Written by Martha Valiquette A week after my precious son was born, I was in a straitjacket, face down on the floor of a rubber room. Helloooooo …Locked Up In D.C. A Postpartum Psychosis Story
Mama put my guns in the ground
I can’t shoot them anymore
That cold black cloud is comin’ around
And I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door
I have had another episode. Geez, I did not see this one coming. It started innocently enough with me needing to take an antibiotic for two weeks due to a stomach bug I had. Well, the stomach bug has gone and that is good but, the antibiotic left some detritus in its wake and for three weeks I have been reeling from the flotsam and jetsam of it. I have been stable and solid for five years. One gets used to not having an episode. So, when one arrives starting with a lovely little piece of hypo-mania, well it is hard to detect.
The first thing that happened was my appetite completely changed. I had almost no appetite for several days. I was putting that to the antibiotic. Then, my garden became a perfect place of unbelievable beauty. I was noticing so much. It was so pretty. The muted colours were brilliant. The brilliant colours were just bursting. The bees were little miracles. I couldn’t get enough. Didn’t want the day to end out there.
Then the numbers started: Leo was 22, I was 33 when he was born, I am 55, I was born in 66, Dean and I met in 88, Leo was born in 99. These numbers would roll through my brain over and over again. I checked the time and it was 4:44. Randomly, later I checked the time and it was 5:55. This just HAD to mean something.
After a couple days like this I told my hubby that something was coming down the pike. I didn’t really believe it. Nor did he. Five years of wellness. How could this be? It was a Wednesday and I told him that he better get his office stuff and work from home for Thursday and Friday. I was going to need supervision. Adult supervision.
That night, middle of the night, I awoke. My insides were roiling. My head was spinning. Into the blackness of our room I called out to my husband Dean. A blessed heavy-sleeper. ‘Dean. Oh no. No! No! No! Something is happening. Dean!!!’
I sat up. I could not feel my lower body. It was numb. I couldn’t leave the bed.
Now I was wailing at the top of my lungs. Dean was clutching me and smoothing my back. Cooing “It’s okay, it’s okay!”
“There is so much pain in the world, I said. So much pain in my family. So many people are so hurt. So many of my friends have such a hard life. I can’t take it, Dean. I can’t take it. My heart.” I wailed.
M, I am going to get the phone and get Leo in here (our 22 year old son).
Leo came to our bedroom door in his housecoat and sized up the situation. He had been fast asleep. He quickly saw that I was in complete distress. This was not pretend pain. This pain I was speaking of was real for me.
My hands clutched my chest. I was rocking and wailing, “No! No! No!” I asked him to help me.
“How can I help you Mom? What can I do?” he asked, his eyebrows stitched together in concern.
“Just sit here with me. Give me your arm to hold,” I said with desperation in my voice. “Talk to me.”
Now I was gripping his strong arm thru his fleece robe. It was helping. But I was still feeling the pain of the people I love.
“My heart is broken and it is going to open wide. This is going to be bad, Leo,” I stated.
Leo answered with calm, strong words. “Mom, you are having an episode. You have a chemical imbalance in your brain which is causing you to feel like this right now. Dad and I are here to help you. Try to let it dissipate.” He was so grown up now. So manly and mature. I loved him hugely for these words and everything else about him. This is my child. I am blessed.
Dean was running around trying to find the number for emergency mental health. Throwing items in a bag so we could get out the door to the emergency department of our area hospital.
Leo continued to tell me I was okay. But then it happened. A large hand, within a back glove and with pointy finger tips placed itself between my shoulder blades of my back. Words were whispered into my ear,
“Go into the bathroom,” it ordered. “Lock the door and take all the Tylenol. Go now!”
When Dean came back into the room, I told him about the words that had been in my head, somehow not my own words. His face showed his fear. Leo told me not to listen to that voice. He said I should try my best to connect with him now and ground myself. Those things were being filtered through my mental illness. “They need to be ignored,” he said. (Meanwhile Dean ran and hid the Tylenol bottle).
