Practically smothered in my favorite blanket, I was in the fetal position on the couch. Naturally the TV was tuned to Nick Jr., most likely Dora the Explorer was on. My only goal was making it to 1:30 pm, so I could put the kids to bed for nap time. Where were my kids—two-year-old Jaison and three-year-old Ava? I had no idea. Didn’t know, didn’t care. They were in the house, so for me that was success.
This was our daily routine. Monday through Friday, my husband Justin would wake me up around 8 am as he prepared to leave for work. “I’m up, I’m up,” I’d tell him. But I was going to go right back to sleep as soon as I heard the front door close. The children would be bundled together in the rocking chair in our room watching cartoons and drinking milk from sippy cups. Justin would kiss me on my forehead, beg me to get up, and then rush out the door.
Freedom. No supervision. Finally alone. Ironically, I think my toddlers also felt this way just as much as I did. 
I would turn on my side and go back to sleep. Each day, I’d wake up again to some sort of catastrophe. Maybe they went through my closet and found my box of photographs, spread them all around the bedroom, some stained with dried milk. Maybe they went through the clean clothes that were still in the laundry basket and flung shirts, socks, and shorts throughout the house leaving me to wonder what was clean, what was dirty. 

A few times Ava, the gymnast, who learned how to climb over the baby gate, managed to go downstairs and ransack the refrigerator. I’d wake up to find cracked eggs, milk, juice, pudding, salad dressing, ketchup—spread across the tiled floors in the kitchen, the hardwood floors in the office, and maybe even the carpet on the stairs.
Did I get upset? Did I lose my temper? How could I? I wasn’t watching them. I wasn’t awake. I left two toddlers to roam the house freely, and all I could do was clean up the mess. I would get paper towels, mops, brooms—whatever the job called for—and try to fix it. Justin would be so disappointed in me if he knew everything that happened when he left the house each morning. He would scold me for not being attentive, not staying awake, not being responsible. I couldn’t take any more negativity. I couldn’t handle the frustration he barely masked because I could not take care of my children.

A few years earlier after the birth of my son Jaison, I’d suffered a psychotic breakdown known as postpartum psychosis (PPP) and spent nearly a week in the local psychiatric center. I was paranoid, disoriented, and terrified. I was having auditory hallucinations, command hallucinations, even tactile hallucinations. I think if I had visual hallucinations, I would’ve been in that building longer. Because seeing things that aren’t there was my biggest fear. Hearing voices was distressing, creepy. Thinking someone is telling you to harm yourself is unnerving. Feeling like your hair is being pulled, or someone is touching you is nightmarish. But had I seen a person, or animal, or whatever comes with visual hallucinations, I would’ve been tormented. That would’ve peaked my psychosis. My fear level would have been so elevated I would most likely have been unresponsive.

After being released, I began suffering from panic disorder. At random moments, my anxiety levels would spike. I’d become convinced I was about to die. I’d be screaming and pleading with Justin to call the ambulance. “I am going to die right here!” I’d yell, “Help me, please! Please don’t let me die!” On top of the psychosis and panic attacks came severe absolute depression. 

I mourned for my life as a childless wife. I mourned the time before I had to take care of two toddlers. I wished it was all over, wished it was all a dream. How badly I wanted to readjust my current life. How could I take care of two children I didn’t think I loved? How could I take care of myself when I would’ve rather been dead? Why was I a terrible mother? Why did I have to be one of a thousand women to suffer from such a rare postpartum mood disorder? Why? 

All I had were questions. But not even my psychiatrist could give me the answer. It just happens. It’s a mental illness that attacks whomever it pleases. There’s no criteria it follows—it just strikes mothers of newborns, and attacks mercilessly, tearing your very core apart, making you want to kill yourself. Telling you to kill your children. Convincing you that doing so would be best. They will be better off dead. This was my life for three years.

My mother, obviously concerned, called me often. She’d tell me about little classes they had at the public libraries to take toddlers to. She’d tell me about Mommy and Me classes. She’d tell me about anything, desperate to get me out of the house. I’d sound interested, ask questions, take mental notes. After I hung up, I’d carefully “misplace” the information in my head and stay indoors—on the couch, in the fetal position practically smothered in my favorite blanket.

Sometimes on a good day, I’d pack Pampers, milk, juice, maybe some Cheerios, and we’d get in the car. Driving and listening to music would soothe me. It would calm me, it would entertain me. I’d drive down long empty roads, parallel to the State Park. Then, depending on how quiet the children were, I’d continue down another narrow road, which was creating a circle back to my house. That gave me at least an hour of freedom to be alone, though the children were in the back seat. 

I’d give them lunch once we were home. And then it was naptime. I’d crawl into the bed and stay in there until 5 pm. That gave me roughly four hours alone. My constant sleeping was a result of a powerful combination of boredom, sadness, and high doses of antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anti-anxiety pills. I didn’t have a chance of staying awake for the eight hours my husband was at work. There were so many factors against me.

