My Psychotic Break

After the birth of my first child, I split with reality. I had terrifying hallucinations, received messages from the spirit world and spent so much on New Age paraphernalia that I had to sell my house. A memoir on the postpartum nightmare no one talks about

Growing up, I struggled with anxiety and depression. I always seemed to be worried about something—getting good grades at school, how much my parents fought. But, when I was 23, I met my future husband, John, and I finally felt free. We got to know each other at the local TV station in his hometown of Thunder Bay, where he was working as a graphic artist and I was chasing my dream of becoming the next Dini Petty. He liked my fierce independence, blond pixie cut and tight leather pants; I liked his laid-back attitude, dark wavy hair and how he yelled out the answers to Jeopardy! questions in the break room.

Within months, in love and craving adventure, we quit our jobs, drove west and landed in Vancouver. After a couple of years working for different stations across the country, I took a stable, well-paid communications position at Queen’s Park while John returned to Thunder Bay. As I waited for him to join me—hoped he would join me—I started having panic attacks. My family doctor prescribed antidepressants, and they worked: my anxiety faded.

John did move to Toronto, and we eventually got married and bought a tiny one-bedroom condo in midtown. Cramped but content, we decided it was time to try for kids. I was concerned that the antidepressants could cause unwanted side effects for a baby, so I made an appointment with my doctor. After weighing the risks and benefits to both me and a baby, she agreed that I seemed to be in a good place and I could try coming off the medication. It took two months to wean myself. I also cut out caffeine and alcohol and started taking prenatal vitamins and seeing an acupuncturist. As long as I take care of myself, I thought, I’ll be okay.

Related: After 10 rounds of fertility treatment and four miscarriages, we became parents in the last way we expected

I became pregnant in October of 2008, when I was 31 and John was 40. I was thrilled, excited and more than a little anxious. I figured that was normal—after all, I was growing a human being inside of me. But the weight of that responsibility soon overwhelmed me. I couldn’t sleep. I worried incessantly about the baby’s safety. Every time I felt a twinge in my abdomen, I ran to the bathroom, worried that I’d miscarried. If I woke up in the night on my stomach, I’d leap out of bed, horrified that I’d crushed the baby. Driving seemed like too big a risk: What if I got in an accident?

When Patricia Tomasi got pregnant, she imagined going on blissful stroller walks and playdates. Photo courtesy of the subject

I couldn’t wait for the pregnancy to be over, but I was terrified of giving birth. I was worried about the pain, about something being wrong with the baby, about dying. I couldn’t suppress the catastrophic thoughts ricocheting around my mind. I was furious with myself: Get it together—this is the most special time of your life. How are you going to be a good mom if you can’t even handle pregnancy?

My obstetrician told me it was normal to be worried. The baby was healthy and I was healthy, she reassured me. Try yoga or meditation. When I was seven months pregnant, we bought a house in Vaughan, across the street from my parents, so we could have easy access to their help after the baby was born. Ten weeks later, at 4 a.m. on July 5, 2009, my water broke. A wave of fear crashed over me. Labour, as traumatic as it was, would turn out to be far less torturous than what I was about to confront.


Thirty-three hours after going into labour, I gave birth to our son, Evan, with the help of an epidural, a vacuum and forceps. I collapsed onto the bed as a nurse whisked my newborn away to be weighed and swaddled. I thought I heard him crying, but all I cared about was that he was healthy and safe—and that I could finally get some rest.

When the nurse returned, she handed Evan to John. “Doesn’t she want to see him?” I heard her ask. Really? I thought. I was exhausted. There would be lots of time to see him. I slowly turned my head and cracked my eyes open. Our son’s tiny face peeked out from the pink and blue hospital blanket. He looked peaceful. “He’s cute,” I remarked groggily. “Can I sleep now?”

I was discharged the next day. Over the previous 48 hours, I had been poked and prodded. I’d been plied with samples of formula, nipple cream, newborn diapers and information pamphlets. Nurses and doctors checked my vitals, but not one person asked about my mental state. Once we arrived home, I crawled straight into bed. “Just bring him to me when he’s hungry,” I told John.

For the next few weeks, Evan was either sleeping in my arms, breastfeeding or getting his diaper changed. I alternated between being sad and being angry—angry that my baby was hungry all the time, angry that I was tired, angry that I was sad.

