I really thought the next blog post I wrote would be about Noah’s birth.
Instead, it’s about mine.
Two weeks ago today, I was sitting in the overcrowded Emergency Room at the largest hospital in Charlotte, NC.
Earlier that morning, I paged my midwife to tell her that I couldn’t do it anymore.
I couldn’t deal with the anxiety, sleeplessness, and not being able to eat.
I couldn’t take care of my kids.
I desperately needed help.
Believe it or not, I really didn’t see this coming. I had done all the things I could do to prevent postpartum anxiety/depression from happening. I started seeing a counselor while I was pregnant with Noah in order to establish a relationship should I need to see someone after he arrived, to prepare for the stress of adding another person to our family, and to find ways to help Isaac adjust. I was honest with my midwives about my lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression. I had help in place for three weeks after the babies arrival so that I wouldn’t get overwhelmed with taking care of both my tinies by myself. After Noah was born and I started to feel things I didn’t want to feel, I told my doctors, my friends, Tony, and my counselor. In order to try and help alleviate my feelings of anxiety, I went for walks almost every day. I got out in the sunshine. I did things on my own to get some space.
I was doing all the things I could think of. Sometimes it helped. Sometimes it didn’t.
I had okay days, bad days, and really bad days.
After a month of not sleeping much, not hardly eating, and feeling more and more anxious and hopeless as the days went on I knew I needed more help. I was having trouble bonding with Noah because of all the anxiety I was feeling. I was resenting him for how I was feeling and how my whole life seemed to have crumbled since his arrival. I was hating motherhood and daydreaming about living in a quiet dark cave on a deserted island. I even daydreamed about being in the hospital. A place where people would take care of me instead of me taking care of people.
My midwife suggested I try an antidepressant and I did so gladly; praying this would help.
Anything to stop feeling this pit of dread in my stomach all the time.
After a few days on the medication I started to feel a bit better. I wasn’t so “on edge”, but I still wasn’t eating and sleeping well. One morning two weeks after beginning my medication, I woke up at 3am filled with overwhelming anxiety and it didn’t go away. Each night I would wake up in the early hours with this same feeling and it would follow me the rest of the day. One Saturday morning I paged my midwife at 7am because the thought of going through one more day like this was so overwhelming to me that I couldn’t stand it. She talked with me for a long time, reassuring me that this is only temporary, and recommended I up my dose to see if it would help.
I wish it had helped, but it didn’t.
Things got worse.
I couldn’t eat more than a few bites of food without feeling like I was going to throw up. I didn’t want to be left alone with my kids because the thought of caring for them was more than I could handle. The anxiety was keeping me up at night and unable to function in the daytime.
I was at my breaking point.
On the day I ended up in the hospital, Tony had to stay home from work. When he woke up that morning I told him I couldn’t take care of the kids and that I needed to see my doctor right away. The best way to describe what I felt is to say that it felt like my body and mind were shutting down on me. It wasn’t long into my appointment with my midwife when she looked at me and told me she thought the best course of action for me was to get some inpatient help at a hospital. She explained that although she can help treat mild cases of postpartum anxiety/depression, she is not an expert on medication and therefore I would need to see a psychiatrist. The only issue with that is that it is a 6-8 week wait to see a psychiatrist for non-urgent/emergent issues.
I couldn’t wait that long. I couldn’t even wait one more day.
When my midwife was telling me about getting inpatient help at a hospital it sounded like a dream to be quite honest. Someone would help me find the right medication, I would get some rest, some nutrition, some counseling. She told me she would recommend Tony go with me to get settled in and that she would call ahead and let them know I was coming.
In my mind, I was going to waltz right in to the ER, tell them how horrible I was feeling, and then get quickly whisked away to meet with someone that would fix my meds, get me in my jammies, and off to a wonderful deep sleep.
That’s not what happened ya’ll.
Quickly after arriving at the ER, I realized there would be no waltzing in or jammies or deep sleeping in my near future. There would be waiting and lots of it. After I told the nurses why I was there (I said the “D” word…depression) they promptly had me remove all my clothes, took them from me, and told me that I was not allowed to hold my purse or bags that I had brought. A security guard came and scanned me to make sure I didn’t have any weapons on me. Next, I was outfitted with a bracelet that would sound an alarm should I try to leave without being discharged.
