My Mental Health

I’ve been sitting on this post for quite some time. Its something that is hard to for me to write about, but one of the reasons I wanted to start blogging is to share some of these struggles I’ve gone through in life because I know I am not alone. I want to start opening up more about the things I’ve gone through mentally. I don’t know why it feels so taboo to talk about our mental health. I think it’s just how we are taught, not to talk about these kinds of things. And also, what I share on this blog is my story only- from my perspective. I do not speak for anyone nor do I offer any medical advice.

I am an anxious person, I always have been. I remember when I was little I would dread any sort of social event. Whether it was school, going to a party, an appointment, or just running errands, I always had some level of worry. I felt like I was so different than everyone else. I had this constant dialogue in my head making me doubt myself. I faintly remember walking into preschool the very first time with my mom and I was so concerned about her smiling as we walked in. I told her “don’t smile” several times on our walk into the building. I don’t know why I thought smiling was embarrassing, but I didn’t want to take any chance of standing out. Every morning before I would get on the bus to school my stomach would turn and hurt so bad there were times I couldn’t even make it out the door. My hands would shake. I would all of a sudden be aware of my breathing, of every step I took, how many eyes were watching me. Asking to go to the bathroom in class was near impossible. I was always so nervous to do something wrong. I got embarrassed so easily. I couldn’t laugh at myself or find any humor in my faults. If someone said anything about my appearance-good or bad- I would think about it the whole rest of the day. Going to friend’s houses was stressful. I still had fun, but I was so over aware of my surroundings, I felt awkward talking to parents, was petrified of running into older siblings, and always missed being in the comfort of my own house. I struggled with being homesick in the night whenever I spent the night away from home. There were several times when my mom came to get me at midnight because I was calling her on the phone crying about how I wanted to come home.

I started playing sports in middle school and I enjoyed being a part of it with my friends, but it was so stressful for me. I barely played because I was petrified to be put in. I would have much rather sat on the bench then be running the court. When I think back to these basketball games it makes me laugh now, but at the time I was such a mess. Why did I put so much pressure on myself? They were literally just to have fun. What was my underlying issue? Was it because I was shy? Was it my self esteem? Because of all this I felt so different than all of my friends who were just fine, talking, playing, and sleeping over like nothing was even hard about it. Thankfully I had a really good group of friends that didn’t seem to mind these peculiarities about me. They put up with me you could say. I was the kid that couldn’t do the monkey bars, spend the night anywhere, took things way to seriously, and cried way more than I should have.

During my teen years I had the same level of anxiety as I did my elementary years it just manifested itself differently. I remember if I liked a boy, I mean really liked him, I would not be able to eat. I would literally go days with only taking a few bites of food because my stomach was in complete knots about it. Don’t worry, eventually the butterflies went away and I was back to my normal eating habits but this is just how my body and brained worked. Making plans with friends was so overwhelming. I felt like I had to make everyone happy, make sure everything was planned out just right. I had a hard time going with the flow and not knowing a plan. I also became very anxious about my school work. I was hard on myself and waiting for tests scores to come back was awful. If I didn’t get the grade I was hoping for I beat myself up about it for days. I had to get all A’s. I felt like a failure if I didn’t. I was a nail biter and finger picker. My leg bounced in class and my mind raced. I was worried about getting to class on time, having the right books and notebooks, making sure my homework was done, and saying the right things. One of the repeating dreams that I still have is one where I’m in school wandering around the halls and cannot find which class I need to be in. Sometimes I didn’t even realize the stress I was putting on myself. Then, eventually, it would all build up and I would just come undone with a huge, emotional breakdown- usually coinciding with my time of the month. This was a joyful time for my parents.

Once out of high school my anxiety seemed to flip upside down into depression, except I was unaware of it. I found myself wanting to sleep all day long. I never felt energized. I would go to classes or work and then come back to my apartment and need to go take a nap. I had no idea why I felt like this. I never even considered I could be depressed. I thought depression just meant you were really sad or felt suicidal. I remember just feeling so tired and numb. I still cared about doing a good job at work and school, but found it hard to concentrate and remember things. I wasn’t able to focus. I would look at the clock and count down the minutes until I could retreat to the safety of my apartment, curl up under the covers, and not talk to anyone. I was lonely but I didn’t care.

I met my husband in the midst of this slump. The high of the new relationship pulled me up initially, but I still struggled and did not want to go places or see people. I had no energy. I confided in him, but it was hard for him to understand. It was hard for me to understand. When I was feeling this way I couldn’t see things clearly. I couldn’t step back and look in at the situation because it was just so foggy. My brain was constantly fighting me. I reasoned it out that because I wasn’t eating right or maybe because I wasn’t exercising was the reason I felt “down in the dumps”. But the thing is, when I’m feeling depressed it is next to impossible to do these things. I simply just don’t care. There is no will inside of me to get off the couch or out of the house. I did keep pushing myself to live “normally”. I had ups and downs. Some days, weeks, months, were worse than others. The thing is, is that I really didn’t know any different. I thought, well this is just how I am.

How many of you knew these things about me? If you knew me when I was in school did you notice any of my anxiety? Has anyone else ever struggled with anxiety or depression? I would like to hear about your experiences. I don’t want this to become a book so I am going to cut it off here and if this something you would like me talk more about I sure can. I did end up getting some help, and actually I am still figuring things out and working on it. It took until after I had my first baby that I was at a breaking point. I felt the most awful I had ever felt. Postpartum depression hit me and in a strange way, it was a blessing. It pushed me to look at things differently. I didn’t just accept that this is the way life was going to be. I had someone to take care of now and I wasn’t able to just lay around when I wanted to. I wanted to be the best mom, the best wife, and the best person I could be. I finally made a doctor’s appointment.