“You’re not enjoying this, are you?” my mom asked me one day. I burst out crying. “I need a break,” I howled.

Early on, Tomasi repeatedly tried to tap into the joy of motherhood, without success. Photo courtesy of the subject

My parents had offered countless times to watch Evan, and I finally relented. We decided they would babysit him for a couple of hours each morning. But, instead of taking that time to rest, I asked my boss if I could work from home part time. It felt good to have a foot in my old life again, but I had difficulty concentrating, and I resented having to pick up Evan each day at lunch. I also resented John for being able to leave the house for eight hours a day, yet I refused to accept his help when he was home. I worried that maybe I was doing it all wrong. Did other mothers feel this way?

John had spent weeks hoping I’d snap out of it, but he was growing more and more concerned. “You would tell me if you had bad thoughts, right?” he asked me one morning over breakfast. “Bad thoughts like what? Hurting myself or Evan? Don’t be ridiculous,” I answered quickly, cutting him off. And it was true—I hadn’t. But I could feel myself drifting further and further from my family.

I desperately wanted to convince everyone that I was happy. I started forcing myself to act cheerful when John was home, pasting on a smile as I fixed us one of the simple meals I could manage. When hockey season started, I bought a Leafs onesie for Evan and dressed him up to watch the game on Saturday nights, just like John and I had before our son was born. Despite my efforts, life felt flat. The truth was that I loved Evan but hated almost everything about being his mother.

Three and a half months after giving birth, I was getting worse, not better. I finally dug up one of the pamphlets I’d been given at the hospital and called the number. When a nurse answered, I confessed that I thought I might have postpartum depression.

“I’m going to ask you questions from something called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale,” she said. She asked me how often I’d been able to laugh over the previous seven days (zero times; I couldn’t remember when I’d last laughed). Then she asked me if I blamed myself when things went wrong; if I’d been worried; if I was crying a lot; if I’d been having difficulty sleeping (yes, yes, yes and yes). Finally, she asked me if I’d had thoughts of harming myself or the baby. My answer, firm and immediate, was the same I’d given John: absolutely not.

When I opened my eyes, the room seemed different—heavy and hazy. I felt strangely calm, like I wasn’t alone. Something otherworldly had joined me. Was it God?

The nurse told me to wait a minute while she tallied up the score; a total of 13 would mean I might have postpartum depression. When she got back on the line, she said I was a 10 but that she could drop by in person the following week to see how I was doing. “That would be great,” I said. I was sort of relieved but also distressed: If it wasn’t depression, what was going on?

The following week, the nurse rang our doorbell, sat on our couch, asked me the same series of questions without giving me a score, then left some brochures for Mommy and Me playgroups. I never heard from her again.

By the time I was six months postpartum, Evan was finally sleeping in his crib, and John, who’d spent most nights on a fold-out couch in the basement, was back with me in bed, the way it was supposed to be. But, instead of improving, I spiralled. My period came back—and so did my anxiety. Violent images of Evan drowning in a bathtub or being stabbed flashed through my mind. I could see the hands hurting him but couldn’t tell who they belonged to. I was petrified that they were mine. I didn’t tell John, afraid he’d think Evan wasn’t safe with me.

I started zoning out all the time. One evening, while drawing a bath for Evan, I stared into the running water for what seemed like minutes, until my head suddenly snapped back. Another time, I called an ambulance while at the mall with Evan because I had no memory of making it from one end of the building to the other. The blood tests taken by the ER staff came back normal. “Go home and enjoy your baby,” the doctor told me, echoing what I’d been hearing for months, what I suspected other mothers were able to accomplish effortlessly. Calm down, carry on, be happy.

Though I had been scared and confused, struggling to make sense of my cascading anxiety, I was mostly coping. But I was completely unprepared for what came next. It happened in the middle of the night, on January 23, 2010. John and Evan were sleeping, and I was sitting on our couch, trying to calm my breathing and keep my heart from flip-flopping up and out of my throat. It felt like a panic attack but different. Maybe it was cardiac arrest or a stroke? I stood, opened the blinds and stared out the window at the stars. “I give up,” I said aloud to nobody. “I give up.” Then I closed my eyes and fell backward onto the couch with a thump.

