This is a special guest post from a client, Melanie, who wanted to share her story of recovering from anxiety. She is a brave, open & determined soul. Together we have worked through anxiety to help her feel more freedom and joy. She wanted to share her story with you and what that helped her recover. None of us heal in a bubble. We need to hear stories to know that others have survived ordeals we might be facing. I hope this post gives you strength and hope. I also ask that you share responses, words of encouragement & mutual stories of hope.
This post is what I call a “progress inventory”. A progress inventory is comprised of 2 things:
- How things are better for you – all the big and small details. These need to be seen, acknowledged and celebrated or we risk missing them and continuing to believe that we are the same people who started the healing process weeks or months ago
- What you did to get there. This might be even more important. Healing and personal growth are an active process where we uncover resources, strengths and strategies that might be unseen, unknown or forgotten. Once we reinforce and see these, they will be available to us forever!
Melanie’s Story In her Own Words
The Post-Partum journey has been nothing short of wildly adventurous. Ups, downs, twists, turns and surprises around each corner. There are days when I’ve felt great and days when I’ve felt like complete crap. On the crappy days I would lounge on the couch with my little guy JJ and just veg, sometimes all day. This did not help the situation looking back. I began feeling cabin feverish and even trapped in my own home, on my couch. Sometimes to the point of asking myself, if I leave what will happen?
It didn’t help that I was being introduced to a small human, learning how to navigate Motherhood, healing from delivery, and managing the hormonal changes – I was also starving and exhausted. So in juggling all that and needing to fuel myself, let’s just say many days, if not all, I was dizzy and very uncomfortable. That’s what it started out as for me – being dizzy and uncomfortable. I figured it was relatively normal even though I had asked my doctors. They said they had never heard of it but that I was healthy and shouldn’t worry about it, so I went about my life. I told myself it would be gone once JJ was 3 months – the so called ‘magical’ age when parents have the hang of things. JJ would be sleeping soundly so I could get more sleep. Ya right! As if 3 months is this definitive moment in time that all parents should be a OK!
Three months came and 3 months passed and still, dizzy and uncomfortable. Finally I hit a breaking point and decided that it had to be something else and those words that no mother wants to hear crept in… Post partum anxiety? Post partum depression? I didn’t want to do any research because if I did , then I felt that I was accepting the fact that I had IT. But with nowhere else to turn for the reason for how I was feeling, I caved and began my research. “It’s normal, many women , if not all, experience it in some way. Catch it early so it doesn’t get worse. It’s best for your baby to get help. The doctor may prescribe you anti-depressants or you could talk to a therapist or both”. So much information, so much fear, so overwhelmed. During all of this I didn’t tell anyone how I was feeling. I told my husband I was dizzy and uncomfortable but not that I was researching depression and anxiety. I was embarrassed and I wanted to be strong, and strong women don’t have this… so I thought.
I knew that if I wanted to feel better I needed to get some support. I told my husband everything, cried many tears as many women do as a new mom. I contacted a post partum specialist. I figured I would ‘interview’ a couple and see if I felt comfortable, but thankfully the first woman I chatted with, I connected with immediately.
It only took a few calls and some deep reflection on my part to begin feeling better until I went to my doctor and she prescribed me with anti-depressants. I was not depressed, I was anxious and had low mood. Which as a new mom, is pretty much a given, but for me it was taken up a notch. Anxiety is not a nice feeling. Let me rephrase that – it SUCKS. But for our survival, it is crucial, especially if a coyote or car is coming for you. Your body goes in to fight and flight mode and provides you with the adrenaline rush and energy to your limbs to get your butt moving and into safety. Unfortunately though, your brain isn’t aware of the difference between a perceived threat and a real one. You can simply think of something scary or even subconsciously think of a threat and your body goes into fight or flight mode, aka panic mode. And that’s where I had been living – constant panic mode.
So back to my doctor’s appointment. I’ve learned a lot about anti-depressants and know many people on them. I know they can have good results for people and some can have bad side effects too, but for me I didn’t want to use this prescription for many reasons. Ultimately, I decided that if one day down the road I feel that I need it, I have the prescription, but I’ve made a ton of progress over the last two months and I have many resources to support me along the way to feeling better, so I will stay on this track for now and reevaluate in a month or so.
So what am I doing to feel better, alleviate the anxiety and really enjoy Motherhood? That’s what I wanted. I didn’t want to be dizzy (an outcome of the anxiety). I didn’t want to be nervous. I didn’t want to be short of breath and cut my sentences short in conversation with people. I didn’t want to be more tired than I should have been. I didn’t want to feel like I was stuck at home and I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun I could be having with my baby.
First, let me say this, everything I have done is a process, some days are really great days and some days are still kinda crappy but it gets better and better each week as I maintain focus on feeling better. Another note, to feel better I have to focus on me and make time for me. May seem selfish and as if I am taking time away from my son and other household chores or things I ‘should’ be doing, but if I’m not well then my son isn’t being cared for to the best of my ability. Also, all the others things I’m supposed to be doing may never get done because of how crappy I feel. So like the emergency drill in an airplane, put your oxygen mask on before helping someone else. Aka you can’t help anyone else if you’re not well yourself.
My post partum anxiety strategies:
1. Get support- family, friend, therapist, coach
2. See your doctor and get their opinion. Note: you are in control of your body and your options. If something is suggested to you and you don’t feel comfortable weigh your options and choose what’s best for you and your unique situation.
3. Anxiety, depression, hormones and everything really is CONNECTED to what you eat and what you do. Look into incorporating healthy food and exercise into your diet. I was surprised at how much better I felt after a day of whole, nutritious food compared to a day of processed junk. And when you’re tired, breastfeeding and need something quick it’s so easy to just grab for the bag of chips. Try prepping nutritious snacks and you may be surprised at how much better you feel in a short period of time.
