Thursday, December 13, 2007

Journey Part 3

When I was thinking about what I had written yesterday, I had a realization. Often, when I was rocking Ladybug and crying, I would look around her beautiful nursery, at all the work we had done to make it special. My husband had painted the walls a pale, soft pastel lime green. I had hung light pink curtains on antique-looking ivory steel rods. The stitched sampler prayer that had hung in my bedroom as a child was re-framed and hung on the wall. I had chosen pretty gingham and flower bedding from Pottery Barn Kids. There was a white lamp with a pale pink shade on it that cast a warm light in the middle of the night when I would go in to feed her. My old dolls were lined up on a white wicker chest that had been mine as a child. A cloud of beautiful butterflies hung over her crib from the ceiling, watching over her. It was a beautiful nursery intended for a much desired, beautiful child.

When I looked around, I would think to myself how disappointed I was that this experience, my first few months with my child, had been so awful. I would think about how disappointed I was to have this screaming baby instead of the peaceful, content baby that I had wanted. What I realized just today was that one of the emotions I had during this time was grief. I was mourning for the loss of my dream.

This baby did not match up to all of what I wanted her to be. I had waited 9 months for her arrival after having miscarried once before (very early on). I had imagined what she would be like and how much fun and joy I would have in taking care of her.I was thrilled to be having a girl. I looked forward to the mother-daughter bond and how I would help her through all those daughter things in life, play dolls with her, put bows in her hair, buy prom and wedding dresses and be there when loves were lost, read her Eloise and teach her to be a strong, confident woman.

But instead I was struggling to care for a child who never seemed to be happy, that seemed to be damaged in some way, imperfect. I mourned.

I began to fantasize about leaving. I would concoct escape plans. I would plan where and when I would leave. What I would take with me. I thought that I would go to the coast, to the beach. I didn't know if I would come back, I just knew I wanted out. Several times I came very, very close to leaving. Once, at night, I lay in bed listening to my husband snore and I thought, if I get up now, he'll never know and I can be hours down the road before he realizes I've gone.

The only thing that kept me from leaving was my son. Despite all the rage I felt toward Ladybug and my husband, I loved Sweet Pea more than ever. I never grew angry with him. I knew that if I actually left, he would never forgive me and I might be giving up my son forever. I couldn't do that.

You might wonder why I had not gotten help up to this point. As I said before, I have been depressed at other times in my life, but this was like no other depression I had ever felt. Imagine you are in a grocery store. Your husband and family are just outside on the sidewalk. The lights go out. It's totally dark. You can't see anything. You take a step forward and bump into a wall. You turn and try again. Again, a wall. Then you realized that the shelves and walls are closing in around you and you have no way out and can see nothing. You can hear people talking to you, but you can't understand what they are saying. You know you must get out to get to your children but you can't see a way. You are desperate, panicked, alone and you feel like you are drowning. That's a little what PPD is like.

It was terrifying in its speed and depth. It came on very quickly and got bad very quickly. I remember at around six weeks postpartum, I was talking to my mother and she said, "It sounds like you are a little depressed. Maybe you need to see someone." I told her that yes, I thought I was, but I would probably snap out of it and it wasn't too bad. I told her I'd wait and if in two weeks I still felt depressed, I'd call my OB. Well, in two weeks, I was hospitalized in a psych ward. That is how quickly the situation became deadly serious. The rapidity of PPD is something that all new mothers need to keep in mind.

My husband knew, of course, that things were terribly wrong. He would leave for work, kissing me goodbye through my tears and he would return later to a still-crying wife. He had witnessed the rage I felt. He had had to remove me from Ladybug's room, fearful I would hurt her. He had heard me say over and over how much I wish we had never had her. He heard me say I hated her. It got so that he was afraid to leave me alone with Ladybug. He saw how obsessed I was with her eating and sleeping habits and how I had to compulsively check my logs. He knew that even touching Ladybug disgusted me and I avoided talking to her or even looking at her.
He had also born the brunt of some of my rage. I would turn it on him, telling him how much I hated my life and I should have never married him. He knew something was very wrong, but he was scared and didn't know what to do. He was barely hanging on himself, feeling stress at work and coming home to a nightmare.

