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I had experienced postpartum anxiety nine years ago when my twins were born. It felt like I was hysterical one minute and insanely happy in the next. I was quick to recognize these highs and lows as unusual for me, and my OB worked swiftly to get me some help. But this time, with my son, I didn't immediately figure out what was happening.
I was asked several times if I "felt depressed" (not always the right question to ask to determine if someone is depressed), and all I could muster was an "I'm not sure."
I began seeing a therapist, and she helped me work through my feelings of being "stuck." Just when I felt as if I was making progress in unraveling all the feelings, the COVID-19 crisis surfaced. Then the world came crashing down on me. Not just on me, but on all of us. But it sure felt like it was just me.
Suddenly, my days went from hours of alone time caring only for my baby, working on my online businesses, and doing all the mom errands to having a house full of people 24/7. Not only did the rest of my family interrupt the quiet I had grown used to, they also needed me. They needed me to fix three meals a day, teach them or at least keep them on task with their schoolwork, monitor screen time more than usual, break up fights, and so on.
All this on top of caring for the new baby meant my own needs went unattended. So much for my quest for serenity. I was blindsided by the change in our family dynamic. I realized how much I depended on routine to keep me grounded.
It's not that I didn't want my family around. On my good days, I relished in the positives of all of us being home. We interacted more as a family. Work and school schedules were more relaxed. But the bad days seemed really, extra bad. Especially when I was tired. On nights when sleep was scarce, it sent me into a bottomless spiral.
I've never felt like I wanted to hurt myself or others, which I know can be a symptom of postpartum depression, but I knew I couldn't continue like this.
Since I couldn't see my therapist, I had to just use the tools I got from the few sessions I had before lockdown. My therapist and I had discussed medication, I've taken anti-anxiety pills in the past and had some trouble with side effects, so I wanted to try cognitive behavioral therapy first before I went down the pharmaceutical road again.
I focused on replacing negative thought processes with positive affirmations, which has helped tremendously. It also helps to remind myself of what is reality and what is negatively assumed. Talking openly about my struggles also helped. I had to be honest with my family about what was happening. Telling my husband the brutal truth about my feelings, not sparing the ugly stuff, probably helped our marriage as much as it helped my mental health. Having a support person, whether it be a significant other, friend, or family member is crucial – and that can't happen without total honesty.
It's so hard to admit when we're struggling. I wanted to do everything right and be everything a mother is "supposed" to be. Mothers are supposed to know what to do, and motherhood is supposed to come naturally. To admit that that's not my experience feels like defeat.
The cliché "take it one day at a time" could not be any truer when struggling with depression, especially in the middle of a global pandemic when everyone's foundations have been rocked. One-day-at-a-time thinking is what has kept me from feeling totally overwhelmed.
For me, depression feels like being a rock in a fast-moving stream. I had to turn off the news, remove Facebook from my phone, and take a giant step back from knowing all things at all times. Day-to-day is hard enough – I don't need to pile on the worries of the world too.
I'm not completely depression free as I tell my story, but I am having more good days than bad ones. My journey to healing my mental health has given me clarity on what's important in my life. I need to be well for myself as much as for my family, and that means sometimes I have to come first.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.