My Post-Traumatic Postpartum Life

wounds

Luna is about 5 1/2 months old now and it’s already hard to imagine life without her. What did I use to talk about? What does a full night of sleep feel like? Where did all the time go? It’s crazy how life can change so much, yet feel so complete and normal at the same time. I think it’s clear that I am really enjoying my life with Luna and everything she brings to the table. She has been perfect. I, on the other hand, have not fully healed. I’m almost 6 months postpartum, and I still feel like a stranger in my body.

Luna’s birth was not exactly ideal, the long road home was certainly no fun and now, the recovery, is much slower than I imagined. My physical body is good. Sure, I’ve got a few stretch marks and my belly button may be forever misshapen, but that’s nothing. I love my body and I’m proud of its abilities and strengths. It’s kind of amazing. It’s my mind and health that are still on the mend.

it's all about perspective
it’s all about perspective

Thanks to medication, my blood pressure is under control, but hopefully it will even out without meds soon…only time will tell. It sucks to be on medication and have to deal with ongoing doctor appointments, blood pressure monitoring, side effects, etc, but I know it could be worse. I am truly grateful to be where I am today and I can handle this challenge I’ve been given. It’s a lot more challenging than my new body, but I like challenges. They define us, right? Or, I guess the way we respond defines us, and I’m hoping to create a strong definition for myself. The biggest challenge, the one I don’t handle so well is the post-traumatic stress.

The first few weeks after Luna’s arrival were the toughest. Once, I stopped blacking out, gained some strength and realized I’d survive I began living life again. The worst was behind me, but I didn’t realize the tough road that lay ahead. I still have nightmares. I will dream that someone is taking my vitals in the middle of the night, I’m having heart attacks or something is keeping me from being with Luna and I wake up in a hot sweat and tears. Sometimes just getting to sleep is a struggle, which is odd considering it’s what I want most during the day. My mind races, as does my pulse and I get lost in “what if’s” that leave me wide awake and searching for anything to distract me from my negative thoughts.

Little things take me back. A hospital scene on a TV drama, a friend’s Facebook picture, the song that played during Luna’s birth or just passing my doctor’s office can send me right back to that dark hospital room. The flashbacks are as real and scary as the nightmares. They bring tears to my eyes and a lot of anxiety. I hate them. I hate that the memories of Luna’s birth bring so much anxiety and fear. I hate that our birth experience was so traumatic. I hate it for all of us.

It all feels so fresh. I get headaches from the tension I hold all day. I feel alone often, and when I forget how grateful I am I’ll let bitterness sneak in and make me question, “why me?” Why do I have to take so long to heal? Why can’t I pop out kids and hit the ground running like so many other women? Why do I have to deal with the not-fun-at-all side effects of blood pressure medicine at the age of 29? It’s dangerous to think this way.

It get’s a little easier at time goes on and I’m learning to talk about it more, which helps. I’m lucky and it could be worse, a lot worse, but that fact doesn’t take away the very real fears and anxieties I felt in that hospital. It doesn’t stop an anxiety attack when I lie in bed at night and flashback to the hospital bed where I thought I would never leave. It’s very real and if you have ever suffered from anxiety or panic attacks don’t feel guilty for your very real struggles. The more I heal the more I know it’s okay to cry, to let it all out and to break sometimes. It’s then that we see all the different pieces that make us whole. It takes time to put those pieces back together, but when you understand each piece and how it fits into the other, you understand what makes you whole and what makes you strong.

That’s where I am now. 5 1/2 months in and I’m putting myself back together again. Everyday I feel a little more whole and a lot stronger. I don’t know if or when these flashbacks and nightmares will end, but I’m facing them one day at a time. I hope you do the same.