I don’t know how long I stayed there. When I opened my eyes, the room seemed different—heavy and hazy. I felt strangely calm, like I wasn’t alone. Something otherworldly had joined me. Was it God? I was raised Catholic, but I wasn’t religious. And yet, instead of questioning what was happening, I relaxed. This moment felt profoundly real, more real than anything I had ever experienced.

I felt the presence try to communicate with me. Not in a voice, exactly—it was like a telepathic connection that beamed messages directly into my brain. The presence told me to pull down the first book I spotted on my bookshelf. My gaze stopped on a blue spine emblazoned with the words “Calming Your Anxious Mind.” Open the book to a random page and read the first sentence you see, the presence told me. So I did. It was about transforming your life through meditation. That’s how you are going to heal, the presence assured me. That’s how you are going to get to the root of your anxiety. And once you are better, you will help others.

I was on a very special mission from God, and spirit guides—angels and even aliens—would be there to help me. Everything that has happened to you up to this point unfolded as it should have, the presence said. Right now, though, all I needed to do was close my eyes, conjure a peaceful scene and breathe. I fell asleep recalling summertime visits to the small Quebec town on the St. Lawrence where my mother was raised.

When I woke up the next morning, the sun was shining. For the first time in more than six months, I felt refreshed. I was lucky enough to be chosen to carry out a special mission! And how spectacular was it to know that we weren’t alone, that a magical world existed beyond our reality? The only downside was that I had to keep it a secret. There was no way I could tell John—he wouldn’t understand.

I decided to take Evan to the library to see what books I could find on meditation. Passing by the bulletin board, I noticed a flyer for a meditation group that met every Wednesday at a nearby community centre. What a coincidence, I thought. It’s not a coincidence, said the presence. I led you here.

The following Wednesday, I left Evan with John. It was my first evening away from our baby, but I knew everything would be fine—my spirit guide said this is what needed to be done. When I walked into the room, a few people were milling about and a few were sitting in chairs. A giant poster of a person sitting cross-legged hung at the front of the room, seven colourful circles running down their spine. These, the instructor explained, were the chakras—psychic-energy centres that are central to certain Hindu and Buddhist practices. By balancing the energy in your chakras, a process that can be helped by meditation, you can heal your physical and mental ailments, he said. I had never heard of chakras before, but I knew immediately that I had found what I was looking for. I would be healed, and then I would help heal the world.


What the doctor hadn’t seen—and what I had no way of knowing—was that my fragile mental state could be explained: despite the results of the Edinburgh scale, I did have postpartum depression, but it had graduated into anxiety, and now I was in full-blown psychosis. The most dangerous of perinatal mental illnesses, postpartum psychosis sits at the far end of the spectrum—and I’d slid all the way to the edge.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include disorganized thinking, confusion, paranoia, delusions and hallucinations. While there’s no clear consensus on what causes it, researchers have found the change in hormones during pregnancy and childbirth to be a factor, as well as weaning from breastfeeding and the resumption of monthly periods. Women who give birth for the first time, experience birth trauma or have a history of mental illness (especially bipolar disorder) are at a higher risk. Sleep deprivation is also a suspected catalyst. Although quite rare, at a rate of one to two people for every 1,000, postpartum psychosis is considered a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.

There is an alarming amount of misinformation and myth surrounding the condition, which isn’t recognized as a distinct disorder in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5. Perinatal (the period between conception and one year postpartum) mental illnesses affect one in five new moms. And not just them: it can happen to their partners and to adoptive parents. However, many cases go unaddressed. One study by the University of Saskatchewan found that two-thirds of patients with perinatal depression did not receive treatment. The stigma of being labelled crazy, the fear of being deemed an unfit parent and the unrelenting societal pressure to be a perfect mom keep many from reporting their experiences or sharing their stories.

Canada is far behind other Commonwealth countries when it comes to addressing perinatal mental health issues. Unlike Australia and the UK, we don’t have national guidelines and strategies, universal perinatal mental health screening, or mother and baby units. In 2023, our then–minister of mental health and addictions, Carolyn Bennett, announced funding to create national clinical perinatal mental health guidelines, which is a start. But, if the UK is any indication, Canada had better catch up quickly: a recent British study found that 93.5 per cent of 1,300-plus new mothers there experienced psychosis-like symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions. While there has yet to be a screening tool to detect postpartum psychosis specifically, researchers in the US are working on it.

