I love this baby more than life itself, but this last week with him was incredibly hard. John was traveling for work, my sleep deprivation hit the two month mark, River’s going through a growth spurt, and even though I got to see and talk to some people I love, I felt completely exhausted.
Yesterday I woke up determined to make the most of the day because John has to leave again today for another work trip. I started by collecting donations for a Salvation Army pickup I scheduled earlier in the week. Then I found a paleo pancake recipe and made a gluten and dairy free family breakfast because I’ve been eating a special diet for River. I did 15 minutes of physical and cognitive activities with River using an app I found a few weeks ago and then did tummy time that didn’t end in tears. I baked a healthy snack of kale chips with nutritional yeast while dancing for River to keep him happy. I pumped. I transferred fridge breast milk to individually portioned freezer bags marked with the date, number of ounces, and “GF/DF” so that if I donate any milk they’ll know these bags are gluten and dairy free. I used my new swaddle/white noise combo to put River down for a nap. While he napped, I told John he should go to the gym, and I rode my Peloton, even setting a PR on the ride. I was a super mom. Look at how much I could accomplish in just a single day!
When I stepped off the bike the house was completely silent, which only amplified the sound of my heavy breathing and made my racing heartbeat pound more heavily in my eardrums. Suddenly, the one thought I had desperately tried to ignore - by filling my morning with distractions - finally found its voice and broke through the noisy silence. I was scared of John leaving. I knew I was at the furthest limit of exhaustion I’ve ever felt, and I was scared I couldn’t handle the next 72 hours of him being away. I didn’t know how I was going to maintain the peak levels of awesome Mom I had been killing myself to achieve. I felt my chest tighten in the familiar way it does when anxiety takes over, and I felt a sense of panic about being “alone”.
When John came home, it took 15 seconds before I burst into tears. He immediately held me, asking me what was wrong, listening and then assuring me it would be ok. We decided I should get out of the house and do something for myself. He told me not to worry, to take as long as I needed, and to do something I love. So I bought tickets to a movie and headed towards a movie theater nearby. This was just another distraction, but in the moment it sounded good. On the way there my mom called me. I burst into tears again. She assured me that every mom has these moments and that no one really tells you how hard certain parts are going to be. While on the phone with her, my sister called. I thought I had gotten my tears out so I answered ready to be “cool.” She opened with “how are you doing?” I said “fine,” and then burst into tears again. She convinced me this was extreme exhaustion and that sleeping at her house (she and her family were going to be out for the entire day) was actually a far better idea than trying to stay awake through a movie.
I hung up, drove to her house, kissed and hugged my nephews, and then crawled in her bed. She left the TV remote out “in case I wanted to watch something,” but my brain was so tired I collapsed. It took me at least an hour to fall asleep because my mind was racing, but there is a special type of rest in lying down in a place where my ears didn’t have to be on high alert for noises signaling I was needed. When I woke up, I felt like a different person. Nothing seemed scary. I knew River and I would be fine.
This is what anxiety looks like… for me. I have dealt with bouts of anxiety throughout my twenties and now in my thirties. Being a mom to a newborn is really hard. It has pushed me to a physical and mental limit that makes me more susceptible to feelings of anxiety. Living with occasional anxiety is something I used to feel ashamed of or embarrassed by. Not anymore. I’m posting this because I want to be part of the solution. I want my actions to help remove the stigma that surrounds someone sharing that he or she lives with a mental illness. When someone tells you she has anxiety or depression or any mental illness, she is not “admitting” something. She is “sharing” something. There is such a big difference. One of these words connotes guilt. The other is an invitation.
So this is my invitation to you — an invitation to join me in helping to remove the stigma.
Maybe you want to share a mental health issue you live with. Maybe you want to share a story about how you struggled with being a new mom that will make me feel better. Maybe you want to share a phone call, coffee, or visit. I’m game for any of it. Because what I’ve found is that as soon as I acknowledge my feelings of anxiety, they usually go away. And when I hear stories from others who can relate, I’m not as afraid of the mental illness monster I’ve built up in my head. How can something that so many people share be so terrifying? And if all of these other people whom I admire and who are successful and happy also live with these issues, is it really something to be so ashamed or afraid of?
Mental illness looks different on everyone. Of the people closest to me, at least 50% of them occasionally or consistently live with some form of mental health issue — depression, schizophrenia, PTSD, anxiety — and those are just the people who have been brave or open enough to share (not “admit”) it. In all likelihood, that percentage is higher. Some people I know use pharmaceuticals to practice self care. Some use medicinal marijuana. Some use meditation, yoga, writing, cooking, exercise or other forms of self care that help them be the best version of themselves. I’m figuring out the best way to handle anxiety, and a combination of enough sleep and talking to people I love about what I’m afraid of seems to be a good formula for me right now.
Yesterday I felt grateful for many things, but I felt most grateful to have a network of people I love who make me feel comfortable enough to cry in front of them and ask for help. Are you that person for someone? Could you be, just by reaching out to let the people you love know you’re there for them, to listen without judgement, and to remind them that they’re not alone — no matter what they might be going through?
As a final note, I want to give a special shoutout to my roommates from Boston College. We have kept a consistent group conversation (via email or WhatsApp) going since 2005 to stay in touch. Yesterday we talked about Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, which lead to a few members of our friend group opening up about their struggles. 4 of the 8 moms in our group shared they dealt with some form of anxiety or depression in the weeks, months, or years after having a child. This post makes that number 5 out of 8 of us who have struggled and then opened up. This post is dedicated to a group of women I’m lucky to have in my life. Thanks for inspiring me to write this. Sorry it took me until today to share my #MentalHealthMeToo.