Real Talk: Postpartum Anxiety, Persistence and Holding On

I’ve known Amber Daniels for over six years now. I’ve watched her transform into this incredible human being and knew she had a message that needed to be shared specifically with mothers. Amber had postpartum anxiety that almost destroyed her life but she took the reins of her situation and she fought back like a glorious warrior to become this voice for so many voiceless women everywhere. She refused to suffer any longer and she refused to let her PPA define who she was. She rose from the ashes and has blossomed into an even more compassionate and kind woman. Read more to hear about her story:

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What We Don’t Do: Tell us a little about you and your journey?

Amber Daniels: I am a mother of two; I have a nine year-old and an almost two year-old. When my two year-old was almost three months old I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety. As far as my journey went, my postpartum took more of an anxiety turn rather than the depression which led into intrusive thoughts and borderline psychosis. I tried many different medications and was heavily medicated at one point and nothing helped. My husband had to take a three month leave from work to stay at home with me because my doctor suggested that I was unable to stay by myself for fear that I’d harm myself or others around me.

WWDD: What were the first three months like with baby?

AD: The first three months were regular. I was busy because I was planning my wedding. I was very happy, content, things were going really well. Breastfeeding was going good. My daughter was adjusting very well to life with the baby.

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WWDD: When did you first notice that something was off?

AD: After the wedding, we were driving to Calgary and I had my first panic attack in the middle of the night. It was the first time I had ever experienced anything like that. I had no idea what had happened. I thought I was having a stroke because the right side of my body was completely numb. So we went to the hospital and we stayed in the hospital for 14 hours. No doctor ever suggested that this could be any part of postpartum, mental health, nothing; they just ruled out that I was not having a stroke and sent me on my way.  After that weekend, we came back to Saskatoon and I became completely paranoid. I was so afraid to go to bed. My husband had to lay in bed with me until I fell asleep because every night I just thought I was going to die. Smells set me off, sudden noises scared me, I was afraid of flying in airplanes; I just became completely, completely paranoid of everything around me.

WWDD: What kinds of things/thoughts were you doing/having?

AD: I was just so scared of what was happening because the doctor’s couldn’t tell me what was going on. I think there’s this idea about postpartum depression being something like the “baby blues” as this sad time and crying. But that wasn’t how I felt. I felt paranoid. I was so scared. It was all the time, 24/7, of just feeling scared. After a couple weeks of the fear and the paranoia I started feeling angry about why this was happening to me. I had been very healthy and active my whole life and I couldn’t figure it out. I had never struggled with mental health. I didn’t know many people who had so I was very unfamiliar with it. My sisters, who are both nurses, never let on that this could have been part of postpartum depression/anxiety. Nobody had any idea what was going on.

WWDD: Why do you think that is?

AD: I think it’s because people don’t know that PPA is a part of PPD. Anxiety is a new part of PPD. It’s always been the depression side, it’s always been the sad side. The psychosis is very, very rare so the paranoia and intrusive thoughts weren’t common effects (of PPD/PPA) so nobody had any idea of what was going on. It took my own self-research and I was the one who figured it out, 100% on my own, what was going on.

WWDD: How did you figure it out?

AD: I started to do a lot of research. I literally put my feelings into Google and somehow I associated it with having a baby. A lot of my intrusive thoughts were about the baby. I couldn’t even do laundry anymore. I had to ask my husband to help me do it because I was afraid I was accidentally going to put the baby in the washing machine. He had to hide my knife set on me. I didn’t want to know where it was because I was so afraid I would accidentally harm myself or the baby. That’s when I stopped driving because I was driving one time with my daughter and I just kept thinking, “what if I drove into traffic? What would happen? What if I decided to drive into that vehicle right there? What would happen?” It was a completely paralyzing feeling. I never want to put my children in that situation so I gave up my driver’s license by choice. I didn’t drive for probably eight months. We lived out of town at the time too so it was hard to do anything but like I said, my husband, Robin,  took a three month, unpaid work leave to stay at home with me.

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Amber and the baby when she was almost at her worst with her PPA 

WWDD: When you realized it was postpartum, what did you do?

AD: This was probably the most significant day of my life. Every time I think about this day it actually moves me to tears. It was December 23, 2015 and that morning Robin decided he needed to do last minute Christmas shopping and he thought we should go to Midtown plaza because that’s a good place for a crazy lady! I remember thinking that there was something wrong. I knew something was wrong. This was leading up to when I was starting to pair it up (to postpartum) and I had phoned my doctor’s office and I said, “I need to see my doctor” and I couldn’t get in until the end of January. So I said, “But there is something really wrong here. I’m having these thoughts.” And the receptionist told me there was nothing they could do for me and they didn’t have a cancellation list so I was going to have to wait. I hung up the phone with her and I called my gynecologist’s office and I cried to the receptionist. I said, “I know you only see me six weeks past the birth and now this is five months but I am so scared I am going to hurt the baby, you NEED to help me.” She said, “Oh my God yes I will. I will phone mental health for you and I’m going to give them your phone number.” This receptionist had no ties to me and was not obligated to help me in any way and she did. So we went to the mall and my phone rang. It was December 23 and everybody was last minute shopping; it was the craziest thing in the world. I answered it and it was mental health. I walked to the back of this big department store and I stood there and I just cried. The woman said, “I’m going to help you honey.” I remember there were hundreds of people in that mall and it became like a movie. They were just a blur, the sound stopped, time stopped. I’ll never forget it. I’ll never forget the sound of her voice either. She told me she would help me and she would see me on December 27. It was the most amazing thing just knowing that someone was there to help me.

