Michelle's Story

First of all, I want to let you know that you are not alone. I promise you, it gets better. I'll tell you what happened to me and I hope that in some way it will help bring you comfort that the darkness does turn to light and you will be your happy self again.

Colten's birth was traumatic for me. He was my 4th and I knew I was having another c-section, like I'd had with the other 3 boys, so I felt prepared and wasn't worried at all. Everything leading up to him actually being born was exactly what I expected. I was moved to a room and waited for him to be brought to me. I slept on and off for a couple hours and nurses would come in and check on me. One nurse who had a lot of experience, alerted the doctor that I was bleeding too heavily. They checked my blood count and it was low and they were concerned. They told me if they couldn't get the bleeding stopped, they'd have to do a hysterectomy and were telling me I needed a blood transfusion. Growing up in the 80's, there was always commercials and things on about HIV and I'd grown up with my worst fear being that I would get it. The blood transfusion they were trying to get me to agree to, felt like a death sentence, but slow and horrible. I was sure I would get HIV from it. I was so afraid of it that I refused to get blood until my blood count had dropped so low that they told me I could go in to cardiac arrest at any moment. Jon and my Mom insisted I get the blood, so I reluctantly agreed. That should be the end of the story, but I'd always been so afraid of diseases, that I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that I had a strangers blood in my body. I wouldn't let Colten breastfeed because I thought I would give him a disease from the transfusion. I obsessed over this for several weeks, but Jon was home on paternity leave for those weeks, so I was occupied and had him to keep me company.

When he finally went back to work, it was 3 weeks after Colten's birth and the postpartum depression was just starting. I started having small panic attacks, which I'd had before and wasn't that concerned about. I thought they would eventually go away. One day, I was reading a news story, and at the bottom, there was a link to another news story about newborn twins who had both had a blood transfusion at birth, which was very recent, and both had gotten HIV from it. That story lead me to look up HIV and the medical websites said that it could take months to show up after being infected. That information threw me into the worst 6 months of my life. I was convinced that I had HIV and that I was going to accidentally give it to Jon and the kids by living in the same house. It isn't even rational now when I think about it, but then it was very real to me and terrifying.

I started having such intense panic attacks that I could not sit still. I would try to just sit on the couch and I couldn't. I would pace the house from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed. Sleeping was hard, but if I did fall asleep, I would have surges of adrenaline when I was sleeping that would jolt me awake, like an electric shock. I would jump right out of bed and start pacing again. I didn't eat, because I was incapable of swallowing food. I would try to eat and couldn't. I had a hard time taking care of the kids. I don't even remember how I did it. I know I went to Grandma's house a lot, because part of it was during spring break. I was barely functioning. I would tell Jon that he should've just let me die in the hospital. I felt this darkness and dread every second of every day. Night time was the worst, when everybody was in bed and I was left alone with my thoughts. My heart would race. The only way I know how to describe what my heart racing felt like is to say it was like something scary unexpectedly jumped out at me. That would happen probably 50 times a day. Just sudden pounding heart, what felt like an adrenaline rush, and I would have to pace because I couldn't sit still.

Jon, my Mom and my doctor noticed I was in a bad state of mind, and my doctor got me in to an outpatient program for mental health. I started an antidepressant. The first antidepressant actually made the panic attacks 10 times worse. I had to switch after only two days to another antidepressant. I went to group therapy during the day and Jon had taken family medical leave, so he was home with me at night. During that time, the panic attacks continued. After a couple of weeks, I noticed I was starting to be able to function. I could eat food again. I could relax and sit down without pacing. My heart quit pounding and I stopped being jolted awake at night by adrenaline rushes. I stayed on the antidepressant through the next couple of months and decided when the boys got out of school that summer, I would try and go off of the medication. I did end up being able to go off of it and I was fine, until January came again. That time of year reminded me of my horrible experience after Colten's birth and I started having panic attacks again, although they weren't as bad this time. I once again went back on the antidepressant. I stayed on it again until summer and then went off of it. I had to repeat that process the following winter, as that time of year triggered it. A few years after Colten's birth, I started exercising and that helped me a lot. I was able to go off of the antidepressant for good. I haven't had a panic attack in at least a couple years. At the time that they were happening, I never thought they would go away and I would feel like myself again. I even contemplated killing myself, because I thought it would spare Jon and the kids.

I'm so glad that I never acted on any of those thoughts. Life is good now. I'm happy and the world feels bright and sunny. I still occasionally have down days, but I think that's pretty normal. Even the down days are nothing like the days I had almost 6 years ago.

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