Then I saw the entity in the dim part of my bedroom. He was standing there in a trench coat and a hat. Collar up, hat pulled down low. It was the calm spirit of my father. He was pleased that I had figured out the riddle. I had been sexually abused because he had been sexually abused. I had figured this out because of the press about private schools which he had attended. All boys’ schools could be (not always, but often) horribly dysfunctional and abusive places. Not only that, but he had died with CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy- due to the incredible number of head trauma that he had received through sport – hockey and football. The CTE had caused his rage-a-holism. Riddle solved. Understanding him would allow for compassion. “Find the compassion,” he said.
By this time, I was ready and willing to go to the hospital because, thanks to Dean and Leo I was aware of the danger of my situation. It is a fact that suicide happens to a lot of folks with mental illness.
At emerg, a friend of mine, who is also an ER Doc, told me that suicide ideation is on the laundry list of items that happen to some folks during a panic attack. Who would have thought? He set me up with a psychiatrist for the next day and she was awesome. I feel like I am in very good hands. No black gloves. No pointy fingers.
Thank you to google images for this picture.
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away
And I know a father who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons for the things he had done
He came a long way just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and he headed home again
Slip slidin’ away
I was awake at 3:30 am when the sirens went by on Main Street down below our house. I had no idea to what sort of tragedy the sirens were responding.
Then I received a call at 6:30 am.
Come over right now! My closest girlfriend said.
What’s going on? I asked.
Just come over. Her voice urged.
On my way. I said.
I envisioned helping with a flood or some other household problem, like a lost dog.
I was up, dressed in the car and driven the snowy few blocks in six minutes. What’s going on? I called out in the direction up the steps from the entry. The air was thick with emotion and fear. I could almost see it hanging there.
He died. She said simply.
Who died? I screeched as I ran up the steps in my boots, snow falling off. I was glancing around for a body.
Calvin. She said.
A sound came out of me involuntarily. I grabbed her and hugged her small body fiercely. The sound was primordial. Painful. A deep keening. Her Ex, the Dad, appeared and enclosed us in his arms and we all cried together for a few seconds. In my mind’s eye I was still looking around for his body.
I asked… where is he?
He had been the first of three steps at age three, when we moved in next door. Our Leo was the second step at four and his older brother Kevin at five was the third step. Fast friends who ran all over the neighbourhood together, Calvin usually bringing up the rear, on his toes – he was a toe-walker then and so cute as he nimbly rushed to be included. Countless sleepovers, snacks, tumbling, trampolining. He would sometimes gather up his courage and ask me for a drink of water, almost like I might say no. I must have been scary to him?? In recent years, in their teens, Leo would visit and and he would later tell me how Calvin had offered him tea, or soup, or whatever was available. Leo told me how kind Calvin was.
I had watched Calvin grow into a six foot two, curly blond-haired, blue-eyed quiet young man. He loved the outdoors, experiments with pond-like aquariums, fishing. He was a fierce competitor in jujitsu and, sadly, had some other darker pastimes which I would guess were self-medicating. He struggled with anxiety, addiction and with social situations. For the past several months, he could not sleep, due to anti-depressant medication. This would be the straw that broke the camel’s back – the not sleeping. I had heard about many many attempts to get him into counselling and to a psychiatrist or even to get him to emerg. He just would not go. How does a parent force this? It’s next to impossible.
Daisy told me the whole story of the few days leading up to this disaster. We sat by the fire on her couch in the early morning hours. When the door opened and her eldest, stepped in, he collapsed against the wall crying and keening loudly in despair. I slipped unnoticed out the back door. My Blunstones leaving their distinctive print in the freshly fallen snow. Down the back deck steps and around the house to my car. I drove home in a daze. I walked in to find my husband Dean and my son Leo silent with despair. All I could manage to do was to make a pot of soup for my friend in her grief.
