It took two severe postpartum depressions to get me to where I am today, which is a very good place.
In both cases I thought I would never recover and feared things would end badly. I thought I was lost for good. Each episode lasted over a year and I was hospitalized both times.
The first depression began when my dear son was three months old. I was agitated, quickly doing all sorts of unnecessary tasks. Anxiety and insomnia began and several days without sleep led to exhaustion. One morning, my entire body shook in heavy convulsions and I was rushed to the emergency room.
I started talk therapy and medication right away. I abruptly stopped breastfeeding and my anxiety quickly switched to depression. It was the worst time of my life. I never had a mood disorder before, so everything was new and frightening. Over eleven months I tried several different antidepressants, but nothing worked to improve my health. Instead I felt drugged, as if I had been hit over the head with a baseball bat.
I sank deeper each week, becoming suicidal. I had weird symptoms. My mind raced like mad. I had panic attacks. My forearms burned every morning, and I felt more depressed on weekends. It was as if an alien took possession and was controlling my brain.
Eventually I decided to stop taking medication—very gradually, with the help of my doctor. The Twilight Zone feeling stopped, though my symptoms came back each month with my periods, and I started to feel somewhat normal. I had barely entered into recovery when I got pregnant with my dear daughter.
From the beginning of my second pregnancy I felt scared and fragile. I was still traumatized by my first PPD. We moved across the country because of my husband’s job and I was on bed rest the last three months of my pregnancy due to complications. That added a lot of stress to the situation.
I did everything in my power to avoid a second episode of PPD. I consulted a therapist during the entire pregnancy. I sought help from a chiropractor and an acupuncturist, and I hired a full-time nanny and a night nurse. Despite these measures, my body chemistry took over. History repeated itself three months postpartum and cast me back into the same nightmare.
It was even worse the second time because I was petrified of trying any type of medication. The symptoms became stronger and it was as if I was being eaten alive. I reached a point where I lost any sense of self.
I felt like a child. I had a rough time thinking and acting on my own. I was oversensitive to everything. I couldn’t watch TV, go to movies, grocery shop, read, drive, or travel on my own. Finally my brother and my mom dropped everything and came from another country to live with me. They stayed by my side 24/7 and made sure my kids didn’t miss anything. All the while my husband, the love of my life, stood by me. He was strong and patient. My wonderful therapist also supported me daily no matter what. I owe my life and my children’s well-being to these angels.
Eventually, my therapist—and even alternative medicine professionals—redirected me to psychiatry. It took jumping through many hoops, but I found a doctor who specialized in treating PPD. More precisely, I found someone who specialized in patients with drug sensitivities.
With my psychiatrist’s knowledgeable and kind approach, I mustered the courage to give medication another try. I was given a different class of medication this time: mood stabilizers. I also started Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy with another great doctor and used a medical device called Alpha-Stim that naturally treats anxiety, depression, and insomnia. This magic combo finally got me out of the darkness.
Today I’m fond of saying I’m a good mom and a happy wife as opposed to saying I’m not on medication. I take positive revenge on all that lost time by rewarding myself for all my efforts. I make joy and fun part of my daily life. I tap into my femininity and have never looked better.
My relationship with my husband is stronger than ever. For better or for worse we were tested and we conquered. I have become creative and found new passions. Lastly, my kids and I have a strong, healthy, and beautiful bond. I love them, I love myself, and I love life!
My advice is to do whatever it takes to get through PPD, and you will. It’s a crisis that won’t last forever. You deserve the best care there is. You would get it for your child or a loved one who was sick, so do the same for you.
Take time for activities that are non-mommy related, and where you are not alone with your thoughts. (For me it was Nia, Zumba, belly dancing, and African dance—it was like dancing in the rain waiting for the storm to pass.)
Whatever you do for your release, stay focused on your goals. Always move on if your team or treatment plan isn’t making you feel good. Your magic combo is out there, but you have to be proactive in your search. Never give up on yourself. This too shall pass.
A Note from Dr. Shosh
Anne’s journey led to the discovery of many wonderful outcomes. Keep these tips in mind as yours unfold:
— We’re often given well-meaning but bad advice from practitioners. This is especially hard when we’re seeking help at our most vulnerable times.
— A sudden stop in lactation is not good for your body chemistry; it can trigger the onset of depression or make existing depression worse. A baby can go cold turkey to a bottle or cup if necessary, but Mom should pump for a while – regardless if her milk is used — so she can gradually wean her body.
— Sometimes medications don’t work in our bodies the usual way. Keep looking for a practitioner who can think outside the box and individualize a program for you.
— As seen in other stories within this book, moving to another location while pregnant is a high risk factor due to stress, even if it’s a happy transition. Mandated bed rest can be another stress factor.
— Setting up a plan of action before the birth is a wise move—it can only help. Still, there are no guarantees that PPD won’t return. Be ready to pounce on it if it rears its head again.
— There is no cookie-cutter approach to treatment. Each woman needs her own plan to recover to 100%, and beyond.
— As with many women who have gone through PPD, Anne has never felt or looked better. She has never taken joy for granted again, and she now does all she can to bring more of it into her life. Develop or continue your own individual interests—whether it’s dancing, walking in nature, or something else. As Anne expressed, being happy is much more important than whether or not you are on medication. Returning to 100% is what matters, so do whatever it takes to get there.
— The PPD experience can strengthen the full spectrum of relationships—marriages, family, and friendships. Most important, it can improve the most important relationship—the one you have with yourself.
Image credit: Anne Worner