‘The first thing the doctor said was, ‘I see we’re having some anxiety lately?’ I was in denial.’: Mom battling postpartum depression says ‘it’s NOTHING to be ashamed of’

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“Anxiety and depression are not something I have always struggled with. It is so crazy because when I think back to high school/after, I do not remember ever dealing with the things I deal with today. I graduated in 2011, and up until 2017, if someone had told me what an anxiety/panic attack was or that they struggle with them, there is no way I would have been able to relate. Same with depression. Back then, in my mind, depression just meant you were sad for a good reason. And when I say this, I mean sad because of an event or series of things that took place. It is hard to explain without sounding completely insensitive and clueless, but at that time in my life, this is exactly what I was. I did not fully grasp depression/anxiety was not something you had any control over whatsoever.

I had friends who struggled with depression and were medicated, but it has always been one of those things that was kept hush-hush. Many people did not feel comfortable discussing it at all because people did not understand what it is like. People felt ashamed, embarrassed, and now that I struggle with these same issues, I can see it from their point of view and understand why so many are hesitant to share their stories. There is a stigma when you talk about such topics, and some people still do not comprehend what people who struggle with anxiety and depression deal with. So, I am just here to share my story in hopes it inspires the next person to share theirs. The more we can support each other and normalize mental illness, the fewer people will struggle alone. More people will seek help when it is needed without being ashamed/scared of what someone might think/say.

For me, anxiety came first. I had never dealt with anything like this, and I vividly remember my very first anxiety/panic attack. In the moment, I honestly thought I was dying. It was in 2017, shortly after my fiancé and I had gotten engaged. He was a construction worker. The company he had worked for at the time was going to the next state over, way up north to build a pole shed. The resort they stayed at was on a lake in the middle of absolute nowhere with zero cell service, so talking to him was impossible. The only time he was able to message me was with Wi-Fi at the main building in the bar, so communication was minimal, and he was there for a full week, Sunday through Friday. At the very beginning of him being away, things were fine for me. I was enjoying the quiet with my dog, just taking in the time to myself.

At the time, I was an avid marijuana smoker. I smoked every day. I did not really have a limit and it was just one of those things that kept me busy, calm, and in good spirits. So, you can only imagine with him being gone, I was smoking a lot. I remember sitting in the living room just doing my thing and deciding it was finally time for bed. I always smoked more right before bed because it helped me sleep better. I finished, lay down alone with my dog, Cooper, and was scrolling my phone, doing the usual thing before bed.

Everything was fine until I started noticing my heart rate was extremely fast. I honestly felt as if I could feel it outside of my chest and it was the only thing I could focus on. The more I paid attention to it, the faster it got until I could not catch my breath anymore because I was so worried about it. Soon after, my legs started shaking so uncontrollably even the pressure of my 100-pound dog could not stop them, and that is when the panic set in.

I was not sure why it was happening or what was going on. I tried to get my breathing under control but with the shaking not letting up at all, I thought if I got up and walked around, it might help distract me. I walked to the bathroom, legs still shaky as ever, and sat down on the toilet. At that point, I was just completely dissociated. I did not even feel like I was in my own body. It did not even feel like I was there at all, and I got even more scared. I could not calm myself down at all. I tried calling my fiancé at least 20 times, just hoping the call would go through but it never did. I had to call a friend and ask her to come over to see if it would help distract me enough to relax since nothing else was. Thankfully, she came over at midnight and Googled my symptoms because I was ready to call 911. I thought I was going to die. It was the scariest thing I have ever gone through, and I would not wish it on anyone. In the moment, everything is intensified, and things seem so real. I was truly terrified, but she was able to eventually calm me down and I was able to go to sleep.

Fast forward a couple of days, it happened again. At this point, I figured it was my fiancé being gone and lack of contact that was triggering them, but I was not sure. I realized that was not the cause once he was finally home and I was still struggling. Long story short, I went to the doctor for what I thought were heart issues. I was overly worried about this because shortly before things started getting this way for me, my grandma had a heart attack, and I was worried that an enlarged heart was genetic and I was having heart problems. The first thing the doctor said to me when she sat down was, ‘So, I see we are having some anxiety lately?’ And this is what it was chalked up to. I was prescribed 25 milligrams of sertraline, Xanax for emergency situations, and a referral for therapy.

I was super skeptical because I am not one to take medication. I just have never really done it and my memory is crap. I was supposed to take it for a month and check back in, but I was so inconsistent with it and barely remembered to take it daily so of course, it was not going to be beneficial or help improve anything. It was at this point I decided to lean more toward CBD oil, meditation, and therapy to learn coping mechanisms and see if I could overcome it without medication.

About a month and a half later, when my fiancé was out of state working on another long-term job (this time with cell service—yay), I found out I was pregnant with our first daughter, Ella. This is when my prenatal depression started. I was 24 years old, which is not too young of an age to have a child. It is just at this point in time, only two of my friends had children.

