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Postpartum Anxiety in the Year 2012

Jan11

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Dear Amy-

So glad I found you.  Your blogs have made me laugh (and cry here and there) and you always seem to do it with such wit and the perfect amount of neuroses so that I know I am not the ONLY slightly crazy one. :)

My background: I just turned 35 last week, a new mom of a freakishly tall (29.5 inches) 6 month old baby boy.  He is perfection, if I do say so myself.  The problem is: moi. 

I struggled with the baby blues preeeeettty bad.  I felt like my life was over, that I would never go anywhere or do anything ever again.  I would hear songs from college and cry.  I was alone a lot, as my husband travels for work and having moved across the country from a tight knit group of friends….well, there was a lot of adjustment going on.  More recently, I thought those days were over.  I have been showering regularly, bought new jeans that weren’t full panel maternity, and can now run errands with baby with ease.

Until now.  I have been having all of these crazy fears about 2012.  As I am writing this, I KNOW how nuts it sounds.  I am annoyingly rational and practical most of the time.  But, I seriously have a bat by the changing table in case a zombie suddenly bursts into the room during my 4AM feeding.  And I’m thinking of stashing canned goods and bottled water.  And although I could MAYBE get away with that without being considered a raving loony, I am even considering putting off baby #2 until I know for sure that we are out of the woods and well into 2013 (which because of my age is not what I really want).  

I get scared at night.  Like, really, really scared.  Anxiety dreams galore.  (As if my night’s sleep wasn’t interrupted enough)  And I have all of these fears about taking care of my boy should I be one of the survivors in an apocalypse.  I’ve never loved anyone like I love him and the thought that I may not be able to protect him, well….it’s freaking me out.  I guess I should also mention that I lost my father and brother suddenly when I was 18.  That always seems to bite me in the butt with my anxiety.

I guess my question is: Is this just more postpartum junk??  Is there anyone else out there worrying themselves to death about media nonsense that even if by some minute chance is true, is completely out of their control??  

Come on, Amy, pull out every ounce of neuroses you got and help a sista out.  Thanks!

Spooked & Pooped

So look: Mental health diagnosis via online advice column is…you know, not really my forte. Or something I can even attempt without Isabel (understandably) clawing her face off because gaaaaaaaaahhhhh for entertainment purposes only no medical advice stuff pleeeeeeease.

But: Your anxiety is excessive. Your anxiety is intrusive. Your anxiety is at a level that no one should be dealing with and your anxiety clearly needs to be addressed before it gets worse and you’re having full-on uncontrollable panic attacks or dangerous thoughts about “saving” your baby from terrible end-of-the-world scenarios. Because if there’s one thing I know from my personal experiences with anxiety disorders, they unfortunately tend to move in one steady solid direction if left unchecked. And that’s worse.

Your anxiety is also very, very common. Postpartum depression is NOT just depression. For many women it manifests as anxiety, OCD, panic, paranoia, anger problems, mood swings, etc. But because they’re managing to get out of bed every morning and aren’t crying all the time or thinking about hurting themselves (and/or the baby)…you know, the “classic” PPD symptoms we all tend to hear the most about, they don’t realize that yes, actually, they are dealing with PPD. Just in a slightly different form.

You don’t mention seeking help for your earlier, more “traditional” depressive symptoms…if you didn’t, that does make it less surprising that the problem would escalate to this consuming fear of the apocalypse and zombies and ancient prophesies that the (&$(@#, don’t get me started) History Channel has decided to mine for all it’s worth. I know a LOT of people are getting into the 2012 stuff, to varying degrees (I have a friend who’s been joking about hosting an End of the World party, but who I can tell is also a teeny bit nervous about the whole thing), but to let it get to the point where you can’t sleep and are obsessing over post-apocalyptic custody arrangements, well…again. Excessive. That word I am using…well, excessively.