In the wee hours, Jonah had followed his son’s bootprints (and many obvious signs of his slipping and falling on the trail, like bad snow-angel attempts). He entered the park, slipping and cursing the hidden ice as he went. A few hundred meters in, he saw Calvin’s backpack at the base of a tree and looked up, his headlight finding the silhouette of his youngest son hanging in the tree. Jonah struggled to get him down. He was still warm. He did CPR for almost an hour, crying, praying and shouting at him to wake up but systematically counting in keeping with his advanced military training. The paramedics finally arrived having had a hard time locating them in the dark woods and slipping and falling many times due to the deceptively slick ice under the layer of snow.
Jonah called his ex-wife, The Mom, telling her not to come to the park. She went up there anyway. At the gates she was met by a cop who loved Calvin – knowing him through the dojo they shared. He avoided her eyes. Her heart sank to its deepest despair.
Where do you go when your child takes his own life? There is nothing worse than this.
Dean and I organized meals and visits to Daisy so that she wouldn’t be alone, especially at night. The outpouring of support was incredible and humbling. Thousands of dollars were raised through a single email asking for support on her behalf. Daisy couldn’t work due to grief. No income, bills and life carrying on. A full day of yoga was organized by a group of women with lunch, live music and incredible local art in a silent auction. Daisy was given therapies like massage, osteopathy and reflexology. Two cords of wood were delivered, fully paid for. The guys from the dojo arrived and stacked it in fifteen minutes, based on a simple request to them that morning. We cleaned her house, her friend washed the floor with great care. Dean shoveled the driveway. Another friend swept the chimney. We walked the dog, picked up the mail, painted a room, helped her sort through the bills. A friend baked her a cake and brought flowers. A woman knitted a special scarf to encircle her in love and comfort.
The celebration of life was at a large hall downtown. Every aspect of the day was taken care of by volunteers: planning, decorating, food, drink, crafts for little ones, boughs of evergreen, writing implements for sharing snippets of memories. Hot drinks and marshmallows outside by the fire like Calvin would have wanted. A beautifully hand-crafted wooden box to store parchment pages of written memories — the blond wood the colour of his beautiful hair, his name etched in the sliding cover. The place was packed. One friend introduced the speeches and thanked all those who helped. The owner of the dojo gave a recounting of the fierce fighting competitor that Calvin was and also of the kind teacher with a huge heart for his young charges. The gym guys shoulder-to-shoulder, sniffling, their hands folded tightly. Eyes lowered. Cheeks wet with tears.
Jonah and Daisy talked about Calvin’s life. The kind of person he was, the kind of brother and son he was. His personality and some funny memories of him. Jonah finally said that he had decided to find solace in the joy of seventeen years that they had had with Calvin. At least they had had the honour and pleasure of him for seventeen years.
Extreme grief and mourning ensued for the loss of one of our boys – the first step of three.
Two years have passed since we lost this beautiful young man. I feel that he slipped through the cracks in our mental health system. He was so loved and so well taken care of, yet he still slipped through. Can you imagine the youth who do not have attentive parents? I feel sick that I personally couldn’t DO anything to help with this nor could I stop the loss of his life. I replay my last face-to-face with him when I dropped off a huge bag of dog food because our Lady-Jane had passed. Could I not have asked him if there was anything he wanted to talk about? Could I not have swallowed my pride and told him that I too suffer with mental illness? It’s so fucked up. I find that I am still quite angry about my lack of ability to help with this. To take action. To DO SOMETHING.
I know one thing for sure. The next time I detect a sadness in someone, I will ask them if they need help. I will simply ask them.
Rest In Peace dear dear boy.
Sometimes I find it’s a shame when I get feelin’ better when I’m feelin’ no pain
Gordon Lightfoot’s song was playing while I shuffled around my kitchen trying to simplify my thoughts and push down the anxiety. God Damed Anxiety is back. It puts this tight clamp on my spine where the cortisol moves in and stirs up feelings of hopelessness, lack of confidence, uselessness. All those wonderful wonderful feelings to carry like a monkey through the days.