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A lot of the people I spent time together with were in the drinking stage of life. I am from Wisconsin, so drinking is extremely popular and a huge hobby/pastime. Absolutely nothing wrong with this at all, but my priorities were about to be different, and it would create a gap in the friendship. I just felt very alone. I am not saying my friends were not there for me and were not supportive of my new stage in life, but it just felt like I was not an option anymore when it came to hanging out. I could not drink, so what good was I? How could I benefit them if I could not have fun the same way they could? Now, do not get me wrong, I could have easily been the designated driver for them on a night out and tried to incorporate myself into their plans, even though I could not participate, but let’s be honest—there is something extremely annoying about being the only sober one in a group of drunk people, and I say that as a bartender of 9 years.

Courtesy of Courtney Owens

It is not a position I wanted to be in, and being pregnant and constantly sick with hyperemesis gravidarum, I could barely get out of bed, which was not helping the depression situation. It almost felt like my friends were ‘taken’ away from me, my fiancé’s job stole him away, and my everyday life activities were impossible to tackle. Day by day, things got worse mentally. I would throw up and lie in bed. This was my life. I could barely work, I was constantly calling in. I was home alone with my three pets I had to try to take care of, on top of keeping myself alive and trying to keep the house clean. I could not eat or drink anything without throwing it right back up within minutes.

I cannot even count the number of times I was in the ER for fluids. Finally, I brought all of this up to my midwife and they prescribed me numerous medications to try to overcome the HG. Nothing was working for me personally, and eventually, they ended up prescribing a Phenergan suppository because I could not keep any oral medications down.

Courtesy of Courtney Owens

Things started improving from there as far as my HG. I was able to keep down foods and started to be able to work for the most part. For most of my pregnancy, up until the last 4 months, my fiancé was only home on the weekends. And this contributed heavily to the depression. Spending so much time alone just drained me, and now I was finally starting to feel human again, I thought I would be spending more time with friends to lift my mood, but things did not change there. I was ditched a lot and left out for more important activities—drinking. I do not really hold it against anyone, because like I said before, we just had a shift in priorities and things that were important to them at this point in life were just no longer important for me. At my next appointment, I had finally mentioned to my midwife about my struggles with anxiety and depression, and she had mentioned trying the sertraline again since it was safe during pregnancy.

Taking another medication just was not something I was comfortable with, because I already relied on Phenergan, and I could not live with myself if something happened to my baby due to the medications, so I opted out and just tried to self-manage to the end of my pregnancy. My fiancé was set to come home in March, and I figured things would get better when he got home. Hormones are not always as cooperative as we would like them to be, though. The ‘self-managing’ of my mental health issues went on into my postpartum journey.

I had my daughter in July of 2018. It was the most beautifully painful experience ever. She came out a perfect 7 pounds 14 ounces, and our lives changed in this moment. We were parents, and she was our only priority in life. Anything we did, we did for each other or her.

Courtesy of Courtney Owens

Reflecting, my postpartum depression journey was a lot worse than I would have admitted at the time. I skipped my 6-week appointment because I was ‘fine.’ I did not need help, I was healing well and any concerns I had from this point on were about Ella because we forget to think about ourselves when we have a new precious bundle of joy to care for. It becomes all about them so quickly.

Ella was a very moody baby. She cried so much. Half the time, we did all we could and made sure all her needs were met and she would still cry. We would just have to let her ride it out. There is really nothing you can do besides comfort them. Becoming a new mother and all the stress factors that come along with it, deep down, I knew something was not right with myself mentally, but I tried to just shut out the thoughts and ignore them.

Courtesy of Courtney Owens

I struggled to let anyone hold our daughter, even my fiancé. I had irrational fears about them not holding her properly or dropping her. And the separation anxiety was real. I did not spend much time away from her. I am a stay-at-home mom, so I was with her every second of every day. The thought of being away from her made me physically sick. I had constant fears of SIDS to the point of me sleeping 20-minute increments just to wake up and make sure she was breathing. Eventually, I bought an Owlet Smart Sock to ease some of the anxiety, but I would still wake up often to check on her. I know things like this are normal, especially for first-time mothers, but only to an extent. This was consuming me. I had panic attacks thinking about taking her somewhere and something happening. I had panic attacks randomly throughout the day for no reason.

Courtesy of Courtney Owens

I was extremely irritable, would snap easily, was constantly unhappy with myself, had thoughts always running through my head about not being a good enough mother, was overeating or undereating depending on the day, and was unable to complete daily tasks, such as brushing my hair, teeth, and keeping up on the house. I had no desire to do anything. I just wanted to snuggle my baby and that was it. I never did mention this with my doctor. I thought I could manage on my own, so these symptoms carried themselves on and off throughout the next 2 years. I did not do much with friends. If I did, it was minimal and on a very ‘here and there’ basis. Again, different priorities and interests at the time. Only one of my close, longtime friends even made it a priority to visit us. The rest put on a front and were not in any rush to come meet her, which is ironic because, during pregnancy, everyone raves about how they are so excited to snuggle on the baby and be auntie so and so, but when the time comes, a lot of people just fade out of your life.