And if you were my real-life friend describing your fears while sitting across from me at the coffee shop while our six- and seven-month-olds threw applesauce at each other…I would very much implore you to please, please get some help. Talk to someone. TELL someone about all of it, the nightmares and the obsessing and the bat and your dad and the moving baby #2 plans, with no jokes about “oh I know this sounds so funny/crazy, hee hee” or downplaying it as “postpartum junk.”

You DO NOT have to live with this amount of fear over something that 1) really mostly likely I SWEAR isn’t going to happen, and 2) is completely out of your control ANYWAY, but you’re allowing to rule your life. Imagine if, instead of the end of the world, your anxiety was centered around getting injured or dying in a car crash. And you refused to get in a car, or to put your baby in a car, or have another baby because you’d have to drive to OB visits and the hospital and what if you got into an accident while pregnant and what if what if what if. At some point (I HOPE) someone around you would push you into a doctor’s and/or therapist office to address your fears and get them under control. I don’t know if you’re simply hoping things will magically get better once we hit December 22nd, and think you can just stash some cans and water in the meantime to help “take the edge off,” but sadly, anxiety and PPD don’t work like that.

One last personal bit: I live in the DC area. I lived in DC on September 11, 2001, and was stuck in traffic on a bridge over the Potomac river, watching smoke rising from the Pentagon off in the far distance. I was…rattled, of course, but thought I was coping pretty well, considering. Then a little over a year later, the Beltway sniper attacks started and a switch was flipped in my brain. I hadn’t even had a baby yet, but oh my God, my anxiety levels went through the roof. I didn’t sleep. I locked and relocked doors. I would start trembling in the car on the way to work and shriek and duck at loud noises, like cars backfiring. I would mentally rank my surroundings at all times in order of their appeal as targets for terrorists. I kept my cat’s carrier out in our foyer all the time so I could shove him in it before evacuating in case our building was bombed. The snipers were caught, but nothing changed for me. My anxiety simmered and ebbed and ultimately raged out of control as I found new scary things to obsess over until I GOT SOME HELP. For me, it was a combination of temporary medication and therapy to talk through my fears — why they were irrational, but what more rational fears were lurking underneath, fears that I could do something about — and get coping mechanisms to deal with the symptoms of panic. And I got better. So will you. Promise. *HIGH FIVE*

If you are unsure of who to talk to, please visit Postpartum.net, or call them 1-800-944-4PPD. They’ll help you find someone local who specializes in postpartum anxiety disorders. Your pediatrician’s office or OB/GYN can also be a good place to start, but if you don’t feel like they’re taking you seriously enough, don’t feel like you need to go back to suffering in scared silence.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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18 Responses to “Postpartum Anxiety in the Year 2012”

  1. Jen Jan 11 at 1:18 pm Reply Reply

    I struggle with similar thoughts and I have noticed that nighttime is the absolute worst. There have been nights where I just get convinced that my husband or I will die from a terrible disease and I can’t let it go. My husband went to two Redskins games this year – on September 11 (the 10 year anniversary) and on Christmas Eve. Both times, I was CONVINCED there would be a terrorist attack. I went on a bus trip to New York City right before Christmas and I was almost expecting there to be attack on the bus or an attack at Rockefeller Center.

    I think that becoming a mom in general, even if you don’t have severe or obsessive thoughts, makes things like terrorist attacks, the end of the world, the potential of dying of some horrible disease, or a car accident, etc. so much more real and tangible because there is so much more to lose and there is someone else you are responsible for keeping alive and loving.

  2. Cara Jan 11 at 1:35 pm Reply Reply

    Ditto to what Amy said, and the additional suggestion that you make sure to include your OB in the list of peole you talk to. It’s worth a check to see if your hormones are doing anything funky.

  3. Hannah Jan 11 at 2:02 pm Reply Reply

    I absolutely second everything Amy said. I got hit very hard by PPD…at 6 months post-partum. Mood swings, anger, depression, anxiety, the whole thing. But, because we’re told that PPD hits immediately after birth, or is just “the baby blues” (blech, how denigrating), I had the urge to simply ignore it or rationalize it away. Instead, I talked to my husband, went to see my OB, and got on some anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication.

