Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week 2020
I remember this time last year vividly because I was in the throws of a really horrible PTSD relapse. It came out of the blue and hit me like a juggernaut.
I was watching the latest episode of Grey's Anatomy when a scene related to consent triggered my first ever flashback. It was a full body experience like nothing else I have ever experienced and I cried so hard I thought I was never going to stop. My poor husband could no nothing but sit next to me and wait for me to regain composure, which took a while. I was right back there at the point of my horrifically brutal induction with angry questions swirling through my mind and spilling out my mouth...
"How can something this invasive and brutal be routine??!!"
"How much pain do I need to be in before they listen to me?!"
This relapse just got worse and worse and to top it off it happened a week before I started a new job!
Intrusive thoughts, insomnia, night sweats, panic attacks, forgetfulness, lack of concentration.
This was different to when I first was ill. I could stem some of the anxiety with the techniques I had learned in counselling but it was stronger this time, more aggressive. It felt parasitic. Like something was trying to take over my brain and I had to fight it to maintain lucidity. All of this whilst trying to learn a new job and pretend nothing is wrong.
The panic attacks came out of the blue as well and were pretty debilitating.
I went back to my Birth Trauma Resolution Therapist, my life saver, and had 2 more sessions which helped but I was still having to work hard to keep my anxiety at bay so I went back to see my GP, it was time to try medication again. I knew it had worked the first time so I wasn’t afraid.
My GP wasn’t only fantastic, she was genuinely interested. Still a trainee, I was the first Birth Trauma patient she had seen and she gave me as much time as I needed and asked lots of questions. Far more personal than GP the first time around so saw me cry and decided on the spot that I had Post Natal Depression, a completely different illness.
She put me back on my original medication and told me to come back in 4 weeks and to ask for her to ensure I didn’t have to relay my story again to another stranger. A small act of kindness but something that helped immeasurably. The medication started to help but I was still relying on my relaxation techniques so at the next appointment my dosage was increased.
This is when things took a different turn, not all good. My symptoms calmed pretty quickly, but I just felt tranquilised. The tiredness I experienced on the higher dose is like nothing I have ever experienced, and I don’t say that lightly after having a baby and insomnia. This tiredness would literally stop me in my tracks. I yawned the entire day, my eyes stinging and running. Driving was just dangerous, yet I had to do it for work, thankfully only 2 days a week. The days I worked from home I would replace lunch with a nap. During a family day out I had to go back to the car for a nap.
Then there was the impact it had on my cognition. I had no concentration span, I couldn’t remember conversations 5 minutes after they had happened. New information went in but then it got lost in a black hole in my brain. This made work incredibly difficult. I know how to do my job very well but when you can’t retain any new information in a fast-moving environment you are in trouble. Being able to actually DO my job effectively was becoming more and more difficult and because I had done well at the start despite everything my bosses were piling on the responsibility.
It all came to a head in November 2019 when I had to admit defeat. It was either my health or my career. It couldn’t be both. Not for now anyway. I resigned from my job and went back to my doctor. I needed a lower dose of medication. I was trying to function whilst sedated. By this point we had moved house to a completely new area so I had to start with a new GP all over again. This particular GP was completely detached and uninterested. She barely looked up from her screen and initially said she couldn’t change my medication until I had been on it for at least 6 months. I had to be very firm, which isn’t easy when you aren’t functioning properly, but I managed to convince her this was necessary when I pointed out that it was dangerous for me to be driving with my son in the car whilst on this current medication so I would have to just come off it.
We agreed that I would move to alternate doses, 10mg one day and 20mg the next. This was the best way to level out the fatigue whilst keep my symptoms at bay.
It was the right call. After about 2 weeks I felt more human than I had since before having my son. I can still feel the difference if I am on the higher dose but its only for a couple of hours a day and I’m sleeping much better at night which makes all the difference. Sleep at the right time is the most important thing for my health I have discovered.
Aside from a few night sweats, my first indication of symptoms, I have been absolutely fine. I feel normal finally! My short-term memory is still impaired but that’s fine because my environment now accommodates that. I work for myself so I work to my own deadlines. Even more striking, during this horrible period of lockdown for Covid-19 I have been fine. This would have caused me to spiral before but I feel completely in control which really is a testament to finding what works. The right medication, the right level of employment and responsibility and my family.
There is life after birth trauma. It takes hard work to get symptoms under control and possibly some lifestyle changes but it is possible to feel well again. I may relapse again in the future, that is the unfortunate unpredictability of PTSD but knowing what works will make recovery easier the next time.