My recovery since writing my last Post Partum Depression post has been a roller coaster. I would have a month of feeling good and then Bam! I’d wake up one morning and would feel it all creeping back in. The post partum depression/anxiety I experienced was so … textbook. It was like there was a post partum me and a normal me and I could instantly tell when I woke up how I was going to feel that day. When the obsessive thoughts, anxiety, and despair returned- the hopelessness would set in; that feeling that I would never get out of this.
I coped by letting it all out to my husband or mother or best friend when the anxiety became overwhelming. I attended a support group and met other moms that understood the awfulness. I kept busy!!! I made sure I got out of the house and around people (having a planned activity at least once a week really helped – mine was a dance class I enrolled my two year old in.) Anything I could do to occupy my mind- I did. (Now have a completely redecorated house and a high credit card balance to go with it- thanks PPD!) But I also recognized when I could use some help and would see my therapist during the really rough times. She was fabulous and if I could afford the $150/session I would have been there every week! If you are going through PPD- it makes a world of difference to find a therapist you connect with – she was the third one I met with before really finding that relationship. The tools she gave me were invaluable and really what I feel led me out of the woods. I just recently wrote her a letter just thanking her, because although it was her job and she does this day in and day out, she affected me greatly and maybe even changed the course of my life. I owed her my gratitude.
And last but not least… good ol’ fashioned time. Sometimes the only way out really is through.
I’m not exactly sure when I started to feel ready or comfortable coming off the Zoloft, but I know that I was contemplating it for probably two months before actually doing it. I knew for me the end of the PPD would be signified by the end of the medication. That would be the ultimate closure. Also, the one side effect that I did experience from the Zoloft were lucid/vivid dreams. It was almost like I wasn’t actually sleeping. They weren’t nightmares, they were just dreams that were so “real” they followed me into my day and I hated it. But really I was just curious how I was faring on my own. I remember one day I realized I must have been making my way out of the PPD fog because when I looked at my children I felt a familiar warm and fuzzy feeling. Love so strong it made me nauseous. I hadn’t realized how numb I was feeling.
When I would discuss coming off the Zoloft with therapists they all would warn me that it was definitely not time; that I should stay on AT LEAST a year but when I would talk with my OB who prescribed the medication; they recommended women stay on it for 4-6 months. I googled things like “How to know when it’s time to wean off Zoloft after PPD”… I found NOTHING encouraging! The one post I found titled PPD: Life After Zoloft or something similar started out so encouraging and then at the very bottom there was an *edited to add* paragraph saying she had recently went back on the medication. (Which was what she needed to do and believe me I pass no judgment- you SHOULD stay on medication if you need it, but the point was I couldn’t find one story of success.)
I didn’t know what to believe or how to navigate this and obviously DID NOT want to go backwards. I never wanted to go back to that dark place again so I stayed on my dose until at 7 months post partum, I received a message saying my prescription had expired and was no longer being filled until I called my doctor. I just thought well, maybe the universe is telling me something. After speaking with my OB’s office we decided to start the weaning process. (It is dangerous to abruptly stop taking an SSRI drug- you must taper off slowly). I had been feeling good for a while, couldn’t remember the last time I had any scary thoughts or feelings towards the baby, and felt those warm and fuzzy feelings towards my children and my life again. I was excited yet terrified. I started the medication so early (day 5 post partum) that I didn’t know what the heck was going to happen or how much it had helped or not helped me. The wonderful woman who saw me through this whole process and who runs the local support group said that I would just know; to give it a week on the lower dose and just see.
Well … here I am, about a month into the weaning process. I notice that all of my emotions are much more heightened. Happiness, Sadness, Frustration, Anger- all more intensified without the affect of an SSRI. But even when I feel sad – it is different. It is not a deep feeling of despair – it is just a normal fluctuation of my emotions. This is me; emotional, impatient, sensitive, insecure and self deprecating at times … this is humanity; imperfect. I can live with that. But all in all…I feel … happy. I am able to see my life for what it is without the fog of PPD- a life with a loving husband, two happy healthy children, surrounded by people who love us. Sometimes I’m afraid to let myself feel it; if I don’t get too high, the crash can’t be that bad, right? Everyday I expect to wake up feeling bad, but I keep waking up feeling good. It’s almost like the feeling after you’ve been down with the flu- you’re just so damn happy to feel NORMAL again-but every time you get a sore throat, you panic a little.
This is an excerpt from the website Post Partum Progress that I did find to be super helpful. Everything I read I swear I could have written myself because it hit so close to home. This came from The Six Stages of Post Partum Depression:
“When it comes to PPD, I have to add a sixth stage. The stage that comes after acceptance, after the treatment, after the time when you start feeling better—but aren’t 100%. I call it the post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD stage, because even after a year of getting treated and getting better, it took me another year just to get over the trauma of what I went through and become comfortable with motherhood.
6. PTSD: I still worry that PPD will return. I’m constantly looking over my shoulder. Every time I feel bad I’m convinced that I’ve gone back there. I feel like I’ve lost a lot of confidence in myself and I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back. I worry I hurt my children in the long-term because of it.
It takes a while, but you’ll get past the PTSD too. At that point, finally, you reach complete recovery. You are able to experience the joy of motherhood. You are able to believe that you are truly over PPD. You feel the love that was always there, buried by PPD, for your children, and you trust that you are better and that you are a good mom.”
Girl– did you just read my mind?!
I was talking to a friend and she said something that has stuck with me. All of the feelings I thought I would experience with my homebirth that didn’t happen; empowerment, pride, euphoria … it’s almost like I’m experiencing them now. That maybe I had to take this journey instead. I look back at these last eight months and am just so damn proud of myself. For believing that there would be an end no matter how hopeless it seemed, for fighting against my own self every single day, for pushing myself up and out of the darkness at every moment and for never ever feeling ashamed. I feel strong; if I could get through this then I can conquer anything.
I made it, and god dammit – it feels good.
Now, that is a real smile.