    This really really really helped.

    And, I also got off of the medication. So don’t feel that you’re a failure because you can’t deal with this on your own, or that you’ll be on these drugs for the rest of your life. YOU WON’T. Go talk to your doctor. You’re not having a good time and you shouldn’t have to be freaked out all the time, about zombies or anything else.

  4. me too! Jan 11 at 2:54 pm Reply Reply

    S&P,
    YESTERDAY, I started taking care of this! How timely and what good direction Amy! I was not sad or thinking about harming myself, but for some reason I was ANGRY and also anxious about unlikely things like you. I have a seven month old (who was actually born the same day as Baby Ike :) and I kept thinking, “Now? Isn’t it late for this? I made it through the baby blues part.” Anyway, I boiled over last week and made an appointment which I just had yesterday. Here are the actual concrete steps I took, in case you need someone to spell them out. 1. I had a long talk with my husband, and he is extremely supportive, but also very logical. Which for me means, I think he secretly thinks I can “just get better.” 2. At my daughter’s 6 month OB appt I asked her pediatrician what steps to take. He gave me a handout with a hotline, a website, and two places for counseling, one with low availability that took health insurance and one with more availability that did not. 3. Finally made appointment with my OB just to see where that got me. Before I went I typed out a (three page!) document with what was going on with me, which I immediately thrust into her hands in case I either fell into the “I’m really alright” trap or just started crying. She flipped through, looked at me, and said, “Oh honey” and listened for a long time. She prescribed a low-dose med and wants to see me in a few weeks to evaluate whether a counselor would help. I totally expected it to go the opposite way, for her to recommend a counselor and then look at meds. I didn’t expect to be pro-med, I’m EBF and intentionally avoid meds, but you know what, I am going for it. I want to feel better, to give my children a normal-acting, not angry or scared mother. Just start asking and making appointments until you find someone who takes you seriously. You can do it!

  5. Alix Jan 11 at 3:52 pm Reply Reply

    Amy is dead on. My son is about the same age as yours, and I can so relate to your experience of the baby blues- I remember sitting and listening to old songs and just weeping, longing to be pregnant again when it was just me and my husband without this…third wheel. Ugh. After that subsided came the crazy anxiety and nonstop fantasies of something horrible happening to my baby or my husband. (Handy tip, don’t watch police procedural dramas while dealing with postpartum anxiety, because you WILL assume everyone you pass on the street is a serial killer and every little creak you hear at night is someone breaking into your house to kidnap your child.)

    I got help and got on antidepressants and it helped SO MUCH. I really struggled because so many other moms were like, “Welcome to the rest of your life!” when I talked about how worried I was all the time. I’m really glad I decided to talk to my doctor anyway- debilitating anxiety isn’t normal and you don’t have to live in fear all the time.

  6. Olivia Jan 11 at 4:16 pm Reply Reply

    I’d like to chime in on what Alix (and kinda what Jen) said about debilitating anxiety being normal. I am privileged to have not had PPD or even mild “baby blues”. Sure, sometimes a sad thought about accident or illness will cross my mind, usually while watching reading something about another person’s tragedy. Which does seem normal to me. But, constant worry and near panic about terrorist attacks and the like, no. What you have described certainly sounds like too much to deal with on your own without professional assistance.

  7. Mary Jan 11 at 10:45 pm Reply Reply

    Do get some help in the short term, Amy is right on about that. But consider getting some long term help too. Because I am the mother of an almost 22 year old, and I will tell you, the opportunities for worrying don’t go away. I think I handle things pretty well most of the time and then I’ll just get blind-sided about something. I rely on my husband to tell me when I’m being unreasonable, and then I try to tone it down, but it’s an ongoing struggle. They don’t mention this part in the owner’s manual.

