My name is Diane. I developed obsessive-compulsive disorder when I was 13 years old. Obsessions seemed to be a part of my life as long as I can remember, but it was during 8th grade that the compulsions to wash, count, and organize to stop bad things from happening started. I hid this from everyone for the rest of junior high, through high school, and into the first two years of college. I did not feel that I deserved to be in a relationship with anyone because if someone knew what was going on in my mind, they would not like me. I suffered socially because of my untreated mental illness.
I did not tell anyone about my OCD until I was 19 years old and told two of my closest friends during a night of secret sharing. One of them told me she was going to stage an intervention if I did not tell my parents soon. My mom was very understanding when I told her and she called our health insurance for help. I went to one therapist for two sessions but did not feel that she connected with me. Another six months went by until I had my second panic attack and decided that I wanted to try again.
The second therapist said that I had OCD, but it was really an underlying depression that was holding me back. Depression had never occurred to me, I just thought that was what life felt like. My symptoms included loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, and diminished interest and pleasure in most activities. He referred me to a psychiatrist who prescribed an anti-depressant. Within two weeks my life had changed. It felt like I had been living in black and white and the world was suddenly in color. I finally became the person I always was on the inside. I felt confident for the first time in my life. A month later, I decided to meet a guy named Kevin off the internet who I would have my first relationship with and eventually marry.
I suffered from three major depressive episodes over the next twelve years. One was around my 21st birthday which lasted for two weeks. The second was when I was 26, occurring a few months after I got engaged, which lasted for three months. Both involved the weaning or lowering of anti-depressants and were resolved when the medication was fixed. Kevin helped me through each of these episodes.
When I was 31/32, Kevin and I decided to start a family. My psychiatrist tried to wean me off the medication before I got pregnant, but I had the most severe episode of depression I have ever experienced for about a month and a half. I was then switched to an anti-depressant that was considered safer during pregnancy.
We were ready to try again about a year later. I got pregnant at 33 and gave birth when I was 34. I was prepared for postpartum depression, but I had never heard of postpartum mania. I read a book on anti-depressant use during pregnancy and postpartum and thought I was all set. My pregnancy went as smoothly as could be hoped for.
My labor and delivery went pretty smoothly as well, however Nolan was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and the doctor had to quickly cut it. He did not cry like I expected, in fact it took several minutes for him to cry and I worried that the anti-depressants I had taken during pregnancy had caused an issue. The doctor reassured me that he was “just having trouble transitioning.” After I held him for a while, they took him to the NICU for monitoring. He was perfectly fine, just a quiet baby. Part of me wonders if the fear I experienced during those long minutes before he cried triggered something in my brain.
It’s hard to pinpoint when the mania started, but by five days postpartum I was experiencing an episode consisting of racing thoughts, pressured speech, inability to sleep, distractibility, irritability, and paranoid delusions. I was convinced that my husband, Kevin, was manipulating me into having a mental breakdown so that he could take my baby away from me.
It was Thanksgiving weekend and Kevin had trouble getting a hold of my psychiatrist. By day nine he told the doctor’s staff that if she couldn’t see me that day, he was going to have to take me to the hospital. She fit me in late in the day and Kevin slipped her a note with my symptoms. She asked me what was going on and, as I was later told, I spent thirty minutes, uninterrupted, jumping from subject to subject. When I was done, I asked her what we could do to make it stop.
On one level I knew there was something wrong with the way my brain was functioning, but at the same time I had this belief that it was actually Kevin who was having a hard time adjusting to parenthood. My doctor prescribed a mood-stabilizer and after I took it, I was able to sleep for several hours for the first time in over a week. By day ten things started to return to a new normal. I am fortunate that I have responded well to medication.
Over the next month I continued to heal from what had happened, although I was unsure of exactly what that was. In late December when I saw my psychiatrist, I asked her what had occurred. She told me that I had a manic episode and was now diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I have so much respect for the fact that she waited to tell me this information until I was stable enough to handle and accept it.
I have bipolar disorder and take an anti-depressant in the morning and a mood-stabilizer at night. The anti-depressant also helps control the OCD. I have a psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist. I know that I am fortunate to be able to receive the proper care.
Every year, after Nolan’s birthday it is bittersweet because it is an anniversary of my postpartum mania. I have what I now call an anniversary effect and usually feel down for a few days. Last year, a friend suggested that I do something to commemorate what I went through and overcame so I decided to make a small donation to Postpartum Support International. I wish that all OB/Gyn’s and Women’s Hospitals gave out the number to PSI’s Helpline (1-800-944-4773) to all expecting and new parents. I know my husband and I could have used the help.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many new parents are struggling with more than the normal amount of change having a baby brings. Please consider making a donation to Postpartum Support International this #GivingTuesdayNow to help them support new parents during this time.