This post is a little different from what you have seen in the past…Thrive Therapies is proud to be a sponsor of the first annual Crush Run, an event created by a local mom in order to raise awareness and “Crush the stigma associated with anxiety and depression.” Check out their story here.
A few months ago, I came across Cassi’s story in the Las Vegas Review Journal, I was immediately struck by how similar my story was to hers. I found my self suffering from nearly crippling anxiety following the birth of my first child. Before I get into that story, let me tell you a little bit about myself…
I have been anxious as long as I can remember. I was that child that laid in bed at night worrying about the cold war, worrying about a nearby dam breaking and flooding us into oblivion, I worried that a bear would walk into our house and eat us at night…you name it, I worried about it. To say I had difficulty dealing with change in an understatement, I bawled my eyes out the first day of kindergarten, clutching my mom’s arm, terrified of being left there, despite the teacher being a family friend. The anxiety continued into school aged years, rearing its ugly head here and there, but I never really talked about it. Going off to college was pretty much a repeat of kindergarten, crying, clutching my mom’s arm. Thankfully, she insisted I go!!
Throughout college I had a serious bout with depression and insomnia, and began taking antidepressants. The first one prescribed did not do much and had unpleasant side effects, however the second medication worked well for me, and I was functioning well and leading a pretty much normal life. In the years following, I remained on the medication for a while, then knowing I would want to start a family someday, I decided I wanted to stop taking it. I can tell you, it was awful, the withdrawal symptoms, feeling of zapping headaches, pain, nausea, restless legs, dizziness, body aches, heat flashes….but I had a goal in sight. I wanted to be free of the medication, and I did it.
Life was great, I was a new occupational therapy grad, I had a job I loved, regular exercise and quality sleep kept the worst of the anxiety at bay. Then, I became pregnant with my first son. The entire pregnancy was worry free, it was a happy and joyous time. The birth was wonderfully uneventful and we brought home a healthy, baby boy. A few days later is when the clouds came in. There were the typical ups and downs of being a new parent, I had a very supportive network of family and friends. But even that could not stop the storm of anxiety that was coming.
At my six-week check up, my blood pressure was off the charts, I was having panic attacks regularly, my heart racing, sweating, nausea, negative thoughts. My OB was not one to be sympathetic to such issues. She had me return in a week after monitoring my blood pressure, since it was the anxiety, not a blood pressure issue, she handed me a 12 month prescription for a tiny dosage of an anti-depressant, and said and I quote “If you feel like killing yourself or the baby, go to the hospital,” and walked out of the room. The medication was for the first one I had been on in college, that did not work, I was such a mess, I didn’t even try to stop the doctor to ask questions.
I spent the next year, the first year of my first baby’s life, plagued by constant panic attacks. Sure, I was functioning, working a full-time job, snapping pictures of every milestone, smiling at holidays, but inside I was constantly terrified, I felt like some black cloud was looming and terrible things were going to happen. I even sought out the help of a therapist, recommended by the employee assistance program at work, that particular therapist was more harmful than good, she stated since I was not abusing drugs, I was sleeping more or less okay, that what I was feeling was just new mom stress. There was never any one terrible thing, it was just the thought of some ominous darkness, waiting to swallow me whole. Then, on the day of my son’s first birthday party, I was walking in the aisles of a Michaels Craft Store, and the panic washed over me. I was frozen in terror, my heart beating out of my chest, beads of sweat appearing on my forehead, I thought to myself, “This is it, I’m going to die, right here in this craft store, and ruin my son’s first birthday.”
Needless to say, I made it out of the store and home for a wonderful birthday. But at that moment, I also decided that something had to change. A coworker recommended a nurse practitioner that she liked and I made an appointment. I remember sitting in a chair, telling my story through sobs, and her listening intently, nodding here and there. Finally she said to me, “This is not normal, this is no way to live, there are things you can do to make it better.” We came up with a plan, which included blood work to rule out anything else, regular exercise, and resuming the medication I was on previously that actually helped.
Things began to turn around, the panic attacks became fewer and farther between, and I felt like a normal person. Two years later, we decided to have another baby, I was able to successfully wean off the medication with help from my doctor and I quickly became pregnant with my second baby. Things were going along so wonderfully….until that black cloud began to creep back into my life.
The panic became pronounced on a family trip to the beach, the panic attacks, negative thoughts started coming on more and more frequently. Every time I passed a hospital, the thought “Is that where I am going to die?” passed through my head. The darkness in my head became worse and worse, until one night I was reading with my son, it was big yellow book, a collection of Curious George stories that my son loved. I put the book down, and looked at my husband and said “Who is going to read this to the boys when I die?” He looked at me wide-eyed and with some disbelief, not knowing what to say. I tried hard to deal with the thoughts, feelings, panic attacks. I talked to my sisters, my mom flew down immediately, I felt like I was a mess. Throughout the ordeal, I continued to try, I bought at least five books on Amazon that discussed anxiety, I looked up postpartum depression support groups, I called my obstetrician.
Thankfully, I had a new OB for this baby, he was a godsend. He was calm and gentle, totally non-judgmental, talked me through options for medications, discussed safe sleeping pills, encouraged me to continue exercising, and most importantly, suggested a therapist named Jennifer, to help me deal with these negative thoughts. The first day I met Jennifer was where everything began to turn around, I felt like I was able to see a glimpse of sunlight through all the dark clouds in my thoughts. Was I better after that one visit, did life change dramatically, did the panic go away….Nope, but the difference was, I was hopeful that someday it would. The two things Jennifer said to me that first day that made all the difference were “You are not the only one that feels like this” and “You will not feel like this forever.” I needed to hear those words like I needed air to breathe. And it helped. To this day, Jennifer, is one of a handful of people who I say changed my life, more on that another time!
I won’t lie and tell you the rest of the pregnancy and the first year after my second son was born were easy or trouble-free. There were some really crappy days, but fortunately the bad days began to be replaced by a good day here and there and eventually the good days outnumbered the bad. I had an incredible support system, my family, my friends, coworkers, doctor, therapist, I can’t imagine the outcome if I had not had all those people on my team.
I am sure right now you are thinking, “That’s great Lacee, but what does this have to do with Thrive Therapies?” I will tell you…when I was in the deepest black hole, I questioned all the time, why me? And I told myself, that if my experience of going through this can help someone else, than it is worth it. I don’t want anyone to feel alone. If one person is awake in the middle of the night, searching for something to help and they come across this and feel even a tiny bit better, a tiny bit less alone in their struggle, then it is worth it.
From an occupational therapist standpoint, I can wholeheartedly tell my patients that I understand, I know the feelings you are feeling and I want to help. The adult patients who are paralyzed by fear, the pediatric patients that are hitting and kicking and throwing things at school or at home because they are anxious, I understand and I want to help. To the parents that are anxious, or dealing with a child that is anxious, I understand and I want to help.
I have listed some resources that helped me and hopefully can help others. If reading this helped you, or you have any questions, please reach out to me!
Postpartum Progress – this website if full of wonderful tools, support and stories of other moms doing their best. This was the biggest help I found online when I was dealing with perinatal and postpartum anxiety.
Postpartum Anxiety Article – this is a pretty good article discussing postpartum anxiety
If you have any suggestions for resources please leave it in the comments or email me and I will list them.