  8. Spooked &Pooped Jan 11 at 11:39 pm Reply Reply

    Amy&Ladies-

    Thanks so much for the support. In re-reading my letter and your response, I realize I was falling back on my modus operandi of being way too hard on myself. In reading this now, words like “nuts” and “loony” are just me trying to downplay the fact that I am really, really struggling here. If it’s not 2012, it’s probably going to be something else. And if I am being totally honest with myself, it has been other things to a lesser degree for a long time.
    I am seeing the doctor on Friday for postpartum thyroiditis(thyroid levels are high since baby) and I will find out if that has anything to do with it. And then I will make the rounds until I get to the bottom of all this. Thanks a ton for your support.
    The only one I had really been talking about this with is my husband. And he didn’t even get it until he read our interaction. So thank you for that. He felt very bad for joining in on making fun of myself and we had a good talk. And then he insisted on getting me a hot fudge sundae, so hey…..things are looking up already! :)

  9. Gracie Jan 12 at 12:51 am Reply Reply

    I have also had issues with anxiety and OCD and absolutely agree with Amy’s advice. I would also suggest that you take a break from tv- particularly shows that thrive on creating or heightening fears. Consider going cold turkey and cutting out shows like the Walking Dead (bound to make zombie anxiety worse) crime shows, anything apocalyptic, the evening news, etc. My husband loves horror movies and thrillers and used to try to get me to watch them with him. Then he realized how much worse my nightmares and overall clingyness gets when I watch that stuff. I recommend reading classics (I discovered that Jane Austen is a good option), taking up a craft, practicing yoga or doing something for YOU in place of watching tv and movies. I’m not saying tv is evil and should never be watched again, but this could be an opportunity to explore and discover other things that may calm you and improve your general well-being. Good Luck!

  10. c Jan 12 at 12:07 pm Reply Reply

    I have a 10 month old and have anxiety too….its not debilitating or related to the end of the world, but I do things I’m guessing most people don’t. We have fire ladders in the second floor and I mentally run through scenarios of how I would protect/save my family if necessary. We live on the west coast where earthquakes can occur so I insisted we put together an earthquake kit. Even though we’re too far up a hill for a tsunami to reach our house and the risk of flooding is basically zero, II have put an axe in our attic (in case of flooding and have to chop through the roof…I’m thinking of Hurricane Katrina victims). I carry a seatbelt cutter and window breaker on my keychain in case the car ends up submerged. Maybe I need to see someone too, but I find that I can empower myself by addressing these fears (realistic or not) and then they’re not much of an issue.

  11. Cristin Jan 12 at 4:41 pm Reply Reply

    Dude, thyroid! Yes, it can totally be made worse by thyroid issues. I hope your OB can steer you to a good endocrinologist. It might make a HUGE difference one your TSH is back to normal. 
    Good luck with everything! You WILL feel better. You’re doing everything right. 

  12. Genevieve Jan 12 at 10:34 pm Reply Reply

    I have been there and everything in the letter is something I could relate to. It was so bad that I would only fall asleep through sheer exhaustion. I would lie there awake trying to solve every problem and I was having panic attacks on a daily basis. I thought I was dying.

    I was afraid to fall asleep because I had this irrational fear that I might die. I hardly ate and it was not a bit of fun. My husband had to go out of town for work and I had a brief thought about living on a liquids only diet while he was gone because I feared choking on food and dying and then who would look after the kids. I jokingly told my Mother about this when she stopped by for a visit. She was very gentle but she did say, “you know…you may want to talk to someone about that. That isn’t good.”

    About a week later I woke up out of a sound sleep with a panic attack and could not stop crying. It was that morning I went to my Dr. to get help. And she did a lot of good for me. I took a low dose of zoloft which allowed me the space to feel safe and rationally sort through all the anxiety. So yes. There is help to be had. I learned a lot of great techniques for dealing with anxiety/fears.

