Happy Maternal Mental Health Week 2017!
Hello all! I apologize for ducking out of posting last week, but I think today I’ll share a little of why I disappeared. It actually has quite a bit to do with today’s topic of Maternal Mental Health Week! I really needed help last week to get my mental health on target, but my family was hammered by a few things that really pushed my limits.
So let me share just a little first about what Maternal Mental Health Week is because I think it’s a great way to raise awareness. If you’re following my blog at all, you’ll know that I’m still dealing with some postpartum depression and anxiety after delivering my son eleven months ago. (Wow! I just realized Emmeric is eleven months old as of today!) Given how my week went, this is a timely topic to discuss.
Maternal Mental Health Week began three years ago through the efforts of the National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health. This organization champions moms who struggle with mental health problems and highlights those illnesses to help bring awareness to the general public. Each year they bring out a different theme for the week of May 1-7 and a hashtag to help get the word out.
For 2017, the theme and hashtag is #ConnectTheDots. I really love the message here because they’re focusing on the family connection. Did you know that moms who struggle with things like postpartum depression and anxiety struggle to feel a connection to their babies? In my case, I struggled to feel that connection to my son and to my husband. It felt a lot like I was completely disconnected from my life and therefore unable to truly be present with my family.
I want to spend a little time today “connecting the dots” of motherhood when you have a mental health problem. It’s important to me to share some of these things because it means maybe someone else will realize she needs help and take action. The biggest and best thing you can do for yourself as a mom with mental health problems is to push through any shame or fears and ask someone for help.
I shared my story about my delivery here already, but what I haven’t shared much of is the way postpartum depression and anxiety impacts my everyday life. I want to do that today because people need to know that these illnesses are something you really can live with and work through.
How Do PPD/PPA Affect My Everyday Life?
Now that I’m much further along in my therapy, I feel it’s safe to say that I manage fairly well. I gained many coping methods for working through the emotions that can sometimes come crashing down around me, and I learned how to give myself self-talks that help me to put certain thoughts in the right context. But what does that really look like?
Anxiety became a part of daily life.
I struggled with panic attacks for a while after things started settling down with Emmeric. Really, I surprised myself. Rather than having panic attacks when we were in the midst of high tension situations where we needed medical attention for my son, I managed to hold myself together and focus on his needs before my own fears. However, once we got his weight back on track, I could focus on my fears more, and that led to the panic attacks.
Panic attacks come less frequently now than they did in the first six months postpartum, but I still feel that tightness in my chest when certain topics come up. I noticed trigger topics of conversation that can send my mind into a tailspin and heighten my emotions of fear, worry, and stress. The tension goes straight to my neck muscles, and I knead my fingers almost uselessly against those muscles to try to relax.
Simply put, I struggle with anxiety now in a way I never did before, and I don’t know if that will go away anytime soon. I do, however, know ways to cope with it that I didn’t prior, and that helps a great deal.
During especially stressful moments, I feel suicidal.
I want to make it clear that I am not in danger of committing suicide even when the depression threatens me with those thoughts. Why is that? There are a few reasons.
- I know suicidal thoughts are not “me.” Even before I began therapy for these illnesses, I could parse through my suicidal and extremely depressed thoughts and tell myself, “Hey, this is wrong. This isn’t you. You need help.” If I experience suicidal thoughts now, I immediately tell myself the same thing and then decide what I need to do to manage those feelings.
- I developed coping mechanisms for the suicidal thoughts. I am a bit of an introvert and love having quiet and time to myself. However, I know when these thoughts become more prevalent that I need to go spend time with others. I learned other people have different perspectives that can help me process my own thoughts. It really helps to have a safe group of people who can listen and give you feedback when you deal with suicidal thoughts.
- I refuse to choose suicide. I realize this might come across as somewhat controversial, but it’s simply what I’ve decided. No matter what happens, I refuse to think of suicide as an actual option for any pain, depression, anger, or hopelessness I feel. The chemicals in my brain might be able to push me in that direction, but I choose my responses. I might sound strong by saying this, but I’m not. I’m weak emotionally, and part of the reason I can say this is because of my last reason.
