It’s time to pack everything up and take our little boy to day 5 of his postnatal checks, I haven’t slept properly for nearly 6 days and I’m breastfeeding every 2-3 hours 24/7 wow, well done to me! Things are going great, I had a fantastic labour and water birth, a quick release back home and now my little family is complete.
We arrive for his hearing test and he passes straight away. I am buoyant, laughing and in great spirits going back and forth in conversation with the staff.
We get home and I sit down on the sofa with my beautiful family and suddenly burst into tears. We are all there having a lovely group hug and I get a sudden realisation that I have everything I have ever wanted in my life.
“I don’t want my bubble to burst” I tell my husband going from tears to a feeling of absolute elation. I feel myself slowly inhale the euphoric sense of happiness and contentment that I have never felt before. I am on an absolute high!
After a few moments my feelings change and I feel as though I want to go and lay down after all that emotional release. I deduce that I must need to take a rest but as I lay on the bed upstairs I experience not one but two panic attacks back to back.
I call out to my husband to come and help me. The types of panic attacks I then experience mean that I become increasingly less responsive. I turn cold, get pins and needles and I can’t speak. The worst part is that although I cannot move my body at all I am still completely aware of everything around me, I can hear my son crying and my husband on the phone to the emergency services and there’s nothing I can do about it.
After several numbing minutes I come round and out of the panic attack telling a lady on the phone that “I’m totally overwhelmed and can’t comprehend looking after my children on my own” Where did this come from? After I put down the receiver the next panic attack hits me.
My natural instinct as a person is to get up and fight against what’s going on, but there was no way that all my confidence, fight and proactive personality were going to save me this time. It felt as though I tried to get back up only to be hit again by a ruthless onslaught.
I didn’t know it yet but I was already experiencing the start of postpartum psychosis. What followed was the worst few weeks of my life and I would never wish it on anybody.
I had home visits from the out of hours GP but my case was then flagged up by my local health visitor. When she came for a routine check it nearly triggered another big panic attack. I was hiding upstairs and couldn’t bear the thought of having anyone in my home, it was just too much.
As a result I was referred to my local mental health care team and my symptoms were diagnosed as episodes of psychosis. This meant that I would have short periods of feeling fine and then everything would change in an instant and the psychotic episodes would hit me and take control.
I don’t remember very much at all of the first few weeks after my son was born but when I reflect on it now, it was like I was living in the background of my head. Everything was running on autopilot and my mind was racing at top speed. It was very much a case of the lights were on but no one was home.
The most decisive course of action was for me to rest and sleep and try to get my energy back but my mind wouldn’t rest and my moods kept switching and changing. My thoughts and feelings were on an emotional rollercoaster.
When I tried to sleep my mind would race and it was filled with noise, mixed messages and a frantic surge of negative thoughts. I would have sudden and terrifying thoughts that I was about to lose everything in my life, including my family, my business, and everything was going to be taken away from me.
If you had opened up my head it felt as though it would be like a circuit of wires firing all over the place in a frantic display of activity and restlessness.
I felt as though I had lost the ability to fall asleep. Even though I was exhausted my mind wouldn’t switch off. If I did get some sleep I would awaken feeling as though I had been asleep all night only to find it was a matter of 45 mins or so after I had first put my head down. I had lost my perception of time and everything became an effort.
My general feelings from day to day consisted of panic, anxiety, anger and restlessness, I was paranoid and thinking completely irrationally and I felt guilty that I was putting all the responsibility of child care onto my husband, as well as have him trying to look after me too.
My moods would drastically change and it felt as though all my thoughts and feelings were happening to me and there was no way I could control how I felt. It’s horrible to live in a way when you don’t know when the next change will come from or what may trigger a change in mood.
I didn’t recognise the woman in the mirror, eyes sunken in the back of my head, a vagrant empty look, pale and off colour with no sparkle or light behind me. Why was this happening to me? What have I done to deserve this and when will this all be over?
Over the coming weeks and months I began my recovery without being hospitalised or using medication. I was able to stay at home around my family and be a part of my children’s lives and that really helped me through. With the support of my wonderful husband, private life coaching and my local mental health service I slowly got better. The mood swings became further apart and less drastic and my sleep started to improve.
Some underlying anxiety followed that made it difficult for me to regulate my everyday life again but I was able to identify triggers and put in place strategies to help me stay calm and make progress. At first it really was a case of taking one day at a time and trying something new as and when I felt comfortable. I had to be patient and not too hard on myself whilst at the same time recognising my progress and seeing how far I had come.
Postpartum psychosis was the most distressing and difficult thing I have ever experienced but I have come through it and got better. I am on the other side now and I can move on with my life. The whole experience has made me appreciate what’s important in my life and I’m sure it has made me a stronger person. I value my family and my health so much more and that fresh perspective is one that I will take forward to enjoy motherhood and family life.