When I was pregnant with Tillie, I had horrific pregnancy anxiety. I had panic attack after panic attack and became agoraphobic during the last couple of months. After she was born, my anxiety decreased to a slightly more manageable, yet still miserable, postpartum anxiety (PPA). For months, I felt like I was white-knuckling motherhood. I finally felt my anxiety start to let up around Tillie’s first birthday, only to immediately get pregnant again. I committed to having a happier, calmer pregnancy, and I ran, practiced breathing exercises, journaled – all of it. After George was born, I felt like I’d really conquered my anxiety.
I definitely hadn’t. George turns one in two weeks, and it wasn’t until this past month that I hit my breaking point with my PPA. I looked at my life and realized how many things I’d been accepting as normal, or “just my mom quirks,” when they’re absolutely not either. When a kind, patient, encouraging doctor convinced me to try getting on an SSRI, the relief was almost instantaneous. It’s like I had forgotten what being calm actually felt like (and I cannot tell you how mentally and physically exhausting it is to feel like you’re in fight or flight mode 24/7). I’m definitely not “cured” of my PPA or generalized anxiety, but I feel really optimistic about it for the first time in a long time.
I’m writing this post to share how my PPA manifested itself, and to hopefully encourage others. A little bit of motherhood anxiety is normal, but if it’s controlling your life, enlist the help of experts. If you’re like me and think you can “handle it yourself,” consider the epiphany I had last week: I’m no longer taking care of myself just for me, but for two littles who need a healthy mom.
For me, postpartum anxiety is this.
- It is obsessively watching the clock to make sure I put the babies down for a nap at the exact right minute, because I feel like their sleep is the only thing I can maybe, sort of control.
- It is blasting cold air in my face as I drive – regardless of the temperature outside – because I feel shaky, hot, and sweaty every time I get in the car.
- It is screaming at Jeremy for an innocent mistake, even though logically I know my reaction is exaggerated and out of line.
- It is avoiding plans because I am too scared of messing up the kids’ “routine.”
- It is taking a sleeping pill to stop my racing heart and thoughts at night, only to spend hours panicking that it will get into my breast milk and harm the baby.
- It is a rush of anxiety when Jeremy leaves me alone with both children at the same time, even if just for a short period of time.
- It is hysterically crying over short naps or early morning wakings.
- It is desperately wanting to see family but waking up at 3 a.m. panicking about flying and traveling with two young children.
- It is getting texts from friends and feeling too overwhelmed to respond.
- It is sitting down in an aisle at Target because I feel like I’m going to faint, while Tillie calls from the cart, “Are you OK, mama?”
- It is wanting nothing more than to be a gentle, patient, nurturing mother, but losing my patience at the drop of a hat.
- It is Googling the symptoms of pediatric cancers at midnight.
- It is looking forward to one of Jeremy’s home-cooked meals all day, then losing my appetite the moment I hear George cry from the nursery.
- It is seeing pictures of other moms toting their kids on trips and outings, wondering how they make it look so easy.
- It is neurotically checking my pulse to figure out if I’m having a heart attack or just yet another panic attack.
- It’s having long conversations with people I love but being unable to remember most of the details afterward because I was so anxious the entire time.
- It is wondering if I am passing my anxiety onto my children without even realizing it, saddling them with the same issues I’ve had for so long.
- It’s drifting away from my childless friends because, through no fault of their own, they don’t “get it” and I’m too exhausted and sad to explain.
…and this is just off the top of my head. I know it won’t be constant smooth sailing, but for the first time I feel prepared to handle the choppy waters with a bit more resilience and grace. Today, I’m so grateful for a supportive husband, a loving family, encouraging friends, a fantastic doctor, and HOPE.