We all know what anxiety is, right? Or at least we think we do. It’s something that we all talk about, feeling “anxious”, and it generally has a negative connotation- at least it did to me.
We’re told not to be anxious, as if it’s something that can be controlled by conscious attempts and efforts to keep it away. That’s wrong. That’s very wrong!
Anxiety is not anyone’s fault. It’s not a behavior or a mindset that we choose. It is a mental health disorder, and it requires as much (or more) attention as a broken leg. It wont get better without intervention.
Post partum anxiety is extremely common, but somehow it plays second fiddle to it’s (exually important to talk about) coconspirator, postpartum depression.
So what is postpartum Anxiety?
All new moms experience some anxiety. It has an evolutionary purpose, after all. A momma who thinks about the dangers present in her child’s life is more able to plan ahead and prevent harm to her child.
All new mommas have some stress and emotional uneasiness. We’re all exhausted for a little while, and we all have concerns. Postpartum Anxiety comes into play when a mom becomes consumed by anxious thoughts and emotions. It has been said that the true mark of anxiety is knowledge of irrational thoughts and concerns without the ability to stop them.
Some mom’s with postpartum anxiety report changes in sleeping and eating, a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, hot flashes, and even nausea. I dealt with all of these things, and more.
I woke up one morning when big brother was four months old feeling off. I went to big brothers crib (that was still in our room), scooped him up, and carried him to his nursery where I did my morning pump for liquid gold.
My husband went to prepare a bottle as I began to pump.
When my husband came to collect big brother for his feeding I told him that I wasn’t feeling well. I was dizzy and foggy (which had been extremely common symptoms for me throughout my pregnancy). I could see him filing the information away- we’d been trying to figure out what was causing these sympotms (and others) for almost a year. It was so frustrating and discouraging.
My husband scooped big brother up and they went to our bedroom. About ten minutes later I yelled down the hallway to inform my husband that the feeling had worsened. I was now feeling numb and was unable to move well.
He helped me get to our bed after finishing big brothers feeding (remember, none of this was exactly new). I laid on my back in the bed and I could feel my limbs grow heavy. I told my husband that I couldn’t move.
My husband coached me through this terrifying situation in a way that now seems impossible. He helped me stay calm by asking me clarifying questions about what I was feeling. A few minutes passed before we decided that the hospital needed to be our next move. This was not what I’d experienced before. This was much worse.
He asked if I could get to the car. Nope. I couldn’t even move my legs or arms. I started to cry. He called 911 and they were there within moments.
They asked the same questions that my husband had been asking me (my head/mouth/eye control was fine, but I literally could not move anything else.) After checking my blood sugar, blood pressure, pupils, and other things, they put me on a board and took me to the ambulance.
The ride there was filled with more questions and reassurances that we were going to finally find some answers. One of the men on the ambulance even said that he thought this might be the final straw. He said he just knew that we were going to get answers.
He wasn’t wrong! After a long visit in the er, followed by four more long days of hospitalization and rigorous testing we learned that there was no physical reason for my symptoms.
The staff psychologist at the hospital came in and asked me how I felt about mental health. I told him that my undergraduate degree was in psychology, and that I have a high reguard for his profession.
“Good”, he said. “I think you have conversion disorder.”
I’d never heard the term before. He went on to explain that it’s a mental health disorder that displays itself as neurological sympotoms. He told me that it sometimes requires tons of intervention and medication, but not always.
He then asked me if I was feeling stressed or anxious.
“Not at all”, I said.
He looked at me like I was a crazy person. He reminded me that I had a four month old baby and I’d been dealing with terrifying neurological sympotms for a year. He told me that I should be feeling stressed.
We talked for a while and finally got to the conclusion that I was stressed, probably more than stressed, and that I was going to try counseling.
He gave me a list of counselors to follow up with and he instructed me to start thinking about my thoughts and emotions. He told me to write things down, that writing was a good place to start.
By day four of my hospital stay everything was almost back to normal. I was still very weak, but I could move. I was released from the hospital feeling hopeful, and very eager to get home to my kid!
I called my OB when I got home to explain what the psychologist thought had been going on (possibly throughout my pregnancy). She had me come in and fill out a questionnaire. She told me that I was dealing with postpartum anxiety too, and we talked about medication to regulate my hormones for the time being.
I reluctantly agreed to go on medication. She assured me that it wouldn’t interfere with breastfeeding, and that if this specific medication wasn’t an ideal fit, we’d find one that worked. She encouraged me to follow through with counseling, and told me that she was encouraged by the thought that my symptoms were being caused by something treatable (as opposed to being possible residual effects of the brain surgeries I’d had as a kid.)
I started the medication and counseling (though I didn’t see my counselor as often as I should have- a decision that I regret now that we have almost three kids and even less time!), And I started to feel so much better.
I started sleeping better. I didn’t eat as much junk food. I started eating meals. My dizziness and weakness slowly went away. I started exercising. I didn’t cry as much. My heart stopped feeling like it was going to jump out of my chest. Swallowing got easier. I was able to talk to people again. Every area of my life had been impacted by postpartum anxiety and I had no idea!
I’m convinced that addressing my anxiety is what made my conversion symptoms stop. I never had to undergo biofeedack or rigorous treatments for conversion disorder. I am fortunate, because so many people with conversion disorder have much more severe cases!
When I am anxious I still notice neurological symptoms like slight weakness and dizziness, and now I’m more able to recognize them for what they are instead of passing them off as nothing.
I didn’t permanently ‘fix’ my anxiety. I don’t know that it’s something that’s completely fixable. What I did do though, was learn ways to cope with it.
Now I write, talk with counselors (when I actually take the time to do it…I should go more), listen to music, pray, use my support system, rely on medication (when I need it, I’m not currently taking medication, but I’m not opposed to it if the need arises!), Exercise, and take breaks to cope with my anxiety.
I’ve found so much healing in the willingness to call it what it is and seek help.
If you or someone you know may be dealing with anxiety or depression, know that it’s not wrong. It’s a diagnosable, treatable condition. It’s not a personal flaw or a weakness. It can, and does, happen to anyone.
If you are a new mom and you think that you may be dealing with postpartum depression or anxiety, please talk to your doctor! Untreated postpartum mental health issues can lead to horrible things. You are not alone. You are not ‘bad’ or broken. You deserve to feel better! Don’t wait to get help.
Postpartum Support International is a fantastic place to start finding resources and information, but I want to stress the importance of letting the people around you know what’s going on. Sit down with your doctor and talk about your concerns.
I’m so thankful for my conversion episode. I don’t know that I would have become aware of the underlying issue without it! Pay attention to your body. Know your baseline so that you can be aware of changes that may be pointing to mental health issues. Take care of yourself! It’s so easy to get swept up in being a new mom. It’s so easy to loose focus on yourself. You’re worth it!
Thanks for reading. Like, share, follow, and comment if you’d like. I’d love to know about your experiences with postpartum mental health!