  13. alex Jan 16 at 1:18 pm Reply Reply

    Oh my goodness, this was so me! Never much liked zombies but after my first child I started obsessing big time about what I would do. I got the ‘zombie survival guide’ and took it seriously. I obsessed about how I would respond to break ins. I imagined going to feed my baby and finding him covoured in ants. Or him becoming a zombie as I latched him onto my breast. I would pause at the bedroom door to listen for my husbands breathing before re entering the bedroom because zombies don’t breathe you know… and the it passed. And then I fell pregnant with my second and it came back with a vengeance. After she was born, I would worry about which child to grab first if I woke in the middle of the night to find the zombies were here. And I never thought I had postpartum depression because I was never a cryng wreck, and I was mostly okay in the daytime. Until I was a crying wreck, when i tried to describe my daughters colic at our six week check up and I could not stop the waterfall of tears down my face… after that I spoke to my gynae, who helped me out with some meds, and the difference it made was unreal. Especially considering I didn’t think I was depressed. Please, get some help. It does not have to be this way.

  14. Catherine Jan 17 at 8:52 am Reply Reply

    I can relate with everything in the post. I’m an older mom. I’ve struggled with depression in the past so knew I was at risk after the birth of my now 10 month old daughter. I sought help for my PPD and it really helped. I got off the meds and things were good until the hubs and I had to take a trip to the west coast (we live in KY). I wasn’t worried about the babe, she was staying with my mom. I just knew however that our plane would crash or we’d die in a firey wreck in LA traffic, or earthquake, or or or…you get the idea. Then one nite when the hubs was out of town (he travels for work) I felt an anxiety fueled very irregular heartbeat. Fast forward to visions of ER visit with baby in tow, heart attacks and some self diagnosis via Google. Went to MD and back on meds. Never connected bone crushing anxiety to PPD. IT’S OK….don’t suffer anymore! Get some help, it really makes a world of difference. Was able to have a great time out west and can manage my fears so much better now.

  15. Spooked & Pooped,
    I hope you’ll come hang out with us at Postpartum Progress.  We’re here everyday offering support and we totally get what you are going through.  You sound like you may be struggling with postpartum anxiety, which is temporary and treatable with professional help.  I suffered from postpartum anxiety myself and I know how hard it is.  Anyway, just wanted you to know we are here for you and you are NOT alone!
    – Katherine

  16. Phillipa Jan 20 at 11:15 am Reply Reply

    I have this same issue. I have always had an over active imagination, but after having my kids…..it is out of control! I imagine people breaking into the house and threatening me , my husband, my kids……I have a bat beside the bed also. I had PPD after my 2nd, but sailed through after my 3rd (maybe having a more supportive husband this time around helped), and I do worry what will happen with #4 as these last 2 are really close together. I managed to make it through by talking about it. Get a supposrt group set up. Whether you decide on meds or not, it really does help to talk to people who have been through what you’re going through.

  17. Kate Jan 22 at 9:42 pm Reply Reply

    I literally was speechless when I read this post.  I’m having the same fears as S&P, and have been struggling with how to deal with them.  I’ve even been feeling guilty for having my daughter (9 mos) so close to 2012, because I’ve been afraid she’s not going to grow up.  Although I’m already on anxiety medication, I’m calling my MD tomorrow.  This isn’t normal, and I don’t have to live this way.  Thank you, S&P, for being brave to write about something I’ve been so ashamed about.  You’ve really helped me.

  18. Spooked &Pooped Jan 31 at 10:43 pm Reply Reply

    Just an update: Thanks to the supportive nudge from Any and followers, I saw my doctor the following week. He did a complete workup and long story short: I have a vitamin D deficiency. One of the major effects: Depression/Anxiety.

    Levels are supposed to be anywhere from 30-75 and mine was a 14!! He gave me a prescription for a 50,000/week pill along with taking 1000IU per day for 10 weeks. I am serious, the change in me was quick and dramatic. My son’s pediatrician told me I should’ve amped up my vitamin D all along, since I am breast-feeding. Of course! Now ya tell me! I was giving extra Vitamin D to the baby, but not myself. So, maybe that could help someone else out there?? Get your levels checked ladies.

    Along with that I have an appt with a psychiatrist to work through some of the issues I have been struggling with.

    Thanks so much for everyone’s comments and support. It was very comforting and helped me get to the next step. Thank you!

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