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08 June 2012

the anxious darkness | PPD

i have post-partum depression and anxiety.

if you only knew how hard that was to type. how desperately i wish i could press the backspace button and clear all memories of PPD anxiety out of my life.

instead. instead, i will share. because no one should be alone, and other people's stories helped me finally realize the bleakness that plagued my every waking and sleeping moment and stole the joy from my life.

it started after the birth of Jarvis. my first, long-awaited child. at the time, I didn't recognize it. we had been living in north dakota for only a couple of months and i didn't have a strong support group, and i was miles and miles from my family. i thought my feelings, my experience was just normal. having a baby is hard. it's normal to cry all day, right? ah, no, apparently not for months and months. i fretted over everything. i worried, i couldn't do anything right. i hated leaving my house and pushed away family when we visited because i was so worried about messing everything up. i felt like i would never sleep again and i was terrified to create bad habits. i had to control every single thing or i would lose it all. breastfeeding completely bombed with the words 'failure to thrive' at just 6 weeks old. my sweet boy lost all of his hair and was a frail little old man who was starving. i had failed. i felt lost and caught and ached so deeply all the time. he didn't sleep, he cried so much and I doubted every single decision. 

and then, just 4 months after we welcomed Jarvis into the world, in the midst of all that chaos, I was bounding down the stairs to happily show my husband those two little pink lines. we were pregnant, again! after struggling to conceive Jarvis for two years, we were unbelievably thrilled. they would be 13 months apart and we didn't care one bit. but my hormones, oh dear. still in the trenches of unrecognized PPD, and now experiencing pregnancy again, my anxiety and stress levels skyrocketed. my happiness slowly ebbed into all-consuming fear. how, how would i do it??

finally, the second trimester hit and i started to see the light, my hormones began to even out on their own, and for the first time in nearly 6 months, i was happy. i could do it, we would figure it out.

and then came one of the worst days of my life. 

'i'm so sorry, there's no heartbeat.' 

and in that moment, my life changed forever. just over 24 hours later I gave birth again. 8 months after we welcomed a screaming, breathing Jarvis into the world, I tearfully held my still, silent second-born, Job. 

and then four months later, i heard the same words again.

the next six was a mess of emotions. i can't tell you now what was grief and what was PPD and anxiety. i don't even know. all i know, i was not in a good place. instead of acknowledging it and reaching out for help, i retreated. i did what i knew best and hid. i was not the mother i wanted to be to my precious 1 year old. i didn't know how to be. i felt empty and bleak and hopeless. it seemed like nothing could ever be good again. even looking at my eldest made my heart ache as i grieved for what we had lost and what might never be. i put on a happy face, but the emptiness remained. i wanted these children so badly, but i could barely take care of the one i did have.

a few months later, we once again saw those two pink lines, but i couldn't let myself hope. but after 8 ultrasounds in a row with no heart tones, we finally saw some... two actually. 

my pregnancy with the twins was not as anxious as I would have anticipated. i focused on the pregnancy, month by month, day by day. so much so that i never really thought much about how it would be afterwards. how i was going to handle 3 kids under 2. it took an hour after my c-section before i was brought back up the room and allowed to see and hold my babies. and as i held my babies, my dearly wanted and loved children, i felt my anxiety level rise with every hour.

by the time they were 2 weeks old, breastfeeding was bombing again and i was watching my babies not gaining. and every day inched closer to the inevitable. being alone. with three kids. i dreaded my babies waking up, all i wanted to do was sleep. i didn't want to hold them. everyday the anxiety got more and more crippling and everything seemed more and more dark. i'm not really sure what the tipping point was. when i realized i couldn't go on like i was anymore. after many, tearful conversations with my husband, i decided, for him and my kids, to text a friend and ask for a name and number. except it took me three days to actually send that text message.

within in a week i was in an office, sobbing, telling my story, and realizing that the anxiety I felt was a manifestation of PPD. and after 3 weeks of a low-dose medicine, i finally began to see glimmers of light. i felt like i could breathe, like i could possibly leave my house, like things WOULD be alright. all of the sudden, all of those irrational fears, the inability to stop my brain from spiraling out of control analyzing every could or should be.

but. i didn't tell anyone. not even my closest friends. why? partially beause i didn't understand what was going on, and there was no way to describe it to anyone. i just didn't have the words. and partially from shame. shame that no matter how much i loved my children, sometimes i just wanted to curl in a ball and ignore them all. i know what it's like to desperately want children and have that negative test every month. i know what it's like to hold your lost child. i couldn't believe that i was so blessed with my children, yet still unable to shed this darkness. 

but that's the thing. i can't control it. i didn't choose it. i didn't do anything to cause it. i have always been an anxious person, and dealt with my anxiety by over-managing. but after i give birth. i lose control of my ability to rein in the anxiousness. i suffer from severe, crippling postpartum anxiety and depression.

my babies are 4 months old, and i am still on my low-dose meds. how long will i take them? i'm not sure. do i like that i can't deal with my anxiety without the meds, no. but do they allow my brain to relax enough to be the best mother and wife i can be? right now, yes. they allow me to breathe and to live in the moment instead of being consumed with the what-ifs. the downsides... weight gain, and a dip in my ability to multitask and plan. are they worth it? yes, right now.