Cheers

It’s Possible

thoughts

It’s been a while since I have discussed my anxiety because my anxiety has improved so much since I began my medication and healthy habits. I still deal with it daily, but it doesn’t seem as tremendous as it used to feel. So, I’ve been able to focus more on my daily life, travels, and events. I feel guilty though, because I started this blog to bring more awareness to anxiety and mental illness, and I have left it to the wayside lately.

The tragedy in Boston today reminded me of the anxiety and panic attacks I faced as a child. As an adult my panic attacks occur when I am compulsively thinking I am going to die of a terrible disease or when there are major scary changes happening in my life. As child though, they happened when others died and when major scary changes happened in the world.

I was an extremely sensitive child (okay fine…I’m still pretty sensitive), and I couldn’t help but put myself in everyone else’s shoes. If I heard of any tragic story…cancer, death, Oklahoma bombing, the book of Revelations, a sick dog, Princess Di, divorce, etc…I couldn’t handle it.

At night, I would dwell and dwell over the stories I overheard on the news or from the grown-ups around me. I began by crying for the people in the situation. Then, crying because I imagined myself in their position. Eventually, panicked because I had no control and no way to help anyone who was suffering.

I remember the Oklahoma bombing so clearly and I was only 10 years old. What I remember about this tragedy are the stories of the children, and the parents who lost their children. I couldn’t believe such a horrible thing could happen, and I felt heartbroken for those families because I imagined my own parents losing me. I panicked at night because I believed this would just keep happening.

When I learned about the book of Revelations in church (and through a weird brochure some radicals were handing out in the K-Mart parking lot) I had panic attacks for years. I thought the world was ending everyday. I panicked at night because I thought I’d never graduate, have a first kiss, get married, have kids, or have a chance to change the world. I had the most anxiety over my friends. I thought everyone was going to hell and it was my job to save them. At night I drove myself crazy thinking What if they don’t listen? Don’t believe? What if I can’t tell EVERYONE I know about Jesus and the end of times?! What about the kids in Africa!?!?! What about the kids who are raised Buddhist? How can I save EVERYONE!?!?! This isn’t fair.

I even stressed over much smaller things. If I saw a dog on the side of the road that had been hit by a car, I would dwell over the fact that his owners lost their pet. I would create an entire family in my mind and imagine how the little kids must feel when they find out what happened to their dog. By the time I got home, I had imagined a name for the dog, his owners, and their lives together. I now realize my compulsive thoughts started a very long time ago.

There seemed to be something tragic happening everyday and the little girl-me had a lot of trouble handling the world around her. Being extremely sensitive and sympathetic towards other people is a big reason for this, but I obviously suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for the majority of my life. Eventually I learned to deal with a lot of life’s major challenges, but more importantly I learned that I have an illness that can be helped, and I got help.

I wonder how many children in today’s society suffer with the same issues…and what kind of help is available for them.

Today, I cried. Of course. I thought about the fear the runners most have felt. Then the fear their friends and family must have felt. I put myself in their shoes and thought about them all afternoon. I have thought a lot about the people affected in Boston today, but I also carried on. I finished the day. I clapped along with DWTS, and I’ll go to sleep tonight without crying and without having a panic attack.

There is a happy medium. It is possible to be sensitive and not a mess. It is possible to have feelings, be on medication, and not be a zombie. Whatever you might be going through, remember that it can get better, you can get help, and things can improve. It is possible.

Cheers!

Still Going Strong

heartbeat
My soul must move all over the place!

I had my second doctor appointment today. I had to have an echocardiogram done to check my heart murmur. (No results yet.) I have not felt nervous or anxious about the appointment all week (yay me!) Until last night…

I started getting a teeny bit worried last night, but Husband did his best to derail my train of thought before it got out of hand. This morning was rougher. I was very nervous from the moment I woke. I couldn’t speak as we walked to the bus, and I tried so hard to not let my thoughts go there.

There was a car fire a block away blocking the bus so we decided to catch a taxi. We walked the entire 15 blocks to the doctor’s office without ever getting a taxi. By the time I signed in I was sweating, my heart was pounding and my nerves were not any better.