- I choose to trust in Jesus. I put my faith and hope in Jesus when I was a child and have learned to cling to that when I’m at the end of my rope. This last week was a reminder of that choice as I lost the words for the prayers I wanted and needed to pray. I simply trusted that the Holy Spirit could relay my heart’s desire and great needs for me because I really felt incapable of putting words together. And guess what? Jesus provided a measure of peace that I needed, and He’ll do that again and again as I continue to trust Him.
I sometimes struggle to put my feelings into words.
The problem with depression and anxiety, for me at least, is that it so muddies my thoughts that I struggle with the ability to share. By nature, I’m a very private person. I open up to people who know me, but even then I might not share my deepest thoughts and rawest feelings. When I’m anxious or depressed, I struggle more with expressing my feelings because it feels like they whirl around me like a storm that won’t slow down long enough for me to latch onto any one thought or feeling. That’s perhaps the best way I can explain what it’s like when I’m under the attack of anxiety and depression. I get lost in a storm of thoughts rushing through like torrents of rain followed by emotional lightning strikes that leave me blinded by their intensity.
So how has my PPD/PPA acted up this past week?
I mentioned that I had a rough time last week. It started off with my inability to motivate myself to write. That sounds rather silly, but writing has become a catharsis for me. I always loved to write, and this blog really gave me an outlet to share and hopefully help others who struggle in the same way I do. So when I found myself unmotivated to write but still wanting to get some posts out for the week, I quickly grew frustrated.
My parents went to Arizona for a ten-day trip the week prior and were expected home on Thursday. My mom helps me out so much more than she probably realizes by not only chauffeuring me and Emmeric to our different doctor appointments but also being available to us. I wound up frustrated by my son several times last week with no outlet besides having Daniel take care of him when he had free time (and no homework). Emmeric acted up a bit and seemed fussier than usual, so I felt stressed much more often during the week.
But the big thing that happened was also the most unexpected. I took Emmeric to an amusement park with a friend on Wednesday while Daniel was at work. While we were there, I received a text message saying that a family member had passed away. I wanted to break down in tears right then and there but the crowded park wasn’t the place for that. My friend brought us back to town, and I watched my husband and family grieve for this sudden loss.
I wanted to grieve. But I needed to take care of my family. At the same time, my anxiety kicked in full force and had me whirling through the “what ifs” of this scenario. I felt sad and angry and afraid all at once with a dozen thoughts that simply wouldn’t go away.
I still have no real closure to some of those thoughts. We went to the funeral for this wonderful person yesterday, and I hugged family and tried to help those that were hurting so much more than I was. It sounds selfish for me to admit that I struggle with this when there were people so much closer to this person than I was, but grief hits people in different ways. When you struggle with a chemical imbalance that causes depression, it makes you feel things more deeply than you normally would.
The closure will come, and I have hope that the sadness will fade. But it hit me hard, perhaps harder because I had to watch my husband go through the pain as well.
As we take time to connect the dots with other mothers this week, I challenge you to talk to the mothers in your life and find out how they’re really doing. Ask them about their lives and what’s been going on and just listen. It can be difficult for a mom to share her worries and feelings with others, especially if she believes she’s supposed to take care of everyone else and ignore herself.
If you get a chance to talk to another mother, let her know there’s no judgment and you just want her to feel comfortable sharing. Sometimes that’s exactly what we need to hear to be able to open up.
I hope if you’re a mom who’s struggling you’ll go to someone who can help. Check with your doctor if you really need help handling the emotions or anxiety you’re dealing with. Don’t try to take it all on yourself. You matter, mama, and you deserve to get help when you need it.
I’ll be back here again Thursday with a post on why habits matter when you’re a new mom. In the meantime, tell me how you’re helping to promote awareness of maternal mental health this week in the comments below!