By Amelia Toporsh
If you’re reading this you are likely suffering from, a survivor of, or a support person to an individual suffering from Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder (PMAD).
There is something I want you to know – & I don’t want you to be offended.
But I think you should hear this:
Your disorder is not unique.
Okay, now bear with me.
Today I am 3 months & 13 days postpartum with the cutest, 12ish pound, brown-haired, blue-eyed baby girl. She looks like her dad, has the cutest smile & a developing personality.
This means I have had over 100 days of cuddles, cooing, changing diapers, morning walks, breastfeedings, & experiencing all the love & cuteness a newborn baby has to offer.
It also means I’ve experienced 100 days of the scariest intrusive thoughts, most debilitating anxiety, & annihilating depression I’ve ever had. Alongside the 10-20% of other moms in the U.S. & in a blink of an eye, I had found myself in the depths of Postpartum Anxiety, Depression, & a new diagnosis of OCD.
I had waited over 11 years to have my second baby, & was elated & grateful when my partner & I received a positive pregnancy test only after a few months of trying. My pregnancy was mostly typical, except for the few short stints of depression I had experienced while isolating due to COVID (turns out this increases the likelihood of PMAD – who knew). Even so, we went into our January delivery prepared & with a positive attitude. After just a few hours of laboring, we had our baby girl. As our oldest daughter remained home due to the pandemic, we decided to leave the hospital a day early & return home to the comfort of our condo to introduce the new bundle to her older sister, our English Cream Retriever, & a couple of cats.
The first few days home are blurry due to lack of sleep & adrenaline, but nonetheless I was deeply enchanted & in love with this tiny doll-like human, & my family as a whole were adjusting to our ‘new norm’.
Then, when my daughter was just shy of a week old, I was struck like lightning in the middle of the night with what I now know were intrusive thoughts, extreme discomfort, panic & anxiety. My mind began to race & explore the deepest & darkest pits, latching on to the most fear-inducing thoughts it could find. In my case, the intrusive thoughts grabbed on to my fear of & inability to sit with or process death, existentialism, questions about the afterlife, mortality, hopelessness & purpose. As my new baby lay on top of me & my partner snored to my right, I was glued to the bed with confusion & overwhelming fear – while going deep down a google rabbit hole. These are the delicate moments where everything after shifted, & the first of many nights I felt like I was truly ‘dying’.
As the days & weeks progressed, my questions over death & mortality & existentialism became a full out obsession, the intrusive thoughts were taking up an extensive amount of real estate in my mind (all of it), the anxiety I experienced was overwhelming enough to glue me to my bed for hours & hours in the morning, afraid to move, afraid to watch tv, afraid to eat. Every joyful aspect of my life was tuned to grey. I was functioning like a robot, or as my partner put it, a shell of a person with no affect, & I was 100% certain that I had gone completely ‘crazy’.
At first, I had no idea what was happening to me. I was completely overtaken by the anxiety, depression, & what I know now, an OCD flare-up. I felt incredibly confused, scared, alone, broken, guilty, numb & hopeless that I would ever feel better or anything like ‘myself’ again. I wanted nothing more than to be present for my new baby, for my family, & to be enjoying this experience like ‘my old self would have’. I felt robbed from this experience with my loved ones, & so much guilt for the person I had suddenly ‘become’.
& here, Dear Friend,
I pause to ask if these symptoms sound familiar.
While the details of my story may be different than yours, my gut tells me that you can relate to many or most of the symptoms, the hardships, the emotions, & the manifestations of PMAD that I mention above.
Check, check, check, double-check, & check!
So it’s here that I circle back to what I shared with you at the beginning of this letter – the bit about ‘your disorder not being unique’ (as if you’ve forgotten). Throughout the last several months I have learned through therapy, gathering information, & having the privilege of connecting with dozens of moms who are navigating their own postpartum journey, that our PMAD symptoms are generally the same. While PMAD may present itself differently for each of us, at different times, through different diagnoses & agendas, our stories & our reactions to our experiences are more similar than different.
In stating that, it is my intention that you will feel less alone, less ‘crazy’, & less frightened, as most of us seem to feel when these symptoms first present. In recognizing that you’re diagnosis & the way you are feeling are not unique, it is my hope that you yourself, find hope.
As you read these words, take solace in knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of women in the U.S. alone experiencing the very same symptoms as you – waiting to welcome you, relate to, & support you on your PMAD journey.
With that said,
100 days later, am I still coping with PMAD? Yes, I am.
Has this journey been easy? Nope, not at all.
But am I drowning like I was those first few weeks?
With the help of therapy, medication, support groups, vitamins, movement & my family, I’m happy to say, I am not.
I have hope. I have relief. I have perspective. I’m able to connect with my family, friends, & values again. & I have an amazing community of women I’ve met through group meetings. Empathetic, strong, vulnerable women who remind me of the same messages I’ve shared with you today when I’m feeling down, flaring up, or just need a friend.
The journey through PMAD is scary, it is hellish, & it is hard.
But it is also manageable, it is treatable, & often curable.
& you, my friend, do not need to do this alone or on your own.
Please consider reaching out, &/or taking advantage of the free resources listed below.
In this together & in deep solidarity & love,
Join a support group & connect with PMAD mamas:
Mom’s Mental Health Initiative – Southeastern Wisconsin
Facebook Support Group
Pregnancy Mood Support Group
Perinatal & Postpartum Support Group
Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Group for Parents
Parenting Support Group
NOCD – Those with Postpartum OCD/general OCD
Mom Support Group
Postpartum Support International
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