If I’m being honest, I noticed it in the days leading up to my due date. But because I had so much more to worry about, with moving, unpacking, and generally preparing my home and life for a new baby, I tried to disregard it. Then came labor and delivery, which obviously served as a short-term distraction from anything I could’ve been feeling mentally. Almost immediately after the blissful birthing moments had passed, I noticed that this “feeling” was not only still there, but much worse. Visually something was so, so wrong.
I tried so hard to describe the feeling to my family, but no one could figure it out. My midwife and mom came to different conclusions and tried everything under the sun to fix whatever “it” was. At one point we called it “brain fog” and I started a strict regimen of bone broth 2-3 times a day to heal my gut and brain. Although undeniably good for my overall health, it was a futile attempt. After that, it was decided that my vision had worsened significantly after having Ollie and what I was experiencing was just a result of an expired prescription. I went to the eye doctor to receive new contacts and awaited some sort of relief, even though I knew in my gut that it wasn’t coming. And low and behold, it didn’t. In my heart and my soul I knew all along that something much deeper was going on. I wasn’t sure what, but I knew it was more than something my mom or midwife would be able to diagnose no matter how hard they tried.
What I was experiencing is something called derealization. Derealization and dissociation are disorders in and of their own, but can also be present when someone is experiencing psychosis, like in my case. Derealization/dissociation leads people to feel removed from reality. Most people say that life feels very surreal and they are unable to feel present or connected to the real world. A lot of times, people feel like they are out of their body, or floating above themselves, completely out of touch. Maybe if my symptoms fit that description perfectly I would’ve gotten answers sooner. But they didn’t and it took me months to get the diagnosis and help I needed.
My derealization presented itself in a different way and although it’s been over a year since I’ve felt the worst of it, I can remember it in painful, vivid detail. Like I said before my vision was impaired, but not in the traditional long or short sighted sense. When I tried to focus my eyes on something, or even just a spot on a blank wall, it was blurry and grainy. It was as if there was some sort of filter over my eyes making things darker, distorted, and blurry. Almost like I had someone else’s prescription sunglasses on while inside.
These visual disturbances came with a feeling of disconnection and isolation. No matter where I was or who was around, I didn’t feel comfortable. I couldn’t track anyone’s words including my own, so it was really difficult to carry on a conversation comfortably. I couldn’t remember what I had said out loud or in my head, so I would often sit quietly, afraid to say anything at all. Anyone who knows me well knows how much I love being social. I love being surrounded by both people I love and those I don’t know, and I very rarely feel any sort of social anxiety or discomfort. But because of my mental state I not only avoided social situations, I refused them and would experience full-blown panic attacks before or after having to face them. The only person I truly felt comfortable around was Ollie’s dad, because I knew that I could sit in a ball on the couch terrified, staring at nothing, while he simply held space for me.
In addition to the social aspect, the derealization/dissociation altered my sense of time immensely. The days passed both slowly and quickly at the same time and I couldn’t keep track of what hour or day it was. Since my eyes saw a darker version of the world, I felt like it was constantly dusk. As the day went on and the sun set I would get increasingly panicked. I was constantly turning on every single light in the house no matter the time of day, which made no sense to anyone around me. I just wanted so badly to feel the light of the world again.
I was in a constant state of confusion, fear, frustration, isolation, and disconnect for months and months. There was a barrier in between my brain and reality, which created and added to the hell that I lived in for a over a year. I yearned for my brain to feel like mine again; for the world to go back to the light-filled, clear place it used to be. I tried tirelessly and desperately to explain what I was going through to those around me, only to be met with the same confusion I was feeling.
I was absolutely hopeless and defeated, until I was put in the hands of an incredible psychiatrist who saved my life. After an exhausting few months (that felt like years) of misdiagnosis and unsuccessful treatment, someone actually got to the bottom of this “feeling”. I sat down in her office for over an hour telling her my story start to finish in the most intricate detail possible. I was fully prepared for her to respond with the same concerned, dumbfounded look that I had seen so many times, but instead she said the most beautifully painful words I’d ever heard. “You have postpartum psychosis.” She was not puzzled or confused and there was no hesitation in her voice. She told me with great confidence, as if it was a complete no-brainer, exactly why I was living in this horrible reality. She said a lot of other things as well, but that’s all I heard in that moment and all I needed to hear. She explained to me that my derealization, paranoia, panic, agitation, mania, hallucinations, and delusions were all tied to one cause: the uncommon and clearly understated postpartum psychosis. And most importantly, she assured me that with the right medication I would get better again. My mom and I cried tears of utter relief and newfound hope in her office that day, as we heard the most reassuring news. It was a turning point in my story that I will never forget.
My derealization was just one of the many terrifying factors in my postpartum illness. Each of my symptoms contributed to the shit storm that encompassed my mind but the frustration, isolation, and fear that I felt from my derealization were some of the most haunting feelings I can recall. I searched for days, weeks, and months on end for a blog, article, or forum that shared of a person describing that “feeling” I felt. I found countless stories about mothers with postpartum psychosis and their experiences with almost all of the symptoms I was feeling, except the one I needed to read about the most.
Reopening this part of my story is painful, triggering, and raw. It pulls me from my present state and throws me right into the depths of the hell I once lived in. But because of the stability I possess today I am able to revisit these feelings with the hope of helping someone out there suffering from that “feeling”.
I hope with every fiber of my being that this story reaches the computer of a new mama sitting on her couch paralyzed in fear and confusion and brings her to the same conclusion I finally found; relief, hope, and eventually, peace.