I had freshly turned 20, when I walked into my doctor’s office that day. I walked in thinking I needed help for a stomach bug, and walked out knowing that my world would never be the same.
I had just found out I was pregnant.
By week 35 in my pregnancy, I had started begging and begging for this baby to come out, so I could hold him, love him, and finally be his mother. Everyone told me to enjoy the time I had by myself, but I didn’t want to hear any of that. I wanted him now. My son was stubborn though, and stayed until I was 41 weeks along. I labored for 11 hours and pushed for 45 minutes. And when I finally heard his little cry and saw his face, I was so overjoyed that my child, a baby that my husband and I had actually made together, was in my arms.
The nurses at the hospital helped us substantially. They showed me the basic things I didn’t even think to prepare for during my pregnancy. They showed me how to change diapers, how to breastfeed, and even took my son for a few hours so that I could get sleep for a few hours. It never truly occurred to me that these luxuries wouldn’t last past my three day stay at the hospital.
I came home, and I was so lost. I didn’t know how many layers of clothes to put on him. If he should be swaddled 24/7. I couldn’t figure out how to get him to sleep, or why breastfeeding was so painful at the start for me. I didn’t know how to do any of this, and I was so overwhelmed.
I didn’t like leaving the house. I had horrible anxiety about being out in public with my newborn. I constantly worried about what I should do if he cried while we were out, because he always cried incessantly.
Driving anywhere with him was so difficult and stressful! We would make it a couple of miles and then pull over to the nearest parking lot so I could try and breastfeed him back to sleep. I’d finally get him to quiet down, and we would start driving a few more miles, before he’d start up all over again.
Soon, I stopped going out altogether. I stayed inside the same four walls all day long, and most days my only adult interaction was with my husband. I started losing myself.
I didn’t know who I was outside of being a mom anymore. I was always tired and overwhelmed. I didn’t do anything but care for our son. I couldn’t pump enough milk, so I was never able to go places without my son in tow and I was always taking care of all the night feeds/wakes myself.
I had no social life because I didn’t want my friends to see me this disheveled, and also because I didn’t think they understood my life anymore. I felt so out of place in mom groups because I was the youngest mom by far, and I made myself believe that people judged me for it. I’d feel all eyes on me whenever I walked into a group for the first time, and then I’d be too anxious to go again.
I’d cry when my son did, and though I loved him to pieces, I resented who I had become through all of this. I wondered what my life would be like if I hadn’t had him.
By the time my son was 10 months old, I realized something was wrong. I spent more days sad than not. A few really great days would trick me into thinking I was okay, but then the lows would come back and would be worse than they were before. I also always felt such strong anxiety, like my chest was clenched tightly, and that that feeling would swallow me whole.
I decided to see my OB-GYN, and started crying as I spilled all of this to her. I had no experience with treating mental health before, so I put my trust in her. She was a doctor after all. She was the “expert” in the matter.
She told me, “I’m not going to prescribe you anything. I am going through a divorce and feel sad a lot myself, but medications won’t solve our obstacles. They will only make you feel sleepy and loopy. You just need to be positive and be happy. You have a healthy son, that’s a lot more than others have.” I trusted her, and she failed me.
I went a month longer through these high ups and low downs, and decided I needed to see someone else. I had no idea what a psychiatrist or therapist were and how they could help me, but I made appointments with both. I met with the therapist first with the misunderstanding that she would be able to diagnose me, but that didn’t happen and I left after my first appointment thinking it wasn’t much of a help to me.
I met with the psychiatrist next, and I trusted her. She definitely went to school for mental health, so she’ll know what’s wrong with me. In our 15-minute session, she listened to brief version of my story, said similar things as my OB-GYN like, “You have a good life, why are you sad?”. She asked maybe 3 questions in total, and then diagnosed me with post-partum depression, and prescribed anti-depressants.
I started taking them, and one month later, I finally started feeling a bit of an improvement. I was on it for 3 months in total, before I had to come off of it because I was pregnant again. I felt okay for a while, and I didn’t think I needed medication anymore anyway.
After the birth of my daughter, I started feeling similar things all over again the way I did after my son. I had a new OB this time around, so I asked her if she thought this was post-partum depression again. She believed it was, and I was back on anti-depressants. Except this time, it didn’t work.
I felt even more depressed as the days went on, instead of feeling better. I started spending a ton of money to try and buy my happiness, and when that didn’t work, a bottle or so of wine helped numb the rest of the sadness away for the night. My midwife didn’t want to mistreat my PPD, so she referred me to a mental health clinic specifically for mothers. I’m glad she did.
I met with my psychiatrist, and unlike my previous experiences, she took the time to properly evaluate me and all of my history. I told her all the details of my sadness; except I had left out the critical piece… it happened in waves. High highs, and low lows.
She continued the PPD treatment and upped my dosage. My behavior and my thought patterns became worse. I was drinking more often, and I started throwing myself into debt trying to buy things that might make me smile. I was stuck in a cycle that just made me progressively sadder.