PPD has been shown to get worse with each pregnancy, and we are not done. i let PPD steal a good chunk of Jarvis' first year, but i refuse to let it bury me with the twins and subsequent pregnancies. they have begun to show that PPD manifests itself differently in every person. mine is not typical depression but a depression born out of an overwhelming anxiety. my friends still don't know. they will learn of it when i post this blog. i still can't seem to find the words or situation to say it out loud. PPD doesn't mean that you don't love your children, or appreciate and want them. if you feel out of control or unable to cope, please, talk to someone. no one should have to live with that darkness.


Drea said...

I love you for posting this, for sharing. I never shared with anyone for the longest time about my depression brought on by failed years upon years of TTC. After flat out refused to believe the doctors when they said I was pregnant with Layla until they showed me. My depression returned after having Becca. This time due to having moved to NoDak only three weeks prior with no one to rely on and my husband deployed when she was 8wks (Layla was only 16mos) and me having had a c/s. I came then to learn that my PPD linked itself with SAD. To this day it's hard. Hard to know in my heart I suffered. Hard to know that others suffer without speaking out. I know we aren't as close of friend's as others here, but if ever you need to lean on me I am here. So, thank you for sharing! You are a blessing.

shawna [of styleberryBLOG] said...

Dear sweet Chelsea. You are not alone...I'll leave it at that. I wish I could hug you & cry with you. This shit is hard.

Mrs. Coach said...

Hugs. And a squeeze of a hand from many miles away from someone who barely knew you in HS but now admires you even more. You're an amazing lady and those babies are lucky to have you. Chin up, you're stronger than you may ever know.

The Boyos said...

That was so brave of you!!! I have had post partum with each kid. It isn't any fun, but the drugs help and for me it has been easier each time because even tho I have the anxiety and depression, I know what to expect and that it will lessen with treatment. Proud of you for getting help! That is the hardest part, the best part is that there are a lot of us out here who have a good dose of crazy too. ;)
Seriously tho, I have come to believe that God has blessed us with an ability to understand and treat this awful disease and I take great comfort in that. And I also have seasonal depression, which was kind of rough...but it gets better! I promise. Soooooo proud of you!

Lynn Frey said...

One of my daughters also suffered with PPD after her first child was born and didn't know what it was for a very long time. She, too, felt like a failure as a mom and all those other things you mention. She took meds for awhile, too. It showed up again after her second son was born, but she recognized it right away and got help. It's nothing to be ashamed of, happens to sooooooo many people and thank God there are meds to help you through it nowdays. I would be curious to know how many of you are high achievers, successful multi-taskers, somewhat perfectionists, etc. The reason I ask is that I seem to see a of Jace's cousins went through the same thing and is that type as is my daughter. I am constantly amazed at all the things Chelsea accomplishes, too, and am just wondering if any of your doctors have mentioned any correlation between your personality types and PPD or is it a random thing that strikes all types? My heart goes out to all of you who deal with this and with the right meds and loving support from those close to you, it does get better. Bless all of you.

Nessa Bixler said...

I love your honesty and how much reading this could help someone. I went through some huge anxiety issues before we decided to start a family. I was really worried about things returning... I was very glad they didn't - but I know how quickly things can get to a really bad place. Supporting each other is so important. You are really brave and your story is so beautiful.

Carrie said...

I have been following your blog from afar, but felt compelled to drop a line and say that I hope you are doing okay. It takes a lot of courage for a blog post like this one - I am sure it also felt like a weight was lifted off your shoulders now that it wasn't being kept a secret. Hugs to you.

Anonymous said...

You are dearly loved. Thank you for your boldness and bravery. I love you. -Sarah

laura sanchez said...

I have followed all your blogs but was always hesitate to say something. I know we aren't nearly as close as we used to be long ago, but I have always looked up and admired your strength, leadership, and commitment torwards others. There is not a doubt in my mind you will pull through with flying colors and still continue to be a wonderful wife and mom. Thank you for being honest and receiving help, that is always the hardest step. I love you.