In 1999, in postpartum after the birth of my one child, I was flung into a psychosis which turned into a straight-jacket and a rubber room experience. Haldol and all. (Locked up in D.C.). I was then, at the age of 33, diagnosed Bipolar. I had never had any symptoms prior to that. But you see, I am Military Martha. My whole family of six siblings call me that. I am the sensible one. The rule-follower. List maker (thank’s Annie). The one who solves problems. I am definitely NOT the one who ends up in a Johnny coat running for my life out the hospital doors at -20 Celsius with my undies on show. (Crazy Train 2011)
But this is mental illness folks. It takes all that you know and turns it upside down. It makes that positive side of me disappear. It makes it nearly impossible to reach out to friends and family (unless it turns into mania and then it is impossible to NOT reach out to friends and family and just about anyone else, and even at 3 in the morning).
Even the simplest of tasks cause me to turn in circles and not know where to begin. I need adult supervision. Thanks Uncle Buck. My husband of 28 years becomes the one person who knows me so well. He takes my hand and leads me along through the cloud. He will encourage me with a simple tasks to focus on and accomplish, telling me all the other stuff can wait. It’s not going to be a problem if it all just waits, he says.
Yesterday I was trying to explain the anxiety to my sister on the phone, three provinces away. It is like I know cerebrally that the task is not important but even knowing that, I feel like I am swimming in goop and am finding it hard to keep my head above it. Couple that with the feeling of a huge alligator clamp on my lower spine and that everything I look at is somehow wrong: not good enough, out of order, messy, needs fixing…AHHH! It becomes just overwhelming.
I was explaining how some things seem to help. Letting things go until a better time, cancel, reschedule, forego, cross it off the list. Listening to up and happy music. Walking in nature. Holding hands with my husband and quietly talking and walking. Simple tasks: peeling potatoes, hanging laundry, watering the garden, weeding, sweeping the floor, scraping the paint on the house with a warm sun on my back…all seem to help, if I can get out of my own way to do them.
So, no, woman, no cry.
No, woman, no cry.
I say, oh, little—oh, little darlin’, don’t shed no tears.
No, woman, no cry. Eh.
My brother Mark and his wife and my sister Amy and I had tickets for a week in Cuba and I was determined to go. I was looking forward to getting out of our messed up house with it’s temporary kitchen and dust everywhere. I was determined to go. I may have mentioned that already. I figured it would do my cough good to get into the sun even though I had coughed up a bit of blood earlier that day.
When I met my sister Amy at the Toronto airport she noticed immediately that I was holding my body rigidly. Her big blue eyes searched my face as she asked me if I was okay. My green eyes began to water as I said: I have a few problems right now.
Cue the ominous music
The first two days in Cuba were fine. We walked on the beach and swam and laughed and Mark played his guitar and we all sang a whole lot but, my bronchitis was not improving.
It was worsening. I was not sleeping hardly at all due to the coughing fits I was having.
Amy, Mark and Irene went out in the evening to watch the band. I was going to stay and rest, I said. Mark was going to play a song and he was looking forward to that. Our rooms were about a five minute walk to the area on the beach where the music was to be performed. After they left, I decided to put something comfortable on and walk over and stand in the sand to just listen. By the time I walked to the walkway to the beach, tears were streaming down my face due to the beauty everywhere and how frightened I was of what lay ahead.
I knew it would be psychosis and psychosis can be a very scary and a very lonely, joyless, black place.
Someone in the band saw me crying with my feet deep in the silky cool sand likely trying to ground myself and he whispered to his band mate. Suddenly they were playing, ‘No Woman No Cry‘ by Bob Marley. I just bawled some more at how sweet they were to try and help me with their music. I realized again just how much I love Cuba.
However, I could not sleep.
I would lay in bed staring at the ceiling and then, by the third night, the visions and the outrageous thoughts started: I was the Virgin Mary. I was the one meant to save the world. There was a numerology aspect. I was born on 03-03-66. my only son Leo was born on 09-08-99. I was 33 when he was born. Mom was born in 16-06-30 and she had been 36 when I was born. My business was Incorporated on 06-06-06. So, lot’s of threes (and sixes and nines, all divisible by three). There were three in my family. Three was a special number, as a former Catholic I knew this well. The number of the Holy Trinity in Christianity. My mind churned these thoughts — twisting and turning them, over and over making me fall into insanity.
