losing my cool”. And then, of course, I’m angry about all of this anger. I want to be levelheaded, and I desperately crave my independence as a person and a mother. I walk through life with an anger that I can’t live my life the way I want to be living it.
Where to go from here, you ask? New medication and a new (incredible) psychiatrist added to my team. I started seeing a wonderful doctor and she was actually the one who gave me the correct diagnosis upon meeting me and hearing my story. Not only did she assure me that I will get better, she also assured me that there are many treatment options that will allow me to continue exclusively breastfeeding. That was all I really needed to hear. My breastfeeding relationship with Oliver is so fundamental to my health, his health and our connection as mother and son. Not only did my doctor respect and understand that, but she is working hard for me and with me to help maintain that relationship. She prescribed me Abilify, which is an antipsychotic drug that also has anti-anxiety properties. In her words, I will be “killing three birds with one stone”. I began my Abilify journey a week and a half ago and so far, I have experienced some pretty notable relief. The first few days on it, however, were what I like to call a living hell. I was off of the Zoloft, my psychosis was quickly worsening and the Abilify had yet to intervene. Those days I experienced the worst suffering I have ever felt and can imagine feeling, and I hope desperately that I am never in that place again.
As for right now, I will continue fighting this fight and working my ass off to be the best and most healthy/happy me that I can be. I will wake up every day hoping to feel better, but ready to push through even when I don’t. I will get through each moment, as those are all I have. I owe this to myself, my family, and most importantly, my beautiful son. He needs me and wants me, even when I don’t want to be here. He is my reason for it all.