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Fast forward to April 2020, my mental health was the same and I was in denial I need help with anything. COVID hit, lockdowns started, and there went any hope things will ‘brighten up’ anytime soon. In May of 2020, I found out we were expecting our second child. Things were a little different this time around. My fiancé was not working out of state, and we had a toddler to take care of. This task alone will drain anyone, but add growing a baby and you are setting yourself up for challenging work daily, mentally, and physically. I had HG again this time around, needed to go in even more frequently for fluids, and lost 20 pounds at the beginning of the pregnancy. This time around nothing really helped medication-wise, and I was sick 24/7. This alone was mentally exhausting. Without even considering how I was feeling physically, everything was draining me mentally.

Courtesy of Courtney Owens

I had constant thoughts everyone had an issue with me, no one wanted me around them, I was just a burden to everyone. I was not sure if I could even handle the pregnancy because things had gotten so hard. And again, this time around I refused anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. That was the anxiety in me worrying about every little thing that sometimes is out of our control, but I just kept telling myself I could not live with myself if I caused something serious to be wrong for my own ‘selfish gain,’ as I looked at it. And it is seriously not the way to view this. I know I will do one thing right if someone reads this and realizes it is okay to take medication while pregnant if the benefits outweigh the risks, and your mental health being in check is a huge benefit. I struggled with anxiety attacks and depressive episodes where all I want to do is sleep and nothing else. I did not have the energy to do much more, honestly, and what energy I did have was being used to care for our toddler while my fiancé was at work. Without him, I am not sure how I would have gotten through that pregnancy physically.

Courtesy of Courtney Owens

I know you are thinking, ‘Courtney, I’m sure you had people who were there for you mentally, too,’ and of course, I did. But if you do not suffer from anxiety, you will not understand how your brain makes you think everyone is against you and distances yourself from those people. It is truly a constant battle with yourself. It is hard, you struggle, and somehow you get through day by day. In January of 2021, I gave birth to our beautiful baby girl, Bria, who is currently 3 and a half months old. She was perfect—weighing 7 pounds 15 ounces, and is the calmest baby ever. She cries when she is hungry and tired, that is about it. I thought because of this, I might be able to ‘avoid’ PPA/PPD this time around, still ignoring the fact I am still suffering after having Ella in 2018. When Bria was about a month old, I noticed some symptoms getting worse. The irritability was happening with even the littlest of things. I was annoyed with everyone and everything. I had no energy.

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I would stay in the same clothes for days and shower once, sometimes twice a week. My hair would never get brushed—I would shower and wash it sometimes, and when I did, I would get out, dry it, and throw it up in a messy bun and repeat the process. I remember brushing my hair while crying numerous times because it hurt so bad. Thinking, ‘I’ll never let it get this bad again because this is so painful,’ and the cycle would just repeat itself. I was so ashamed to look in the mirror. I was disgusted with myself. I found myself making the most negative comments about myself and it truly killed me inside. I found little joy doing things I used to love. Panicking about the most irrational things, like sitting on the couch and a car plowing through the front side of our house, driving down the road and someone hitting us, carbon monoxide poisoning even though we have an alarm, any and everything you can think of, I was worried about. It was consuming me, and finally, I had just had enough. I could not live life like this anymore.

Courtesy of Courtney Owens

Of course, I canceled and rescheduled my 6-week postpartum appointment numerous times due to the issues I was having. I just did not want to go. I finally convinced myself after having some issues in my personal life it was time I was medicated. I made a virtual appointment with a family medicine doctor in my hometown and explained in detail everything I was going through. Immediately, he expressed his sympathy and assured me it is normal, and I did the right thing by seeking help to better myself. I cannot parent at the best of my abilities if I am struggling so badly on the inside. After talking for some time, we decided to try the sertraline route again, because I am a breastfeeding mom. We started at a low dose of 25 milligrams daily and decided to check in again in a month. My symptoms have gotten drastically better, and it has been about a month and a half of being on medication. I am up to one and a half pills, which is about 38 mg daily, to see how this feels. We will check in again soon to see where I am and discuss from there.

Courtesy of Courtney Owens

It is amazing how much better I have been feeling and how my outlook on life, in general, seems so much better than before. I have the energy to complete daily tasks, I am brushing my hair, showering, changing my clothes, all the things that feel so normal, and I could not be more thankful I finally reached out for help. It is nothing to be ashamed of and people are not going to look down on you for doing what you needed to be the best version of yourself.

So, the point of me sharing my story is so someone out there might not feel so alone in their journey. I am hoping people realize so many women struggle with this before and after having babies. It is time to normalize mental health and help people get through the tough times, to come out of that dark tunnel and be the best they can be. So, remember, if you are reading this—you are not alone, I am here for you, and I support you 100%.”

Courtesy of Courtney Owens
Courtesy of Courtney Owens

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Courtney Owens of Wisconsin. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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‘He scoffed at me. ‘Why are you depressed? You have a husband who loves you! Stop that. You’re fine!’: Woman opens up about battle with mental health, postpartum depression

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