Did I ask for help? Did I tell people I needed support? Of course not! I was supposed to be happy. I was supposed to be ecstatic, beside myself, giddy—in love. I had two healthy beautiful babies. You can’t just tell people “I can’t do this.” Maternal instincts are supposed to be inborn. But when you are up against insanity and anxiety and when you have a deep, dark disdain for life, those instincts get uprooted and killed like weeds. I suffered in silence.

I was a bit better by the time Justin came home. It wasn’t just because I would have help—my exhaustion from the medicine would wear off towards the evening. I could at least stay awake. But, once he walked in the door, that’s when things fell apart and secrets were revealed.
At this time in our lives, Justin was sharp and alert, yet suspicious. He hated surprises, wanted to know everything, and would look for things that were out of place. He’d come in, give us all a hug, mumble something about how tiring work was. And then his interrogation would begin. 
“Why is the floor sticky?” He’d ask, without a pause. I’m sure he could even smell the lingering aroma of the Italian dressing that was wasted.

“Umm,” I guiltily began. “The kids climbed on the cabinet and got into the syrup. I was in the bathroom and it happened so fast. I tried to clean it up the best I could, but I’ll wash the floor again.”

“How did they get on the cabinet?” He was furious. He face would get red, his eye contact wavering. “They could’ve hurt themselves. How long were you in the bathroom? Why do these things keep happening?”

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled. “I’ll go get the mop. Dinner’s almost ready. Sorry.” I was overcome with disappointment in myself.

“Alison, this keeps happening every day. I just want to come home to a clean house, knowing that the kids weren’t in danger and you are awake watching them.”

“I’ll work on that. I’m going to fix everything. I’m sorry.”
What else could I say? I mean, I was depressed. I was nervous. I was an amateur mother. I’d never dealt with mental illness before. I was always been a competent person who could handle anything thrown my way. But, I’d become like a functioning alcoholic: I could drink my liquor, walk around and act fine, but I clearly had a problem. Even worse, I had no clue where to begin to adjust it. My psychiatrist constantly changed my meds as I explained the issues of my drunken sleepiness. But that side effect was acceptable to him—the medications were necessary to conquer my severe disabilities.

One Monday morning after three years of alienating myself, I voluntarily woke up. I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t disoriented. I was actually happy. I wanted to do something. I couldn’t believe it. I woke up and was ready to function, to live and interact with my children. I decided to quietly make plans to go to the museum, which was thirty minutes away, that Friday. All week, I would go online seeing what exhibits would interest the kids, what trails they had, I even did some research about the gift shop so I could get them souvenirs. 
Friday morning came, and I got up early, packed a lunch, and fed the kids breakfast. Justin asked what we were up to. I told him I just wanted to get out of the house. He applauded my efforts and was happy that I appeared a little like the old me. 

We went on our secret trip to the museum. That was a big deal. For me to leave the house, the zip code, and the city, alone with two small children, was monumental—I’d never done that. I was too afraid of them getting out of control. I was afraid of getting overwhelmed and having to turn around and leave. But, reminiscent of the old Alison—so organized, prepared, and ready for anything—I did it. I accomplished something so simple, something most mothers take for granted, and I couldn’t have felt more empowered. I called Justin and told him where we were, as we ate lunch in the car. He was amazed and surprised and proud. 

Starting that day, things went up for me. I started feeling better. I didn’t need naps. I played with my children. I had plans a week in advance. I took them to the mall. I took them to the mall. That, for me, was an Olympic obstacle deserving of a gold medal. I even went to the beach. Not in the water, I wasn’t that stable yet. But we would walk on the boardwalk, get ice-cream, converse and love each other.
At first, I didn’t know what happened, what changed in my mental state that caused this new person to emerge. But I was so thankful for it, so grateful that I’d overcome such a horrific illness. I didn’t give up; I never stopped taking my medicine. I never lost faith, thinking it would last forever. I stayed strong. I fought, and I survived. And, most of all, Justin never gave up on me. He never left me. He never stopped loving me or, more importantly, forgiving me.
I fell in noticeable love with my children about three years after they were born. No one can understand that, unless one goes through what I did. But, if that is the case, I don’t want anyone to have to understand something as horrible as postpartum psychosis. It is a scary place for a woman, for her family, and children. But, as stressful and depressing as it can be to the supporting cast, it’s a hundred times worse for the lead actress. 

I can’t describe how frightening it is to go in and out of sanity within a second’s time over and over to the point you’re so confused you just lose it completely. Then to become such a hindrance to your family and yourself that you get institutionalized. 

How did this happen to me in the first place? How did I become the self-proclaimed Miss Moody Mommy? It was oh so very subtle, then suddenly quite abrupt. Then I knew—I knew immediately something was out of control. Something was odd, strange, wrong. Wrong in a way I’d never seen before.