My husband is not a strong believer in mental disorders. He was of the opinion that depressed people need to get over it and stop feeling sorry for themselves. It is a weakness in his eyes, one that he would never succumb to. He sees it as selfish. He had no faith in psychiatrist or therapists.

He began to resent this chaos that I had inflicted on our family. He resented that he was shouldering a huge burden. He resented that he had to come home to an unhappy wife everyday. He resented that he had to be the one to hold everything together while I stopped functioning. He lashed out at me as I lashed out at him. Ours has never been a marriage that handles stress well. We began arguing on a daily basis, the arguments often escalating to dangerous levels. We were totally unable to step away from each other and we often argued in front of the children. I would become hysterical, unable to calm down, throwing everything I could get my hands on, screaming and out of control. Divorce was bandied about. Words were weapons and we did all that we could to hurt each other.

There was another factor at play that discouraged me from getting help immediately. I was ashamed at what I was feeling and I was scared to tell anyone the full extent of my anger and unhappiness. I was afraid of being judged, of being told I was an unfit mother, of being labeled as crazy. I was terrified that someone might try to take my children away from me. It's funny that I was so fearful of this, isn't it, when I hated one of my children. But deep underneath the depression, I know instinctively that I did not want her taken from me. I knew there must be love down there somewhere.

As things were spinning out of control at home and I became less and less functional, we felt a need to cover things up. We did not want my husband's family to know about the situation and even now, they don't know how bad it was and some don't even know it happened. We didn't tell friends. Later on, my friends would be an invaluable source of support, but at that time, I was too ashamed and afraid to tell them everything. Many of my friends were pregnant and I did not want to scare them. Also, whether we acknowledge it or not, I think all mothers feel at least a twinge of competition with other moms. I did not want to be the "bad" mother of my group, the one people were afraid to leave their children with. I didn't want them to see me as a failure. I didn't tell my mother how bad I was feeling. I was especially worried about my mother-in-law finding out. One of the symptoms of postpartum psychosis is delusional thinking and I began to believe that she wanted to take the kids from me, that she always had and that she would jump at any chance to get me away from. I believed this as much as I believe the sky is blue. I became paranoid at people's intentions.

Eventually, at around nine weeks postpartum, I reached a breaking point. The day that I finally reached out for help was in the middle of November. Ladybug was screaming as usual and my husband had just left to go back to work. I was sitting in the rocker sobbing. I called my mother and told her that I didn't feel I could go on another day. I simply did not feel I could continue. Both my husband and I were very concerned that I might hurt Ladybug or myself. I was not really suicidal yet, but I knew I could be very easily. I had had casual thought about it, but I felt I was much more likely to hurt Ladybug then myself. More than that, I just didn't think I could physically take care of my children another minute. My mother asked if it would help if she came to visit. I told her yes.

A teacher, she made arrangements for a substitute and planned on coming in two days. She thought she could stay until Thanksgiving. She told me to call my OB, get a prescription for an antidepressant and get a name of a therapist. My OB called in a prescription for Wellbutrin XL and gave me a name. Unfortunately, the therapist he referred me to was no longer practicing. I summoned my courage and emailed some friends to see if I could get a recommendation. I told them I thought I had PPD and wanted to see someone. I didn't tell them how serious the situation was, just that I was a little depressed. One of them was able to give me a name and I was able to make an appointment for the following day.

My husband stayed home with the children while I went to therapist's office. I cried the whole way there. I could barely see to drive. Panic overwhelmed me and I felt desperate to get to the office, like I could wait no longer. Once there, I could not stop crying. Other patients in the waiting room stared as I tired to get myself under control. I could barely explain to the woman what was going on. I struggled to tell her how unhappy I was, how I felt about my baby and how we were terrified I was going to hurt someone. Alarmed, the woman realized very quickly that I was in the middle of a total breakdown and I needed help immediately. She arranged for me to be admitted to an inpatient program at a local hospital. It was not ideal, she said, but it was the only program that our insurance would pay for. I would be admitted the following day and remain there until I was stable and no longer a threat to anyone. I was to wait for a call in the morning to tell me when to report to the hospital.

As I left the office, I felt an enormous sense of relief. I called my mother, explained what was going to happen and asked her to come immediately. She left Nashville an hour later and arrived at our house that afternoon. Once she arrived, I felt like there was some hope for the situation. She could care for the kids while I was in the hospital and my husband was at work. Her presence served to stablize the situation.