With the proper supports in place, postpartum psychosis is highly preventable and treatable. Following the birth of her son in 2009, a Brampton mother named Geneviève Desrochers began having delusions that her husband was going to die every time he left the house and that God wanted her to prevent a horrible event from happening to her sister. She started getting panic attacks and excruciating pain in one of her legs. When she went to the ER, the tests came back normal. It was only when she spoke with her midwife that she was referred to a social worker and then to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed bipolar disorder of postpartum onset with psychotic features. She’d had no symptoms prior to labour and no family history of bipolar disorder.

Nancy Di Nuzzo, a Vaughan woman who gave birth at the peak of Covid, suffered from sleep deprivation and insomnia, which in turn led to hypertension, racing thoughts, hallucinations and paranoia. Five days after her daughter was born, she went to the ER and received a diagnosis of postpartum psychosis but was then sent home. After landing back in the hospital less than a week later, she was admitted to the psychiatric ward for six nights. With the help of medication, therapy and support from loved ones, she recovered.

Not everyone gets a diagnosis so quickly—or at all. Flora Babakhani had always dreamed of being a mother. In 2021, after extensive fertility treatments in Toronto, the 44-year-old chartered accountant finally got pregnant, a single parent by choice. Like me, Flora had stopped taking antidepressants for fear that they would harm her baby. Leading up to the birth, she was overjoyed but acutely anxious. Her sister, Mimi, who was living in ­Scotland, did her best to reassure her from a distance.

Related: Five older moms describe what it’s like to have kids in your 40s

When Flora gave birth, in November of 2021, her mood suddenly lifted. So, when she didn’t immediately return Mimi’s calls, her sister didn’t think much of it—Flora must be cocooning, she thought. By the time Mimi finally heard from Flora, three days later, the new mother was hysterical. Her mental state plummeted even further when she had to spend two weeks in the hospital to treat severe edema and wasn’t able to see her daughter because of pandemic restrictions. Upon her return home, Flora seemed distant, joyless.

Two months after her daughter was born, Flora suddenly messaged Mimi that her life was over and she was going to jail. She said that her computer had been hacked, her apartment and phone bugged. She told Mimi that she had transferred money to her because she was afraid someone was going to break into her bank account. Mimi reassured Flora that she would help her figure out what was going on, but when they spoke again the next day, Flora brushed off her sister’s concerns, citing exhaustion. “I promise everything’s okay,” Flora insisted. “I love you so much.” Two days later—and 72 hours before she was supposed to see a doctor—Flora died by suicide.

Canada’s record-keeping on maternal deaths caused by perinatal mental illness has significant gaps and limitations, something the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is working to change. Without proper diagnosis and reporting, it’s impossible to know exactly how many people have stories similar to Flora’s, or to mine.


My experience of post­partum psychosis was different from Flora’s: I was in an almost permanent state of euphoria. After the meeting at the community centre, I became obsessed with chakras. Over the next several months, I dropped thousands of dollars on books and courses. My anxious thoughts had been replaced with messages from the divine, communicated to me through number sequences on licence plates and words on billboards and in newspapers. Nothing was a coincidence; everything was a sign.

When I started to see what I thought were auras—colours emanating like misty clouds around people’s heads and bodies—I knew that meant I had balanced my chakras and could see through my so-called third eye. I signed up to become a reiki master, a person who can heal through the power of touch. I was one of five students enrolled in the certification course, which was offered at a farmhouse in Essa, about an hour north of Toronto. One of my classmates said there was a portal to another plane of existence on the grounds, so we all went outside to check it out. She led my hand to where she could feel a pillar of heat, and I swore I could feel it too. It was further proof of the existence of the spiritual world and my abilities as an energy healer.

My spirit guides told me I needed to do more to learn the ways of the divine before I could embark on my quest to heal the world. You should become a yoga instructor, they said. So I did. You should become a qigong instructor, they said. So I did that too. I trusted my guides implicitly, more than John, my parents or anyone else in my life. Soon, I started getting into magic. The spiritual arts are interconnected, my guides told me, and you must learn all their ways. I bought more books, took more courses, and started practising healing spells for friends and family. I’d wake up in the night to light candles and invoke spirits to heal my mother of multiple sclerosis, my father after a bad fall, my sister of the flu and John of his nicotine addiction. None of it worked, but I was unfazed.

