My Postpartum Anxiety Manifested As Intense Germophobia

My Postpartum Anxiety Manifested As Intense Germophobia

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Trigger warning: postpartum anxiety, suicide 

I had my daughter, Charleigh Belle, in January — just 16 months after having Emi. Right after we just started getting the hang of having two kids. We had just sold our house and moved in with my parents to save money (and have extra helping hands). My husband and mother went back to school.

Despite all the sudden changes, I was in complete newborn bliss for the first time ever after the birth of one of my children. I’ve never had an easy time with the newborn stage and was elated that this time was going to be different. “Third time’s a charm,” I thought.

After about week two, the kids had a full month of illness that included two bouts of croup, flu, stomach bugs, and then croup again. As soon as we would get them healthy, they would get sick again. This is when everything changed for me. I wasn’t just a normal sleep deprived mom who was terrified and stressed that the sickness would spread from one kid to the other and eventually reach my newborn. No, I wasn’t her.

I soon found myself on my hands and knees bleaching the entire bathroom four times in a row in the middle of the night. I wouldn’t go near my two older sick children. If they wanted to hug me, I would either have to shower immediately afterward or change my clothes and literally spray myself down with Lysol. I was up all night cleaning doorknobs and checking the monitors 50-plus times to make sure everyone was okay. I knew that I was being irrational, but I just could not stop.

I cried all day, every single day. I was so full of anxiety that I was physically ill and could not eat. I would manage to eat a slice of apple or a saltine cracker a day. I could not stop my brain. Not even for a second. It just kept racing and I felt like I just needed to crawl out of my skin.

I couldn’t fucking breathe. I remember thinking to myself, “If I could just breathe. If I could just take one freaking breath then I would be able to do something.”

Everything was a task. It would take me 20 minutes at a time to change a single diaper because I could not get my brain to focus on doing a solitary thing. It was utterly exhausting. I had to fight my brain literally every single second of every single day to do anything at all.

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My mother and husband had noticed all the out-of-character things I was doing and tried to step in. My mom called my OB and told her what was going on. My doctor suggested that I go on medication, but I think at that point I was too far down the rabbit hole to accept any help. I did reach out to my friends and told them that I was struggling a bit (understatement of the year). They were great. I had one who had dropped off get well gift buckets for the older kids to help them get over their sickness, and another one forced me out of the house and treated me to lunch and pedicures. As amazing as those two acts were, though, I was getting a little worse day by day.

All of a sudden, everything changed yet again. I stopped crying. I remember the exact day it happened. I woke up very pissed off that I was alive. I was so angry that I had to do it — life — all over again. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to. These weren’t necessarily abnormal thoughts for me over the past week, but they were usually accompanied by buckets of tears. Yet, none came.

Charleigh had woken up for the morning, but I could not bring myself to get out of bed and feed her. I was alone in the house on maternity leave and, as sick to my stomach as it makes me to say this, I let my newborn baby lay in her crib and cry for longer than an hour because I could not bring myself to get out of bed. For that hour, I held a bottle of pain pills prescribed by my OB after Charleigh’s birth and contemplated suicide for the first time in my life. That is when I really knew something was seriously wrong.

I had a touch of (for lack of better words) postpartum depression with my first two children, but this was an entirely different beast. I called my mother and husband to come home and as I was waiting for them, I browsed every single postpartum depression site/blog post/definition that I could find. All the sites were the same. They would suggest things like go to lunch with friends. Go on a walk outside. Exercise. Get out of the house and keep your mind occupied. How the hell was I supposed to get out of the house if I couldn’t even bring myself to get out of my freaking bed and feed my poor newborn whom I left in her crib crying all morning?

There was nothing out there that I could find with anyone feeling and thinking the things I was experiencing. Nothing out there about how you just get consumed in this doom and gloom as if it will last forever, not remembering that there are other days to come.

You think, “This is it. This is just how life will be from now on.” It’s as if you are in this cave and you look up and see the sun shining, yet every day gets darker and darker until the sun disappears. It’s just darkness. Pure darkness. You get engulfed in it and you start slipping into this world where everything is irrational, overwhelming, terrifying and completely suffocating. It’s a funny/petrifying thing to be afraid of yourself. To fight your own brain every second of every day. To be fearful of something that is so vitally a part of you.

My husband, John, came home and disposed of the pills. We talked through everything and came up with a plan of action. I wanted to feel better after our talk. Yet, that next morning I woke up angry again that I was alive. I did however stick to our plan, got Charleigh in her stroller, got out of the house and went for a walk. We were walking on the sidewalk next to a busy road and my mind was just racing.

