My Post Partum Psychosis Survival Story I

image26 years ago, I was in a locked mental health ward for post partum psychosis.  I’ve tried to write about it many times, including a NaNoWriMo (which is very very rough.)  It’s hard to think about.  Last year (25 years after the fact) it was still a factor in a dialogue I had with my husband about divorce.  He still mourns that I’m a different girl from who he married.

Part of what happened is that the child died, and while every year we both mourn that loss, I think it’s always a little harder for him, because he almost lost me too.  I think he also hasn’t been forced to process it to the degree I did then, which also makes it harder for him.  Not that it was any picnic the way I went.

For several years my solution was to discount anything subjective, including spirituality. Sure, there is a lot of life I missed out on that way, but I was in control.  I did learn to really sing during those years.  My “belief” in nihilism was deep enough to overcome self consciousness in front of crowds that freed me from copying the style of others.

Some things were more comfortable this way, but I eventually had to abandon this path due to the arrival of my second child.  I needed “strength beyond my own” as the hymn “Lord I would follow Thee” says.  And while I didn’t understand a difference between religion and spirituality until my 40’s, I’ll pull that thread forward and say that meaning and connection is key here.  For me, I needed that connection to go through God, to feel held as I held my hungry baby at 2 am.  I still felt down unless there was something to pick me up, but it was probably 20% happy, 80% not, the ratio I’d been as a young adult.

After my third child was born (and with each pregnancy, I would connect with a therapist to have a safety net in place should my mind not make it through the birth) I found 12 step recovery.  It took me 4 years to finally do step 4, and I might be stuck at step 8-n (like, I know I haven’t made step 8, I’m not sure where on my way to that I’ve faltered.  But the step 7 prayer resonates with me, so… I don’t know.)  I was happy about half the time, like when I was a little girl.

So at 13 years after my hospitalization, something quite unlooked for happened.  I grew up in what Marsha Linehan calls an invalidating environment- a parent with some kind of rage mood disorder, and a “sinners in the hands of an angry God” cosmology.  Somehow I was allowed to see the grace also present in my religion, and for whatever reason that took away the chronic depression I’d struggled with.  I don’t know how to speak of it, since most of my family members are the same religion, and few of them were as messed up as I was, and even fewer have found the path I did.  I had been happy more often than I was sad, but I now was happy unless there was a reason to be sad.

I became a lot more aware that when sadness hit me out of seemingly nowhere, it was traceable to PMS or mittelschmerz.  I finally had the emotional resources to take better care of my body.  I most astonishingly turned into a morning person.  It took a few more years before I learned to experience joy from serving others.  My hospitalization happened when I was 22, and I was 36 at this point.  I was able to stick with one job for more than a year at a time.  I was able to eat right and exercise, and see it as a gift to myself rather than punishment.

Most importantly, I’ve had other crises that almost broke me, and still gotten back to functionality.  With my 4th and 5th pregnancies I had medical crises that required me to dig deeper for coping skills, to accept anger as part of my life and to utilize anticipation when the present sucked too much.  In my 46th year a habit of putting all my anxiety in one bucket backfired when that bucket (climate change) blew up on me.  I was 2/3 through nursing school at that point, and almost quit.  And for the first time through this whole process, I started taking antidepressants.  I still take them, just in case.  I was also critically anemic, probably due to excess calcium sources, but I do need to follow up with my doctor on that.

And then the divorced dialogue.  Well, that’s a whole other post in itself.  I guess the discussion that gives me enough closure to talk about it in the past was seeing that I don’t have to choose my husband as he is or nothing.  I can require that he change, as odd as that sounds.

Image:  Wall-E


  1. I think so much of our experience is dictated by who we are. And then who we become is who we decide to be. You’ve endured many things. We’re siblings but didn’t have the same childhood because of birth order, and how genes and tendencies expressed themselves in each of us individually. Thank you for always being kind to me. I hope that I have been a kind sister. You deserve kind people in your life.

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