When I first decided to write a blog I knew I wanted to share about my struggle with postpartum anxiety. I felt it absolutely necessary to share this part of Motherhood because when I was in the “thick” of my postpartum anxiety I felt alone. I felt like as much as I tried to articulate to my husband, family, friends and even doctors that no one REALLY understood me. But, rather they tiptoed around me because I just seemed “fragile”.
A few family members, and fellow mothers, told me about their short stints of feeling a little emotionally unstable but, none of their stories seemed to be to the magnitude of what I would soon experience. No one I knew ever had to be medicated, or see a therapist/psychiatrist. To them these things were either uncommon or extreme. So, for months, because I didn’t know anyone else who dealt with what I was experiencing, I suffered in silence.
I remember having initial feelings when it was time for me to go back to work after maternity leave. Literally, my first day back to work, before leaving home, I sat with my son, breastfed him and cried because I knew I’d have to leave him in the care of someone else while my husband and I went off to work. Now, this feeling I was having was a normal thing, right? Or so, we’re trained to believe. So, because we’re trained to believe that, I brushed it aside… Packed up myself and my baby, and trotted off to daycare with my husband and then off to work…
My next experience with anxiety was when it was time for me to leave work, I generally got off around 4:30 or so, and for days, actually weeks, by 3:30, I would be so nervous and anxious to leave. Not necessarily because I was in a rush to pick up my son, but, more because I was anxious about getting on the road and driving…. You see, anxiety comes in all different forms, and displays itself differently for each person…. Increasingly, over months, the anxious feeling became worse and worse and worse until I literally had a meltdown at work. I went to my boss in tears, blubbering about how I didn’t feel well, I felt nervous for some reason and he told me to go home. But, going home, physically driving, was my trigger. So, that drive home that day was the beginning of what would become the hardest times in my life.
This anxious feeling kept going on for probably another 2 months…. I’d find every reason I could to leave work early, especially on days when it rained or snowed because sitting in traffic would literally set me over the edge. I’d sit in traffic and feel like I just couldn’t calm down. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think. I was paranoid. I WAS A COMPLETE MESS! It got so bad that my boss finally had a meeting with me, and came up with a plan for me to work an altered schedule. I’d work a part of my day in the office, leave early enough to avoid traffic, pick up our son, go home and then work a few hours in the evening or on weekends to make up for the change in my schedule. Now, this seemed to work for a few weeks. I felt more relaxed on my trips to and from work, and I was happy that my job was able to accommodate me….. Little did I know, it was just a quick fix and not a real solution.
Eventually, the anxious feeling returned to the point that now I was finding reason to either take PTO or try to work home because I was dreading driving to work. I was increasingly becoming more irritable and frustrated with my husband and my son to the point that almost any little thing would set me off… And when I say off I mean OFF! Like I’d completely lose it, I would cry, scream, lash out in anger, and my husband would be as patient with me as he could. Poor thing…. He would sit with me and try to help me walk through what I was feeling…. And for the life of me, nothing I said seemed to make sense to him or to me…. It was then that he lovingly suggested that it was time for me to seek medical help… Initially, I was hurt. I felt like he was calling me crazy but, the more I thought about all of my recent actions, the more I knew it was time to do something different…. And with that I called my OB/GYN. After meeting with my OB/GYN, she wrote me a small prescription for Xanax and Lexapro and referred me to a therapist.
In the meantime, my mother had retired from working and offered to drive me to and from work since driving was my trigger. My mom literally sacrificed her time everyday to pick me and the baby up, drop off the baby to daycare, drive me to work and then in the evening pick me up, pick up the baby and take us home. She spent hours in the car, on the highway, taking us back and forth… And forever I will be grateful that my mom was willing to do this for me. Those daily trips really helped to strengthen my relationship with my mom because I was so vulnerable, and I felt so helpless because I felt like I just couldn’t drive anywhere farther than like 10 minutes without being anxious…. And she was right there. She never wavered… Rain, snow, sleet, she took us where we needed to go.
My first appointment with my therapist was WAY more than I expected. I remember the first question she asked was, “So, what brings you here?”…. And the floodgates to my tears were immediately opened. She sat and listened to me patiently, while I rambled on about how I’d been feeling anxious and I didn’t understand why… And that I thought having a baby, I would be happy and that motherhood would just come natural. And it was NOTHING that I thought it would be and my husband and I are struggling because I’m so emotionally unstable…. And BLAH BLAH BLAH!!!! And when I was done, she looked up from her notebook and said, “Kim, it sounds like you’re used to being in control, is that true?”. And I sat quiet for a moment and thought hmm… Is that true? And the answer was YES. I had always been the person to keep things together on the surface, even when everything around me might’ve been falling apart. I had always been strong. That was how I was raised (which is actually quite common in the African American community), you never let people see you sweat. And as far as “mental health” was concerned, well let’s just say it wasn’t a concern that we talked about. You were supposed to just “pray” and things would go away…. Right? Yeah, well NO… Not in this instance… This time I needed help. More than prayer. More than ignoring… This time I’d have to admit that I wasn’t strong enough to carry the weight of anxiety without having medical help…. You see, anxiety isn’t something you can control… But, it can most definitely control you…. And that’s where my acceptance of the fact that I had anxiety began…. In the therapist’s office. I finally realized that I was no longer in control… And that anxiety was controlling me. So… what would I do next? Would I crawl in the corner and cower to anxiety? Or would I come to terms with what I had been trying to ignore for so long, face it head on, and fight?
…. Well let’s just say this…. Anxiety and I are still in the boxing ring… I’ve won a few rounds and so has anxiety….. But, the fight isn’t over just yet….