Anatomy of an Anxiety Attack

I had an anxiety attack today.  My first in many months.  One of only a few I’ve had since my son was born.

After my daughter’s birth, they were a regular occurrence.  I was treated for postpartum anxiety and depression and felt the walls closing in on me on a regular basis.  It’s not a great feeling.

But this time around, my disposition has been pretty great overall.  No major mood swings or blue spells.  I’ve been optimistic despite our constant financial troubles, and haven’t really let too much get to me.  I’ve been in a good place.

So today came out of left field.  I wasn’t prepared for it and didn’t handle it well.  I ended up on my parents’ doorstep, sobbing hysterically and begging for help with the kids.  The entire time I’d been driving over there, I hadn’t been able to stay on top of my breathing.  It was like being in labor.  That feeling you have when your contractions are overwhelming you and you cannot catch your breath.

My vision kept shifting from clear to tunnel.  My hands and face felt numb.  I kept repeating the same thing over and over again, screaming “What?  What?”  I wasn’t asking anybody a question.  It was just something that came out.  It terrified my poor toddler, and I’m sure the infant was freaked out, too.

Life is just a little overwhelming right now.  We have a lot of big changes going on and I feel as though the weight of it rests entirely on my shoulders.  All of the decisions that have led to this point have been mine.  It was my decision to leave my job; my decision to leave our house so that I could stay at home to raise our children.  I am 99% satisfied with the choices that I’ve made, but that one percent of me tickles my brain from time to time, asking, “Did I really do the right thing?”

Whether or not I did the right thing was the star of today’s anxiety-riddled sideshow.  I was pondering this very question while sitting on a park bench at the playground, my toddler climbing a slide slick with last night’s rainfall nearby.  And, of course, she slipped and fell, hitting her head and screaming in pain for several minutes.

Image

Typically, my daughter is a master of playground equipment. Here she is on a different, sunnier day (in more ways than one) than today.

I knew I shouldn’t have taken her to a wet playground.  I knew better than that.  I should have been wearing the baby in the Ergo so that I could have supervised her more closely with two free hands, ready to help her.  But I wasn’t.  I wasn’t there.  I made a bad decision and it resulted in her getting hurt.

And suddenly, the knot on the back of my little girl’s head was a metaphor for my whole life.  Look at all these bad decisions I make.  Look how I screw everything up. 

The next thing I knew, I was crawling along at 25 mph in a 40 mph zone, terrified of giving the gas pedal any more pressure for fear that we’d veer off the road.  Drivers behind me honked and waved their hands in frustration while my heart raced and my skin went clammy.  There was nothing I could do to stop it.  I had to just let it run its course, run through me, and eventually run out of me.

Why am I sharing this?  Honestly, I don’t really know.  Maybe because writing about it is cathartic for me.  Maybe so that if you, too, suffer from a postpartum mood disorder then you’ll know that you’re not alone.  All I know is that feels good to put it on paper.  And I’m not afraid of it.

I’ve been through this before, and it was a hundred times worse than this the first time.  I know what to do, I know what changes I need to make in my life.  I’ve worked with an immeasurably helpful postpartum therapist in the past and I intend to implement the same measures that worked then, now.  Among these include:

  • Eliminate caffeine.  Caffeine is an upper, and can trigger or aggravate anxiety.
  • Eliminate processed foods and refined sugars.  I try so hard to do this already, but have slipped lately.  It’s an ongoing battle that I don’t think I’ll ever conquer.  But for right now, I know that my body needs more whole foods and less junk.  It always, always, always makes me feel better emotionally to feed myself healthy, nutrient-rich foods.
  • Exercise more.  This almost goes without saying.  Endorphins are mood-busters.  Exercise is nearly always the answer – or part of the answer – to any problem.
  • Supplement with Vitamin B12, Omega-3 Fatty Acids (preferably cod liver oil), and herbal remedies as needed.  Passionflower is great for anxiety, as is skullcap, catnip, and lavender.
  • Get 15 minutes of direct sunlight each day.  This should be no problem if I can get a handle on exercising.
  • Take a break.  Ask for help.  Hand the kids over to the husband or to the grandparents and go into a room, shut the door, and read a book.  Or nap.  Or knit.  Or watch a TV show on Hulu.  You get the idea.  Just take some time away from Motherhood.  It’ll still be there when I get back.

