I went through postpartum psychosis, and it was scary. Postpartum psychosis is a rare illness. It only occurs in 0.1 – 0.2% of births. I never struggled with mental health before pregnancy and birth. I lived a happy life, and did not have any family history of mental illness. Therefore, dealing with postpartum psychosis came as an unexpected shock.
I didn’t know what I was doing.
My husband recognized my ‘odd’ behavior and knew we had to seek help. It was too late for outpatient help. When we first recognized my symptoms, which included not sleeping (and not seeing the need for sleep), delusions, unusual behavior, disorientation, extreme ‘excitement’, and excessive talking, we went to a local mental health hospital for evaluation. It was the weekend, and their conclusion was to start outpatient treatment on Monday.
However, things became worse and my husband saw the need for inpatient treatment. This was absolutely necessary, and this way I was able to get the right medications in the fastest manner. We went to a different hospital. I remember the admission process. We went through the E.R. entrance, and I first got physically examined. Once the physical exam was all clear, I had to go for a psych evaluation. I remember the time during this evaluation taking a long time. I had, however, no sense of time, so it could have been rather quick.
My initial diagnosis was Bipolar I disorder with moderate mania. I can’t remember if they mentioned postpartum depression or psychosis during this time, but those diagnoses were definitely part of the equation. Later, they also explained that because I was put on Zoloft (a common prescribed anti-depressant for postpartum depression), my mania and psychosis came out in an aggressive form, because this is not the right drug for someone with the diagnosis of Bipolar I disorder.
After the evaluation downstairs, I got taken up to the psychiatric floor. There, we had another long session of talking to nurses and doctors, and eventually I got admitted. Some of this I don’t remember. Because I was in active psychosis, I simply don’t remember what happened.
It was scary. The first few nights in the hospital were a blur. Later, I was told that I was jumping up and down in the halls and that I wouldn’t sleep or stop talking. Thinking back on it now, I know that wasn’t the real me. I now know that this was a disease I had, just like any other physical ailment you could get.
I could only have visitors twice a week. It was awful. I did not see my daughter for 3 weeks, because children under the age of 12 were not allowed on the psychiatric floor. You have to remember, at the time I got admitted, my daughter was only about 2 weeks old, and missing 3 weeks of her life seemed like a lifetime to me. Not seeing her made my condition worse. While I was there, I even tore pictures with her in it apart, although I blamed others for it, since I simply did not remember me doing this.
There were lots of doctor visits. I saw a psychiatrist, an endocrinologist, a therapist, and a bunch of other staff including nurses, nursing assistants, catering staff, phlebotomists, radiologists, and more. They also checked my brain during various tests, which I don’t remember the name of. But I had to do CT scans and tests with electrodes on my head while looking at lights. It was intense. My room was uncomfortable. After about 2 weeks, I got moved to a room with a more comfortable bed. One that was adjustable. But that didn’t really make things any better.
I escaped. Once. I didn’t really know what was happening. I remember having a blanket wrapped around me, stepping into the elevator and going to the ground floor, then going up to the postpartum unit (7th floor) where I was after birth with my daughter and then bringing myself back to the psychiatric floor. I am not sure what happened after I escaped, but I am sure they were watching me more closely after that happened. I also had grandiose delusions, such as imagining myself as the C.E.O. of the hospital. I also thought I could heal people. At some point, I even broke my patient wristband off my wrist because I refused to see myself as a patient.
Toward the end of my stay, I was more aware of what was happening. At the time, my family was visiting me. I think I only remember 2 of the visits, even though there were more before. For the first few visits, I used to just stare out the window and tell them my grandiose delusions. Toward the end of my hospital stay, I actually got to enjoy family. The family that was visiting me from out of town had to leave to go back home and only got to see me in the hospital setting. This was very sad for me, as I was hoping to spend time with them around my newborn.
When I was more aware of what was going on, there was a lot of sadness that came with it. Sadness about not spending time with my newborn and loved ones that were visiting. Sadness about being in the hospital. Feeling guilty about what I was going through. Feeling like a bad mom sometimes. But I knew that this is what I had to do to take care of my newborn. I had to take care of myself first, before I could take care of others. This truth did not sink in until much later, after my psychosis subsided.
Reflecting back on my hospital experience, I now know this is what I had to do for my family. I needed the medication. I needed the supervision, so I wasn’t a danger to myself or others. The hospitalization experience did traumatize me, and it was not something I would have chosen (even though it was very necessary). To work through my trauma, I went through EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) treatment with my therapist. This definitely helped.
Writing this wasn’t easy, but I feel like it is information that needs to be shared. People need to be aware of what psychosis is, when it can occur, and know when to seek help.
Psychosis is real. It is very rare, but when it occurs, the consequences are real. If you ever feel like you are going through a mental health crisis, whether it is throughout pregnancy or postpartum, know that there is help. Know that it is important to seek help, not only for yourself, but also for the people around you. One of the organizations out there that helps women with postpartum mental health issues, and helped me after my hospitalization experience, is Postpartum Support International. They have support groups and helplines that are specialized in perinatal mental health. Do not feel ashamed. Seek help!