Moms and Mental Health: A Humble Confession of Imperfection

Moms and Mental Health: A Humble Confession of Imperfection

I like my privacy as much as the next woman, but I believe I was meant to be a storyteller. The tales that have connected the most with you over the past 2 years have been about stories about my life.

I have no problem sharing the joyful times, the often funny moments when I embarrass myself and I have no hesitation confessing when life gets a little sour.

After my last two pregnancies, I noticed something different about myself. Besides the fact that I had stretch marks longer than the Nile River and my shoe size changing from an 8.5 to a 9, I noticed something different about my mood.

"Oh, sure. Postpartum depression", you are probably thinking.

But no, I did not want to hurt myself nor did I want to hurt my baby. I was not having trouble bonding, I had no guilt or shame or lack of joy in my life. (The mom-guilt grew inside me later on...)

I wasn’t depressed.

But my chest was caving in. I was perspiring more than the usual postpartum hormonal sweat fest. I was lightheaded, my heart would beat uncontrollably. Normal everyday tasks brought on a foreign fear which started to evolve into 10 - 30 minute panic attacks.

I had postpartum anxiety.

(For the record, I know anxiety is under the depression umbrella but in my case, I did not feel sad, hopeless or unmotivated.)

I worked really hard after my last pregnancy to understand and tackle this often turbulent physical and mental agitation. If you have read this blog before, you know I am all about breathing and patience, and my overall mantra is: "life is too short to worry about a spotless house, the perfect wardrobe, and what other people are thinking about me."

My mindset changed because one day, I found myself in the fetal position, sobbing silently, confused and afraid. Fear raced through my veins and I felt like someone was choking the life out of me.

As I sat in the corner of my living room, I watched my 2-year-old son play with his trains. I listened to my 4-month-old daughter over the baby monitor and realized, I WAS THE ADULT. These small children needed me to survive. This condition was not only detrimental to my well-being, but was not a healthy environment for children.

So, I got help.

I went to a therapist who helped me create a plan of action to cope with my anxiety. Since I was with my children during the day, I had to create peace and serenity in my home amid the chaos. I had to train myself to cut anxiety off before it took over my mind and not allow it to cripple me.

For almost 4 years now I have mastered my anxiety!

I have effective coping skills, positive visual images, mantras... The support of my family and friends helps me carry on and I usually get through the day with a smile on my face.

But last week, my peace was derailed by the mounting loss of sleep.

Add in some raging hormones as my body works to kick start Aunt Flo and what I am starting to see is more than a flicker of anxiety.

I started writing with the intention that once my work started to interfere with my day-time job, being a mother, I would cut back. Short of a few social networking spurts throughout the day, all of my writing is created at night and on the weekends.

Many people ask me how I manage raising the children during the day and writing at night...

When I have quality sleep, my night owl creation time is not only possible but thriving. But now that sleep deprivation has set in, I am barely functional by 7 PM.

I need rest. Physical and emotional rest. sums my condition up beautifully...

The effect of fragmented sleep goes beyond a tired body -- it also affects how you think and cope. With this kind of sleep deprivation, you're not just shortchanged on deep sleep; you're also getting less dream sleep, says Lauren Broch, PhD, director of education and training at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center of New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Dreams provide more than fodder for the next day's musings. In fact, they play a surprisingly important role in our ability to think clearly. During REM sleep, the brain sorts memories and processes the day's events, says Margaret Moline, PhD, director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center.

Lack of REM sleep can cause memory lapses and make tasks requiring higher cognitive functioning more difficult, leaving you feeling scattered and foggy (as in, "Did I just change a diaper?"). For moms, this makes a range of daily activities problematic -- from balancing the checkbook to conjuring up the patience to deal with a cranky toddler. Indeed, it's much harder to use techniques such as distraction or humor (instead of yelling) when you're exhausted.

Sleep fragmentation causes a significant decrease in your deep sleep. That's because each time you get up and then go back to bed, you have to start the sleep cycle all over again, entering the light stages before you return to deep sleep. The result: exhaustion.

And that is where I am at. Exhaustion.

I have an opportunity to make a choice. To step away for a bit, take care of myself and my family. Or, I can continue on, get really burnt out, and not be the best mother I can be.

The point of sharing this with you, my dear reader, is to bring to light what we already know. That there are people in your life and strangers on the street who are fighting for peace in their lives. Sometimes they are working through their days minute by minute.

If you do not believe in depression or anxiety as being a debilitating condition, I urge you to read more about it. It is not merely mustering up a good attitude or exercising a few times a week. (Although a positive outlook and physical activity is often crucial in battling depression and anxiety.)

Whether it be addiction, depression, anxiety, or just your basic bad day, underneath that smile and put together state could be a person who is existing each day sometimes one breath at a time.

I have no shame in admitting I am struggling and am blessed to know exactly what I need to do this time to help myself. Embracing this challenge instead of fighting it, I have put into place a new game plan to restore my rest and get 3-month-old baby Gertrude on a solid sleep schedule.

It breaks my heart to pause while my momentum is a full speed, but as I sit and reflect, I realize I am flailing - fueled by my stubbornness and too much coffee.

My creative and online social recess will begin tomorrow, April 10th, and I will return to you after a month-long interlude on May 10th. I anticipate this time to hunker down and resuscitate my body and mind. I will miss you during this month and know I will return to you as true friends reunite after time apart!

This is the right thing to do.

For my kids, my husband, and myself.

Until May 10th, my friends, please continue to enjoy the storytelling of Crystal, Amanda, and Shari!

For more information about depression and anxiety, visit the Anxiety Disorders Association of America


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  • Thank you for being brave to share your story. Anxiety is a b*tch! I concur about the importance of getting enough sleep--for me, I find if I'm tired, I have more anxiety/PTSD/depression symptoms.

    Best of luck on your brief sabbatical from writing :)

  • Thank you, Holly, for reading and your kind words! Sleep is SO important and you don't realize how much until it's gone and you are a mess! Have a super Monday! :)

  • Beth, I too have suffered from anxiety linked to sleep deprivation, and it is very manageable when you take the steps to help yourself. You are absolutely an awesome mom to take the time you need. Your readers will still be here; you will pick back up! Take time, enjoy those beautiful kids, and definitely breathe. I often need to remind myself to stop and just breathe. You WILL feel better again and it will all be okay,

  • In reply to Carrie Goldman:

    It is so debilitating! I started to put my plan back into place last week and I am just being honest with myself knowing that it will take me a month to get back on top. I certainly do not want to add any more material to my kids' future therapist sessions! ;)
    I am excited for this time and know I will come out on top. Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words. They are so appreciated...

  • gah. the internet died last night just as i was hitting "comment" to post my comment. oh well. you'll have a comment present waiting for you on may 10th:

    yay for you! i applaud your wisdom, clarity, and determination for the Useful Path. my post-partum self is unsinfully jealous of your awesomeness. may you find all the peace and rest you require, dear lady. kudos!

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