Postpartum Anxiety and how I Finally got Help

We all know what anxiety is, right? Or at least we think we do. It’s something that we all talk about, feeling “anxious”, and it generally has a negative connotation- at least it did to me.

We’re told not to be anxious, as if it’s something that can be controlled by conscious attempts and efforts to keep it away. That’s wrong. That’s very wrong!

Anxiety is not anyone’s fault. It’s not a behavior or a mindset that we choose. It is a mental health disorder, and it requires as much (or more) attention as a broken leg. It wont get better without intervention.

Post partum anxiety is extremely common, but somehow it plays second fiddle to it’s (exually important to talk about) coconspirator, postpartum depression.

So what is postpartum Anxiety?

All new moms experience some anxiety. It has an evolutionary purpose, after all. A momma who thinks about the dangers present in her child’s life is more able to plan ahead and prevent harm to her child.

All new mommas have some stress and emotional uneasiness. We’re all exhausted for a little while, and we all have concerns. Postpartum Anxiety comes into play when a mom becomes consumed by anxious thoughts and emotions. It has been said that the true mark of anxiety is knowledge of irrational thoughts and concerns without the ability to stop them.

Some mom’s with postpartum anxiety report changes in sleeping and eating, a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, hot flashes, and even nausea. I dealt with all of these things, and more.

I woke up one morning when big brother was four months old feeling off. I went to big brothers crib (that was still in our room), scooped him up, and carried him to his nursery where I did my morning pump for liquid gold.

My husband went to prepare a bottle as I began to pump.

When my husband came to collect big brother for his feeding I told him that I wasn’t feeling well. I was dizzy and foggy (which had been extremely common symptoms for me throughout my pregnancy). I could see him filing the information away- we’d been trying to figure out what was causing these sympotms (and others) for almost a year. It was so frustrating and discouraging.

My husband scooped big brother up and they went to our bedroom. About ten minutes later I yelled down the hallway to inform my husband that the feeling had worsened. I was now feeling numb and was unable to move well.

He helped me get to our bed after finishing big brothers feeding (remember, none of this was exactly new). I laid on my back in the bed and I could feel my limbs grow heavy. I told my husband that I couldn’t move.

My husband coached me through this terrifying situation in a way that now seems impossible. He helped me stay calm by asking me clarifying questions about what I was feeling. A few minutes passed before we decided that the hospital needed to be our next move. This was not what I’d experienced before. This was much worse.

He asked if I could get to the car. Nope. I couldn’t even move my legs or arms. I started to cry. He called 911 and they were there within moments.

They asked the same questions that my husband had been asking me (my head/mouth/eye control was fine, but I literally could not move anything else.) After checking my blood sugar, blood pressure, pupils, and other things, they put me on a board and took me to the ambulance.

The ride there was filled with more questions and reassurances that we were going to finally find some answers. One of the men on the ambulance even said that he thought this might be the final straw. He said he just knew that we were going to get answers.

He wasn’t wrong! After a long visit in the er, followed by four more long days of hospitalization and rigorous testing we learned that there was no physical reason for my symptoms.

The staff psychologist at the hospital came in and asked me how I felt about mental health. I told him that my undergraduate degree was in psychology, and that I have a high reguard for his profession.

“Good”, he said. “I think you have conversion disorder.”

I’d never heard the term before. He went on to explain that it’s a mental health disorder that displays itself as neurological sympotoms. He told me that it sometimes requires tons of intervention and medication, but not always.

He then asked me if I was feeling stressed or anxious.

“Not at all”, I said.

He looked at me like I was a crazy person. He reminded me that I had a four month old baby and I’d been dealing with terrifying neurological sympotms for a year. He told me that I should be feeling stressed.

We talked for a while and finally got to the conclusion that I was stressed, probably more than stressed, and that I was going to try counseling.

He gave me a list of counselors to follow up with and he instructed me to start thinking about my thoughts and emotions. He told me to write things down, that writing was a good place to start.

By day four of my hospital stay everything was almost back to normal. I was still very weak, but I could move. I was released from the hospital feeling hopeful, and very eager to get home to my kid!

I called my OB when I got home to explain what the psychologist thought had been going on (possibly throughout my pregnancy). She had me come in and fill out a questionnaire. She told me that I was dealing with postpartum anxiety too, and we talked about medication to regulate my hormones for the time being.

I reluctantly agreed to go on medication. She assured me that it wouldn’t interfere with breastfeeding, and that if this specific medication wasn’t an ideal fit, we’d find one that worked. She encouraged me to follow through with counseling, and told me that she was encouraged by the thought that my symptoms were being caused by something treatable (as opposed to being possible residual effects of the brain surgeries I’d had as a kid.)