An echocardiogram is an ultrasound on your heart, “no big deal”. Husband stayed in the room with me and I lay on my left side as the tech rolled goo all over my chest. This would have been okay if I was not scared of my own heartbeat. I have a phobia of hearing or feeling my heartbeat. I never lay on my left side for this reason.

My heart was beating fast from my nerves, and feeling it pound against the metal table made it that much worse! The tech was not very helpful. She kept telling me all about my heart, turning the sound on so I could hear it beat and commented that my hear rate was really quick. I was this close (my fingers are very close together) to telling her to stop and allow me to sit up.

Husband tried to lighten the mood by asking, “So is it a boy or a girl?” The tech didn’t find him very funny. He decided to quietly squeeze my hand instead.

Luckily, it ended ten minutes later. My obvious reward was coffee; there’s a Starbucks directly across the street. THEN, I got another reward: a New Orleans’s style King Cake!!!

I feel much better now, maybe a tiny bit worried about getting the results, but that’s probably “normal”.

Everyday gets a little easier. Baby steps people

Cheers!

I’m open to being open

Since I am unfortunately no longer on anti-anxiety meds I have been using various other resources and ideas to keep from having panic attacks. I get my ideas from a wide variety of sources; the Internet, Barnes and Noble, Oprah, other blogs, magazines, yoga, and friends’ advice.

Several techniques seem to help, but one in particular has shown dramatic improvement in my stress levels. And, since I promised to share some methods that have helped me, here’s my number one…

This blog. Or more accurately…being open and honest with all of you.

It’s so simple, since I’ve dropped my cloak of shame, threw out the guilt, and started publicly writing about my “excited outbursts”, my panic attacks have been dwindled down to practically nothing. Who knew it was so easy! Not me, I was afraid this would cause more fear and panic.

I was so scared for most of my life to admit to anyone that I had a problem. I felt like I was losing my mind and I was terrified people would judge me. I didn’t want to be thought of as crazy or unstable, or for people to think less of me.

I think I come off as a pretty stable, happy person. I’m pretty sure responsible, hardworking, and creative are common words people would use to describe me, and I didn’t want that to change.

So I wrote my first two blog posts months before I posted them. I read them almost daily. I made fiance read them to assure me I didn’t come off as crazy or whiney.

When I finally got the courage to press “publish”, I just looked at fiancé and asked “did I just make a huge mistake?”. Do I really want this public??? I hadn’t even shared this with some of my closest friends… What the hell did I just do?!

The responses I soon received proved that I had not made a mistake. Several people messaged me, called me, or commented with nothing but encouraging and supportive words. I was shocked by the positive messages I received. Such. Kind. Words.

I cannot describe to you the relief I felt. Not only have I become honest with myself, but with everyone, and no one seems to think less of me! And if they do, they’ve kept it to themselves. Even if someone judges me now, I don’t care. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, and I feel like a new, healthier, happier, honest person.

But, more than be accepted by my peers, I’ve connected with several others who have the same problems, and can relate and understand what a panic attack feels like, the shame that follows, and the strength needed to carry on. I’ve met people through their own “anxiety” blogs, and through others who read my blog and shared their own stories of high anxiety. I even discovered that a co-worker of mine suffers with frequent panic attacks! All of these people have been inspiring, and have encourage me to continue doing what I’m doing.

All this time I assumed people would think of my anxiety attacks as a weakness, a drama queen trait, or just whining. Now I have a whole community (or maybe a neighborhood) of awesome strong people who assure me I am none of these things.

In the future I hope to meet and get to know more of you who live a life effected by “excited outbursts”. Maybe we can all get together one day, share anti-anxiety meds, and go sky diving, or just walk past a hospital in my case.

I hope this inspires others to be open with their own trials or tribulations. It’s been absolute therapy for me.

Thank you all!

Cheers!