Using the words and music of Michael Jackson, the Little Mermaid soundtrack and “Gangnam Style” singer Psy, I shared my healing journey

A year into my divine healing journey, I woke up unerringly confident that it was time to share my knowledge with the world. Walking along Bay Street on my way to work, I received a message from my spirit guides: I needed to become a full-time energy healer. When I got to my desk, I typed out an email to my boss letting her know that I was quitting. Then I ordered a massage table and set about advertising my hands-on healing services.

I shared the news with John after I got home, as we watched Evan roll back and forth on his baby mat. “I’m not meant to be sitting behind a desk writing press releases for the rest of my life. I want to help people.” John stared at me. “By putting crystals on them and waving your hands around?” he asked in disbelief.

I tried reminding him how we had once both quit our jobs to follow our dreams of travelling the country. “Don’t you think you should have discussed this with me first?” he responded. “We have a child and a mortgage now, or did you forget about that?”

I hadn’t forgotten, but those things simply didn’t worry me in the way they once had. Evan was being cared for by John and my parents and at daycare. I was with him when I wasn’t at work or carrying out God’s plan for me, but I wasn’t truly present. Lying down for naps with him, I’d hear angels whisper into my ear that this world was just an illusion—only the spiritual world was real. I smiled at the secret I carried with me.

John may not have understood what I needed, but my spirit guides did. They started sending messages about having fun. How about acting, something I’d enjoyed doing as a kid? I got myself an agent and started going on auditions. I booked a few non-speaking roles in crime documentaries, played Ruby in a stage production of Anne of Green Gables and landed a gig on a show about terrible cooks. I was acting by day and healing by night, but there was still more to do. My guides prompted me to write a book about fulfilling your dreams by healing through the chakras.

What a great idea! I wrote for hours each day, the words flooding my brain. My book, Kick Ass Dreams, was finished in two weeks. I later shelled out $5,000 to have 500 copies printed, and I planned the book launch—with all proceeds going to mental health organizations—so it would coincide with Bell Let’s Talk Day. To make it more fun, I wrote a one-woman musical about how the chakras healed me of postpartum depression, then paid $3,000 to rent out the Lower Ossington Theatre for a one-day run. A friend who wrote for the Toronto Sun liked the mental health angle and wrote an article about my book. A producer from CTV News invited me to appear on-air.

The day of my TV interview and musical performance passed by in a giddy blur. The news anchors asked me about navigating anxiety and depression and about what I called my “dark night of the soul” six months after Evan was born. I told them about my meditation practice, about my special connection to God, about chakras. I couldn’t believe I was spreading my message to the world! I was the conduit for a 2,000-year-old healing system being broadcast on mainstream television! As the interview wrapped up, I plugged my book and invited viewers to come see my show later that day.

The only things onstage in the theatre were a microphone and an enormous red plush chair shaped like a stiletto, behind which hung a curtain of silver tinsel. I emerged in a tight sequin dress and cherry-red lipstick and clicked my way to centre stage in four-inch heels. Grabbing hold of the mic, I welcomed the 100 or so people in attendance with a very loud, very enthusiastic, “Welcome to Kick Ass Dreams!”

The crowd—made up of a reluctant John, old friends from school, new ones from my spiritual life and strangers who’d seen or read about me in the news—whistled, clapped and hooted in welcome. And they remained kindly enthusiastic as I launched into my own take on “Beat It.” The next 90 minutes is best described as a near-manic mash-up of mental health musings and karaoke punctuated with Value Village costume changes. Using the words and music of Michael Jackson, the Little Mermaid soundtrack and “Gangnam Style” singer Psy, as well as some rather unhinged dance moves, I shared my healing journey. The audience couldn’t look away.


By March, it became clear that I wasn’t making enough money doing energy work to pay my half of the mortgage, and my savings were running out. Since quitting my job, I had spent $50,000 and brought in significantly less. Still, I continued to splurge on books and courses and spontaneously dropped $2,000 on a silver, gold and emerald dragon-shaped ring because a salesperson at a New Age store told me it was magic. With my bank balance hurtling toward zero, I knew I had to talk to John.

