There was a serene calm before the storm, before the onset of my symptoms.
I was a happy new mother living in complete bliss with my newborn baby. We had a tranquil routine of feeding, naps, and changing diapers that we completed every two hours for the first two weeks after coming home from the hospital. After that, however, our bliss was taken from us, and the storm began.
At two weeks old, my daughter was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux, and as her symptoms worsened, mine began to surface. Her pain caused her to cry and scream all day and all night, and ruined sleep for both of us. We were both tired and miserable, and spent our days in the rocking chair crying together. She cried because she was in pain, while I cried out of feelings of helplessness, and because something was happening inside me that I couldn’t explain.
After nine months of painful fits of screaming and countless sleepless nights, my symptoms became apparent to me as something terrifying and alien. I stopped loving my daughter, couldn’t bond with her. My calm demeanor disappeared, my loving, nurturing attitude replaced by rage and sadness, affecting how I viewed myself and my daughter. A storm was brewing inside me, consisting of panic, anger, and something unknown. I felt the thunder rumble inside my chest when finally, lightning struck, and my innermost emotions turned outward.
I’d yelled at my baby, scaring her.
Up until that moment, I’d hated her in an irrational and frightening way. But the moment after I yelled at her, I realized that I was not myself anymore, and that I hated who I’d become. I felt immense guilt and intense shame for raising my voice to my baby, and those feelings grew and manifested into hating myself so much that I wanted to take my own life.
I knew that something was wrong, that I wasn’t myself anymore.
I admitted myself to the psychiatric unit of the local hospital, and thus, my recovery began. I was there for eight days, diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD). Finally, I had an answer to the question of what had been causing the storm inside me. I’d unknowingly been suffering from PPD for nine months, and had lost myself to that storm. Amidst the wind of my sadness and thunder of my rage, I had lost myself to PPD, but I was finally on the path to finding that loving, nurturing new mother again.
I attended group and individual therapy while in the hospital, and was put on medication to stabilize my moods. Both helped tremendously, and the storm inside me subsided. I left the hospital a new woman and a new mother, eager to see my baby, ready to travel the road ahead
The road to recovery felt sunny and serene, and was much more pleasant than the storm I’d experienced before. I attended weekly therapy sessions and remained med-compliant. I used the coping skills I learned in the hospital to get through anxious moments, and had no frightening or worrisome thoughts again.
I still attend therapy, take my medication, and cope effectively with my negative thoughts and emotions. What continues to save me from the storm every day is living in a state of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the lighthouse visible from the center of the storm. It allows me to appreciate and cherish each moment with my daughter, even moments that used to cause me great anxiety and distress. Through the practice of mindfulness, I’m able to remain calm when she cries, and cope when I don’t get sufficient sleep. Mindfulness keeps the storm of my PPD at bay, quiets the thunder inside me, and slows the racing wind of thoughts in my mind.
Before I was diagnosed and treated, I truly believed that my nurturing and loving nature was gone, that my true self had been swallowed up by the storm, and I was prepared to give up the search to find her. But after getting the help I needed and deserved, I realized that recovery was possible, and that no storm lasts forever.
I sought help and fought to recover from the storm because of my baby, because she deserves a happy, healthy mother. Her life depends on my mental and emotional stability, and I want her to have the best life possible. I want to love and bond with her, and continue to cherish every moment we share.
I will continue on the road to recovery by remaining mindful of our life together, and by weathering the storms whenever they begin to brew. I made it through of the blustery devastation of PPD, and will keep myself and my daughter safe should it ever try to return.
Madelyn Heslet is a 24-year-old single mother who writes about mental illness to advocate for mental health and do her part in ending the stigma that surrounds it. She not only lives as a writer, but as a loving mother, and dedicated full-time student. She writes a weekly column for Painted Brain News.