(CW: This post is mostly to make non-survivors aware of some of the worst-case scenarios that can happen from PPP. If you are a survivor and find talking about those scenarios triggering, this may not be the post for you).
This morning’s walk was just me and my baby.
Some days, it’s easy to take for granted the fact that we’re together. How lucky I am to see her beautiful, absolutely contagious smile, with dimples for days.
How lucky I am to warm up her tiny, cold fingers as we walk together on a brisk spring day.
I’m even lucky to be able to prepare for our walk by wrangling her into her clothes: our least favorite part of every day, full of screaming and crying and thrashing.
Today, in particular, I don’t take any of this lightly.
My psychosis lasted for about three weeks. I was hospitalized for five days.
As all of my mental health care providers this year (and there have been many) have reiterated, my husband caught it outrageously fast. And although I didn’t respond at all to the first medication they gave me, the second one worked almost instantly.
It was a long road to full recovery, but I got out of the worst of it quickly.
I sometimes feel guilty even calling myself a postpartum psychosis survivor in light of how much more some women have gone through.
It can take months for the symptoms of psychosis to be recognized: they can be mistaken for postpartum depression or anxiety, or just missed all together.
The easiest way to explain psychosis is that you lose touch with reality. Sometimes you see or hear hallucinations, but other times you just believe things that aren’t true. I, for example, thought that I was being filmed for a reality TV show, and that my baby had special powers. Both of these delusions are very common when psychotic, as are religious delusions.
It is very tricky to know if this is happening, because women will often not tell people about their delusions. Some women think everything is fine and don’t know they’re psychotic, so they don’t know to alert anyone. Others are too ashamed to admit the severity of the terrifying things happening inside their heads. They fear being called crazy, or having their children taken away from them.
In believing things that aren’t true, some women end up doing things that hurt themselves, or their babies.
The tragic truth is that postpartum psychosis has a 5% suicide rate and 4% infanticide rate.
Those are heartbreaking statistics, but it’s important to sit with them for a few reasons.
First and foremost, the fact that so many women who suffer from PPP lose themselves or their babies is staggering, and truly devastating. I cannot imagine what it is like for those families, and I don’t have the words to express my grief for them.
I write this post today because prevention and early treatment are imperative to decreasing the number of women who fall victim to these unspeakable tragedies.
I write this post today because there is a terrible and unfair stigma around PPP.
PPP is an illness. Like cancer, or diabetes. It is not the woman’s fault.
There are terrible myths and misinformation about PPP that villainize mothers. Not only do the majority of mothers suffering from PPP not hurt their babies: the ones that do are at absolutely no fault.
The more these myths and misinformation are perpetuated, the scarier it is for women and their families to admit when they are experiencing symptoms of psychosis. The more ashamed women feel when it does happen to them. The less we talk about PPP.
This means that people don’t know the signs and symptoms.
The longer it takes for someone to recognize and acknowledge PPP, the longer it takes the woman to get treatment, and the more opportunities there are for the worst case scenarios to play out.
It’s important for pregnant women to be aware of the symptoms of psychosis, yes.
But given that those who are suffering from PPP will be out of touch with reality, it is even more imperative that their partners, family, and friends are aware of what signs and symptoms to look for.
So please. Educate yourself.
This excellent summary of symptoms from Mass General’s Postpartum Psychosis Project won’t take long to read. And it just might save the life of you or someone you love.
- Feeling “high”, “up”, elated, over-excited, or “on top of the world”
- Increased energy, activity, or productivity
- Racing thoughts, being more talkative, a “busy” brain, increased creativity, or pressured speech
- Needing less or no sleep or not wanting sleep
- Feeling restless, agitated, or unable to keep still
- Losing inhibitions, spending a lot of money, or being much more sexually or socially forward
- Extreme irritability, impatience, or anger
- Very increased interest in your surroundings
- Easily distracted, starting many things but not necessarily finishing them
- Feeling low, flat, tearful, emotional, or crying easily
- Anxiety, feeling tense, nervousness
- Feeling withdrawn and not wanting to talk to or be near others
- Tired, heavy, or without energy
- Having a harder time taking care of yourself or your baby
- Severe confusion or delirium
- Seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there – hallucinations
- Thoughts or beliefs that aren’t within reality or that people around you think are strange and out-of-character – delusions
- Feeling suspicious or afraid of people or events, paranoia
- Acting like you aren’t yourself
- Feeling detached from reality, unreal, or like you’re in a dream
Thanks for reading,