Why was I having such a hard time? I had an amazing husband and support system. Why couldn’t I take care of my older two kids while they were crying for their mama because they were sick? I can’t do this. Maybe I am just not cut out to be a mom. My kids are so great, but I am not worthy of them. I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this. I cannot feel like this for another day. I can’t fight anymore. I don’t want to fight anymore. My kids deserve so much more than me. I am not strong enough to do this. I am weak. I am nothing.

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Then, I pushed Charleigh’s stroller to the fence furthest away from the street, walked over to the edge of the sidewalk, turned around and prepared to fall into traffic once the next car came past. I remember looking to my right and seeing a car coming up and then I faced forward and closed my eyes. In that moment, Charleigh started wailing. My newborn baby who never, ever cries, started crying. It woke me up out of my suicidal state. I gasped for breath, ran to her, picked her up and held on tight. I then called my husband and asked him, for the second day in a row, to come home … and that we needed something more than our current plan of action.

Mom and John talked. Mom talked to our therapist. John talked to his sister who is an OBGYN. I told them that I needed serious help and they sprang into action. They knew that I needed help beyond anything that they could give me, and we all decided that I needed to go to a treatment center. I fought against it. Oh boy, did I fight. I was furious that my husband and mother didn’t want to deal with the burden that I had become, and they just were going to ship me off.

Looking back, this was my way of avoiding the reality of the situation. I knew I needed help. I knew that I was in a bad place. I knew the devil had taken over. I just was too exhausted to face it. It wasn’t until my husband sat in front of me on our bed and with tears streaming down his face said, “Sara, I need you back. Our kids need you back. I cannot and will not lose you. You can be mad at me for getting you help, but I’m doing this because I love you more than anything in this world.”

They packed me a bag. I held on to Charleigh and just apologized to her. I was so sorry for everything I had put her through. I was so sorry that I was leaving her at just a month and a half old. I kissed her perfect little head and told her I was going to get help and that I would come back stronger and be the mother she deserved. Then I asked John to bring Garrett, my oldest child, in. He may have only been three at the time but he is sharp. He knew something was off with me and my behavior, and I needed to try and explain to him why I would be gone for a little while. I told him to think of the Disney/PIXAR movie Inside Out. I told him that Mommy is like Riley when Sadness and Joy get lost from headquarters. I told him that mommy is going away to get help to bring Joy back home. I told him that it’s okay to be sad, and ensured him that it had nothing to do with him. Then I gave Emi a big hug, and my mama drove me to Carrollton Springs Treatment Center.

Treatment was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I spent the first two days crying, feeling ridiculously guilty over leaving my children and in this environment that was, well, terrifying. You aren’t allowed to close your doors, or have shoelaces, and someone comes and checks on you by shining a flashlight in your face to make sure you are breathing every 15 minutes throughout the night.

Once I got over the shock, guilt, and sadness, I let it do its work. I finally told myself that I needed to not solely think about the kids for a moment and decided that I had to focus on getting me better, before I could ever help them. I let treatment rip me open, expose me, kick me a couple of times and then teach me the steps toward healing and getting better. I was surrounded by total strangers who also were going through the absolute worst moments of their lives. You see each other in the rawest form and at each other’s worst, and you all just try and help each other through it. You go to group therapy, alternate therapy and see a psychiatrist together.

I was so incredibly lucky to be there with a group of some of the most beautiful souls I have ever encountered. It was there I learned how to not judge other people because you have no freaking clue what they are going through themselves.

Mental illness is not a choice, it’s a disease.

I will say that again. Mental illness is not a choice; it is a disease.

I was not choosing to think and feel those things towards my children and my own life. I was experiencing a major chemical imbalance in my brain that was causing me to go through this. I got on medication and worked out, and through, the things I was experiencing. I got discharged from the treatment facility and got to go home to my babies, but it wasn’t all downhill from there.

It was, and still is, an uphill battle every single day. I am still working through it. There are still days where I wake up and can’t get out of bed, but I now have the correct tools to help me through it. I see my therapist twice a week, I exercise and eat right. I am doing everything I possibly can to get become the best version of myself. To become fulfilled, strong and happy.

Here is what I want you to take away from this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

If you are feeling or experiencing anything that I was, ASK FOR HELP. From anyone. From everyone. GET HELP. It is imperative and lifesaving. There is not enough truth out there about postpartum depression. I think once a baby gets involved in depression, it becomes this shameful thing. There is nothing shameful about depression and anxiety. It is as real as any other disease.