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It all began seven years ago. I had recently moved from Brooklyn to Lakewood. I had lived in Brooklyn my entire life, all my family and friends lived there.We moved for my husband’s job and because housing in Brooklyn was unaffordable.
We had come home earlier that evening from a cousin’s child’s birthday party and were getting ready for bed. As I lay in bed I began to experience severe stomach pain, hot flashes, a racing heart, feeling like my throat was drying out and an overpowering sense of doom. I had never experienced this before and therefor thought it was the beginning of a virus or something and tried to get some sleep. Unfortunately these sensations would become more intense and frequent over the following few days. I went to my general doctor and he did a full exam, and found everything to be normal, and so he decided to run some labwork. A week later the results were in. Everything was normal- except it wasn’t. I had begun to lose weight, I was no longer able to concentrate at my job and every simple task became daunting. I found it difficult to make simple decisions like which brand of pasta to buy and found myself crying because I was stuck in the grocery aisle for ten minutes before pulling a box off the shelf.
I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know what it was. I kept dragging myself out of bed each morning and feeling as if I was a wind-up toy that needed constant restarting.
I went back to my doctor and upon running some more tests he told me he thought I was suffering from anxiety/ panic attacks. He wanted me to see a psychiatrist to be sure. I remember thinking- ‘psychiatrist?, me?, no way- im not crazy!- but desperate times call for desperate measures and I made an appointment .
The psychiatrist diagnosed me with panic disorder and generalized anxiety. He suggested that I first try to go to therapy and talk it over and if I wasn’t seeing real results he would prescribe medication.
I began therapy- I made sure the therapist was an hour drive away from Lakewood since I was terrified that anyone should possibly see me.
She was an excellent therapist, who really helped me a lot over the ten months I saw her, yet by six weeks I really wasn’t feeling a significant improvement. At this point the psychiatrist prescribed Lexapro 10mg. This class of medications generally takes six weeks to kick in. By six weeks later I felt a drop better but not much. I was then bumped up to 20 and eventually 30 mg. I took the medication religiously and began to feel functional again. Throughout this ordeal my husband was really amazing, he dropped off and picked up our toddler every day and then tried his best to entertain him when I didn’t have the strength.
After being on the medication for ten months and feeling good (other than the fact that I had put on thirty pounds- one of the side effects of the medication) I discussed the possibility of trying to get pregnant; with my psychiatrist)
He recommended that I wean off the medication slowly under his direction and then wait one month after I was fully off of it before trying, since there were possible birth defects associated.
So four months later I was all excited to begin to try, but Hashem had other plans. I began to experience all those horrible symptoms again. Only this time it was worse. In addition to the previous symptoms, I was now terrified of being alone in my home, I was unable to fall/stay asleep and I was so nauseous and was vomiting all the time. Of course my general doctor’s first thought was for me to take a pregnancy test- naturally it came out negative. I decided to go back to the psychiatrist. He recommended that I go back on the Lexapro. I was torn about this decision because I knew that meant putting my plans of pregnancy on the back burner.
I began to take the medication again but at six weeks I felt no different. My doctor decided that he was going to try to switch me to a different medication: Zoloft. The switch was a very lengthy process, since you cannot simply stop one and start another. Stopping any of these medications cold turkey can create a disaster. The Zoloft started to really work about three months in. During this whole time we moved into my mother in law’s house- yes you read that right!. She was unbelievable! I told her exactly what was going on and asked her to keep it a secret. The rest of the family thought I had a late stage miscarriage and was not dealing with it very well.
For three months I didn’t do any cooking, any laundry, didn’t run any errands, didn’t go to work. All I did was roam around an empty house for hours on end. It was the most horrible feeling in the world,. I would wait for the clock to move all day until 5:30 – when my mother in law and husband would get home from work. Even then, I felt so stupid because I was still roaming, only this time with three adults, three teenagers and my toddler watching me. I never felt more pitied before.
After three months- around Chanukah time, I began to develop an appetite, began to develop an interest in going back to work and re-entering into the real world! At this point I had lost thirty pounds and wherever I went people would comment- “you’re so lucky, you look amazing!” I remember thinking to myself- “I’ll take the thirty pounds any day rather than the hell I had been through!!
After being on the Zoloft for eight months I visited my OB and discussed the possibility of becoming pregnant. To my surprise she said that every third patient of hers was on it! I thought to myself- there are actually others in this world on this medication?- up until then I was convinced that I was the only one- in reality I knew that wasn’t the case but the loneliness caused by trying to keep it to yourself lest anyone g-d forbid find out is the worst feeling by far. As you watch the world pass you by and everyone looks like they are managing so perfectly, it makes you feel like you are a failure!
She discussed some rare complications and stressed that a healthy mother is a healthy baby and that by doing the best to take care of my mental and emotional state I would hopefully yield a healthy pregnancy and baby.
Baruch Hashem I went on to have two healthy children- a boy ten months later and girl two and half years after that.
Life was moving along smoothly. I was caring for three small children, feeling like the proverbial hamster on a wheel, but thankfully all was well.
About five months after my daughter was born I began experiencing the most horrible thoughts. The thoughts would come at random times; when I would feed the baby, when I would bathe her, when I would dress her and even when she was at her babysitter and I was at work. The thoughts were extremely disturbing – to the tune of- me wanting to kill my daughter. I began to question my sanity, maybe I wasn’t fit for being a mother anymore, and maybe I belonged in a psychiatric facility.
My husband said maybe I have postpartum depression. I nixed that because I was five months post-partum and as far as I knew , PPD occurred within the first two weeks of the baby’s life.
When I contacted my OB I was surprised to learn that PPD can occur up to one year post-partum and can present as obsessive thoughts rather than feeling “depressed”. My OB first ran lab work to make sure my thyroid wasn’t the culprit. It wasn’t, although my vitamin D level was low. I began to take supplements and tried to get as much outdoorsy time as possible (pretty hard in the dead of winter). But I was still having these awfully crippling thoughts.
I had seen this wonderful organization advertised called Yad Rachel. I was embarrassed to be a taker of chesed services, but I decided to reach out nonetheless. I was matched up with a wonderful therapist who helped me tremendously. However at six months into therapy those stupid thoughts would just not disappear.
I went back to my psychiatrist. He decided on prescribing Anafranil- a medication used to treat OCD. The most common side effect is constipation- which is extremely uncomfortable- but pales in comparison to thinking horrible things about your precious little princess.
After being on the medication for two months the thoughts had miraculously disappeared. I was now free to enjoy my delicious daughter.
It’s been three years and for the most part I feel good on most days. I’ve learned so much throughout this whole trial. I would never ask for this to happen to me, but in retrospect I’ve become a stronger person. I’ve learned that life doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s ok if you feed your kids macaroni for supper, if there are always dishes in the sink, and the laundry will wait for tomorrow. I’ve learned not to focus on the green grass on the other side because it’s all an illusion. So many are suffering silently and yet paste on a smile and go about their daily routines. I’ve learned that at the end of the day there really is no one who can help you other than Hashem and so ; pray, pray, pray!
As mothers we tend to get caught in the frenzied lifestyle that society has taught us and we don’t always slow down to appreciate the small but very important stuff.
I’ve entertained the thought of public speaking about my experience so that I could give chizzuk to others who are struggling, but I think my husband would die of humiliation as well as I want my kids to get married one day!
Sharing my story on this website is about as public as I will get, yet I really hope that people will glean hope and courage to forge ahead even when there seems to be no hope.