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Postpartum psychosis: I thought I would die if I closed my eyes

Readers Lounge By Chebet Birir
I am predisposed to mental illnesses like schizophrenia and postpartum depression/psychosis (Photo: Courtesy)

If you look at my family genogram, you will notice that I am predisposed to mental illnesses like schizophrenia and postpartum depression/psychosis.

After taking a class on the psychology of family and marriage during my fourth year at the university, I noticed that the genetic predisposition came from my maternal side of the family.

She had experienced several psychotic breaks during her child-bearing years and schizophrenia in the mid-80s. So I knew that there was a probability of getting into depression, but I just did not know it would hit me that hard.

I fell into postpartum psychosis a few weeks after delivering my first child in January 2017. Statistics show this psychosis is a rare mental illness that affects every two out of 1,000 women globally.

Think of postpartum psychosis as postpartum depression on steroids. My psychiatrist, Dr Jackline MMochi, explains it as a psychiatric disorder triggered by changes in a mother’s body, brain and environment after childbirth.

The first time I experienced it, I was at home with family. I had graduated from the university but I was jobless. I had also just had my daughter. I felt so guilty that I was jobless and that my parents provided everything for me and my daughter.

Detachment from reality

Psychosis is described as experiencing such impaired emotions that one loses touch with the environment and reality. And this is what happened to me a few weeks after I had my daughter. I began feeling like I was a burden to everyone around me. I wanted to die. Suicidal thoughts plagued me. I was always anxious, paranoid and suspicious about everything. I felt like everyone around me had no good intentions. Then I could not sleep for days. I thought I would die if I closed my eyes.

A few weeks after I had my daughter I began feeling like I was a burden to everyone around me (Photo: Courtesy)

I started having delusions and strange beliefs about everything around me. I saw and believed in things that did not exist, but they seemed so real to me. One particular time, after I was admitted to a hospital, I thought I saw an obituary stuck on a hospital door and I got so scared. I would later learn that what I saw was just a sheet of paper with a picture of a pretty woman on it and a signage that indicated that the doctor was in the room. I could not take a shower for days because I knew I was going to die anyway. I kept all these thoughts to myself because I felt that no one would believe anything I said.

I had totally forgotten about my child. To me, she did not exist. At some point, I even believed that I had not really given birth to her and at other times, convinced myself that she was not really mine and had been switched at birth.

At this point, I was convinced that my family was cursed. My brother had also experienced a psychotic break a few weeks earlier and had been admitted to the hospital.

Road to mend

I thank God for my family and friends as they were supportive. They took me to the hospital after I became weak from not eating for a couple of days. At the hospital, the doctors put me on medication. At first, due to my paranoia, I did not want to touch the drugs. I thought they wanted to kill me. But after a talk with a psychiatrist who explained what was happening to me, and why I needed the medication, I agreed to it. I also went through several counselling sessions, which helped a lot. While it is a scary experience, postpartum psychosis is temporary and treatable with professional help, but it is an emergency and it is essential that you receive immediate help. Today I am a happy mother to two beautiful girls. I had my second daughter about two months ago. This time around, being more aware of what could happen, my family kept a watchful eye on me and we managed the situation. I was put on medication as soon as the signs began.

I am still on anti-psychotics, but soon to complete my dosage. I am aware that even if I were to get another child, I may suffer through the same experience. But I also know that with a strong support system around me, we will be just fine. What I would advise any new mother is to seek help or talk to a doctor if they feel like they are not themselves. It could be postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis. You need help. Also know that it is not your fault. You can get well and be fine with professional help.

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