These are the tips that have worked for me in the past, though they might not work for everyone (and they are NOT intended to be medical advice).  Some people may do best with prescription medication, or with meditation.  I know myself Imagepretty well and I know that I suck at meditating and that I can’t tolerate the side effects of pharmaceuticals.  So this is the plan of action I intend to take for me and for my circumstances.

The silver lining about having a postpartum mood disorder the second time around is that you know what to expect, and you know how to treat it.  I’m not suggesting that I have postpartum anxiety again – I suspect that mine is more of a case of situational anxiety due to some of the huge life changes that are happening right now.  But it gives me peace and optimism to have a game plan, to know that I can survive it again if I have to.

Stocking the Birth Day Pantry

I’m just one day shy of 34 weeks pregnant now, which completely blows my mind.  It also means that I’ve gone into nesting mode.

In addition to laundering adorable, tiny outfits, part of my nesting has included preparing for the birth itself.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, we’re planning a homebirth for O’Baby’s arrival, but most of what I’m putting together for my Birth Day Pantry can easily translate to a hospital or birth center birth.

Nourishment

A woman who has an average-length, unmedicated labor will essentially put her body through the physical equivalent of running a marathon.  And since even the most veteran runners can’t complete those 26.2 miles without a pit stop or two for some sustenance, it stands to reason that pregnant women should plan to have some snacks and drinks on hand to maintain her energy levels, despite what the archaic “no eating during labor” hospital rules might suggest.  To my Birth Day Pantry, I’ve added:

Energy-boosting drinks & snacks

  • Luna Protein Bars.  Any protein bar will do; I just happen to love their flavors and the fact that they don’t taste like melted plastic, like so many other energy bars tend to.
  • Recharge Energy Drinks.  Maintaining the body’s stores of electrolytes and potassium during labor is critical, and sometimes hydrating with water alone can be insufficient (read more here).  I love these because they’re made with all-natural fruit juices and no sugar or artificial ingredients, giving you an electrolyte boost without the sugar crash.
  • Coconut Water.  These are excellent to have on hand for labor and especially for when you’re basking in the afterglow of a post-birth high.  The reputed benefit of coconut water is that it is a “’pure’ balance of sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium but is high in electrolyte potassium, unlike coconut milk. (Pure because it is apparently almost identical to blood plasma, and has been used for IV transfusion in cases of emergency and during WWII)” (source: http://bit.ly/hwSS5e).  I chugged two containers of this stuff after B was born and it seemed to instantly melt away the headache that came on suddenly once the birth high wore off.

Natural First Birth Aid Remedies

Next, we have what I consider some basic “first aid” essentials.  I’m not talking about band-aids; these are homeopathic, aromatherapeutic, and natural remedies for some of the speed bumps that’ll pop up on the Birth Highway.

Natural remedies can be helpful during childbirth.

