Since I was about 24, I’ve been living with anxiety disorder that presents in different ways. I plan on diving into what this means to me as a not-mom in other posts, but in this post I’d like to focus on what giving birth meant for my anxiety and mental health as a whole.
I can honestly say I was not prepared for the giant mental shift and struggle that was required when I became a mother. Who is? Yes, there was this beautiful squishy human who pretty much pooped rainbows in my eyes, and she brought (and continues to bring) me endless joy upon joy, but…there was also a loss that I wasn’t anticipating. I lost myself for a little while, and I can bet if you’re a mom you would say the same thing.
In the early months, this little creature just NEEDS so much of you and you give so much of yourself that it’s so hard to keep a hold of the parts that make you, well, you. It was difficult for me to do basic everyday things for myself, such as peeing when I needed to, let alone the things I didn’t realize were so crucial for my mental well-being. When you add “mom” to the list of things you identify with, it can replace some of the other things that used to make up your identity. For me, those things included: a daily exerciser, a needer of alone time, a reader, a creator, and a friend. I needed to be these things to be happy, to recognize myself. I was miserable for a while without them. Sometimes, friends, you need more than food and water to survive, and that’s ok. Sometimes you need yoga and a cocktail with girlfriends!
I can say feel so much more human since pinpointing what I missed from the Kayla before baby!
Along with the general mental changes that happen when you become a mom, I spent much of the last year dealing with postpartum depression’s lesser-known cousin, postpartum anxiety (PPA). Like I said, I’m no stranger to anxiety. I am too familiar with her nightmares, racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, and exhaustion. But before giving birth, my anxiety symptoms were primarily physiological and sudden, coming in the form of panic attacks. I could deal with them when they occurred and they passed quickly.
After Lucy, my anxiety unveiled scary new symptoms. I had nightmares still, but way more plentiful, detailed, and frightening. I had (and still have) insomnia, so that even if the baby was still sleeping in the morning, I would be wide awake at 4 am. I worried incessantly and abnormally, even setting an alarm for every two hours for several months to check on her breathing at night, despite her nursing every two hours anyway. I had sudden and vivid intrusive thoughts, flashes of something terrible happening to her even if we were only sitting on the couch. I had rage and sometimes didn’t feeling in control of my emotions. I had a constant intense fear of death.
Eventually, my PPA was leading me down a path toward depression. I knew I needed to talk to my doctor when I realized I had stopped doing the things I loved doing (reading, shopping, exercising), not because I didn’t want to do them, because I very badly did. I stopped doing them because I didn’t feel like they mattered. I literally thought, We all die in the end anyway, so what does it matter if I buy new clothes today? Yes, I realize I am 31 years old and this is a silly way to think with so much life ahead of me. But Anxiety will whisper the most bombastic things in your ear until you believe they are true. That’s one of it’s cruel tricks.
Thankfully, for me, the anxiety I experienced postpartum was truly hormonal because hormonal birth control has made it almost vanish completely. This is why I am writing this post. Because what I didn’t understand, why I thought I could wrangle my anxiety myself after birth and waited so long to ask my doctor about it, is that if your mental illness has a true hormonal or chemical cause, it’s possible that no amount of therapy or cognitive-behavioral self-talk is going to heal it. I am not saying medication of any sort is right for everyone, but for me it was a life saver, and I wish I hadn’t tried to “be strong” and carry the burden of PPA on my own for as long as I did.
I hesitated writing this for a while because I know some people think there is a bandwagon of PPD that people are hopping on. Or because maybe you will think Well, she never seemed anxious so maybe my experience doesn’t count as much as others with more serious symptoms. But I am writing because if even one person experiences similar symptoms as me and decides to get their life back after reading this, then I’ve accomplished my goal.
Reading other stories of mental health struggles postpartum sure did help me feel like my symptoms weren’t alien or uncommon. If you’re struggling 1, 3, or even 6 months after having baby, please know you’re not alone and that there is no shame in reaching out to a professional!
How did you recover yourself after having children? What helped you?