This is the first step of the protocol they go through when you come into the ER saying you are depressed, even if you make it quite clear that you don’t have any thoughts of harming yourself or others (which was the case for me, but some women do feel like harming themselves and others and those feelings are normal symptom of PPD/PPA/PPP and no one should feel ashamed that they feel that way).
I probably should have told them that I was still lactating because I promptly soaked a noticeable milk circle into my hospital gown.
All the rooms were full so I was put on a bed in the hallway of the “psych” section of the ER.
They drew blood, they took a urine sample. Nurses and doctors were flying by me at break-neck speeds and no one ever knew who was coming to see anyone or when they were coming.
So we waited.
For 10 hours.
At hour 6.5 we finally had a brief, rushed meeting with the one and only psych nurse in the whole hospital.
At hour 8 we finally got to meet a psychiatrist. “Meet” is actually not the best word to use when your consultation is done via telecom, but we got to talk to someone none-the-less. She talked with me for 20 minutes, told me to stop my current meds and gave me a new one to start. She asked me if I felt “safe” to go home. I told her I hadn’t eaten or slept for 4 days and didn’t feel unsafe or safe to go home and would like to stay overnight in order to get some rest.
At hour 10 they finally had a room for me. It was 11pm at night and no food besides Lance crackers had been eaten and no sleep had taken place. There wasn’t any room on the psych floor so they put me on a post-surgical floor.
“Is this the sitter patient?”
I looked up at the kind stranger standing in the doorway of my room; confused by the words she was saying to my nurse.
My nurse asked her for a few minutes with me first.
It was in those few minutes that she explained to me that although I had been adamant that I didn’t want to harm myself or others, my telepsych doctor had decided to involuntarily commit me and therefore I was on suicide watch and would have a person sitting with me in my room 24 hours a day.
I wasn’t a mom in need of rest, food, and new meds.
I was a “sitter patient”.
That’s what they call patients that come in saying they are depressed and are therefore given a “sitter” to make sure they don’t harm themselves or others.
I was so tired and numb by this point that I only argued a little bit and then gave up. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t leave. Tony had been with me up until they told me that they were going to keep me overnight and would have a room for me “shortly” so I was alone and at the mercy of my nurses.
I asked for something to help me sleep so that I wouldn’t think about the fact that there was a stranger sitting next to me all night.
They gave me my meds at 1am and off I went to dreamland.
I slept like a rock until the next morning at 10am. I awoke very groggy from the medication. The “sitter” was someone new.
I immediately pushed the nurse call button and asked to see my nurse right away. When she came in I told her that I was upset and confused that I hadn’t seen anyone yet that had thoroughly explained what was happening with me and when I would see a doctor that could help me. I told them that after that long wait in the ER, I still didn’t know what was wrong with me and I was much more anxious than I was when I arrived.
I asked to see a patient advocate and a doctor right away.
I texted Tony who hadn’t heard from me since he left the night before and told him that they had involuntarily committed me and that I was concerned about what was going on. He had to leave work (again!) to come back to the hospital to be with me and find out what was going on.
Before he arrived a parade of nurses came through my room after hearing I was upset. They each listened to me and assured me that I had done the right thing by coming to the hospital and that I would get the help I needed.
It was shortly after Tony arrived that a doctor came to see me and she explained the protocol to Tony and I which explained why things happened the way they did. I talked with a patient advocate, not to complain about the people that had cared for me, but about the system in place for people like me. I needed help, but I wasn’t what you would consider an acute emergency. People like me had to wait. And wait. And wait to be seen. I explained how disappointing it is to see what people with mental illness have to go through to get help and each one of them agreed with me.
By midafternoon, I finally saw a wonderful psychiatrist that took his time with us and did such an amazing job of helping me. I left the hospital that day feeling hopeful that things really would get better.
And thankfully, it has!
Perhaps you’re wondering how this is a story about my birth.
Going through this current bout of anxiety has shown me not only so much about myself, but about my friends and family.
