In the past few days, I've had several people call to offer support, as each one hears about my diagnosis. They always ask questions. They always want to talk about it. And I'm not very good at providing answers. So, here, in a nutshell, is what has been going on.
After Miles was born, I began having panic attacks. At first, they were relatively mild, and usually as a reaction to some real possible danger. I was terrified of taking him anywhere, but staying at home made me restless and anxious. I was certain that he had stopped breathing, or was too quiet, or would never stop screaming. That he was sick and I didn't know. Or that any number of other things were wrong. I figured it was normal new mom stuff, and would fade away once he got a little bigger. So, when people asked how I was doing, I told them I was fine. Stressed, a little overwhelmed, but fine.
Before long, the newborn stage had passed. Miles could hold his head up on his own, and smiled and cooed. I could now put him down for minutes at a time to play quietly on the floor. I had gotten good at taking him places, and did so often. I accepted the fact that I would make too many trips to the doctor over something that turned out to be nothing. And yet, the panic attacks continued, and actually got a little worse. I figured it was the lack of sleep I was getting. Surely, once I started getting a decent amount of sleep on a regular basis, I would feel better. So, when people asked how I was doing, I told them I was fine. Tired, and still a little overwhelmed, but fine.
Eventually, after months of anguish and fighting, Miles finally began sleeping through the night. After so many months of sleeplessness, I was finally getting eight hours of sleep, almost every night. And yet, the panic attacks continued, and actually got a little worse. I figured it was the stress of work combined with the fact that he still didn't nap very well. In fact, every nap was a struggle that left me exhausted both mentally and physically, leaving me unable to do much besides stare at the wall, enjoying a few moments of peace. Surely, once his naps got better, when I wasn't fighting him every.single.day, then the panic attacks would stop. So, when people asked how I was doing, I told them I was fine. Weary of fighting him, and still overwhelmed, but fine.
And then, he started napping well. And I got a guaranteed hour (minimum) of time to myself every.single.day. And I was getting time out of the house by myself, too. And yet, the panic attacks continued. And got worse. Much worse.
One night, about a month ago, I laid in bed, trying to sleep, and yet entirely incapable of doing so. Panic held me paralyzed in its grip. My chest was so tight, I could barely get a breath. Every muscle in my body was tense, preparing for fight or flight. The force of the panic was tangible, a very real weight on my chest, rendering me incapable of moving even an inch. I could not even find my voice to call for help.
There was no reason for the panic. It attacked, from nowhere, and for no reason I can name. To this day, I cannot tell you what caused that attack to begin. But, it did, and it was awful.
I laid there for what seemed like hours, though in reality it was probably only a minute or two, searching out any sign of comfort. From the corner of my eye, I managed to catch a glimpse of the moon, behind a tree. The curtain had gotten caught, and a tiny sliver of nature shone in. Its effect on me was immediate. My muscles began to loosen. My breathing began to regulate, and the weight began to lift from my chest. I rolled over, pulling my knees to my chest, and squeezed my pillow tight, sobbing with relief.
The next night, I told Patrick about my panic attacks. I had finally admitted that what I had faced for almost 18 months was not normal new mom stuff. It was an illness. One I had tried to ignore, and had tried to get past, but one that persisted. I had avoided the diagnosis like the plague, not wanting to be sick. Not wanting to admit that I was sick.
I have postpartum anxiety.
If you have any other questions about this, please leave them in the comment section below. I have a really hard time talking about this aloud. Writing about it, however, is therapeutic. So, ask away. And I will try to answer.