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Perinatal Mental Health Week: medication is a viable treatment option for struggling mums

"I’ve been on Sertraline for a year now but have suffered from anxiety for many years. Once I fell pregnant, my thinking had changed as I had come to realise I need to be healthy and stay alive in order to care for my baby. Though before she was even here the overthinking had begun. Halfway through my pregnancy my anxiety started to increase. Dirty dishes and unfolded clothes caused panic attacks that I had no control over. Though it wasn’t until the end of my pregnancy when my anxiety really heightened. If my husband was 10 minutes late home from work I would conclude something terrible happened to him on the drive home. I would then start to panic and think about how I’m going to support my family without my husband, only to have him knock on the door 2 minutes later. I started having multiple anxiety attacks daily to the point where I had to stop everything to focus on calming myself down, though every time I had an anxiety attack, I convinced myself that it was actually a heart attack and I was about to die. No breathing techniques, guided meditation or running of hubby’s fingers over my body could calm me down. I just had to sit with it until it passed on its own. Throughout the night I would wake constantly and need hubby to come outside for fresh air and to massage me as a distraction from my thinking as I would convince myself there was not enough air in our room for me to able to breathe properly. This would then cause an anxiety attack, which triggered heart palpitations that I thought was a heart attack. I felt scared of every little thing without knowing it was only about to get worse. I gave birth to my baby girl on November 17th 2020. During those first precious moments my fear of dying never came to mind, and then we went home. It hit me that I now have a dependent who cannot survive without me, so every little headache, pulsing sensation, rash = I’m dying. Because of this conclusion, I would plan in my head who my baby would live with and I’d even go as far as imagining the conversations hubby and her would have about me where he explains to her what I was like.

I jumped to conclusions about my health so often that we had multiple hospital visits. While I was pregnant I experienced a sharp pain in my ribs, which I thought was the pain of a blood clot in the lungs, so I had xrays done only for the doctors to say it would have likely been baby’s foot. While my baby was just a few weeks old, I got hubby to drive us to the hospital at 4am in the morning as I developed what I thought was a sepsis rash from my postpartum infection. I specifically told him to speed to the hospital because my life was in danger. Once we got there, no one treated me as though I was I’m a life-threatening situation, so I started to calm down. The nurses then asked if I was breastfeeding as a potential covid case was in emergency and they didn’t want my baby there. Because I was breastfeeding they had us moved into the injury section of the hospital, which was when I realised nothing was wrong with me and that the rash was skin irritation from my perfume. So we left the hospital but I was more anxious than when we arrived as I was thought my family and I contracted covid because of the covid case at the hospital where we were. We had no symptoms of it, though I was constantly having crying episodes as I was sure we were about to start showing symptoms any day now.

The anxious thinking just wouldn’t stop. I never wanted hubby to go anywhere because I was afraid I would choke on my food and die while he was gone. Any breathing changes my baby had resulted in a hospital visit where they would reassure me it was just a bit mucus in her windpipe. For the first 2 weeks of my baby’s life, I made us move our mattress downstairs into the lounge room because I would wake up breathless in our bedroom thinking there was no air. All this overthinking was just so exhausting, so I booked an appointment with my doctor. I spent over a year avoiding medication as I was scared of it and also thought it wouldn’t work.

But I didn’t know of anything else that could help keep me calm. After two weeks on Sertraline, I noticed a huge change in my thinking. I would still have my anxious thoughts, but my body stopped reacting. I finally felt in control. That’s when I realised my anxious thinking and my responses to those thoughts weren’t actually who I was as a person, but rather how I conditioned myself to think, meaning it was possible to change my whole thought process. That’s when I was referred to a psychologist and started opening up to other women about the extremes of my anxiety only to find out that they are currently experiencing or have experienced the same thing to some degree.

Although, I don’t want to be on medication forever, it is definitely something that has harnessed my thoughts and quick responses to those thoughts. It has put steps between the issue and the conclusion, rather than jumping straight to the conclusion. Sharing my experiences and finding others who relate has helped me feel not so secluded and alone in my situation. Knowing there’s others out there who go through the same thing has contributed to my mental health wellbeing in some way. So keep on sharing to raise awareness and in hopes to assist someone else with their mental health journey."

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