WWDD: What did she do when you saw her?

AD: I asked her on the phone if I was going to get to see her because that was that first connection of someone who knew. I just wanted someone so bad. But she wasn’t sure if it would be her but she said no matter who it was, they would take care of [me]. But she talked to her bosses so that she could arrange to be my intake counselor. She held me so tight and she told me she had had it too and that it was postpartum, that this exactly what I was going through was postpartum. She kept apologizing to me saying, “I’m so sorry that nobody saw this. This is so normal for a new mom.”

It was the most amazing day ever. I cried so hard. When my husband picked me up, I said to him, “they’re going to help me! I’m not alone anymore!”

WWDD: I would imagine they made you feel less “crazy” to know that you had an answer.

AD: I think that’s one of the biggest things: having a name for it. I remember nights of nursing the baby in his bedroom and rocking in the chair in this quiet room and thinking, “I’m crazy, I’m crazy, I’m alone, nobody gets it.”

WWDD: What did intake suggest for you?

AD: She put me in for one-on-one counselling and also a support group for moms who were going through postpartum depression and anxiety.

WWDD: How did each of those experiences go for you?

AD: The woman I was paired with [for one-on-one counselling] wasn’t my fit so I started doing my own research and finding different counselors for myself. But at that time, it was not resonating with me because of what I was going through. They were kind of categorizing more to anxiety which I wasn’t feeling. It really was more of borderline psychosis with the intrusive thoughts at this point. That was something the counselors weren’t really getting. They were trying to give me more calming tools and those tools were absolutely not working for me.

WWDD: What kinds of tools?

AD: Breathing exercises, journaling, all pretty generic exercises. But at the time my mind was so toxic those tools couldn’t work.

WWDD: What changed then? The support group?

AD: The group is absolutely what helped me. I remember that day like it was yesterday too. I remember Robin dropping me off and walking in and seeing two moms standing there. I asked them if they knew where the postpartum group was and they were just so bubbly and said, “Come on, that’s where we’re going!” and I thought, “How are these ladies happy?” I couldn’t even hold it together for five seconds. I walked into that group and they were the most welcoming people in the world. The way the group setting works is you sit in a circle and for the first hour you learn something educational. Each week they pick a different topic and we talk about that. Then the next hour is a check in around the circle and everyone can explain how they are feeling. I forget exactly what the question was but [during that first hour] she asked if anyone wanted to talk on that and I just decided I needed to tell my story right then and there. I didn’t listen to the rules. I bawled. I have never in my life felt support like that. They huddled around me and gave me Kleenex and told me it would be okay. One woman told me it was okay, she was also a crier. I couldn’t stop crying. It was the most emotional day ever. I pretty much talked that entire first hour which was supposed to be educational and they were so okay with that. The facilitator said, “Keep going. Tell us everything.” I told Robin afterwards, “I didn’t listen to the rules, talked when I wasn’t supposed to but I feel amazing!”

WWDD: Do you think it was because of getting it off your chest?

AD: Oh yeah! I just needed too. And knowing those moms got it. After we did the check in, they were all like, ‘We get it, Amber. That happens to me and this happens to me too.” I knew I wasn’t alone anymore. I couldn’t wait [to go back]. I was sad I had to wait a whole week. I went for five months, every week.

WWDD: In what other ways did that group help you? I remember you once told me they saved your life.

AD: It was meeting the moms and knowing I wasn’t alone. Before that I was at such a low point. Nobody really got it. I remember times of thinking suicidal thoughts like, “I can’t live like this. I’m not a good mom anymore. My husband doesn’t want to be married to this. I’m a completely crazy lady.” And seeing those women who were all at different stages telling me that I’d get there and to hold on. I could see women who had been there for a month or three months. I watched women graduate.

I had hope for myself. I knew I would one day be one of those girls telling the new girls to hold on.

WWDD: Outside of the support group, what else worked for you?

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Amber with her certification of completed her reiki level one

AD: I found different counselors who had offered different things for me but the traditional counselling wasn’t working for me so I took a different avenue of finding more holistic therapies. Holistic therapies had always been an interest of mine but at the time I didn’t know the right people to help me. So then one day you and I were sitting there having coffee and you received a message about Andrea Kehler and we both reached out and started Googling who this Andrea Kehler was and we both made our separate appointments with her. That was a huge turning point, I’ll speak for you too, in both of our lives. She is a goddess. That really changed things. So from her I got into acupuncture and reiki and angel reiki and then I got into the Effective Freedom Tapping Technique with a woman Andrea introduced me to named Manon Sookeroff. That really worked for me because when you’re doing breathing exercises it’s a very still, very turn-off-your-mind activity and when you’re in those moments (of PPD/PPA/PPP) there’s no possible way of turning that off whereas EFT is very physical therapy that really helps.  I had learned to do really physical activities because mindless techniques weren’t working for me so I would imagine putting all of my emotions, all of my feelings, things that no longer served me into a baseball and my husband hitting that specific baseball out of the park and I would let it all go. I did this every night before bed. It was very visual things I did that helped.

