The Perfect Storm: Navigating Postpartum Anxiety
As today is Easter Monday, I thought it was as good as time as any to share about my struggles with anxiety this year.
To be perfectly candid, I’ve always been Type-A, a little too intense for my own liking, and struggled with stress on the best of days. My husband will often point out how tense my body can be when snuggling on the couch at night. Stemming back to my childhood, my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Graham much to my chagrin would call me a “worry wart.” In addition to my own natural tendency toward stress and worry, add postpartum in the mix and someone close to my heart who has found themselves in serious legal trouble and it’s been the perfect storm.
In the fall of 2018, I was exhausted from having a newborn and my oldest child starting school. Dylan was very apprehensive about going to school so while that could have lowered my stress having one less kid at home, it had the opposite effect. Placing a crying child on the school bus, not to mention the rigmarole of busy mornings while still recovering from a c-section was challenging. Once we found our groove, I received devastating and disturbing news about a love one that floored me.
During this time I was trying to stay strong despite not sleeping well with a newborn and in a state of deep shock. I was working out with full intensity and probably not paying close enough attention to my postpartum body and technique. I wasn’t dealing with stress, but simply suppressing it.
The tipping point came in January when suddenly the left side of my face went numb and tingly with slight weakness. The next morning, as soon as Dylan was on the school bus, I took the younger two with me to the emergency department. After ruling out a stroke and brain tumours due to lack of headaches, the doctor assessed me to have Bell’s Palsy given I had some slight asymmetry in the face. However she said it was “atypical” in the fact that my non-affected side had the pulling appearance. I’m not sure as to why, but doubting her diagnosis was the beginning of an emotional breakdown that would continue for months.
Driving home from the hospital, I felt intense numbness and tingling travel up my forehand and down my left hand. Over the course of the next few days, I continued to feel weak, tingly and numb and was petrified. Multiple trips to the hospital, the doctors office, CT scans, blood work and even a trip to the neurologist and it seemed I had more questions than answers- “Numbness isn’t associated with Bell’s Palsy.” “Women in the postpartum period are more likely to develop Bell’s Palsy.” “Has anyone told you your pupils are unequal size?” “You don’t have brain tumours.” “Let’s rule out brain tumours.” “With MS, the numbness wouldn’t come and go in your limbs.” “Let’s get an MRI to test for MS.” “Good news- your MRI came back clear ruling out nerve disorders such as MS, ALS as well as ruling out brain tumours.”
After these test results came back, I was of course relieved, but also perplexed. I ended up taking a relaxant that immediately helped my limbs but didn’t touch my face. So at the time I began to think from the neck down my issues were anxiety and from the neck up was something physical all along fearing it was something really bad.
However; it’s beginning to dawn on me that anxiety is playing a big role. After a thorough process of elimination, I now believe in January I was having an acute panic attack after wrestling with chronic anxiety. Once my physical body was not something I recognized, I lost all semblance of control. It was a downward spiral where I lost grip on reality and where I lost hope. Formally I have been diagnosed with postpartum anxiety and it’s been acknowledged that I deal with a degree of health anxiety too.
Today I still have physical symptoms of numbness and stiffness in my face and an ache in my jaw. I am dealing with fatigue. I am struggling with anxiety. Practically speaking, I am working with my doctor, therapist, psychiatrist, a combination of medications, seeking God and am supported by family and friends.
I’m in the middle of the storm, but I am reminded that Jesus is with me right now, just like He was with His disciples on the boat [Mark 4:35-41]. I’ve got this because God has got this. It’s going to ok. In fact I am thankful in the sense this is forcing me to tackle my anxiety head on. No more denial and excuses. I am on the path to healing. It’s a journey with fighting for. I am worth fighting for. I may in the middle of my perfect storm, but this perfect storm doesn’t have me.
Cover image source: https://twitter.com/itsbeautynature/status/1024669459158466560