I started the medication and counseling (though I didn’t see my counselor as often as I should have- a decision that I regret now that we have almost three kids and even less time!), And I started to feel so much better.

I started sleeping better. I didn’t eat as much junk food. I started eating meals. My dizziness and weakness slowly went away. I started exercising. I didn’t cry as much. My heart stopped feeling like it was going to jump out of my chest. Swallowing got easier. I was able to talk to people again. Every area of my life had been impacted by postpartum anxiety and I had no idea!

I’m convinced that addressing my anxiety is what made my conversion symptoms stop. I never had to undergo biofeedack or rigorous treatments for conversion disorder. I am fortunate, because so many people with conversion disorder have much more severe cases!

When I am anxious I still notice neurological symptoms like slight weakness and dizziness, and now I’m more able to recognize them for what they are instead of passing them off as nothing.

I didn’t permanently ‘fix’ my anxiety. I don’t know that it’s something that’s completely fixable. What I did do though, was learn ways to cope with it.

Now I write, talk with counselors (when I actually take the time to do it…I should go more), listen to music, pray, use my support system, rely on medication (when I need it, I’m not currently taking medication, but I’m not opposed to it if the need arises!), Exercise, and take breaks to cope with my anxiety.

I’ve found so much healing in the willingness to call it what it is and seek help.

If you or someone you know may be dealing with anxiety or depression, know that it’s not wrong. It’s a diagnosable, treatable condition. It’s not a personal flaw or a weakness. It can, and does, happen to anyone.

If you are a new mom and you think that you may be dealing with postpartum depression or anxiety, please talk to your doctor! Untreated postpartum mental health issues can lead to horrible things. You are not alone. You are not ‘bad’ or broken. You deserve to feel better! Don’t wait to get help.

Postpartum Support International is a fantastic place to start finding resources and information, but I want to stress the importance of letting the people around you know what’s going on. Sit down with your doctor and talk about your concerns.

I’m so thankful for my conversion episode. I don’t know that I would have become aware of the underlying issue without it! Pay attention to your body. Know your baseline so that you can be aware of changes that may be pointing to mental health issues. Take care of yourself! It’s so easy to get swept up in being a new mom. It’s so easy to loose focus on yourself. You’re worth it!

Thanks for reading. Like, share, follow, and comment if you’d like. I’d love to know about your experiences with postpartum mental health!

Unexpected Emotions

When big brother was 9 months old we got pregnant with little brother. Little brother was planned and wanted, and we were so excited to be adding to our family. Little brother was a blessing from the day that we learned we were pregnant, but I was sad for the last three months of my pregnancy. The night before his birth was the most emotionally conflicted 8 hours of my life.

Today I’m going to share my experience with unexpected emotions, and how I’m choosing to let them wash over me. I think that we mommas (and women in general) get bad press for being ’emotional’. When did it become wrong to feel? Men do it too!

For years I was stuck in a cycle of intense feelings and repression. I felt like emotions had to be wrong because the strong ones only led to bad things. I’m learning that emotions are a wonderful part of how I learn about myself and the world. I’m learning how to better address my emotions, and they now often lead to very good things.

So, I was pregnant with little brother before big brother was a year old. We wanted to have our kids close together because my first pregnancy had been complicated, and I knew that if we took much of a break I just wouldn’t want to get pregnant again. I know that people thought we were crazy after having seen everything that I went through during the first pregnancy, but it’s what we wanted.

We only tried for little brother for a few months. Big Brother had taken a bit longer to conceive. We were overjoyed! I’m an only child, so I think I was kinda shocked for the first few months of my pregnancy with #2. He was an impossible miracle. So many families aren’t able to conceive even one, let alone two. We were the lucky ones. I cried tears of joy for weeks!

Time passed, and I quit my job to prepare for being a sahm of two. Staying home with big brother proved to be both very stressful and very rewarding. I was seeing everything that he did. I was a part of his firsts, and I got to wipe his every tear. It was an incredibly emotional transition for me.

One day, as big brother napped, I held my bump and thought about who little brother would be. I thought about how big brother would interact with him, and what they would have as brothers.

I imagined them playing, and fighting. I even looked at a stuffed monkey on the floor and imagined big brother holding it up over little brother’s rock n play. Then I fast forwarded a year or two and pictured them playing tug of war with the same monkey.

I thought about all of the good things that little brother was going to bring into big brother’s life. Then, out of nowhere, I was overcome with thoughts of what little brother was going to be taking away from big brother. I couldn’t stop thinking about how big brother was no longer the baby- my tiny little boy was being pushed out of his role, and it broke my heart.

I’d say that all of these emotions landed on me when big brother was around 14 months old. I was still filled with joy at the thought of meeting little brother and integrating him into our family, but I was so sad for big brother at the same time. I couldn’t calibrate, so I shoved everything down and tried not to feel it.