The part of me that wanted to be self-sufficient and not need help had to die and the new Katie who accepts any and all offers of help was born.
The part of me that thought that if I just did all the right things and prepared as much as possible, I could control whether I would have to deal with anxiety and/or depression, had to die as well. The new Katie that is learning to live life in the midst of uncertainty was born.
The part of me that wondered if “church people” really are as nice and helpful as they claim to be had to die because my “church people” came through for me in ways that I could have never imagined they would. The new Katie that doesn’t call people “church people” anymore was born and a new trust and willingness to be vulnerable with those that love me and that I love was born.
The part of me that is afraid to share this story with you because she doesn’t want to be labeled as “crazy” had to die because this story needs to be told. The new Katie that is working to trust in God’s plans more than her own was born. If He leads me to share this, than He will use it for good things even if people do think I’m crazy.
If you or someone you know is experiencing anxiety or depression and needs to be seen in the emergency room, please don’t let my story make you afraid to get the help you or they need. I want to share my experience, not to scare people away from getting help, but to shed some light on our great need for changes in our healthcare system regarding mental illness. I also believe that we as the church need to be talking about mental illness more often. There is still a stigma attached to seeking counseling and/or taking medication should you need to in order to get mentally healthy. I have heard people in church say that they don’t need counseling or medication because they have Jesus. Hearing that always made me feel so ashamed because of my own struggles. I “have” Jesus too, but I also have anxiety and depression.
I believe that Jesus heals, but I don’t believe it always looks the way we want it to look.
Sometimes He heals instantly, and sometimes healing is a process.
When Jesus heard about Lazarus being very ill, He didn’t go to him immediately. His disciples and friends were so confused. Lazarus and his family were close with Jesus, why didn’t He rush there and heal Lazarus?
Healing was coming.
Just not soon enough for Lazarus and his friends and family.
Not in the way they wanted.
At the time they couldn’t have imagined a good reason for Jesus not coming right away and healing His friend.
They couldn’t see the bigger picture.
The healing hadn’t happened yet.
The miracle was in process.
Jesus loved Lazarus, but this was about more than Lazarus. Jesus wasn’t just wanting to raise him from the dead, He was wanting to raise everyone from the dead. Every miracle or move of God is always about more than just us.
Sometimes in order to save many, there must be sacrifice by the one.
If I had to go through my ordeal at the ER in order to see the need for change and better support for those suffering with mental health issues, then it was worth it.
If I had to go through weeks of horrible anxiety so that I could help others find their way through the fog and pain, then it was worth it.
If I had to reach the end of myself in order to find out just how many people are there to help me and my family, then it was worth it.
I couldn’t see the purpose in the middle of the pain, but I see now that God has used what was meant to harm me for not just my good, but for the good of many.
I truly don’t believe that God caused any of this, or in any way wants me to have pain and suffering. I also don’t believe that I did anything wrong to “cause” this to happen to me. I couldn’t have prepared more or prayed more or been a better mother.
I am proud of myself for being willing to do the hard work of healing and getting help. In fact, I’ve never been prouder of myself. I’ve done a lot of slow and painful work over these last few years and especially most recently, in order to heal myself. It takes a strong person to show their weaknesses and be vulnerable. I have done that and will continue to do it. Not just for myself, but for my family, friends, and the world that needs me to be who God created me to be.
I may struggle with anxiety and depression, but it doesn’t define me.
My Creator defines me.
He knit me together in my mother’s womb and has had a purpose for my life since before the foundations of the Earth.
Struggling with anxiety isn’t my purpose, but within that struggle I have found my purpose.
That purpose is to take the hand of those that are suffering with mental illness and lead them through the fog and hopelessness. To be their advocate and encourager. To show them that they are not alone and that the Lord has not abandoned them. To help them find healing and live the life they were created to live.
If I can help one person by sharing my story, then it was all worth it.
Please, if you are in need of help, don’t give up. Try another medication. See another doctor. Sit in the ER for 10 hours. Don’t stop. Don’t give up. The miracle, the healing, is in process. There is hope. You are not alone.
Come take my hand and let’s get well together.