Then, I was having conversations with God. My birth family would all be saved from the coming world crisis if we gathered on a tropical island together. My pulse raced. My stomach churned with butterflies. My bowels turned to liquid. I was all keyed up and it was impossible to sleep. Mania was taking over my mind and I was familiar with it. All aboard the crazy train folks…
Things rapidly deteriorated from that point. Luckily our week was almost up. Mark and his wife began furtive preparations for home while Amy watched over me. I just wanted to walk around the resort and connect with every possible person in my vicinity. Mark and Amy were worried I wouldn’t be permitted on the flight if I was acting too manic, so Amy and I went to the medical clinic where a very kind and gentle doctor, while holding my hand, shot a huge syringe of tranquilizer into each cheek of my ass. Amy said that it was enough tranquilizer to drop a horse. But guess what, I was still manic with no tranquility in sight. I popped off the bed like the Energizer bunny. By the time we got to the airport though, I was much more calm but still no sleep. I should have been slumped over, drooling, in deep sleep.
Now, I was taking the hands of total strangers, gazing deeply into their eyes and telling them all about their lives and how to improve it. Funnily enough, people seemed to really want to hear what I was saying to them. It was bizarre. One man told me I was the most honest person he had ever spoken to. Meanwhile, my brother Mark was running around trying to keep me safe and to act normal so that the airline people would allow me to fly. I, of course, was oblivious by this point.
Next up….Crazy Train (part 3) ~ Home…ish
The stress of a large home renovation then subsequent bronchitis throws me into a bipolar episode…
I had my Birkenstocks and SmartWools on and with my big-ass undies peeking out of my johnny coat, I saw my chance to escape. Out the psych ward’s normally locked door I slipped, down the hall and through the big front doors. I was running home. It was a dark, -20, winter night but if I could just run the 15 k home, all would be well…
You see, I was in the midst of my second ever full blown psychotic episode of Bipolar-1, my first ever had happened in postpartum in 1999. It was now 2010 and I had enjoyed perfect mental and physical health for eleven years.
Then, we decided (cue ominous music here)…to move house and shortly thereafter to completely gut and renovate the kitchen and that’s when the shit hit the fan…and, it wasn’t pretty.
We had moved into our little bungalow which is in an idyllic location in our beloved town. It is close to everything and sits between two parks and just up from the dyke lands. The street is short and quiet with a handful of unique homes on it and quiet owners who mostly stick to themselves. I adored this new little house, which is all we needed for the three of us and our large dog.
The previous owner (whom I strangle in my imagination every time I catch sight of him) had, however, sadly, let if fall into disrepair and become outdated. We had our hands full when we moved in. The old harvest-gold carpet in the living-room stunk like stale Guinness. We ripped it out the first night.
Open the dryer and door fell off.
Door knobs and cabinet knobs were missing.
Huge pink toilets ran for hours after flushing.
Every window screen was torn.
Paint was chipping on the exterior.
The ancient dishwasher didn’t work.
The fan above the oven exhausted into your face. Not pleasant.
The windows were full of black gunk around the edges.
There was black mold on the main bath ceiling.
The ensuite shower stall had a serious microbiome going on.
Run the washer and the water drained into the kitchen sink and then onto the kitchen floor.
You get the idea.
Everything was broken!!!
And the owner had been a professional, a PHd!!!!! (I’m a ProFESSional, as Dad would say so that everyone would know that he knew everything about everything. One time, in the eighties, on a road trip to Florida, he had corrected a local waitress, serving tables in her own home-town, about a fact about her home-town that there was no way in hell he could have known to be true –there was no internet nor cell phones nor wifi then. He waved his thumb at he and his new wife saying, Honey Baby, we’re both teachers. Luke and I were stunned and mortified at his audacity. We would have liked to slip under the table to hide our embarrassment and very red faces while we cringed. Years later we just chuckle about it. It was a trait of our father that was oh so irksome. The only thing Dad knew everything about was hockey. Every stat. Every player. Every game. It was truly fascinating when he got going.)
