Postpartum Depression, Anxiety, and OCD: When Mental Illness Is Temporary

Aiming Low Does Good is talking about mental illness in March. Mental illnesses affect people from all walks of life and can strike in many different forms. It’s estimated that more than a quarter of all adult Americans will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives.

Today, we’re taking a look at one type of mental illness that can be temporary and often affects women at a time when they are least prepared to cope with their own health crisis: before or after they have a new baby.

The following article about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders has been generously provided to Aiming Low by Katherine Stone.

My husband and I were never having kids.  Like Time magazine says, what’s the point!  Instead we were having a blast, sleeping late, traveling the world and spending our money frivolously on kitchen gadgets and new cars.  It took eight years before we had had enough of adult playtime and decided perhaps our lives needed something more.

Choosing to have a baby was a mutual decision, thankfully, and it only took a month of trying to get pregnant.  We were very excited about this new chapter of our lives, and the pregnancy was pretty uneventful, other than the fact that I was obsessed with keeping my baby safe.

I had a lot of rules: No standing anywhere near someone smoking.  No eating tuna.  No eating certain types of cheese.  (I can’t even remember why, but cheese equaled bad, so NO CHEESE.)  I was careful how close I was to my steering wheel in case the airbag went off.  I walked 10 feet away from the gas pump so I wouldn’t breathe in any fumes, as though that would somehow protect me.  I just couldn’t stop reading all of the dire baby books and following every single suggestion down to the letter.  I should have known my obsessions were more than just the typical precautions most pregnant mothers take, but I didn’t.

Then my son came, and it wasn’t long before my world started falling apart.  I couldn’t eat.  I couldn’t sleep.  I was filled with nonstop worry that I would never be a good mother and that he would never love me.   I felt I had to keep myself busy at all times, so when he napped I would arrange and rearrange the changing table.  A few weeks later, the terrifying thoughts came … unwanted thoughts that would force their way into my brain as I was trying to care for my baby.  What if I dropped my son down the stairs? What if I drowned him in the bathtub?  What if I smothered him with the burpcloth?

I had heard about postpartum depression, but it was only glossed over in my childbirth class and the nurse who taught it said none of her patients ever got PPD.  Plus, I thought of postpartum depression in “television commercial” terms:  I should be sitting on the side of my bed, unwashed, in sweats, with a far-away stare on my blank, un-made-up face.  No one had ever said anything about being anxious, or not being able to eat.  They certainly never mentioned thinking about dropping my kid down the stairs.  I thought I’d gone irretrievably crazy.  I was sure my life was over.

Many women experience what are called perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, which include everything from depression and/or anxiety during pregnancy, to postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety/OCD, postpartum PTSD and postpartum psychosis.  The problem is, most women don’t know this.  They don’t realize there is a spectrum of symptoms one can experience.  You might feel overwhelmed and disconnected with life.  You might feel angry and full of rage at everyone around you all the time.  You might be having flashbacks of a traumatic birth.  You might want to crawl in bed and cry all day, or you might feel like you can’t take a moment to crawl in bed because you have to keep busy every single second of the day.

There are three things I want every mother to know:

  1. There are a variety of illnesses with a variety of symptoms when it comes to perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like postpartum depression. One size does not fit all.  If you had a baby more than two weeks ago and you are suffering from symptoms that are making you miserable and preventing you from functioning on a daily basis as you would like, call your doctor.   You didn’t do anything to cause this and you are not to blame.
  2. All of these illnesses are temporary and treatable with professional help. If you could get better by pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, that would be great, but you can’t.  None of us can.  So don’t be ashamed about asking for help.  We all need it at some point in our lives.  Reaching out for help is a gift to both you and your baby.  (Oh, and if for some reason you can’t find a doc that is able to help you, email me and I’ll connect you with specialists from around the country.)
  3. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are very common. If you have one, it’s not because you are defective.  You are not some weird anomaly. You are among approximately 1 million women who fall ill with them each year.  Reach out to those of us who have been there so that you can see you are not alone.

I got the help I needed.  I was scared to death, but I made the call, and not longer after that I was diagnosed with postpartum OCD and was working with a therapist and a psychiatrist on a treatment plan.  I got better and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve had a mental illness.  I’m also not ashamed to say that I’m a kick-ass mom.

Katherine Stone is the author of Postpartum Progress, the most widely-read blog on postpartum depression and other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. She also writes the weekly column “If Mama Ain’t Happy” on AOL’s ParentDish.  Follow her on Twitter at @postpartumprogr.

About Aiming Low Does Good

Aiming Low Does Good shines a spotlight each month on causes that deserve attention and people who need help. We’ll give you some ideas of how you can help, either with your money, time or talents. We’ll also show you how to get involved in your own communities and how to spread the word.

Comments

  1. Penbleth says:

    Well done for highlighting this. I think we are so often taught that having a child and becoming a parent is something to which we should all take with no effort and even if nights are sleepless we should still be happy. This so often isn’t the case and feeling that you are somehow less of a mother or less of a woman because you have these feelings of depression or inadequacy just makes matters worse.

    Exactly, make the call and accept the help, it is not a weakness nor a failure.

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  2. Katherine, thank you for sharing your words and a little of your battle.

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  3. I had some of the same horrible thoughts. What if I dropped him down the stairs? What if he never woke up because I let him sleep on his tummy? What if…?

    My “thing” turned out to be not-so-temporary, but I really should have been medicated way back then. It went undiagnosed until a few years later.

