Postpartum anxiety. Have you ever heard of it?
No, me either. Or at least not until last year when a fellow blogger wrote about her experience with it.
Postpartum depression has been front and center in the media for years because of the brave celebrity moms stepping up to share their stories. And although it is important to know about postpartum depression, it is equally important to know about other postpartum conditions.
Today I share Lacey Doyle’s story. She is a fellow mental illness awareness blogger, and when I visited her website, I connected with her story on a heart level.
I knew immediately I wanted to share her story and keep the focus on her experience with postpartum anxiety because we need to spread awareness about this largely unknown postpartum condition.
So without further ado, here is Lacey’s story.
Hi, I am Lacey. I am a wife and a [new] stay-at-home mom of two young girls. I love Jesus, writing, running (let’s be honest–a very slow jog!), coffee, and naps. I have battled mental illness since childhood and have been diagnosed with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Writing has always been a life-giving outlet for me to sort through the messiness of mental illness. I am so thankful to have a platform now (my blog) to share how God has made the ugliest parts of depression and anxiety beautiful. Anxiety and depression so often bring me to the end of myself and point me to Jesus—in a can’t-live-without-him, desperate sort of way. And for that, I am thankful.
I had a long, intense labor with my first child. This 29-hour labor resulted in an emergency C-section, followed by a four-day stay in the NICU for our daughter. Almost immediately, I could feel my thoughts spiraling (In hindsight, I know this was postpartum anxiety, but I didn’t recognize it as that at the time!).
The first night home with our newborn, I could not turn off the intrusive thoughts. “What if God doesn’t save our child (salvation)?” This particular obsessive thought haunted me—I woke up in a cold sweat many times over it. Of course, it is normal to have some worries as a new mom. But these irrational thoughts were all-consuming.
Postpartum anxiety began with irrational thoughts. I would hyperfocus on irrational “what if” scenarios.
What if my baby dies in her sleep? What if I am a terrible mother and she hates me? What if she dies in a car accident when she is sixteen? (Yes, that is jumping ahead a bit, but for me, I would ruminate on these outlandish hypotheticals.)
Sometimes postpartum anxiety felt like I was being chased (even though I knew there was no literal danger). In the moments when anxiety overwhelmed me—I was running for my life, sweating, racing heart, racing thoughts, cortisol coursing through my veins.
Postpartum anxiety also manifested in physical symptoms. Extreme nausea and dizziness would come on suddenly. Sometimes, my vision would be spotty (like after a bright flash from a camera), and I would get so dizzy at work I would have to lie down.
I even sought treatment with my primary care physician, who ordered a MRI. By the symptoms I was reporting, they needed to rule out a brain tumor or something wrong with my eyes.
But alas, it showed nothing. It was postpartum anxiety, but I didn’t know that yet. I felt crazy. It was only after doing countless hours of research on my own did I learn that it was actually postpartum anxiety causing it.
Getting Professional Help
After the MRI results showed there was nothing wrong with me physically, I began seeing a psychologist who specializes in postpartum depression and anxiety. She was the first person to formally diagnose me with generalized anxiety disorder (dating back to childhood) and postpartum anxiety.
Concurrently, I told my psychiatrist about the diagnosis, and began talking more openly with her so we could figure out medications that could help.
My diagnosis was a huge relief! It meant I wasn’t crazy. And that I wasn’t a “weird” kid. I had an anxiety disorder that I likely inherited in my genes. It wasn’t my fault. And there was treatment. I felt the weight of years of shame lifted from my shoulders.
Lacey’s Treatment Protocol
I have taken antidepressants my entire adult life to treat my depression. When I was finally diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder(GAD), I added a daily anti-anxiety (non-benzodiazepine, non-barbiturate) medication. And after my most recent bout with clinical depression, I added an aminoketone antidepressant that I take in combination with the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) I have taken for years.
I have taken several different selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and even one serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), but after many years of trial and error, I found my current selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) keeps me feeling the most balanced, with the least amount of side effects.
My current combination of medications help keep my mind balanced. I still fight anxious thoughts—I always will. But these medications give my brain the ability to recognize unhealthy thought patterns, process, and move forward in a healthier way. Therapy helps with that as well!
It took me YEARS to find the right therapist for me. If therapy isn’t helping, keep searching! It is worth it.
Walk by Faith
My faith has been my one true lifeline as I navigated depression, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and postpartum anxiety.
God has proven time and time again how He is with me—even in the darkest pits of mental illness. As painful as it is sometimes, I know that God is trustworthy, and He promises to free us from all sadness and pain in eternity. So even the most painful of times will not last forever. That hope is something I cling to in the darkness and in the panic.
We serve a PRESENT Father. He isn’t removed from our illnesses. He sees us. He sees our pain. And it is not in vain. He uses all of it. That brings me supernatural comfort.
Lacey’s Life Today
When experiencing clinical depression, I feel so far removed from any meaningful joy that quality of life is nonexistent. Because of treatment, I can live a very normal life.
I like to say that when I am mentally healthy I: love the things I love, cry when it’s appropriate, love my husband and children well, clean my house semi-regularly, get the right amount of frustrated with life, see the hope of Christ clearly, and see the colors of the world without the gray haze.
With generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), it is similar. Feeling balanced and healthy means I have moments I am overwhelmed, but I am not stuck there for days or weeks. I can take irrational worries and distill them down to bits I can then counter with God’s truth. I can go days without panicking. I can hear an irrational fear in my brain and let it pass without spiraling. I can talk openly about how I am feeling.
Although I also had postpartum anxiety after my second daughter, it was mild compared to the first go round. I attribute this to staying medicated while pregnant.
What Works for Lacey
Headspace app has been SO helpful for my anxiety. It has been proven that mindfulness helps manage anxiety and overall stress but getting started was always difficult for me. This app makes it easy.
Journaling has been a wonderful tool for managing anxiety—especially postpartum. I have some free journal prompts on my site to help people get started if they don’t know where to begin.
People are eager and willing to talk about their experience with postpartum depression because it is an accepted postpartum condition. It has been normalized by the many celebrity moms who have shared their stories.
Their stories are important, but so is Lacey’s. Her story is important because it shines a light on a postpartum condition that is largely unknown. There are new moms facing the same struggles who will read this post and have a lightbulb moment.
If you or someone you know is struggling with any postpartum condition, encourage them to get professional help. All postpartum conditions are highly treatable, and new moms should not have to suffer because they don’t know there is a name for what they are feeling.
Click here to read about my experience with postpartum psychosis.
For more information on generalized anxiety disorder, read the National Institute of Mental Health’s helpful fact sheet.
To learn the basics about depression, check out the National Institute of Mental Health’s fact sheet.