Surely the reason I’ve been suddenly yelling at my toddler every day for the last week is because I’m a quarter Italian and parenting is bringing out the more fiery parts of that heritage... right?
At least, that’s what I assumed when I found myself losing my mind with intense bursts of anger directed at my 2.5 year old, Lucy, when my newborn, Violet, was about 2 months old. It was like a switch had suddenly been flipped, and every time Lucy peed on the floor (potty training), didn’t do as I asked, spilled something, or did anything even remotely inconvenient, I found myself yelling at her, fiercely, and feeling supremely fed-up, frustrated, irritated, and helpless. Throw a bit of type 1 diabetes management in there, and I basically felt like my head was going to pop right off.
These overwhelming moments would disappear as quickly as they arrived, but they sent me spiraling. I felt like an Angry Mommy Monster.
The worst part about it was that Lucy wasn’t really doing anything terribly wrong, and overall, nothing in our lives was really wrong. Life was good. We had two beautiful, healthy girls, a safe home, an adorably loyal dog named Pedro, and plenty of summer sunshine.
So what was I so upset about?
When a friend of mine and her toddler came over for our weekly playdate, I apologized to her afterward via text for seeming so stressed out and impatient with my own child. (I put as much of a damper as I could on my mommy rage, but some of it still peeked through, and my friend could tell something was off.)
“It’s a big adjustment,” she texted, supportively, referring to the addition of a second child.
“If only I could channel your chilled parenting skills,” I replied.
“Don’t forget, I’m on anti-anxiety meds, LOL,” she said.
It had never occurred to me before, but the moment I saw that word, I realized: I’m not an Angry Mommy Monster — all those little overwhelming moments are just filling me with anxiety.
I had always assumed anxiety looked like a sort of temporary nervous breakdown, like a flash flood of panic, sweating, and tears. I’d never seen any of this in real life, but that’s what I had always assumed. Until now, I’d truly never experienced anything remotely like genuine, recurring anxiety.
And certainly, I’d heard of postpartum depression — who hasn’t? But I didn’t feel depressed. Depression wasn’t the right word. But the word “anxiety”... that word struck a chord, with a whole new understanding of what it really looked like.
An easy (and enlightening) Google search for “postpartum anxiety” validated everything I had been feeling so immensely and so suddenly during that past week. I’m not crazy — this is real! It isn’t just me! I’m not a horrible, yelling mom-dragon spitting fire at my children. I’m adjusting to this crazy new load of responsibility: two kids who need me, want me, cry for me, depend on me 24 hours a day on top of having several chronic illnesses, too. (And yes, I have a wonderful husband who is incredibly helpful, but he also works 50 hours a week, so there’s only so much he can do.)
Should I take medication for this?
The most commonly prescribed medication for anxiety is citalopram, a well-known as an antidepressant under the brand name Celexa. But I was hesitant about the idea of taking another medication.
Me? Take an antidepressant? I’m not depressed... I have anxiety!
The stigma of being on an “antidepressant” made me put off contacting my doctor for several more days. Surely, I can do something about this on my own, I told myself. And in some ways, I could, because simply knowing that what I had been feeling was anxiety gave me tremendous power.
This meant that I could encourage myself to take a deep breath, remind myself that everything is actually okay, and just take on the day one step at a time.
I don’t need antidepressants. Not me. I’ll just fix this with rational thought and logic.
But then it got worse.
Over the next few nights, I found myself lying awake for several hours in the middle of the night, overwhelmed with worry that someone was going to sneak into our home and kidnap my children while we were sleeping. Even as I type that sentence I think to myself, Geez, that’s not me! Who is this person?
Eventually, I’d fall asleep, but this sudden fear of kidnapping was so strong that I was getting out of bed every 10 minutes to check on my toddler in her bedroom and peering down the stairs to make sure no one was there.
Sure enough, another Google search for “paranoia” and “excessive worrying” brought up the word “anxiety.” And that’s when I gave in and called my primary care nurse practitioner, who was immediately supportive and understanding.
I needed to face this head-on, because on top of how miserable those rage-monster moments felt, they were also incredibly unfair to little Lucy. Within a few more days, I had a new prescription for citalopram, at the lowest dose possible because I tend to be very sensitive to most medications.
Within only two days of taking the medication, I felt like myself again. I was expecting to see a difference after a couple of weeks, but the impact after just two days was remarkably noticeable.
I no longer felt so overwhelmed by small obstacles or stressful moments, or by two children begging for my energy and attention all day long. It just felt much more doable. Not easy, mind you, but reasonably doable. And most importantly, I wasn’t yelling at little Lucy over and over throughout the day.
It’s been just over a month since I started taking the medication. The side effects have been almost nonexistent, but I do suspect it’s causing me to feel a little dizzy when I stand up too quickly. I intend to take it for at least another month before considering tapering off. It’s certainly possible I’ll stay on it for longer, but for now, it seems like the short-term help I needed.
Simply put, taking this medication and addressing my postpartum anxiety head-on has given me the time I needed to adjust to the many challenges of being a mom of two.
See more helpful articles:
What You Need to Know about Postpartum and Perinatal Mood Disorder
4 Things People Don't Tell You About Anxiety Medication
Warning Signs During the Postpartum Period