The kitchen in our new bungalow was completely substandard. Popcorn ceiling (stucco ceiling in a kitchen! Imagine.) Tiny, rotting windows. Single sink in rotting cabinet. Dark wooden cupboards and doors. Ancient washer and dryer, both missing knobs, right in the kitchen. The wall behind the lint-bomb of a dryer was crumbling and one of the wires to the 220 v outlet was bare. Throw a lit match back there and the place would go up. One teeny light fixture with a tiny fluorescent bulb that would flicker ad naseum while I tried to chop veggies for supper and no other task lighting to speak of. It was depressingly bad and needed to be fixed. People had warned us that kitchen renovations can be stressful. Oh Lord. We really should have listened.
After much shopping around for contractors and planning and budgeting, the day came for demolition. The idiot who decided to take down our old popcorn ceiling, for some inexplicable reason, did not seal off the room to the rest of the house. I arrived home from work to find a scene out of a post apocalyptic nuclear snow storm: about 3 feet of vermiculite on our kitchen floor and buddy (the idiot) shoveling it into plastic bags to get rid of it. He had no face mask on and all of the fibers were floating around the whole house. My first thought to accompany my racing pulse and rapid breathing was: Holy shit. That could be asbestos. Next I calmly asked the idiot when he thought he would have it cleaned up. Next I ran like a devil to find Dean and to get Leo from school. My friend who is both a Master Electrician and a Master Plumber (and whom I had hired for the job) was my next call. He calmly told me to get on the internet and find a place that could test a sample of the vermiculite. He told me there are two types of vermiculite. One with and one without asbestos.
I was in luck. A scientist working in Halifax lived in the Valley and did vermiculite testing on the side. He told me to put a baggie of the stuff in his mailbox in Canning and he would have an answer to me the next day. He said there was a fifty fifty chance it was asbestos. I asked him what would have to happen if it WAS asbestos. He said quite simply, ‘you’d be forced to move out until it was all abated. The place would be off limits.’ Oh jesus…
Stress and more stress.
The next day I received his email. It was NOT asbestos. I had not slept the previous night. We paid the idiot and fired him and that did not go well. Next I heard that he beats up his wife. This is a small town. I did not wish to run into him again. Especially if I was by myself. I hardly slept and when I did, it was the idiot who was in my nightmares. A cough had developed and was getting worse.
So, the stress and the interrupted sleep began. With Bipolar disorder, sleep disruptions and sleep deprivation cause or exacerbate the symptoms of the disorder rapidly. So does stress. I was not on medication then and in hind-sight, I truly wish I had been.
After the idiot was fired, the work on the reno started to come together nicely. I would work alongside my skilled and talented friend and we would chuckle the day away. I would just do things like retrieve parts from his van or the hardware store or screw this in, screw that in, move this, hold this…you get the idea. My cough worsened and would wake me up several times a night.
At some point, I went to the doctor and was told I had developed bronchitis. I asked about my sleep interruptions and he explained that when I went into a coughing fit, my body produced the hormone adrenaline. The adrenaline would soar through my body and stop my sleep. Uh oh. It was thought that the soaring hormones in postpartum, as well as the difficulty and length of the birth, and resultant sleep deprivation, had caused my first psychotic episode.
Up next…Crazy Train ~ part 2 ~ Cuba
A week after my precious son was born, I was in a strait-jacket, face down on the floor of a rubber room. Helloooooo postpartum psychosis.
I would shuffle down the hall, stooped over and drooling. Aware, but unaware. This was the doing of haldol or haloperidol – a strong anti-psychotic drug with tremendous side-effects.
My pregnancy with Leo was text book: I took daily naps; walked gently with the dogs; swam; ate good food and drank lots of water; no caffeine; no alcohol. We were living in Virginia because my husband Dean had accepted a job there with a dot com start-up in the late 1990s. His office was in Reston. We found a very sweet two-story farm house with softwood floors, a front porch with a white wooden swing and a white picket fence. Our house was in the wee village of Purcellville, about 40 minutes East of Reston. Dean would go to the office every day and I would volunteer at various places: the library, long-term care and a thrift shop in Leesburg. After volunteering, I would walk the dogs, perhaps go for a swim at the community pool, take a nap and then prepare us a nice meal for supper. It was a lovely nine months.
