The Battle Within My Mind | My Story of Postpartum Anxiety
In this space where I call upon other mothers to share their vulnerable stories, I wanted to share mine.
This is a story of my postpartum anxiety.
My hope is that for anyone who reads my story and feels similar symptoms, that you realize you are not alone.
You are not alone, and asking for help is not anything to be ashamed about or feel judgement for.
This is my story
I was always a worrier. I was always worried about the “what if’s” that would happen, and it fueled me to function well in life (paying bills on time, budgeting, etc). The worrier was always inside me, and I thought it was a strength I had. Until it became my weakness.
I think a lot of people think postpartum anxiety and/or depression begins as soon as you have your baby, but in a lot of cases it emerges later on in. My battle with postpartum anxiety began when I was 15 months postpartum. I remember it was summertime, life was going great. I had just met a group of amazing moms on facebook and we were setting up playdates and meeting in real life and our kids were having the time of their lives.
We took a week long vacation as family, just a series of day trips to the zoo, the butterfly conservative, the splash pad, all of it. And halfway through our wonderful week, while we were eating seafood dockside in Rhode Island, I received a phone call regarding my business that put me straight over the edge with my stress level, and I had a full on panic attack.
The next day, my stomach wasn’t right. It hurt. I would wake up nauseous, my stomach felt like it was in knots, and I watched what I ate thinking it was just my stomach acting up. The rest of the vacation my health wasn’t 100%. I started to wonder if something was wrong with me. I ended up feeling better, and let it go.
But for some reason my worrying was increasing day by day.
I was working hard to grow my business, at the same time making sure my son was developing right and I was doing everything I could so he had the best start in life. I was working full days at home, while also trying to be supermom with my son. I wasn’t taking time for myself AT ALL because the guilt I felt about doing so overwhelmed me.
And then one morning, while I was working on editing a session, I felt a little twinge behind my head, on my neck.. Just a quick little throb up to my head. To a regular person you might think it was just a muscle twitching, it came and went, but to me, my mind went to the worst and I thought I had a brain tumor, or brain clot. The absolute worst case scenario.
I could feel my heart race. My hands got sweaty. My vision started getting fuzzy, and I felt my breathing increase; I was having a panic attack over this. Why was I having a panic attack over this?
So I did the one thing a person with anxiety shouldn’t do; I googled my symptoms.
And now I worried I was really sick.
What if it was a brain tumor and I died?
What about my son?
What if something happened to me alone with my son? Like if I just blacked out right now?
Is this symptom related to what I felt when we were on vacation? Do I have cancer?
What if? What if? What if?
This small tiny black dot within my mind was growing and growing into a big black hole and it was sucking me inside of it. There was nothing I could do; it was pulling me in, pulling me in. My “what if” thoughts were turning into “what IS” and I was felt I was losing control in my mind and my brain was thinking the worst case scenario was happening.
I began questioning every little thing health wise that happened to me.
Is that mole growing? It’s definitely growing. Am I dying of skin cancer?
Why is my arm feeling numb? I must be having heart issues. This is a heart attack. There is something wrong with my heart.
Why am I having trouble focusing on the computer screen and feeling nauseous? I must have something wrong with my brain.
Why is my heart racing so fast? There must be something wrong with me.
What is this rash? Sometimes rashes can be a symptom of cancer. Oh I must have cancer.
My mind jumped to the WORST conclusions, every. single. time.
I spent more time on my phone googling my symptoms than spending time with my son. I was beginning to get short with him, more worried about figuring out what my symptoms were than him. I spent hours on the medical websites analyzing my symptoms. Only seeing the worst outcomes, and worrying I had them.
I was short with my husband. I was sacrificing my time with him to google symptoms.
The symptoms and the googling only got worse. I was feeling nauseous some mornings. Dizzy after eating breakfast or coffee. Tired. My stomach would randomly hurt. My heart would race.
I began obsessing over my body, analyzing every little thing that happened. Keeping track of my heart rate CONSTANTLY. Taking my temperature. Googling symptoms. Checking myself in the mirror. Obsessing, obsessing, obsessing. What if? What if! What if.
My worry began to manifest in daily activities. I worried about driving. Worried about any little sound the car made. I worried about our home. I worried about bills. I had panic attacks getting the mail (what if I get a letter for an overdue bill? What will I do?). I worried about my business.
The worry was crippling me. I didn’t want to leave the house (though I desperately needed to). I was losing sleep. I was spending time worrying about my symptoms and trying to relieve my symptoms. I would have spontaneous panic attacks from the smallest things.
And that’s when I decided to see a doctor. Clearly there was something physically, medically wrong with me. I ended up switching to my son and husband’s doctor, so she knew me well.
It was my first visit with her, and I remember the receptionist giving me the anxiety/depression test to fill out.
How often do you spend time worrying?
How often have you felt worried, nervous, or on edge?
I handed the test to my doctor, and immediately broke down and sobbed. I told her I knew I had failed the anxiety portion.
My sweet doctor, a mother herself, took a deep breath and told me what I was experiencing was completely normal. That there was help for me. She told me of my options, asked me if I wanted medication or if I wanted to begin with therapy. They had a therapist right there within the office, and I met her that day.
Then she asked me how much time I was spending doing things I loved, or time to myself. I realized I wasn’t taking any time to myself. I wasn’t practicing self care.
You see, I was feeling an immense amount of guilt towards being a work from home mom. I watched all my other stay at home mom friends having craft time with their kids, taking their kids to the park, playing with them, reading to them. All day. I felt for every minute I had to work, I needed to make it up to my son. That it was my responsibility to give him all of me. Isn’t that what a parent is supposed to do? So I spread myself thin until there was almost nothing left.