I thought I was rocking it, and that the emotions had passed (because how dare I feel?!), but they always resurfaced late at night. I cried a lot- my poor husband is a champ!

We went to my high risk ob for my 37 week appointment and the sonographer did the usual ultrasound to measure little brother and make sure he wasn’t in distress. She left the room after giving us a couple of images of little brother. About five minutes later my doctor walked in and said, “you’re having a baby tonight, momma.” She was full of joy, but my heart sank.

My fluid levels had dropped too low and little brother was in distress. She was worried that if he didn’t come out soon he might not make it. I asked her how long we had. I needed my hospital bag and I wanted more time with big brother. I wanted all of the time with big brother! How dare she steal these last two weeks from him? We were supposed to have more time!!

She told me that we could go home to get my bag, but we needed to head over to the hospital that evening. She left the room and came back a few minutes later after speaking with my regular ob (the one who has delivered both of our boys. I love her.) She informed me that my doctor was about to be on her way back to Austin from a trip, and that she said she’d perform my surgery first thing in the morning. She said that little brother would be fine until then, but that they were going to monitor him throughout the night just to be sure.

We did as we were told. I went home, got my bag and tons of pillows (first time c section moms…you will need all of the pillows!), and hugged big brother like it was the last hug I’d ever give him. We drove to the hospital, checked in, and I got hooked up to the monitors.

Little brother and I were doing fine, so my husband ventured to p. Terry’s to get me a double chicken burger in a lettuce wrap with Swiss cheese and extra pickles (my gestational diabetes craving that pregnancy).

As soon as he left the room, I fell apart. I sobbed over everything. I mourned the time with big brother that I was loosing. I feared for little brother’s safety. I was angry that I wasn’t more upset about little brother’s distress. I begged for more time, and a healthy baby. I prayed for my doctor’s travels and asked God to give her strength to travel through the night. I prayed that she’d be energized for my early morning surgery.

By the time my husband got back to the room I’d stopped crying, but it was evident that I had been (freckles, remember?). He hugged me and told me that everything was going to be ok. It was somehow extremely soothing, even though I knew that he had no knowledge of the future.

I scarfed down the burger because surgery was set for 7, and I’d been told not to eat anything for 12 hours before surgery. It was 6:30.

That evening we watched episodes of the office and listened to little brother rolling around on the monitor. I wrote a post about my emotions on a mom group that I was in and so many mommas offered their support.

Many of them related with my conflicting emotions. Many of them were terrified the night before their second c section (more so than before their first ones.) They told me that I had more to loose this time if something went wrong.

I thought about my husband and our two boys. Would they go on without me if something went wrong during surgery? Would big brother remember the time that we had together? Would my husband remarry so the boys would have a mom, or would they grow up with just one parent?

The thoughts and emotions raced, and I continued to try to hide them from my husband.

The night passed and little brother was born the next morning. My doctor was a rockstar. She was supportive and encouraging through the entire surgery, and she stuck around the hospital until the afternoon (her scheduled shift had been later in the day. She came in so early just to deliver little brother. She assured me that she’d nap in the doctors lounge, but I didn’t believe her.)

That was it. Little brother was here, and our lives were changed forever. Big Brother and little brother love each other so much, and they fight so much. Big Brother gets just as much of my time as he ever did, it just looks different now. Now there’s a little tyrant involved too. Now I mourn the fact that little brother and I have never had significant alone time.

I regret having stuffed all of the emotions that I was feeling during my pregnancy. I don’t think it was good for me to ignore them. I think that putting them out in the open could have resulted in some helpful conversations that could have led to healing. I think I could have enjoyed my pregnancy more. But I don’t regret feeling them! I think that they were the result of my deep love for big brother, and the fact that having major surgery is scary!

Now I choose to feel what I feel. I let it consume me, for a moment, and then I write it down or talk to someone about it. Sometimes I even file them away to readdress at a more appropriate time (usually naptime), and make a point to come back to them. We have to process our emotions! If we don’t, they become too powerful- all stuffed away. They become cannon balls! They cause major damage when we least expect it!

A few months after little brother was born we moved and I started going to a church regularly. There I made some connections with other moms (these women are still my friends and I’m so thankful for them). All of my stuffed emotions eventually came out. I was a wreck, and they could all see it. They loved and supported me through it, and things eventually got way easier.

I was an anxious mess because I hadn’t given my emotions the respect that they were due. We feel things for a reason, and even when our feelings don’t reflect the truth, we need to acknowledge them. We need to learn from them.