One day, close to the due date in early August, with temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius, and with me as big as a house and quite uncomfortable, we decided to go to the county fair. While sitting at a picnic table in the shade, I felt something strange going on in my abdomen. Could this be labour? Yes. By eleven o’clock that night, the labour pains were in full force and they did not give up for hours and hours. My mid-wife and my doula arrived and my mid-wife examined me. I was at 4 cm. In fact, over the next twelve hours, I remained at 4 cm. By that time I was howling in pain with each contraction. We had wanted to have Leo at home, but that dream was quickly fading. My mid-wife told me that Leo was sunny-side up or, posterior in orientation.
The back pain was horrible. I had Dean, our doula and the mid-wife pounding on my back and hamstrings because it seemed to help deaden the back pain. Apparently, the back of Leo’s little head was pressing against my sacrum and causing all the shooting pain through my back and down my legs.
To help ease the pain, I had Dean turn on the shower with hot hot water and on hands and knees, I had it wash over me in the tub. I stayed there for a long time, praying for progress. Nothing.
Finally, I had had enough. At about four o’clock on the second day (of course we had all been up all night), I finally begged my birth team to take me to the hospital. I was screaming in pain. I was an absolute mess – red face, stringy hair, sour body odour. They reminded me that I had made them promise NOT to take me to the hospital. I screamed at them that I couldn’t do this anymore. I told them I wanted to run out the door, down the country road and lie in the ditch until the pain stopped with my death. Talk of death spurned them into action.
Dean got our small mini-van and I climbed into the back seat on hands and knees and howled like a sick wolf all the way to the hospital, my hands clutching the back of the back seat while I faced backward, rocking back and forth on my knees. There was no way I could sit down. Dean drove like a mad man. As soon as we got to the hospital room, I threw off my little sundress and labored stark naked. I could not tolerate anything touching my skin. When my Ob-Gyn arrived to examine me, I sniffed his spicy-scented exotic cologne and screamed at him to get out. Crazed by the scent, even though normally I would have loved it. I was slipping into madness. He left and came back after taking a shower. He was a sweet, gentle soul.
Finally, I had been there long enough for them to observe me and examine me. They were then able to give me an epidural. Oh bliss. The pain stopped. A feeling of well-being and contentment settled over me. My birth team: Dean, the doula and the mid-wife, all fell asleep on big comfy chairs, while I dilated. I should have been absolutely sapped and should have fallen fast asleep with the epidural. Contrarily, I was wide-awake. A foreshadowing of what was to come.
A few hours went by and when the nurse checked me, I was finally at ten centimeters. It was time to push. By 2:14 am on Monday, Aug 9, 1999 Leo arrived. He was perfect and beautiful. A seven-pound boy whom I hugged, caressed and kissed. I was so happy.
We went home early from the hospital, but shouldn’t have. It was my idea. Hospitals were bad. I was sure of it. At home, we struggled to get into a routine with the feedings and diapering of our new born. Dean and I were quite worried about making any mistakes with Leo. We were in Virginia without family to tell us what was what.
I started to become very very happy. Elated, even. I was unable to sleep and I wasn’t one bit tired. I started making phone calls to all kinds of friends and family, in the middle of the night. I had crazy ideas that didn’t seem crazy to me at the time. I clearly remember calling one of our old army friends at four in the morning. I had this idea that I wanted to gather all of our friends together to live in a tent city in our back yard. Somehow, for some reason, I would be in charge. While I write, I can not quite recall what the mission of this gathering would be – just that it was very, very important.
Dean would be fast asleep, exhausted from the ordeal of the birth and the nighttime feedings and diapering of Leo. I however, seemed to not need sleep at all and my thoughts would race all night. I began sending emails in the middle of the night. In one particular email that I sent to my younger brother, Luke, I clearly stated that I thought I must be manic. Remember, at this point in my life, I had never had mental illness but, I had witnessed it in my mother and my brother, Mark.