At that point in our relationship, we sometimes argued, but mostly we just avoided each other. While he watched Hockey Night in Canada, I did tarot readings and performed fireside ceremonies in the backyard by the light of the full moon. My husband no longer recognized the person he had married and needed to believe it was a phase, an early midlife crisis. He was determined to wait things out as long as I wasn’t hurting Evan or myself. So we put the house on the market. And a few months later, we moved north to Barrie and into a home less than half the size—but one we could afford on a single salary, for a little while at least.

Three years after giving birth to Evan, I received a message that a baby in heaven was waiting to come into our lives. I somehow convinced John it was time to expand our family, and it wasn’t long before I was pregnant again. That’s when two remarkable things happened. I wasn’t anxious at all—I felt great, nothing like my first pregnancy. Even more shocking was that I lost interest in spirituality. My guides stopped sending messages, and I no longer saw auras. It was as if a veil had lifted and I could see everything with fresh eyes. I was profoundly confused and embarrassed by what I’d done—the money I’d spent, the claims I’d made, the “Gangnam Style” performance. Mortified, I packed up my books on spirituality and banished them to the basement. I sold my massage table and closed my healing practice. I wanted to erase all signs of the bizarre life I had led over the past couple of years. What had been wrong with me?

I went back over everything that had transpired since Evan had been born. First I was depressed, then anxious, then I started thinking and doing really weird things. The nurse had said my score on the Edinburgh scale wasn’t high enough to indicate postpartum depression, so I started to research maternal mental health. I found a book called This Isn’t What I Expected and learned about the spectrum of prenatal and postpartum mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, bipolar disorder and psychosis. Without hesitating, I told John and my midwife what I’d read so they could be on high alert.

Just like the pregnancy, my second labour went smoothly. Although I bled enough during delivery to require a transfusion, I was oddly free of anxiety. And I wasn’t exhausted like the first time around: I was elated to be a mom, and I wanted to hold Celeste as soon as she was born. If there were a problem, I would be depressed or anxious by now, I told myself.

Clearly, this wasn’t going to be the “fun” psychosis I had experienced with Evan—I needed to get help, fast. It couldn’t wait until morning. I woke John

Then, three months postpartum, the anxiety started creeping back in—and with it the intrusive thoughts. This time, instead of visions of drowning or stabbing, I saw myself driving off a cliff with Celeste or running into oncoming traffic. I was having multiple panic attacks a day. Then came the trances.

One night while I was cradling Celeste in my arms, I spotted shadows flying across the ceiling of my bedroom and suddenly felt a dark presence. Clearly this wasn’t going to be the “fun” psychosis I had experienced with Evan—I needed to get help, fast. It couldn’t wait until morning. I woke John. “I think it’s time to call 911,” I said. “I’ll take Celeste with me, and you stay home with Evan. I’ll call you from the hospital.”

I told everyone my story—the paramedics, the nurses, the emergency room doctor. I’ll be admitted for sure, I thought. I wasn’t. “Your blood tests are normal,” the doctor said. “There isn’t much more I can do for you tonight. Try following up with your GP tomorrow.” When I got home, I managed to convince John that I was fine, that I must have exaggerated my symptoms because the medical team didn’t see anything wrong with me. I told him I’d call my doctor the next day.

The following morning, after John left for work, I woke up in a dreamlike state, and I could feel my grip on reality loosening. I called my doctor’s office and managed to get a same-day appointment after speaking with a receptionist who had dealt with perinatal mental health issues herself.

When the doctor walked into the exam room, I spilled out my story and told her she needed to prescribe me medication. She did: an SSRI to help with depression and anxiety. She tried to reassure me that, if I was aware that something wasn’t right, it meant I wasn’t experiencing postpartum psychosis. Maybe not yet, I thought.

I cried all the way home, convinced that the medication I had begged for was poison. I wanted John with me when I took the pills in case I had an adverse reaction, but I didn’t know if I would be able to take them in time before completely slipping away. With Celeste in my arms, I waited for my husband to drive the 45 minutes back from work.