  • Evening Primrose Oil:  This is a multipurpose addition to your Birth Day Pantry.  Taking an EPO supplement orally – even vaginally, if indicated as okay by your provider – after 37 weeks gestation can help ripen your cervix.  The oil-filled capsules can also be punctured and you can use the oil within as a natural lubricant for intercourse or as a medium for perineum massage (click here for instructions).  Keep them handy during labor as the oil can be used to gently help stretch your perineum and vagina during the pushing stage, as well.
  • Aromatherapy Spray:  Keep this within arm’s reach for a quick pick-me-up or a soothing relaxant during labor.  Alternately, you can use a few drops of pure essential oil on a washcloth or the inside of your wrist (be sure to test this before the big day to make sure you don’t have any allergic reactions).  Learn about the many different types of essential oils and pick a fragrance that suits your taste and the effect you’re seeking.  Lavender, for example, is widely known for having a calming effect and would be ideal for labor.  I, however, am a much bigger fan of patchouli and so chose a spray that I knew I would enjoy.  Bonus: the sweet orange in this blend is known for its cheering, refreshing effect.  An instant pick-me-up!
  • Rescue Remedy Spray:  I’ve been skeptical about this stuff for years, but after using it for the last few weeks I have to say that, whether the effect is placebo or real, it actually does calm me down.  This could be very useful for those moments when your “flight” response is smacking the hell out of your “fight” response (e.g.: “I’ve changed my mind.  I don’t want a baby anymore.  Let’s just go back to bed and pretend this never happened.”)  A few quick sprays on the tongue and you’ve got your focus back.
  • Arnica:  Also known as leopard’s bane, arnica is a widely used anti-inflammatory, helping to soothe swelling and promote tissue repair.  For this reason, it’s ideal for speeding up postpartum healing.  I would strongly recommend purchasing a combo pack of both the gel and the homeopathic pellets to really reap the benefits of this plant’s healing powers.  Our Bradley instructor for B’s birth gave the best tip for using arnica gel postpartum: smear a line of it down the center of a clean maxi pad (like you’re distributing toothpaste on a toothbrush), then use the pad as normal.  The gel instantly cools a mom’s sore bottom and continues to heal the skin as she wears the pad.  For pellet dosage, follow manufacturer’s instructions.

In the Kitchen

Finally, here are a couple of things that will be happening in my kitchen before and during the birth.  (For out-of-home births, simply mix a batch of herbs for your Triple Blessing tea and store in an airtight container ahead of time; then brew a cup once you return home.  Out-of-home birthers can also pre-mix the dry ingredients for the Groaning Cake and store in a mason jar for speedy preparation during early labor.  If your intent is to labor at home during this stage before heading to the hospital, it’s certainly possible you may have time to bake the bread loaves – just don’t forget to turn off the oven on your way out the door in case things pick up more quickly than expected!)

Dried herbs for galactagogue tea infusion

  • Triple Blessing Brew:  This recipe for a tea infusion comes from renowned herbalist Susun Weed.  The ingredients used are each considered galactagogues, or a substance that increases breastmilk supply.  As mentioned above, simply pre-mix the blend of herbs and store until ready for use.  In early labor, you can brew a batch or two per the instructions on Susun’s website, then reheat as needed to drink after baby’s born to encourage your milk to come in.  If you have it, sweeten the tea with a bit of blackstrap molasses for an extra boost of iron.  I can hardly think of anything more wonderful than sipping a warm cup of tea while cradling a sweet, tiny newborn in my arms, can you?
  • Groaning Cake:  I am so, so excited to bake this.  I only hope that I actually have enough focus and enough time to get it done during the big day (though, I doubt I’ll complain if my labor is so quick that this gets overlooked).  I learned about Groaning Cake when reading The Birth House by Ami McKay, a lovely novel and a must-read for any birth junkie.  According to McKay, “the tradition of the groaning cake, or kimbly, at (or following) a birth is an ancient one.  Wives’ tales say that the scent of a groaning cake being baked in the birth house helps to ease the mother’s pain. Some say if a mother breaks the eggs while she’s aching, her labour won’t last as long.” (source and recipe: http://bit.ly/nkk0TT)  I love baking — and eating — and I’m all about easing pain and shortening my labor, so what have I got to lose?  Plus, I’m rather enamored with the idea of carrying on an ancient tradition since we are, in a way, having a bit of an old-fashioned birth.

So, now you know what I’ll be eating, drinking, doing, and smearing on my Kotex pads when I give birth to my son in (eek!) 3-6+ weeks.  Hopefully you’ll be able to borrow an item or two from my “Pantry” for your own pregnancy, birth, or postpartum experience.  In fact, if you’re reading this because you, too, are gestating a little gymnast in your belly as we speak, I’d like to wish you and yours a very happy, healthy Birth Day.

Suzanne