Next, I began writing furiously in my journal. Whatever I wrote, I was sure it was profound and would gladly show it to Dean or anyone else. I became delusional and started to have visions of myself being the Virgin Mary and Leo being baby Jesus. My friend, Nancy, came to visit and I wanted her to massage me and do my hair and my nails, as if I was a celebrity and she was my servant. When she wouldn’t comply, I screamed hysterically at her.
One of Dean’s work colleagues, Jamie, who had become our close friend down there, came to visit one night. After he took one look at my wild eyes and heard the nonsense I was spouting, he said to Dean: ‘Marti is manic.’ He explained that he had just recently been with another friend who had gone through a similar trauma. He told Dean that I would need to go to the hospital, now.
Dean’s face froze. He knew Jamie was right. My psychosis was worsening by the moment. I was turning into a screaming banshee because people weren’t doing what I wanted them to do – things that were completely ridiculous. Things that I wouldn’t normally EVER ask of anyone. Dean and Jamie took me to the local hospital and they put me in a room for the night. Of course I was very afraid of not being close to little Leo for feedings. The next day I was admitted to the psych ward of the George Washington University Hospital in D.C.. I was screaming and crying and carrying on. They put me in a straitjacket, shot me in the ass with a sedative and man-handled me into a rubber room where they threw me to the ground roughly. That might be funny in Monty Python movies, but it was dead serious for me. I felt like I had just entered the ninth circle of hell.
Hours later I was put in a private room with an ensuite bathroom. This was an old hospital and it was not pretty. The windows were covered in a thick mesh and let in very little light. There was a highway of ants at the bottom of the wall beside my bed. What had I done to deserve this? All I wanted to do was breast-feed Leo. That wasn’t going to happen, I was told. Due to all of the medication. My breast milk was no longer any good for Leo. Oh my. That was a sad pill to swallow.
My mind was abuzz with all kinds of nonsense. I thought I was in a movie and that all the other patients on the floor with me were actors. I would try to catch them out on their lines. I thought I was the Virgin Mother still and that this was a big test of my sainthood. I thought I could save people by laying my hands on them. One day, I called my sister Eva and told her I had had a miscarriage that morning. Before that phone call, Eva didn’t really think I was that ill. Now she got it. I called my old friends from Barrie whom I had grown up with. Sally was the most attentive and seriously tried to help me out of this major predicament. Kelly used medical-speak on me and it infuriated me to no end. I called Sally several times. I asked her to call my little brother and say ‘Snowball’. I told her that he would know what that meant. ‘Snowball‘ had been the code word for immediate deployment that we used in Germany in 4 Service Battalion in 1990. Sally did it and I was ever grateful.
Dean called his eldest sister and asked her to come stay for a few weeks, to help with Leo while he was dealing with me and going back and forth the hour to the hospital in D.C. every day. She was wonderful and did very well with Leo. I called my mom’s older sister too. She also came down to help. The two of them got along famously: both red-heads, both mothers, both having had careers in education. One day, the two of them, with Leo, drove to D.C. to bring Leo to me for a visit. This was huge. Two older women, from small Canadian towns, driving to the heart of a large US city with a newborn. They did it and it made me very happy. My eldest brother’s wife, June also came down for several days. We were loved and taken care of. What a blessing.
Immediately, to get my head straight, I was put on Haldol and it caused me to shuffle down the hall, stoop over and drool on myself. It is a very strong anti-psychotic with awful side-effects. I was also put on lithium. Whenever I could, I would get on the phone and call any friend or family member whose number I had in my head. I called Dean’s mom in Newfoundland and started spouting off about all of my troubles. She told me simply: ‘Just do what the doctors tell you to do and get the hell out of there. ‘ That was good advice.
I was discharged in twelve days.
(Picture below credit to pinterest. The one of me in the red dress and of my baby are mine. The dragonfly was taken by a friend of my cousin)
What do you think of this out-of-the-blue psychosis story? I would love to read your comments.