Women, don’t be ashamed to feel. Feelings are a part of our compasses. We need them! I am a Christian, and I whole heartedly believe in a God who is relational. I believe that he let’s us feel to teach us about our hearts. I believe that each emotion that we have is meant to refine us, not hurt us.

Anyhoo- these have been some of my experiences with unexpected and conflicting emotions. I hope you enjoy enjoyed reading some of my heart.

Feel free to like, comment, follow, and share. Every action that you take on my blog helps make it visible to more readers, which helps me someday monetize it. I’d like to turn this into a little extra income for my kiddos and I to go on adventures with. Thanks a ton!!

LJ

Learning from my Mistakes

My parents used to go grocery shopping every Sunday after church. I’d usually stay in the backseat of the car while they shopped (it was the 90s, and I was 9 or 10 at the time.) Occasionally I’d go in and roam around the store while my parents shopped.

(Are kids still this independent? I’d be terrified of letting my boys roam around in a grocery store…maybe that’s because they’re still so tiny.)

One Sunday I ventured onto the health and beauty aisle. It was dimly lit (Food Lion always seemed a little darker than Kroger), and it smelled like Dove soap.

Isn’t it funny how our memories work? I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, but I remember that the aisle where I committed my crime smelled like the bar of Dove soap sitting in my bathtub.

I slowly walked down the aisle thinking about the two dollars that I had wadded up in my pocket. I looked at bon bon nail polishes and bonnebelle lip balms, and then, next to the glittery lip smackers lip gloss, I saw the press on fake nails. They were glorious, and so much cooler than a tiny bottle of nail polish. (Who am I kidding? Tiny nail polish was the best!)

I stared at the press on nails for a while. I leafed through the different color options and held my hand up next to the plastic hand that was displaying a set of blue press on nails.

I really wanted those nails, but I knew that my parents wouldn’t have let me wear them, and they cost $4. I only had $2!

So, in an act of complete mania, I ripped the ring finger nail off of the plastic hand and put it in my pocket.

My heart raced as I searched for my parents and waited with them in the checkout line. The nail pressed against my thigh as we drove home. The thought of it in my pocket seemed to give it powers. I could have sworn that it was burning my leg.

As soon as we got home I removed the nail from my pocket and put it some safe place until I could figure out how to dispose of it without anyone finding out what I’d done.

I was petrified that someone would find out how immorally I’d acted. I was so afraid of the consequences! I didn’t want anyone to be disappointed in me.

I kept the nail a secret for an entire week. The next Sunday morning I slid the nail into my shoe on the way to church. I held it there the whole morning, and didn’t think about anything but that plastic fingernail for two whole hours.

After church we went to lunch, and then to the grocery store. I opted to go inside for the second week in a row (and I was terrified that my parents were getting suspicious).

I slid onto the health and beauty aisle again. The plastic hand was still there. It looked so sad without the nail that I’d stollen.

I dug the blue nail out of my shoe and pressed it against the hand. I know I held it there for five minutes trying to get it to magically adhere. It didn’t stick, so I hid the nail on the shelf and walked away.

I was ashamed for weeks. Honestly, I felt super guilty about it for years!

You know how when you’re getting to know someone you sometimes have the “have you ever broken the law?” Conversation. All I could ever think of when asked this question was that stupid fingernail, and how I’d stollen it. I was a theif! I never dared to tell anyone of my indiscression, and well into my adult years I told people about my first speeding ticket instead.

Then one night my husband and I were talking and the question came up. I thought about his legal bond to me before I came out with it.

I told him all about the nail, and how I’d taken it, kept it, and returned it. I told him that I’d never told anyone else. My heart raced, and I felt like I was 9 years old again.

When I finished telling the story I could feel him laughing at me…it wasn’t on the outside, but his eyes couldn’t hide the fact that he was in hysterics.

Now it’s pretty funny to think about the torture that I put myself through. The cover up (for years) was way worse than the act. Stealing the nail was a mistake, but the bigger mistake had been refusing to acknowledge my mistake, learn from it, and move on.

The only thing that the nail had really taught me was that I hate feeling guilty! I ‘got away with’ my mistake by hiding it, but I hadn’t learned anything of substance.

I’ve made a million and a half mistakes since then. I make mistakes everyday (even guilt inducing ones), but I’ve learned that hiding them and dealing with them on my own isn’t good. I learn so much more when I’m honest (and when I ask for help if I need it).

Lying and pretending to be perfect is exhausting. So, hi! My name is LJ, and I’m a big mess. I’m figuring out most things as I go, and it’s fun! I’ll make millions more mistakes, and I hope that I’ll choose to learn from them instead of hiding them.

Pobodys nerfect! Give yourself grace. Be open with your mistakes, someone else may learn from them too!

Pictured below: press on nails that I bought at Target yesterday. The whole family had a go! Hehe.