Anxiety, Tears, and Loose skin

I scrolled through a news article the other day on Facebook where Dylan Dreyer (weather anchor for NBC) referring to her maternity leave as heaven. I will add that since then she did a check in on the Today Show where she talked about the lack of sleep and “real life” that has set in. Don’t get me wrong, the love I have for my babies is indescribable, but what I experienced after birthing them was far from what I would call heavenly. I felt compelled to share my experiences as I am sure there are many other mothers out there that had the opposite of a “heavenly” maternity leave.

Before I tell you about my experience I do want to say that there are many out there that would do anything in the world to have a “bad” experience. There are families that have lost their children, can’t have children, or have been in the NICU for weeks, months…. I would go through anything for my babies, as most mothers would. My goal for this post is to shed some light on the fact that the postpartum period is hard and we all have different experiences. I think the more we talk about those experiences the easier it is to relate to each other and get through this thing we call motherhood together.

The days following my daughter’s birth were simply unforgettable. I went through about 24 hours of induced labor with her to end up with a c section. It was pretty dang awful because by the time I went for the c section my epidural had basically worn off on one side and I was feeling the full effects of pitocin induced labor. I also realized as they started cutting I was feeling all of that too. I remember yelling and crying in the operating room as they worked to get her out. I could feel the intense, sharp, stabbing pain on my right side as I felt pressure on my left. I remember them pulling her out, holding her up, and seeing she was ok. As they were about to sedate me I could hear them say her weight was 9lb 7oz. I remember waking up from anesthesia and the first thing I asked was “how big was she?”. I just thought no wonder I couldn’t push her out! It was the most painful, exhausting, exhilarating, and terrifying experience of my life.

Following the traumatic delivery I was having a very difficult time breastfeeding, I could not get her to consistently latch. I started pumping and bottle feeding just to get her to eat, while still attempting to nurse. It hurt to hold her on my stomach as it pushed down on my incision. I couldn’t get myself into a comfortable enough position laying down to nurse her. It was all so defeating. She was also jaundice, which meant she was under the bili lights for most of the day. I was able to hold her but with this bulky, lighted blanket around her. Every day her bilirubin level kept going up. I knew she had to eat to get the level to go down but breastfeeding was going terrible. Every time it came time to nurse I would try and end up crying giving her a bottle. Every nurse that came into my hospital room tried to help but I just couldn’t get it. There was one nurse that could see how it was all affecting me and brought in a bottle of formula and fed her for me. I still remember this and it felt like a weight off my shoulders. It feel good to know she was eating and like I had permission to take a break from worrying about it. My anxiety was at its tipping point and all I was doing was crying. I felt like a failure. I was looking to anyone for advice. The problem with this was there was so much advice coming at me I didn’t know what to do. I can feel the anxiety rushing back to me while writing this. I felt like pumping and bottle feeding was taking such a toll on my mental health those first few days. I wasn’t even able to enjoy my daughter. I was so worried about failing her. I was also not sleeping from the high of it all. I was so anxious about everything all the time.

We ended up being discharged from the hospital but had to come back every morning for them to prick her heel to continue to check her bilirubin level. She even got readmitted because it got too high (they don’t rent out bili lights). I remember staying in the room with her in my arms in the bed and crying because I just didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t slept in about 4 days from the anxiety I was experiencing. By the time we got back home it was time for my husband to go back to work. I was home alone with this baby I barely knew, I had failed at breastfeeding, and I was healing from a major surgery. I couldn’t even look at my incision under my sagging stomach. It was hideous. I felt deflated and awful. I was sore and moved slowly. I could not take a shower by myself. I couldn’t sit up without wincing. I had to have my husband change the dressing to my lower stomach that was held in place by my new and unwelcome c-section “mom pouch”. As my husband would change my dressing and look at my incision I would lay on the bed in tears ashamed of how my body looked. Every time he would say things like, “its looking better hun. You’re doing good. You look great.” I couldn’t believe him. My mind was against me. It told me how can you have him doing this for you. He must think you look just awful. Is he ever going to be attracted to you again? This was the most difficult time of my life. I may sound dramatic but I was suffering mentally. While at the same time everyone around me was “in heaven” soaking up my new baby who I was supposed to be loving and enjoying. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t this how everyone described it?

About 2 weeks in I made the dreaded decision to let all my milk dry up and stick with formula. I was filled with guilt. It felt awful. I felt awful. I knew in my gut I couldn’t keep this up and part of me didn’t want to. I just wanted the stress of it to go away. I felt like a terrible mother. I felt like I was letting my baby down. Like I was depriving her of something. I knew my mind was a mess but once I stopped pumping I wouldn’t be able to start again if I changed my mind. But I finally did it. I stopped. And guess what? Everyone was ok. My daughter kept growing. My husband helped feed her. I got to sleep more than 2 hours at a time. I had a weight lifted off my shoulders. I felt relieved. I cut myself a much needed break that I know I desperately needed to be a healthy mom.

When you have a baby everyone is so happy for you. It is hard not to feel like something is wrong with you if you’re not bouncing up and down with joy every second. I got through the first few weeks, my daughter started sleeping longer periods at a time, my incision healed, my boobs stopped hurting so bad, the guilt of not breastfeeding drifted away, my mind became more clear. My daughter continued to grow, we saw her first first smile, learned how she likes to be held, and how to put her down to sleep. We figured out which were her favorite nursery rhymes, her favorite things to look at in the house. We snuggled and giggled together. I developed confidence in myself as a mother and pretty soon the baby in front of me wasn’t a stranger anymore who I couldn’t figure out how to feed or how stop from crying. She was my daughter. I knew what was best for her. She needed me and no one else. Surely the second time around would be easier, right?