It didn’t help that I started making realizations about traumatic events that occurred in my life. I was told that talk therapy would get difficult first before getting easier as I processed all the trauma. And this it did. My inner demons surfaced, and I was reliving moments that had caused me such deep-rooted pain.
I believed there was no end in sight to this suffering. Multiple times during this period of time, I saw only one way out. My husband talked me back off the edge each time.
I’m so grateful that I met my best friend during this whole ordeal. We instantly clicked and I was able to spill all my deepest darkest pains to her. Because of her extensive background working with people with mental illnesses, she recognized something in me that I hadn’t considered yet. She suggested that I look into Bipolar Disorder. After reading through a few sites, and taking a couple online questionnaires, I realized that I had so many symptoms of the disorder.
The risky behavior like spending money and drinking. The high highs that would make me extremely extroverted, and then the low lows that caused me to shut the world out. The mania that would keep me up until 4 am reorganizing the whole house.
All of the pieces started fitting. Things I thought were my quirks and habits, started adding up to be symptoms of an illness that many others in the world shared and related to. There were more people like me out there.
My psychiatrist and therapist had been discussing the possibility with each other, and completely agreed that it was the proper diagnosis for me. I had been misdiagnosed and mistreated for so many years.
The worst part of Bipolar Disorder being misdiagnosed as clinical depression, is that anti-depressants exacerbate symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. All along, the medication I was given was making me even more sick.
The realization of my disorder helped make so much sense of why I was the way I was my entire life. However, I was still dealing with the trauma of my past. The process of trying to find the right medication combination was also painful. I had side effects to many medications, some made me want to sleep all day, some made me extremely jittery, and all of them took time to work.
I continued falling into the depths of my darkness.
I knew I needed more hands-on help than what I was currently getting. So, after spending days and nights in search of residential mental health treatment centers, I found one 10 hours away that felt like the best fit for me.
It hurt so much leaving my kids for the first time ever like this. I felt like such a bad mother, but deep down inside, I knew I would be a worse mother if I stayed this way forever. I needed something to change.
I spent three weeks getting the help I so sorely needed. I worked through so many difficult things in treatment. I learned so many coping mechanisms. Most importantly, I began the journey to healing myself.
The people I met there reminded me how strong I was, and how much I had to fight for. I was a good mom, and I was doing what I needed to be an even better one. I also found a medication combination that finally felt like it was working.
I came back from treatment, finally seeing the colors in the world again. I started falling back in love with being alive, and I saw hope and a future for myself again. I wasn’t 100% there just yet, but I know I was working on it.
And I did.
Flash forward 9 months later and I feel like a completely different person now. The combination of therapy, medications, and support from friends and family have helped in my journey to healing myself.
I learned SO many lessons throughout my mental health journey and I want to share them with you.
1. Trust your gut, and fight for yourself.
Some doctors didn’t want to treat me at all, and some didn’t treat me correctly. Doctor’s aren’t always correct; they are human after-all. I knew I wasn’t well, and I had to advocate for myself.
2. Mental health is NOT something to be afraid of.
There is such a stigma for treating your brain. You worry how people will treat or think of you. You have an illness, one that requires attention and care, like any other illness. It is okay to feel and think the way that you do. By accepting what you’re going through and seeking help, your quality of life can increase ten-fold.
3. Do not be afraid of taking medications.
I felt so strange about having to rely on medications to feel happy, and thought I could stop taking them when I started feeling better. However, mental illnesses do not just go away. Just as any other illness, such as diabetes or asthma, this is something I will live have to treat throughout my life-time. I don’t fear my medications; I appreciate them because they help me function tremendously.
4. Self-care is SO important to keeping you healthy.
As a stay-at-home mom, I spend most of my time taking care of everyone but myself. Daily, I will do something for myself whether it be taking a bath, or painting my nails in silence while my husband does some of the routines. It is also so important for me to maintain a healthy diet, and remain active.
When any of these things slip, I am more likely to have a relapse. When I make the time to maintain my relationship with myself, I feel the most fulfilled from the inside out. You have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you can be of help to anyone else.
5. The last and most important lesson I learned, was to speak up about mental health and what I was going through.
I didn’t want to keep my trials a secret anymore, because it wasn’t helping me to be alone in myself and I wasn’t receiving the support I so sorely needed. I shared my story, and because I did, my best friend was able to help me with my diagnosis. I found so many friends coming out of the corners to tell me that they experienced similar things. Some told me that my story helped them go and get the help that they needed. I received immense amounts of love and support, that reminded me of the things that I could not see for myself.
For Maternal Mental Health Week, I shared my story with you, in hopes that it will encourage you to start conversations. Talk to your doctor, to a therapist, to your family and friends, and extend an arm out to other mothers. Ask them if they are doing okay, and if they need help.
Speak up, because you never know how your words may help someone else climb out of the darkness.
Rummy is a wife to the man of her dreams, and a mother to two young kiddos. She finding her way through life, and has a heck of a story that brought her here! You can find more of her work at roadtorummy.com