It started one year ago today. The darkest, most nightmarish time of my life started one year ago. A joyful trip to the zoo, for the first time as a family of four, resulted in a nauseatingly horrifying intrusive thought that propelled me into months of panic attacks, heavy anxiety, and intrusive thoughts.
I have never been as terrified or felt as broken as I did last summer. My foundation was shaken. I questioned myself, my perception of reality, my future, my faith, and my ability to love and protect my children.
When the intrusive thoughts first began, I remember wondering if I was suffering from postpartum psychosis. When I finally did some research, I quickly realized my symptoms matched the symptoms of postpartum OCD. Postpartum OCD can involve intrusive thoughts about harming your children. A few of the people I spoke to about my thoughts said they’d had similar thoughts in the past, but quickly shrugged them off, while I was horrified by them and couldn’t shrug them off. I felt like such a horrible person that the thoughts remained at the forefront of my mind, taunting and terrifying me. The fear of what I was capable of triggered thoughts of ending my life before I might act on the intrusive thoughts and harm the children I adored.
One night, as the thoughts and anxiety were intensifying, I cried to Thad, “I don’t understand why this is happening. I am so happy right now. I love my life.” I had just gone through postpartum hypertension in the days after my daughter was born. While I waited for my blood pressure to return to a normal level, I had been terrified that I would have a stroke and die. Who would love my children as much as I did if I died? I didn’t want to die. My experience only two months earlier made that crystal clear.
One year later, I’ve gone through therapy. I’ve been on medication. I’ve learned to fight the intrusive, lying thoughts with truth. I’ve seen just how blessed I am with an amazing support system. I’ve learned the power of having a mind fixed on God and filled with His Word. I’ve also gained a level of empathy and understanding for those who suffer from mental illness that I did not have before.
Looking back on the darkness that began a year ago makes me want to cry. I’m a million times better than I was, but I’m not completely back to normal. I don’t know if I ever will be. I have scars that weren’t there before. I am fully confident that God can redeem my nightmare, and make my scars into a story worth sharing.
One of the ways He redeems my story is in its sharing, because when I share it, others can see that there is hope. Life can be so much better. The nightmare can give way to dawn.
If you are struggling with postpartum mental illness, please reach out for help. I know it’s scary. I know it’s uncharted territory. But there is hope. You are not alone. Reach out to your doctor or midwife. Find a therapist you trust. Don’t give up. Keep fighting.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. #BreakTheStigma