With many of us thinking about the untimely and tragic deaths of fashion icon Kate Spade and celebrity chef and entrepreneur Anthony Bourdain, I felt it pertinent to share my personal struggle with mental health. I do not share this to make light of their deaths or to brag that I somehow “got over it.” In truth, mental health is not something you “get over.” It is something you struggle with daily. This is my story.
Postpartum Anxiety: The Elephant in the Room
Picture, if you will, my lovely 23 year old self. If you didn’t know me back then, no worries. I’ll show you.That’s me at 23. Aren’t I cute? I’m also about 3 months postpartum. I know, right? I look so happy.
Good thing there are picture to remind me of how much I was faking it at this point in my life.
I’ve never shared the full story of my girls’ birth on this blog before. Maybe I will one day. For now, the quick and dirty version is that I had preeclampsia and they were born 8 weeks early. In addition to suddenly being thrust into the role of motherhood, I also had to recover from major surgery and figure out what my life was going to be. I thought being a stay-at-home mom was going to be the easiest thing in the world.
I was in for quite a rude awakening.
Motherhood Ain’t Easy
I was one of the last of my friends group to have a baby (and the first to have more than one baby). I knew what to look for when it came time to answer the postpartum depression questions. No, I didn’t want to smother my babies. No, I didn’t have a hard time getting out of bed. No, I was irritable or sleepless.
For both of my postpartum doctor’s visits, I shunned any mention of medication to help me through my feelings. Sure, I was giddy as a kid on Christmas morning one minute and bawling my eyes out the next, but that was to be expected, right? I had just given birth, spent 3 weeks running back and forth to the NICU, and I was maybe getting 2 hours of sleep each night since my girls were now home and on an intense feeding schedule. Who wouldn’t have a rollercoaster of emotions?
The problem was I couldn’t ever quite seem to “get a handle on it” or “get over it.”
Admitting My Truth
Single parents, I salute you. I don’t know how you do it. If it hadn’t been for my husband, I would have never known I needed help. If you don’t have a spouse or partner or a friend group or a support system of any kind, I urge you to call. 1-800-784-2433 and ask for help. They have resources available to point you to support groups that can help you.
I finally got brave enough to call my doctor and tell him how I felt. One minute I was on cloud nine and the next I was afraid I was going to accidentally maim or kill my children because I had no idea what I was doing and I didn’t deserve to be their mother and I was also a complete failure at life….and….and…..you get the point.
He assured me it was normal to have those feelings. I had postpartum anxiety, he said, and he wrote me a prescription right away. What a relief. I finally had a name for my feelings. Anxiety.
And I was going to be ok. It happens to more women than we think. In one study I read about, as many as 16% of the women were found to have postpartum anxiety while 6% suffered from postpartum depression. I write this not to trivialize depression, but to assure others out there who may have anxiety like I did that you are not alone. There are more of us out there than you think.
How to Help Others
Admitting I needed help was the first step for me. It did take someone else in my life noticing I wasn’t ok for me to get there, though. Do you know someone who may be struggling with their mental health? It doesn’t have to be someone that just had a baby, either.
Maybe a friend has begun pulling away socially or is exhibiting signs of intense worry. Talk to them. Send them a text and let them know you are thinking of them. Pick them up for coffee or meet them at home and bring the coffee to them. Whatever it is for your social group, don’t let someone ease into invisibility. It really is all too easy in our current time to “look ok” on Facebook or tell people you’re “doing fine” in person without actually being fine.It’s ok to not be ok.
Too many times after someone has done something tragic that they cannot return from, people will say, “But they looked ok to me.” or “I had no idea.” There are signs. They may not be neon signs with techno music and confetti, but there are signs. You know when something isn’t right with someone you love. Say something. Say anything. If they don’t want to talk about it, that’s ok, but don’t let them suffer in silence.
Sometimes being present is a gift in and of itself.
If you or someone you know is feeling overwhelmed with life, please know you are not alone. If you don’t have a physical person in your life to talk to, you are still not alone. Please call 1-800-784-2433 today and let someone know how you feel and allow them to help you. Asking for help is incredibly brave and can put you on a path of healing and restoration.