It was hard to breathe. I wanted to lie down, but I couldn’t stay still. I perched on the edge of the bed. I got up and walked around. I sat back down. I looked out the window. Clouds hung low in the sky, full of rain. Get it over with. Ice-cold adrenalin surged through me, and I ripped the prescription bag off my nightstand. I unscrewed the top of the bottle and shook out a pill. It was oblong, grey and white, unassuming. I rocked it back and forth in my palm, between the heart line and the head line—or was it the fate line and the life line? I stared at the pill until it grew sticky from my body heat.

Knock, knock.

“Can I come in?” John asked softly.

“Yes, of course,” I answered.

“How are you doing?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did you take the medication?”


John frowned. “Why not?”

“I’m scared.”

“Of what?”

“I don’t know. A lot of things. I’m scared of what it might do to my body. I’m scared it will change who I am. I’m scared that this means I’m crazy.”

“You’re not crazy.”

“Are you sure?”

“No,” he replied.

“Very funny.”

I leaned over Celeste and grabbed her tiny hands with my fingers. She was such a happy baby, always laughing and cooing. She’d slept through the night from day one.

“Take the pill.”

“I will.”


“In a minute.”

“Why a minute?”

“I need time to think.”

“Think about what?”

“About what’s happening.”

“You know what’s happening.”

Celeste was getting restless. I began breastfeeding her. I knew what I had to do. I had to take control of what was happening to me. I had to do this, for all of us.

“No one ever asked me about my mental health,” I said, “not while I was pregnant or after I had the baby.”

John reached for the glass of water on the nightstand. “Here,” he said.

I swallowed the pill.


It took a few weeks for the anxiety and the trance-like episodes to fade away. Soon, the only looming presence in our bedroom was the hulking mountain of laundry. Within three months, I was the calmest I’d been since going off antidepressants in my late 20s. Should I have never gone off the medication? Could all of this have been avoided?

I needed answers. By this point, I suspected it was postpartum psychosis, but I still didn’t have an official diagnosis. Following a quick Google search, I found out that Women’s College Hospital had perinatal psychiatrists on staff. I got a referral from my doctor and a few months later made the trip to Toronto. Within an hour, a psychiatrist gave me a diagnosis: I’d definitely had postpartum bipolar disorder with psychotic features—otherwise known as postpartum psychosis.

Armed with the truth and filled with fury, I wanted everyone to know what I’d gone through. I posted about my experience on Facebook, and a friend who was an editor at HuffPost Canada asked if I would write a series for the site. I agreed—I was determined to find out why the health care system had failed me and whether there were other parents in the same position.

Since getting her diagnosis, Tomasi has spoken with hundreds of women who have faced similar experiences

For one of my articles, I interviewed Jaime Charlebois, who was at that time the perinatal mood disorder coordinator for the North Simcoe Muskoka region. We became friends, and in the fall of 2019, we co-founded the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative to call on the federal government to create a national perinatal mental health strategy. That hasn’t happened yet, but we’ve had some success, including helping to draft a motion to create a national strategy that was agreed to by all parties. We also convinced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to include “timely access to perinatal mental health services” on his mandate letter for the minister of mental health and addictions in 2021.

I was lucky to get the help I needed before it was too late. Shortly after Flora Babakhani’s death, Mimi reached out to share her sister’s story with me. Through our organization, Jaime and I started Flora’s Walk, an annual fundraiser held each May to raise awareness and money for perinatal mental health. Since 2022, we’ve raised close to $200,000 across 40 Canadian cities, helping dozens of organizations improve their services. Flora is present in everything we do.

It’s been almost a decade since I recovered from my psychosis. I can’t quite believe that my marriage survived, but John and I are still in love and still living in the same home in Barrie. Evan is now 14 years old and has received diagnoses for ADHD, autism and anxiety. I worry that it’s partly because of me—children of parents with untreated perinatal mental illness are more likely to deal with conditions such as ADHD, depression and anxiety. At nine years old, Celeste shows no signs of any of the same conditions. Both kids love to draw, just like John, and Evan has a particular talent for animation. Celeste dreams of becoming a mom one day. She has the names of her future kids already picked out: Elijah for a boy, Luna for a girl. If my children do choose to have kids, I hope they won’t have to go through what I did. In the meantime, I’ll do everything I can to make sure help will be there if they need it.

This story originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe for just $39.99 a year, click here. To purchase single issues, click here.