Julie on being told her postpartum anxiety and panic attacks were normal as a new mom

women holding toddler and smiling - essay om postpartum anxiety attacks

Content warning: Discussion of postpartum depression, birth trauma, domestic abuse or other tough topics ahead. If you or someone you know is struggling with a postpartum mental health challenge, including postpartum depression or anxiety, call 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (tel:18009435746)—The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline This free, confidential service provides access to trained counselors and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, Spanish, and more than 60 other languages. They can offer support and information related to before, during, and after pregnancy.

After giving birth to my son Joseph, the emotions started flowing through like I had never experienced, something I was not prepared for postpartum. I knew I wasn’t okay and at my six week check, up I told my OB about my extreme anxiety that was starting to take over my day-to-day life. I was told I had the baby blues and to “give myself more grace.”

So I did. I tried to read self-help books, eat healthier, and get fresh air. I started to think that if I kept my body healthy, it would in turn change my mental health as well. While physically I felt better, mentally I was still falling apart every day.

In July my son turned nine months old. I had been having a ton of chest pain and anxiety, but I was worried that something else was wrong with me because I constantly felt like my heart was about to stop. I reached out to my PCP and set up an appointment to talk to her.

Related: Postpartum anxiety stole my joy. Here’s how I got it back (and then some)

The minute I walked into her office, I immediately broke down and begged her for help. By this point I had seen my OB multiple times and had never received the help that I was looking for. I was told time and time again that being a mom is hard, but what I was feeling was normal.

On my worst days I felt like I’d rather die than continue to feel that way for one more second. The mental agony was so overwhelming and so debilitating. I could barely handle it.

My PCP was my lifesaver. She put me on medication and suggested that I reach out to a therapist as well. I walked out of her office feeling like I actually had hope for the first time in a very long time.

I walked out of her office feeling like I actually had hope for the first time in a very long time.

A few weeks later I went on a vacation with my son and my husband. For whatever reason, one which I still can’t pin point to this day, my anxiety took an absolute turn for the worst and turned into pure panic every second of every day. I was unable to go into stores or restaurants without feeling dizzy and had difficulty breathing and swallowing.

I spent most of the day in my dark hotel room laying in bed. The anxiety and panic was so overwhelming that I could barely stand up without feeling like I was going to pass out. Those few days are probably some of the scariest days in my entire life because I was afraid that something was going to happen to me and I was afraid that my son wasn’t going to have his mom.

We ended up leaving our trip three days early and flying home because I needed to get help. The very next day I had an appointment with my doctor and I told her everything that had happened over the past week. She upped my Zoloft prescription and also gave me Xanax to use as needed for the increased panic attacks I was having.

Related: Postpartum anxiety robbed me of the early years with my kids

I knew that I was at my lowest point, my breaking point with my mental health, but at the same time I also felt relief because I was finally speaking up and getting the help that I really did need—help I needed not only for myself but for my son. He needed a healthy mom.

Since my son had been born I was so incredibly embarrassed about the anxiety and sometimes depression that I was experiencing. So many times when I tried to find the words to talk about it, I was told that being a mom is hard and that this will pass. My concerns about my mental state were brushed to the side time and time again.

I felt like I truly knew what was going on and that I was having severe postpartum anxiety, but I was so afraid to come out and say that because I didn’t want to be judged and I didn’t want to feel like I was failing as a mom, something that I struggled with feeling every single day.

Related: What pregnant moms really need to register for? Way more postpartum support

As it turns out I was right. I was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder and severe panic disorder. This diagnosis is something I find serious comfort in. Knowing that I am getting the proper help and knowing that I will be OK, and that I have the tools to get me through the toughest of times brings me feel relief and hope.

Asking for and accepting help was the best thing that I could have ever done for myself and for my son. Not only do I deserve to take care of myself and my mental health, but my son deserves to have somebody who is healthy to show him how important mental health is. If it wasn’t for my son and my husband, I’m not sure I would have taken the steps to get a handle on my anxiety.

Asking for and accepting help was the best thing that I could have ever done for myself and for my son.

Going through what I did shows not only how important mental health care is, but especially postpartum mental health care. Postpartum can be such a difficult time and it can be so scary to ask for help. Because I went through it first hand (and still do), my goal is to always be open, to always share my experiences, to always be truthful in the hopes of helping another mom, and to always be available as a shoulder to lean on or an outlet for somebody who needs it.

Social media can be an amazing place to connect but can also set dangerous expectations. We live in a society that is always posting the perfect mom and the perfect life. I truly never saw the side of postpartum I was about to experience as a new mom. I think that hiding that side of postpartum and keeping it a taboo topic is more detrimental to future of moms and their mental health.

Please always speak out. Please ask for help and never ever be ashamed. Continue to share your mom moments, good and bad. Be there for other moms and never judge. Only we can stop the stigma.