I continued my recovery at home with the helpful support of John and my dear mom. My mom did night duty with Riley so my sleep pattern was uninterrupted and John could be rested for work. The week after my discharge, I attended a postpartum adjustment support group. I instantly knew this was the place that was going to help me heal. I heard other moms talk about similar feelings and thoughts that I had been having for far too long. Finally, I no longer felt alone. This was the place that was going to help bring me out of the darkness, the light at the end of the tunnel was getting brighter. Just being able to relate to those around me was such good medicine for my soul, my mind and my spirit. A number of these mothers even went on to have more children, a thought I could not comprehend while in such a fragile state. Who in their right mind would voluntarily put themselves through this type of hell again?
I faithfully attended this group every Tuesday evening for a year only missing a handful of times. At first, it was for my own sake. But once I was healthy, I attended to offer up hope for the sake of other struggling mothers. At the time, it was my way of giving back. Along with group, I also saw a therapist regularly that specialized in perinatal mood disorders who gently guided me while teaching me coping skills to help manage my anxiety.
On Friday, July 9, three weeks after I had been discharged, I was scheduled to see my outpatient psychiatrist. When I returned to the hospital campus for my appointment, a mild pit sat in my stomach. The trip evoked numerous emotions...fear, hate, sorrow, anger, hopelessness, anxiety, and sadness were just a few.
The practitioner, while a friendly man, didn't seem to understand my hospital stay. He asked why I had been in the hospital for so long, which was a perplexing question to me. Hadn't he seen my chart? My haggard picture? Nonetheless, I gave him a shortened version of the saga. I then explained I had been feeling more and more like myself in recent days. Instead of just good moments, I was stringing together good days and enjoying motherhood as best I could. I was even able to venture out with Riley that week to Spring Lake to visit a dear friend. Near the end of my visit he reviewed and altered my medications. He was very concerned about addiction and side effects. Looking back, he made some very drastic changes, many I should have questioned. However, he was the doctor and I was going to follow his direction.
When I returned home I told my mom about the doctor's positive review. Together, we decided I was in a good place and it was time for her to go home. I was so proud of myself and the progress I had made in such a short time.
But just when I thought I had turned a corner, my symptoms returned with a vengeance that same night. I was sure it was due to the medication changes but my fearful indecision crippled me. Once again, I was tortured with anxiety and no sleep. I tried taking a sleeping pill but it was too late. My mind was in control and the medication didn't stand a chance. Saturday I was right back in the same boat I had been in a couple of weeks prior and I was beyond terrified. John tried to convince me to continue the medication as it had been prescribed through the weekend. For some insane reason, I was afraid to go against the doctor’s orders. By Sunday, my mom was back in Grand Rapids and I was spinning out of control.
On Monday, I immediately called the psychiatrist. He was not in the office. I explained to the receptionist that I was in a major crisis, trying to take care of a newborn and needed to speak with him. Her response, “he may call you today but you probably won’t hear from him until tomorrow.” I called my therapist, Gail, to set up an appointment that afternoon. On my walk to see Gail, the psychiatrist returned my call. He couldn’t understand what was going on. Why was I having such extreme symptoms? Apparently, he didn't think his med changes were as substantial as I. We argued about the medication doses I had been taking since my stay inpatient. At the conclusion of the call he told me to cut the med doses in half and we scheduled an appointment for the next day.
After the call, I got to the therapy office early. Because of my anxiety I felt very claustrophobic in the waiting room so I decided to walk around the block. I stumbled upon a funeral procession coming out of a church. How I wished I was in the coffin versus battling these damn demons.
My therapist and I talked through everything that had transpired over the weekend. Why did he do what he did? Being in the pharmaceutical industry, I knew you couldn’t stop taking some medications cold turkey. Gail had me take the Edinburgh PPD Scale that day and I scored a 29 out of 30! I could see the concern on her face. She was at a complete loss. The previous Friday, three days prior, I had gotten a 12 out of 30. I thought I had hit rock bottom once but was headed back to that same dark place. Gail suggested that maybe I needed to go back to the hospital. I was completely against going back there. Besides, it was someone from Pine Rest that had fucked this all up in the first place. My only option was to find a new doctor. Little did I know how hard it would be.
The next four hours were spent on the phone with different people trying to once again find someone that was going to understand my situation. Of course, no one was taking new patients. Luckily, later that day I received a call from Gail. She told me she had spoken to a local psychiatrist. Based on her recommendation he was going to take me but not for three weeks. I was so relieved but still needed to figure out how I was going to get through another night.
When John got home from work that night I tried to explain the intensity of my feelings. I will never forget our conversation. I paced in circles around our driveway. I promised that I loved him and Riley too much to hurt myself but I could NO LONGER stand to be in my own skin. Unfortunately, I now understand why some choose suicide. The pain is too deep and the mind is too powerful.
That night I knew I needed to take care of myself and took the medication as it was originally prescribed. At my appointment the next day, I explained to the doctor that all of my symptoms returned once I followed the altered med schedule. I also shared my 29 out of 30 on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. He had never heard of this screening tool . Really? I finally discovered the disconnect...he was looking at the medication doses I started on while inpatient NOT the doses at discharge. I could not believe this was really happening. He was a psychiatrist at a mental health facility where errors like this could be life threatening. Without an admission of guilt or apology he very coldly asked what I thought we should do. I told him I was going to take what I had been on until I was stable. He agreed, sent me on my way and told me I needed to go home and enjoy my new baby. I decided that I was never to return to this place again.
For the three weeks that followed, I feared another setback. Who knew what was around the next corner? Though I knew this particular setback was because of the medication I couldn’t help but think that I was still in the danger zone.
When I met the new doctor, he verified my concerns and couldn’t believe my story. Discontinuing the medication as I had could have been far more detrimental to my health. I continued on the course of meds and saw him on a regular basis. In no time, I was off most of the medication and participating in everyday life. It’s amazing how the positive interaction I had with Dr. Vandervelde changed my mindset and my outlook. Sometimes just knowing there’s someone that cares can make all the difference.
On August 12, approximately 10 days later, my mom went back to Detroit. I will never be able to thank her enough. She spent long nights talking me through surges of anxiety and panic attacks. Her selfless acts helped to save my life. She provided John, Riley and I with the best care possible. Through this I know it takes a mother to raise a mother.
On October 1, 2010 I returned to work at the end of my 6 month childcare leave as scheduled.
Thanks again to those of you who have followed my story and have reached out over the course of my posts. I greatly appreciate your support and kind words. Again, if I can touch one life, one family, one mom then I have done my job. I'll continue to share inspiration and honesty about the parenting profession as well as maternal mental health.
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