I’m sitting on the edge of the bed, trying to register all that happened the days leading up to right now. I still don’t know what’s wrong with me. I only know that I’m in a psychiatric center and obviously that’s an indication of some mental illness, but what is it?
I spent nine hours in the ER yesterday. I was smothered in paranoia and confusion. Voices were speaking to me: telling me to kill myself; telling me I was evil; telling me not to trust anyone. None of that made sense yesterday. And still, none of it makes sense today. As much as I wish it was a well-crafted movie I was watching, it’s my insane reality. It’s actually happening to me.
Now I’m in a room, inside a building for people with mental problems. I have no idea how long I’ll be here. I have no idea if I’ll ever leave. I know I still feel the effects of fearing my toddler, thinking she was a demon. Thinking my husband was going to murder me. Thinking my newborn had the face of a grown man. Thinking my face was disfigured, refusing to look in any mirror I passed.
I venture out of the room. A social worker greets me by name with a calming smile. She instructs me to go to the nurse’s station and then breakfast. I get two pills and a small cup of water then I eat some Cheerios.
I vaguely remember last night as my husband and I rode in the ambulance to this building. After signing paperwork to admit myself, I had a relapse in sanity, and told him I never wanted to see him again. I told the staff not to give him my information and not to let him visit me. It was those ruthless voices. They made me say that. They told me he was going to kill me. I remember the hurt in his eyes last night. And now—sanely sober—I’m feeling the hurt I put him through. He was up with me two nights in a row, while I was going through this horrific behavior. Yet, I betrayed him for some foreign voices I don’t even know. Yes, they’re in my head, but they’re not part of me. I was just so terrified that I turned my back on the one person who was there for me from the very beginning. I want to call him, hear his voice. “Hello?” He answers. My eyes are watering.
“Justin, it’s me.”
“Hey, how are you?”
“I’m better. The medicine helped me. I slept well and I don’t hear voices anymore and I’m not scared. I feel so much better.”
“Good. I’m happy to hear that. Really. I was thinking about you all night.”
“So, are you at work?” I ask. I don’t know what else to say to him.
“Yep. I had a little work to do. The kids are with my mother. But, I’m going to leave at lunch. Did you get the clothes I brought you? And Brownie, too.”
“Oh?” I didn’t see it yet. I just got up and ate. But thanks. Having Brownie here will make me feel better.” Brownie was the first teddy bear I was given as a child. “Justin, why am I here? What’s wrong with me? No one told me.”
“Umm,” Justin starts to whisper, “you have postpartum psychosis.”
“What is that? I never heard of it. Is that like depression?”
“The social worker at the hospital said it’s worse. That’s why you were paranoid and hearing things. But, I’ll call you later and we can talk about it. Okay?”
“Okay. I love you so much.”
“I love you, too. Very, very much.” We hang up. I think for a moment. I’d never heard of postpartum psychosis. I know the word psychosis isn’t a good thing, so I have to educate and prepare myself for this journey, whatever that may be.
A social worker calls me. It’s time to meet my doctor. Dr. Freedman. I walk through the door. It’s evident the room doubles as a supply closet. There are shelves with blankets, paper-towels, other things for the patients’ use. Then in the corner, there’s a desk with a chair for the doctor and a chair for the patient. I sit down.
Dr. Freedman is a tall thin man. His monotone voice is not comforting, but he speaks with authority. I decide I’ll allow myself to feel at ease with him because I need his help. I’m also curious to see what his plans are for me. Of course, I want to go home, but after my outbursts, my desire to commit suicide, my hallucinations, my paranoia, my confusion, and my psychosis—well, I figure this will be my home for some time. And on top of all of that, I never want to step foot in my house again, so where will my family and I live?
“So, how are you? Did you sleep okay?” He asks.
“Actually I did, which is weird. I was afraid to sleep for the past two days.”
“Well,” he looks up at me from his clipboard, “the medication you’re on helps you to sleep, so I’m glad it’s working. Do you see or hear anything that isn’t there?”
“No, not at all, thank goodness.”
“Has this ever happened to you before?” Dr. Freedman asks.
“Never. And I hope it never happens again.”
“Well, we’re going to keep working together so you can get well. And, I’m going to work on moving you to the second floor. This third floor is for people who, umm, let’s say they’re going to be here for a while. They have serious, deep-rooted problems. But you, you’re going to be okay. You look good, and we’re going to get you better, okay?”
“Oh, I hope you’re right. I really hope so.” That began my five-day stay in that building and my three-year battle to conquer postpartum psychosis. You may think the lowest point would be living in a psychiatric center, but that’s probably the easiest. My story’s much deeper than a five-day stay. My story covers layers of mental illness that I had to peel away to get back the old me and learn to love my children in the manner they deserved. Before I recovered, I had to go for the ride. The stops were Mania, Anxiety, Anger, Depression, which lasted for years, Apathy and then Determination. Determination is the hardest part to reach. All the other stops come natural, you take the ride and eventually you’ll stop there. But you have to make the effort and request within yourself to stop and actually get off at Determination.
I had to fight my heart, which had grown so comfortable in the essence of Apathy, to care again. To want to hold my children, embrace them. Look at them and adore them. Learn their quirks and their childish ways and yearn to become a mother. Something I’d avoided for years. But I got off at Determination and I stayed off that ride. But I didn’t get off that stop for anyone but myself. It wasn’t selfishness, but I knew that if I didn’t force myself, no one else could make me, for everyone tried for three years. So, it was a decision I made. I pushed, I decided. I fought and I won. And the freedom I feel now that I saved myself from wasting away from a trip to Internal Confrontation is, well that just can’t be put into words.
This is my new reality—mental clarity that is achievable for any woman that has suffered from postpartum psychosis or any other postpartum mood disorder.