Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative
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“The Monster” of Postpartum Psychosis: Rachel’s Story

Trigger warning: Suicidality, psychosis, and mania

“I don’t feel like myself,” I told my doctor at four months postpartum. “I don’t want to do anything. Nothing feels right. And…” The tears threatened to squeeze out from between my eyelids. “And I have thoughts of hurting my baby.” The doctor stared at me coldly for a long moment then said, “You’re probably tired,” and sent me home.

Angry and confused, I found a new doctor who diagnosed me with postpartum depression and prescribed me an antidepressant. After a week or two, I felt good. Better. Way, way better.

First Experience Hearing Voices

However, as the months passed and my daughter grew, that feeling of “better” gave way to something else: a demonic presence and voices in my head telling me to hurt myself and
my baby.

I told my doctor, and by the following afternoon I was in the ER on my way to a psychiatric facility. While my psychiatrist said I had postpartum psychosis, the psychiatrist at the hospital disagreed. He increased my antidepressant and, again, 72 hours later I was sent on my way.

As I continued to show symptoms of highs and lows, my psychiatrist discussed with me the possibility that I had bipolar disorder. This wasn’t acceptable to me, so I stubbornly refused to speak with my psychiatrist anymore.

Mania and a Second Pregnancy

I weaned myself off of my antidepressant and had a month-long episode of pure mania before I got back on it again, and then got pregnant a second time when my daughter was 20 months old. I was deeply depressed for the duration of the pregnancy, and tormented by nausea and physical pain.

The night my son was born, they laid him on my chest and I felt more love than I ever thought possible. However, after two sleepless nights I began to hear voices again, threatening my life.

I told the nurses about the voices, but the doctor sent me home anyway. I didn’t understand why but I was caught in the whirlwind of having a brand new baby and a toddler, and I just went with it.

As soon as I got home, the hypomania hit like a bolt of electricity, and like it had with my
daughter, over the course of a few months it turned dark. I felt simultaneously like I was being pressed underwater and like I was spinning out of control. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was having an episode of dysphoric mania (also known as mixed mania) where the affected person experiences depression and mania at the same time.

Meeting “The Monster”

My new psychiatrist put me on a mood stabilizer, keeping me on the antidepressant, and I continued to spiral more and more. When my son was six months old, I had my first psychotic episode, with many more to follow.

I felt a presence in my mind and body, which I called “the monster”. The monster spoke to me and leaned on me, begging me to take my own life. It later turned on my son and, a while after that, on my daughter.

During all this I was living my normal life, going to work and smiling and holding conversations with people, but inside I was slowly crumbling. Child Protective Services (CPS) reports were made by concerned therapists and I was hospitalized two more times.

Originally it was determined that I could be around my children as long as I wasn’t alone with them, but after another hospitalization and CPS report, I was told I could no longer live at home while I was symptomatic.

Suicidality and Hope for Recovery

I was crushed. Suicidal. Completely and utterly hopeless. I knew I was never going to get better and I knew my family was better off without me.

And then I found Postpartum Support International (PSI).

PSI helped me get in contact with a psychiatrist who specialized in maternal mental health. He diagnosed me with peripartum onset bipolar disorder and postpartum psychosis and put me on medications that actually worked. Prior to that other doctors and therapists thought I had postpartum OCD, and I’d been incorrectly kept on SSRI’s for close to two years of my son’s life.

CPS got me in contact with a nonprofit that helped me bond again with my son, and I was able to find therapy for myself. 

Today I owe my life to those who saved me, and I still harbor a lot of anger toward the medical professionals who misdiagnosed me. My goal is to share my story to help other mothers who have postpartum psychosis or bipolar disorder. We are often overlooked even though many bipolar diagnoses in women occur postpartum.

Looking back, I wish I’d known to do my own research and stand up against my doctors when I knew they weren’t diagnosing me correctly. Despite the years of heartache and trauma, I continue to work hard and consider myself a very lucky survivor. I want other women to know that even from the deepest depths of despair, there is hope. I found it, and you can find it too.