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  4. Megan says:

    This is excellent information. I suffered from depression during and after my pregnancy. I never knew that you could actually get depressed WHILE you were pregnant. I also wasn’t even positive I had PPD because I was functioning. Everything was an effort, but I was functioning.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

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  5. Leighann says:

    Thank you for shining the light on this.
    PPD/A can be very lonely.
    Education is important.

  6. Lucyna says:

    i waited until after my THIRD kid to get help. Not a good idea. i put my family and myself through hell. i was petrified to get help, but once I did, it was like a huge weight came off. I still have bad days, but I feel more like the ‘me’ that i truly am. It’s a shame I let my problems get so bad and go on for so long. It’s SO NOT NECESSARY TO SUFFER. Thanks for posting this.

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  7. Arianne says:

    I have been on this spectrum too (thank you so much for pointing out the spectrum of feelings/behaviors/diagnosis). You are epic and brave and I love reading your story. <3

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  8. Kristi says:

    Thank you so much for your description of this. There are so many misconceptions about PostPartum Depression (or other disorders) and it’s going to take a lot of speaking up by those of us who had our own unique experiences with it to get the attention focused on this subject. My own anxiety went untreated for years and I had to hit a self-harming bottom before I found the help I needed. My ob/gyn never asked after the 6 week appointment how I was doing (I was tired and stressed, but it would get SO much worse.) The pediatrician we were seeing every few weeks for the first 18 months never asked nor even had pamphlets in her office. And the counselor I started seeing during my pregnancy was worse than useless — when I began to discuss my frustrations and feelings with her, she offered a sympathetic “parenting is hard,” and a few stories about her own trials and tribulations, but nothing that actually treated my illness.

    “Talk to a doctor” is great, but incomplete, advice. If you have a list of specialists you (or someone) needs to publish it, make it available to anyone who is Googling for help. In my (admittedly limited) experience, there are many ineffective ways to treat PPD. Those of us with resources need to make them as available to others as possible in order to reduce suffering.

    Thank you again for telling your story. I know it’s not easy, because even two years into treatment I have yet to spell out my own story in any forum other than commenting on blogs. I really appreciate this and I’m sure that there are mothers out there who will benefit from your story.

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  9. Sharon Heg says:

    Thank-you. I have a friend who is due in a few days and should she show any problems with depression afterwards, I’m going to show her your entry – it’s precise, to the point and written in plain English. Well done.

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  10. Jessica Bern says:

    I wish society aka insurance companies would give at least some effort to help those who suffer mental illness whether it be temporary or not. So many suffer so needlessly.

    This is a great post

  11. the Mayor says:

    You would not believe how little time is devoted to this subject in obstetrical education (medical, nursing or midwifery).

    Dealing with a newborn is such a life changing/challenging experience even under normal circumstances, it would only make sense that our primary providers would be more sensitive to what is a very common & treatable.

    It probably wouldn’t hurt if media didn’t characterize pregnant/new moms as normally acting crazy. It’s not normal and not everything should be casually contributed to “hormones”.

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  12. Beth says:

    Great article! We need to hear over and over again that PPD depression/anxiety, etc. IS a mental illness. I didn’t believe that for a long time, and still don’t at times. Thanks for driving it home :)

  13. linette says:

    Thanks for highlighting this issue with your own personal experience. I only wish I had known these things 6 years ago after my son was born…I really thought I was just messed up and needed to pull myself out of it. Not so easy – and as you say, there is nothing wrong with asking for help. If anyone does make you feel bad for asking for help, then you probably should question your relationship with that person.

  14. Pamela Gold says:

    I’m in year two of postpartum depression only I had to drop the ‘postpartum’ part per my psychiatrist. Still praying for the day for when my symptoms are temporary.

    Keep spreading the word Katherine!!

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  15. Moshe Sharon says:

    When we hear about “depression” we associate this word with mental illness. However, contrary to what the drug peddling psychiatrists say about it, depression is not an illness; it’s a human condition. It’s the opposite of joy, so it is part of an emotional spectrum with extremes at both ends. Morever, when we look at the buzz words dealing with depression in the realm of popular psychology such as, “self esteem”, “self worth”, “self image”, “self love”, “self Loathing”, etc., we can get that this entire area of study is about ego-centrism. There is no room in this private domain for anyone else. Moreover, the way our society deals with this subject as a whole even encourages narcissism. Therefore, barring any chemical or hormonal imbalances which doctors can correct, the person suffering from chronic bouts of depression needs to focus on the needs of others. The best therapy is a program that encourages people to be more altruistic and less self-centered.

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  16. Anna says:

    This is excellent information.I had a friend who had depression after pregnancy. She went through therapy and tough times but she is OK.

  17. Jenny says:

    I have seen that in many persons life the responsibility increase and that they confused and never capable to get final decision because they facing many problems in the life. There are many reasons for mental illness but i have seen work stress is major reason for mental illness.

  18. Hi, all is going perfectly here and ofcourse every one is sharing data, that’s in fact good, keep up writing.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] could be that miserable and terrified.  I recently wrote a little bit about what happened here:  Postpartum Depression, Anxiety, and OCD: When Mental Illness is Temporary. It took a long time to get over it, but I’m completely fine now.  I have two wonderful kids [...]

  2. [...] able to give you real life stories about overcoming mental illnesses through treatment, including postpartum depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and [...]

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