WWDD: Where are you now in life with your PPA/PPD/PPP?

AD: I do drive again. I don’t highway drive too much yet. I still do a lot of journaling and reading. I keep my mind very occupied now when I have some downtime. I still use my tapping pretty much every day. I went on a holiday this winter and I tapped in the airport. It helps and it’s whatever works for me.
A lot of talking about it really helps now. In the spring of last year, after I had graduated from my [support] group one of the teachers asked me if would be interested in talking about my situation because I think it was a unique one in that it was borderline psychosis but it was not psychosis. In my situation, I wasn’t sad at first so it was hard to identity. My husband and I went on TV and talked about what my experience was like and tried to raise awareness.

That is what really made me feel like this is where I wanted to go in my life. I want to help people.

I was introduced to crystals and I started making bracelets and just trying to help people through mental health and raise awareness for other people. I’ve been going out to some communities and doing workshops and talking about PPD/PPA/PPP. We’re now trying to start a men’s group too because fathers are going through this with the moms too. I can’t even imagine what my husband went through at that time.

WWDD: That’s a great idea! What kind of feedback are you getting from the workshops?

AD: Very positive feedback. It’s actually amazing. I really want to raise awareness especially about how different it is for each person. It’s not just the ‘baby blues’ as they used to call it. It’s different now. There’s so much pressure now to be this idea of this super mom and the world we live in is changed. It’s so much different than when our grandparents raised our parents.

WWDD: What is your mission now?

AD: It isn’t an umbrella. This isn’t a one shoe fits everybody. It’s so different for everyone. I want to raise awareness of this so women don’t end up in my situation. I just never want someone to feel alone in this. If I could dream really big I’d start a clinic for women with PPA/PPD/PPP, like a one stop shop.

You Google, like I did, postpartum depression/anxiety Saskatoon and literally nothing comes up. There’s nothing for that outside the Mental Health team.

I want a place you can walk into with your baby and someone will grab her off your hip and another woman is going to take you in a room and say, “Cry, sweetheart, we’re here for you.” That’s what I want for women. But for right now, I am still focusing on myself. I still battle anxiety and I still have tough days. But I am taking my reiki right now and eventually I’d like to take my reiki masters. From there, open my clinic! I’m so fortunate to have met the people I have on this journey that maybe I can make this clinic happen.

WWDD: Why don’t you think there’s not a lot of resources, awareness or education on PPA? Do you think this is a new thing?

AD: I do think it’s a newer thing. We live in a different world (than our grandparents/parents). When my grandma had eight children, I’m sure she was never under the pressure we are under today with two children. They had the older kids looking after the younger ones. We are all about social media now. One mom is making everything from scratch for her little girl and you don’t think you’re doing that good because you didn’t make that but I’m sorry, my kid is eating chicken nuggets tonight because mommy’s not feeling good. You’re so worried and comparing to other people. People are so judgmental of each other and especially of parenting. Parenting is so different for everyone. What works for me may not work for you and that’s okay.

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WWDD: What would you say is the best thing you can do for yourself going through this?

AD: Reach out for help, talk to somebody whether that’s your family doctor or someone from mental health. I suggest mental health because there is, and unfortunately will always be, a stigma around mental health that people won’t understand. You don’t need a referral so just call mental health. Be persistent. Honour yourself. If you’re not getting the help you think you deserve or your doctor isn’t answering the questions you need, be persistent. Go find another doctor. I went through a lot of counselors because I felt some weren’t getting me, some were judging me. Be persistent.

WWDD: You’re standing in front of a crowd of 10,000 mothers, what would you tell them?

AD: Put yourself ahead of everyone else. That is the least selfless thing you can do because you cannot take care of anyone unless you take care of yourself. I think it’s so important to take care of you first.

No matter what, take care of you.

Otherwise you could end up in a situation like me. When I look back at the first three months of baby’s life I don’t ever remember any ‘me’ time or even going on a date with my husband. I didn’t take any ‘me’ time. It’s so important especially if you’re going through something like this. Know that there is help out there and know that you need to take care of yourself.

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The Daniels’ family, happier and healthier than ever before!

WWDD: What don’t you do?

AD: I don’t deny my PPA. I DO NOT deny it. I laughed with the TV reporter and had said, “If I could wear a T-shirt that said I have PPA and PPD I would have” because it made me feel so much better to finally talk about it. I didn’t have to cry in my bedroom anymore or cry behind closed doors. It just made me feel so much better to say, “Here I am and this is what’s going on.”

*If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health in any way, click here for the Saskatoon Mental Health website or call them at 1.306.655.4100*

 

 

 

United we rise,

-K

 

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