Holly York, a personal trainer, was 30 when she gave birth to her son Leo. Afterward, she felt bright and full of energy—it felt and sounded like the post-birth endorphin rush new mothers hope to have.
She fed her baby, changed his diaper, cleaned the house, and still felt no more worse for wear.
She thought, “I’ve got the best job in the world, everything is coming naturally and instinctively to me, I’m the best mum in the world.”
But then instead of crashing—something even worse happened.
York felt like she had taken a “Limitless” pill—from the 2011 movie where Bradley Cooper takes a highly addictive IQ-enhancing pill and suddenly finds himself capable of super human feats.
“I was on the ball and I felt like I had an IQ of 1,000. I felt like I could have learned a language overnight,” York said. York was running around the house with bounds of energy, but then she found she couldn’t stop.
“Because I had so much energy, I was running around cleaning the house. I felt like I had taken a drug—like ecstasy or something,” York said. “I was having these crazy highs and talking at 100 mph at my husband. I didn’t know what was going on.”
Her family soon became worried.
Then York realized she couldn’t sleep.
The new mother ended up going a whole nine days without sleeping, and with that came an onset of hallucinations and paranoia.
“I was just so tired,” she said. “It was like being a hamster running on a wheel and it was never going to stop. I just felt like the only way to stop it was to get help or die.”
She wasn’t depressed—in fact, she felt like she was “elated” and “on cloud nine”—but it was terrifying.
“I kept referring to myself in the third person. There were two of me in the house—a good one and a bad one,” York remembered. Then on day nine, she saw one kill the other, and the body on the kitchen floor. She had lost 35 pounds, and both she and her husband were at their breaking point.
“It was a nightmare. It was horrific, but I couldn’t tell anyone,” York said. Once it had escalated, they had called doctors and psychiatrists desperately for help, but it wasn’t until the 9th day that a psychiatrist arrived and York was taken to the hospital to get help.
York had had postpartum psychosis, a severe but rare condition where women who have just given birth can display bipolar disorder-like symptoms regardless of whether they have a history of mental illness. These mothers usually start experiencing manic and depressive moods alternately. Some women can become erratic and even violent, and become a threat to themselves or their children.
Though York did not feel depressed, the hallucinations, paranoia, delusions, and foggy-headed-ness were all results of postpartum psychosis.
While postpartum depression can happen to about 1 in 7 women, postpartum psychosis only happens to about 1 in 1,000 women, making it more unrecognizable.
After York and baby Leo were taken to the hospital, she was put on anti-psychotic medication, diagnosed, and started to recover.
The Yorks expect this could have happened because her situation post-birth had been so stressful. The delivery itself had gone well, but once Leo was delivered, York remembers being pushed around once the delivery was done. Visitors were brought in to her room to be shown around, they walked in on her in the bathroom, and she was made to sleep in a room with another family. She started feeling antsy and left the birthing center to recover at home.
“We had never heard of it before,” her husband Adam said. He’s just thankful that York reached out for help when she did, realizing that what she was seeing was inside her mind and that she needed help.
As for York, she wishes more people and more medical staff were better aware of this issue, so that others would have caught signs of it and taken her seriously sooner.
“It terrifies me and makes me feel really sad because I had just had a baby who I loved, and they could have taken all of that away from me,” York said.
“I will dedicate my life to making sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”