4. Self-care: it took me a while before I could really relax after having JJ. 4.5 months to be exact. I remember just a week ago I got a facial and I didn’t think about him once. My husband had him, they were safe and good and driving around while I was getting pampered – so an easy phone call away. I let myself know that and let myself be in the moment and relax. Oh how that refuelled me and allowed my anxiety to just fade away. Finding those relaxing activities is key. Something safe, comforting and relaxing to wash away a stressful day or situation.
5. Take a step back: anxiety can get out of control pretty easily. I’ve found that in those uncomfortable situations, allowing yourself to sit through the wave and see it for what it is has helped a lot. Fighting back to anxiety suppresses it even more and never allows it to pass, letting your brain know there is nothing to worry about.
6. Think about and do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking doesn’t exist. You can’t physically be doing everything all at once all the time. This heightens overwhelm and causes more anxiety. If everything doesn’t get done, try delegating or automating something. I’ve hired a cleaning service, automated grocery delivery, automated all of our bills and this has freed up a TON of time. More time for me and JJ to hang out with less stress and more fun.
7. Be gentle and love yourself: This is huge!! I’m a new mom and this is brand new to me. Of course there are going to be good days and bad days. It’s the hardest yet most awesome ‘job’ on the planet. Letting yourself know that you are loved and being gentle with yourself, especially through the anxiety, is very helpful. If your baby was anxious or worried you would love them through it right?
8. Walk around: exercise: with anxiety comes adrenaline and sometimes you just need to let that go and no better way than walking it out.
9. Journal: with anxiety I can get caught up in my head really easily and it just gets stored up there like your junk drawer in the kitchen. Filled and disorganized. So I journal. I brain dump on paper at least every other day. This has been my go to since I was a kid and it works like a charm. Organizing my thoughts on papers allows me to understand my anxieties, worries and fears and also let’s my mind free of them. It’s like my journal is a bank of all my thoughts, good and bad and I can store the good ones there for safe keeping and good memories or I can deposit the bad and never retrieve them.
10. Be honest: don’t hold back. I find that a big part of my anxiety is protecting everyone else around me from what I wanna say. Not that what I wanna say is mean or rude, but simple things like speaking up for myself like, going to the grocery store now is better for my schedule rather than tonight or I’d like to have a day that is quiet , so let’s not invite the family over. Being honest about how I am feeling and what I want has alleviated my anxiety two fold.
11. Give yourself permission to do what’s best for you and your family: I find that if I’m having really bad anxiety one day, and I had plans that day or wanted to do something, I would make up an excuse to not do that thing. This isn’t helping anyone and typically creates more anxiety because now I’ve lied. It’s ok to change plans or leave something early or not do something that makes you uncomfortable. Giving yourself permission and knowing that you can do what’s best for you, seems to alleviate the anxiety that was related to the situation in the first place, and you feel more comfortable to go. For example, my chiro was hosting an event and I was anxious to go because my son wasn’t going to be with me. I feared answering questions and feeling so anxious that I would want to leave, but I didn’t want to make a scene. So I just didn’t want to go all together. But avoiding it wasn’t helping me at all, so instead I gave myself permission that if I felt really uncomfortable, I wasn’t obligated to be there. If my son needed me, I could leave. If I didn’t want to answer a question, I didn’t have to. I am in charge of my life and I can make these decisions without having to give a reason why I made the choice in the first place. Absolutely liberating.
12. Beliefs: So this one runs deep for me. Real deep – from when I was born. I have many beliefs about how I am to parent, how I am to live and what Motherhood is supposed to be like, from my upbringing, friends and the media. We have these beliefs ingrained in us and if things don’t pan out a certain way, then our beliefs are challenged and it freaks us right out. Or, we have these expectations of what something is supposed to be like and we hold onto it for dear life, creating challenges for us. Digging into those beliefs and figuring out where they come from, if they serve you and if you wanna hold onto them or change them, is freeing beyond belief. This isn’t always an easy thing to do on your own, working with a coach or therapist has helped me immensely.
13. Inventory check and Working through it. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why you’re feeling anxious, so taking an inventory of the situation is very helpful. I’ll do a body scan and wonder if something in my body is causing it, or if my surroundings are making me nervous or something someone said. Finding the trigger is helpful because you can let your brain know if it is a threat to react to, or a threat that you can respond to, acknowledge and let it pass.
14. Last and definitely not least- God. Getting into a regular routine of my spiritual relationship and practice with God has revolutionized my post partum recovery. Even just saying,” hi what’s up?” for me is helpful and learning from the bible about His promises for my life has been such a missing piece of the puzzle until now.
You don’t have to do all of these, and not all at once. Anxiety can come and go. In different seasons of life it may be stronger than every before. The post partum period is a time when it might be large and in charge (so it seems), but there are so many tools and strategies to let it go and enjoy life again. It’s just a matter of taking the time to get a bit dirty and do the work. It will be hard at times but the more you work at it, the easier it becomes. Trust me. I am living it and it has gotten WAY better! The light at the end of the tunnel is getting bigger, wider and brighter!
- Coaching & Counselling with Nelia DeAmaral (www.neliadeamaral.com) My Post-Partum Coach. I credit a lot of my positive progress to her coaching. She coaches via phone or in person.
- The WOMB – The World of My Baby (www.thewomb.ca) “The WOMB is a sacred, loving space and resource where families gather to be fully nourished and nurtured through preconception, pregnancy, birth and post-partum” Love this place!!
- postpartumprogress.com Great online resource I used to get started.