I’m taking a short break from my regularly scheduled content to talk about something that I am quickly realizing isn’t talked about enough, mental health and illness.
I will be the first to admit that for a long time I didn’t really understand mental illness. Anxiety and depression seemed like things that you could just overcome with a few simple life tweaks and I am probably one of those ignorant people who said unhelpful things like, “Just don’t worry about it” or “Come hang out, it will make you feel better” or secretly to myself “What do they have to be depressed about?”
Then I got postpartum depression.
The few weeks between when symptoms really set in until the time my doctor prescribed me some antidepressants at my six-week check-up were rough, to say the least. I was crying multiple times a day, getting angry at every tiny thing and never leaving the house or really the couch unless I had to, but I didn't tell anyone what I was experiencing.
I went to family functions and smiled and laughed at what I thought were the right times. I responded to text messages in appropriate amounts of time and told anyone who asked that we were all doing great. If anyone other than my husband noticed something was wrong, they didn't say anything.
While I was I pretending everything was great, it was not. I yelled at my poor husband for more things than I can count, cried every time the baby spit up (which was almost constantly), got mad at our toddler for putting on mismatched socks when I should've just been proud of him for putting his own socks on. More than once I told myself I was a bad mom and that we shouldn't have had another baby, that I wasn't cut out to handle being a parent of two children. I wanted to sleep all day and had no energy for anything.
My baby is now seven-months old and I recently decided I felt good enough to start weaning off my antidepressants, and when all those feelings of irritability, sadness, exhaustion and hatred for everything came rushing back I felt like a failure. I refilled my prescription and cried. I should be over this by now, I have nothing to be depressed about, I thought. But that’s thing about depression (or any other mental illness), it can happen to anyone.
I think mom’s especially fall into the trap of perfection. There is so much pressure out there to be the 'perfect' mom. To breastfeed, to lose all the weight in two weeks, to feed your baby organic food and never let them have screen time, to have a perfectly clean house, to get your baby sleeping through the night in two months, to balance a career and a family, and do it all while looking like a supermodel.
After my baby was born, I walked around telling everyone that asked that I was doing great, but I wasn't, I was far from great. At my follow-up appointment when my doctor asked me how I was feeling emotionally I burst into tears. I didn't feel like myself and it was slowly getting worse. Looking back I realize just how bad things were and it is a little scary to think how much worse it could've gotten if I hadn't admitted there was an issue and asked for help.
As for all the other mamas out there who aren’t feeling like themselves, you are not alone. It's okay to admit that you need help, that you can't do it all (nor should you) and that maybe you need more help than just time and sleep. Maybe antidepressants aren't the answer for you, maybe talking to a professional therapist is, maybe taking a walk in the sunshine every day is, maybe talking a hot bath with a glass of wine is what you need. There is no shame in stopping breastfeeding in order to preserve your mental health because I can guarantee that baby needs a happy, healthy mama more than it needs the milk from your body. There is no shame in admitting you want to go back to work because it's nice to not get spit up on all day and have conversations with adults. It's okay if you don't want to spend every waking moment with your new baby (or other children), that doesn't make you a bad mom, it makes you human. There is no shame in admitting you need help, pharmaceutical or otherwise.
It’s okay to admit you need help, whether you are a mom or not. It’s okay to admit everything is not alright. But we as a society have to stop putting the blame on the people who are suffering from mental health issues. We have to stop asking ignorant questions like, “What do you have to be depressed about?” We have to create a world where when someone admits they aren’t okay they aren’t shamed or made to feel like it is their fault or offer a dozen ways to “fix” them. We need to create a place of love and acceptance and understanding, so when someone does need help they don’t feel like their only option is to suffer in silence. We need education and awareness and health care reform to support the growing need for behavioral and mental health care.
It will take time and work but in the meantime if you are struggling know you are not alone. Know that it’s okay not to be okay.