Around 25% of adults suffer from a mental illness. I want to raise awareness about this issue, and help people understand the different aspects of living with a mental disorder a bit better. That’s why I’m launching a series of guest posts called Mental Health Mondays, where I give other people the opportunity to share their experiences with mental disorders. This week, Malisa from Purposefully Planned writes about experiencing postpartum anxiety after her having her second child.
Last August, I had my second baby girl. We were thrilled to add a new member to our family, and I was in awe that my body created another perfect little human.
The first few weeks after bringing a baby home are tough both physically and emotionally. For one, you just pushed a large object out of a small space, so yeah, your body is going through some stuff. And on top of that, your hormones are going crazy trying to figure out what the hell just happened to you, you’re sleep deprived and sore from trying to establish breastfeeding. And can’t stop eating because, holy crap, breastfeeding makes you ravenous. Your clothes don’t fit right, you’re leaking milk all over the place, your ankles are still swollen from those last few weeks of pregnancy, and you can’t remember the last time you washed your hair because the days and nights just blur together.
But I was happy. Our family was complete. We were all healthy. What more could I ask for?
Life went on and we settled into our new routine. My husband went back to work, my older daughter went back to daycare, and I started my second-time mom group to connect with other moms.
Things started happening in my mind that I didn’t experience after my first baby was born, and at first, I brushed them off as hormonal. I spoke up about it at my mom group and the instructor told me to “keep an eye on it,” but offered no resources. At my 6-week postpartum appointment, I brought it up to the midwife and was given a pamphlet on a weekly group meeting to attend, but I didn’t take action.
As the weeks went on, the thoughts became more intrusive.
Every creak during the middle of the night nursing sessions was a burglar coming to hurt me and my kids. An unfamiliar car parked on our street or a stranger walking down the sidewalk was a threat to my family. A sideways glance or nervous looking person at a restaurant was a sociopath about to shoot up the place. Horrible images of someone hurting my kids would flood my mind as I tried to go to sleep at night. Every Facebook story of a child that had terminal cancer or was abused or murdered would leave me in tears as I imagined my own kids in those situations.
Upon feeling anxious about an upcoming work trip to the mountains, I purchased a keychain that had a seatbelt cutter, a glass breaker, and a whistle on it because I kept having visions of the hotel shuttle driving off a mountain and landing in a lake.
It took me 5 months, and the purchase of that keychain, to finally admit that these thoughts and visions were impacting my life more than they should. Up until that point, I hadn’t told anyone, not even my husband, specific details about these thoughts. I didn’t want to admit that I might be suffering from postpartum anxiety because when you have a baby, you’re supposed to be happy! Glowing! Excited! And I was, so I just kept quiet and let it affect my life way more than irrational thoughts should be allowed.
Going in therapy for postpartum anxiety.
I cried through the entire first appointment with my therapist. It was literally the first time I had spoken out loud the horrible things going on in my head. Some of the thoughts I’d had were so dark I could hardly say them, but I did.
It was amazing how much better I felt just by saying the words out loud. It was almost like I realized how irrational they were by speaking them. I kept going to the therapist for three months, learned coping mechanisms to keep the thoughts from distracting me from being present with my family, and started telling people about what I was going through. It was amazing how many of my friends and family related to having these kinds of thoughts, but never sought help.
Almost a year later, I’m doing much better, but there are certain things that send my mind down the rabbit hole to the worst possible scenario. Social media exacerbates the thoughts immensely — there’s always some article about a child with cancer, violent crimes, babies dying — so I really have to be careful when scrolling through Facebook. And I do not watch the news, ever. There’s way too much negative for me to cling to there.
When I do go to that deep dark place, I ground myself be planting my feet on the floor, resetting my mind and telling myself “that isn’t my situation”, “my family is safe” or “my kids are healthy.” I had a necklace engraved that says BE HERE. I wear it very often and it’s my constant reminder to be present in the now, not the what-if. And when people ask me about it, I tell them my story because if even one other person can relate to it, I want to make them feel less alone and help them find someone to talk to.
Mamas, if you are having these thoughts, do not be afraid to speak up and get help. There is more awareness around anxiety and depression today, but postpartum issues are not discussed enough. There are many ways to cope, with or without medication, so do yourself, and your family, a favor by reaching out to someone. Your life will be so much better if you do.
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