But spreading myself thin left me vulnerable to worry. To stress. The anxiety, like a weed, took up residence within that place and it was given space to grow. To take over. To thrive.
And no one knew of my struggles with anxiety.
There was nothing you could see with the naked eye. I could have a smile on my face as I talk to you, but within my mind I’m having a battle with myself, feeling scared, and alone, and nervous, you would never know. My mind was drowning with thoughts, I was treading water knowing it was rising higher and higher, yet I kept a smile on my face and acted normal. I wasn’t sure what to do, how to regain control, and felt out of control.
My sweet doctor set up an appointment with the in-office therapist, and also prescribed me “me time” of 5 hours or more a week. That was my homework. I didn’t feel comfortable taking medication, so I told her I wanted to begin with this (and if it didn’t get better, we would reevaluate). Later that week I joined a new gym, one with childcare, and I began this path to recovering.
A journey with anxiety and/or depression is like taking a walk and approaching a mountain. You don’t all of a sudden get to the top (the top being your peak symptoms, the breaking point). You begin at the base, where life is normal.
Then you begin climbing that mountain, slowly. You begin feeling your worrying increasing, your symptoms increasing.
You’re halfway up that mountain, and now you’ve begun to question whether this is normal. Maybe for some, they realize they are on a mountain, and don’t need to reach the top to go around to the other side.
But if you don’t know better, you keep climbing. Huffing and puffing, you can’t go back now. You are too high now.
Then, you reach the top. The top where you are realizing something definitely isn’t right. This isn’t right. These feelings are not normal. Something is wrong. You are not yourself.
And you reach out for help.
But you are on a mountain; not a cliff.
You can’t just jump off the other side and land down where you began. At least it wasn’t like that for me.
I had to climb back down that mountain, safety and easily.
My symptoms didn’t subside quickly. It took time. I decided to take my doctor’s advice and allow myself less guilt and more me time. I started allowing myself to take time for a bubble bath. I started talking to the therapist and she taught me breathing exercises and helped me shift my mindset. I got back into yoga, and started going out with friends, my husband and I started a bedtime routine which allowed each of us time for ourselves at night. I had to work to regain control of my overwhelming thoughts.
But I wasn’t OK just yet.
I was still visiting urgent care frequently, and it usually had to do with heart racing/arm numb symptoms. I was there so frequently that one of the PA’s ordered me to visit a cardiologist to make sure everything was alright with me.
I made the appointment and went, and everything checked out perfectly fine.
I remember crying. Feeling like I was crazy, out of control of my mind. How these professionals must think I was nuts. I wonder if they even took me seriously. Why wasn’t I ok yet? I was taking the steps to be ok.
So I started researching anxiety. I researched “Health anxiety” and read other people’s stories. Their stories, their symptoms, were all so similar to mine. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t crazy.
That’s when I started to take back my anxiety and my anxious thoughts. I started creating awareness with myself when I began to worry about a symptom, or when I would go to google a symptom. I began realizing when I had a stressful day or week, my original symptoms (nausea, dizziness, exhaustion, heart racing, etc) would emerge. Now I knew my mind was playing tricks on me. My mind was tricking my body into creating these symptoms. My mind was also tricking me into worrying about things with my body that were completely normal. My own mind was deceiving me.
And that’s when I saw a post from January Harshe of Birth without Fear, and it said “Anxiety is a liar”. Never had I seen such an honest, truthful statement about what I was feeling.
Once I realized this, my climb back down the mountain got a little quicker. If I felt myself beginning to get back into that circle of mind tricks and anxious thoughts, I would pack us up and go to the gym (even if it was for 10 minutes). Or I would use the breathing exercises my therapist taught me. If I felt myself worry or question a symptom, I would tell myself “it’s just your anxiety, your mind is lying to you”. Eventually the symptoms began subsiding. My heart wasn’t racing anymore. I wasn’t feeling nauseous. I wasn’t dizzy in the morning, or extremely tired.
It took a long time, but I eventually made it back to the base of the mountain on the other side. I did it.
And my walk continues. Behind me that mountain stands. The further I walk, the smaller that mountain becomes, but it’s still there, a reminder of what I went through. The feelings of climbing that mountain still remain. There are no mountains for miles, none that I can see, just small hills which I know I will travel over easily. The longer I walk, the further I walk, the stronger I am, the wiser I am.
Feeling somewhat normal again
I have felt “back to normal” for over a year now, and only now looking back to I realize how much my mind had tricked me. I am looking back and feeling frustrated with myself for what I put my family through, what I let myself go through. Looking back now, I realized I wasn’t OK. I had lost a part of myself, I was losing my own identity, and my stress and anxiety crept in.
And I vowed never to let that happen again. I don’t let myself feel guilt for going out with friends, and having “adult time”. I allow myself to make time to go to the gym (which makes me feel really good). I give myself grace to fill my cup so I may be a successful mother/wife/person.
If I have my “what if” thoughts now, they don’t overtake my mind. I’m more in control of what happens, what is in my control, and what isn’t. I do still stress over certain things (bills, usually), but it’s not crippling me any longer. I’m able to rationally respond within my mind.
If I have symptoms, I have retrained my brain to stop and think; have I been tired and stressed lately? Is there something stressing me out? Could this symptom be stress related? Then I watch my symptom, and see if relaxing alleviates it. Usually it does. None of my major symptoms have returned (dizziness, nausea, muscle weakness, etc).
Thank you for reading. I invite you to share your stories within the comments here (if you feel comfortable). My hope is that for anyone climbing their own mountain, you find comfort knowing you are not alone in doing so. That things may not be right, and there is no judgement for reaching out for help. That if you do reach out for help, you can conquer this. You can get over your mountain.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE
National Postpartum Depression Hotline: 1-800-PPD-MOMS
Growing Well (Therapist)