That night my mom tried to divert our attention and lighten the mood. The next morning, we waited to get the call from the hospital. By 2 pm, no one had called and I began to get very agitated and worried. We did not understand why we were going through this routine anyway. Why couldn't I have just been admitted yesterday? We tried to call the hospital repeatedly and finally reached the therapist I had seen. Apparently, the psych ward intake coordinator was on vacation. They would try to get me in the next day. This should have been our first clue that this hospital was not the best place for me. But what other choice did we have? Our insurance wouldn't pay for another hospital and we knew I had to get help immediately.

I managed to hold it together enough to make it to the next day. My husband took me to the hospital the next morning. Complicating everything was that my husband's father is a well-known OB at that hospital and we wanted to insure that he would not find out I was there. We quickly filled out the paperwork, hoping to get out of the admitting area as fast as possible to lessen the chances of seeing someone we knew. We made certain that my files on the hospital-wide computers would not be accessible to anyone other than my doctor. We kept our heads down on the way to the elevator and hurried upstairs.

An orderly took us to the psych floor and we were left to wait in their outpatient area. I looked around. The furniture was all old and the area looked dirty. There were all kinds of posters on the walls with tips for job hunting and ways of reducing stress. I saw lists of homeless agencies and food banks. There was a whole wall of information on taking the GED. There was information about drug and alcohol rehab facilities and on halfway houses. It did not look to us like I was in an appropriate facility at all, but nevertheless, I underwent an evaluation. They determined I was indeed in crisis and a threat to myself and others and admitted me for an undetermined length of time.

My husband escorted me to the actual inpatient section. The only patient entrance to the ward was a door in a glass-walled receiving area. I had to hand over my overnight bag so that it could be searched. My husband had to say goodbye here, as only patients were allowed behind the locked doors. We held each other and he kissed me goodbye. I cried, suddenly afraid of being left here alone. I watched him walk out of the receiving area and turn to look at me before getting on the elevator, tears running down his face. I felt very alone.

I was escorted to an intake area where I signed paperwork and filled out histories. A counselor came to explain the process to me. He explained that because I had been admitted and deemed a suicide or homicide threat, I would not be able to leave until a doctor felt I was stable. The word homicide exploded in my brain. Homicide. I felt a chill and something in me turned and I understood how serious my condition was. I also was taken aback by the knowledge that I could not leave when I wanted to. I thought that since I was entering voluntarily, I could leave when I wanted. Too many movies and TV shows I guess. I realized now that I had lost all control of my future. I was entirely dependent on the doctors here.

I told myself that everything would be fine now. A large part of me welcomed the time away from my children. I wanted to get better. I told myself that I would get help here. Unfortunately, I was wrong and things got much worse before they got better.


Mrs. G. said...

Wow, this is a pretty amazing description of a deep clinical depression. I didn't experience depression after my children were born, but I went through one after some family members died. I so get what you're saying. There is no way to cheer or buck up in that frame-of-mind. For me, pharmaceuticals were a life saver. They still help me to this day.

Thanks for sharing. I look forward to reading the rest.

micshell73 said...

This is wonderful..well, not that you went through it, but you explain things so well. I am currently suffering from PPD and tried different things. We first thought it was just hormones and changed birth control. From there, I went to a counselor who said it was hormones. So, I wait and deal with my feelings of crying, worry, obsession of the little things and it just gets worse. I finally took the plunge and I am going to a doctor in a few weeks. Kinda booked with the holidays and such. Your words hit home and give hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Good Luck on your book and I CANNOT wait to read it.
Michele first time mommy to Leanne.

Lisel said...

I am glad you are hanging in there. If I may, please make sure you get to a doctor as quickly as possible. PPD can get bad very quickly. You wouldn't know this because I have not written it, but two weeks after my initial hospitalization, I took a bottle of Zanax in front of my husband and children. Luckily, the medicine was four years old and I made myself throw up after doing it. I could have easily died. It was at least two months after that before I started to improve significantly. Antidepressants usually take several weeks to kick in.

I absolutely understand not being able to get in to see a doctor, but if you feel you are getting worse before your appointment, please do whatever it takes to get help, even if it means walking in to an ER.

I would be happy to talk to you if you need any more information or just need to talk. My email is Please contact me if you need to.