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Before we go any further, I want to put a disclaimer out there, and that is that this blog post may be triggering for some. We’re going to talk about some pretty deep issues today that may evoke some strong feelings.
And I do mention death in this article.
So if you feel like you’re in a particularly vulnerable place right now when you might not be able to handle reading this, please take care of yourself first.
You can always bookmark this and come back to it later.
Okay, deep breath. This post is probably going to be the hardest posts I’ve ever written. Even though I have a blog, I consider myself a pretty private person. I’m not one for airing my dirty laundry or oversharing.
But despite how uncomfortable this post makes me, it needs to come out.
*Trigger warning, death mentioned.*
Postpartum depression is something that’s frequently discussed. It’s not discussed enough, but it’s discussed.
Celebrities are applauded when they share their experiences.
Moms to be are warned that they may feel overly-emotional after birth or even have the “baby blues.”
Doctors and midwives screen for postpartum depression symptoms at six-week follow up appointments.
But what about postpartum anxiety?
I’ve been an anxious person my whole life. I have memories at just three or four years old….myself as a little girl…feeling a nervous wreck. Worry has been a constant for me. Always.
But somewhere towards the end of my pregnancy with my third baby, Sarah, the anxiety began to spiral out of control.
So slow that I didn’t even recognize it.
It began at the end of my pregnancy. I was scheduled for my third c-section, and I couldn’t shake this premonition that I wouldn’t live through the surgery.
Sobbing, I imagined my three children growing up without me.
My youngest would never know me. My older two kids would be devastated. What would they remember about me?
How would my husband hold down his job and raise three little kids on his own?
My final days before Sarah’s birth were spent cleaning, organizing, and cooking meals. I even cleaned out the attic to organize important documents that my husband would need, should I not survive the birth.
He and I had detailed conversations about my final wishes. I wanted him to find a donor so that my daughter could have breast milk her first year of life.
We talked about how I wanted the kids raised. The characteristics he should look for in a second wife.
Despite my premonition, my birth went beautifully and (of course!) I survived.
Postpartum Anxiety and Paranoia
But then came the paranoia. I was so worried that something would happen to my baby. That she’d catch a germ. Or that I’d accidentally suffocate her while nursing.
I began to isolate myself from everyone I knew. I stopped sleeping at night.
At first, I rationalized this. After all, I’m up every 1-2 hours nursing anyway. Why should I sleep at night? I’ll just have to wake up again.
I wasn’t depressed or sad… just extremely anxious about every little thing.
I stopped taking my oldest daughter to dance class…stopped going to grocery stores.
Playdates were skipped. Eating at restaurants was a no-no.
I unfollowed everyone on Facebook because the least little thing my friends and family posted would trigger days of panic.
Phone calls went unanswered and text messages went unreturned. I stopped going to church.
Guests were rarely invited over. Worst-case scenarios played on repeat in my mind 24/7.
The strange thing is, I denied that there was any problem for a very long time. I was an expert at hiding my anxiety. On the outside, it seemed that nothing was amiss.
After all, I’m a mental health counselor myself. I help anxious people for a living. Anxiety is something that I teach people how to manage.
If I truly had a problem, what would that mean about me as a person? What would that mean about me as a professional?
Counselors aren’t supposed to struggle. Are they?
Postpartum Anxiety Breaking Point
When I finally realized that my anxiety was spiraling out of control, I started struggling with what to do.
If there is a mental health stigma out there, it has to be 100 times worse if you WORK in the mental health field.
Why couldn’t I pull myself out of this? I knew all the “right” things to do. But for some reason, all the anxiety relief techniques I taught my clients weren’t helping me.
For two years I suffered. Afraid to seek help. Afraid to admit that anything out of the ordinary was wrong.
Finally, I reached a breaking point.
My anxiety was getting worse by the day. I had experienced a few traumatic events at work, which only worsened my symptoms.
I felt sick all the time.
There was a knot in my stomach 24/7.
I broke down one day and I knew I couldn’t continue living in this state of extreme anxiety any longer.
In order for me to overcome this, I knew I had to get vulnerable and tell people about what was really going on so that I could get the help I needed.
Some people were taken aback. A few folks were supportive, but most dismissed me, like I was exaggerating or being dramatic.
No, no no.
Postpartum anxiety is bad. Awful. No exaggeration needed.
And then? Finally. Finally, I started taking steps toward healing.
Practical Tips for Postpartum Anxiety Relief
Here are the things I’m doing to overcome this:
It’s so hard to find a good therapist, especially when you’re a therapist yourself. I’ve been to four different ones and still haven’t found the right one, but I’m persistent.
I’ll be honest. Exercise isn’t my favorite thing ever, but I always feel so much better when I go for a brisk walk or do a bit of cardio. I’m trying to incorporate exercise in my routine daily.
Maybe it’s the vitamin d or maybe there’s something else that’s healing and therapeutic about basking in the sunshine. Going outside for a bit of sunshine and fresh air helps so much.
– Not feeding my fears.
Avoidance is my speciality. But I’m really working on pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and doing things that make me anxious even if I’m scared. I’m taking baby steps with this one.
– Giving myself permission to have a bad day, and start again.
I know that recovering from this debilitating anxiety won’t be an easy process and I will have bad days and bad moments. That’s okay. It’s totally okay and normal. The important thing is not to be swallowed up by guilt or to allow my setbacks to consume me.
– Speaking out.
I’ve been hiding behind my anxiety for SO long, that it’s actually a welcome relief to come out and tell my story. My goal is to help others who may be going through something similar.
As an introvert, I need alone time to unwind and decompress. It’s non-negotiable and I’m making it a top priority.
– Going to bed earlier.
As I mentioned before, I’ve been staying awake all night for the last two years +. I’ve realized how bad this is for my mental and physical health, so I’m taking steps to go to bed earlier (and get up earlier, too!).
I’m a huge believer in the power of prayer. I’m focusing on praying more, reading my Bible, and listening to Christian meditations on YouTube.
Do you have any suggestions to add to this list?
Friend, if you’re battling with anxiety, panic, paranoia, depression, or any other emotional struggle, please know you’re not alone.
You’re not crazy. You’re normal.
Please don’t beat yourself up.
Don’t live in denial like I did.
Today’s a new day. You can start where you are and move toward a path of healing. It’s time to take your life back.
Let’s do this!
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