How often do you hear about postpartum anxiety being talked about? Not often – at least not often enough. Yet the fact are that almost 15 percent of moms suffer from a postpartum mood disorder like anxiety or depression, and 20% of people don’t report their struggles. It’s time to start breaking the stigma that postpartum mood concerns are okay to talk about. It’s no one’s fault. You can suffer and still be a good mom. It doesn’t mean you aren’t grateful for your blessings, or aware of how unlikely your worries are to come true. It’s SO important for moms to talk about their struggles, emotions, concerns, and worries. My guess is if you started to talk about your story, someone else would jump in quickly and say “ME TOO – I thought I was all alone in that.”
That’s how I felt reading Allie’s story today. It’s eye-opening and reassuring when you know of someone else who says what you’re thinking. I am so grateful for her willingness to open up to us today and share her story and journey with postpartum anxiety (and depression). Share her words, or find the strength to talk to your doctor if the story echos a “me too” in your heart.
You are not alone.
You are not a bad mother.
You can live without constant worry.
And now, here’s Allie’s story.
… let’s see: how old is my daughter? 4 years old, okay …
So about 4 years ago, I was so deep in the middle of my own perpetual anxiety “attack” that I couldn’t see straight, quite literally. I awoke one morning so dizzy that I felt drunk. I was having intermittent heart palpitations so frequently, that I went in for an echocardiogram and wore a heart monitor for 24 hours. Convinced that I was dying, I was a little surprised when all of my lab work came back normal. I was a little annoyed when I was told it was all likely due to stress. I was taken aback when I was written a prescription for TWO different medicines and scheduled for regular appointments with a one-on-one therapist as well as a group therapy session.
I filled my prescription, but I put off taking it for a few more weeks. I was paralyzed with the fear of what the medication meant. I couldn’t see my own need to utilize pharmaceuticals for my own mental health. I was scared of the stigma attached to psychiatric medication. I was also irrationally scared of every single side effect possible. It personified all that I feared of myself and my disorder. It meant admitting that I was too weak to conquer this on my own. It was waving the white flag on life: “here I am, too feeble to live a beautiful, blessed, happy life without creating my own issues in my own head.” I felt like a failure as a mother, as a person, as a child of God and someone bestowed with His blessings.
At that particular time, my anxiety seemed to manifest as an intense, irrational fear of death; death of either my husband, my kids, myself or all of us. When you are handed a prescription for something that “could cause suicidal tendencies,” you start to panic a bit. Additionally, the thought of being diagnosed with a disorder in which I technically am unable to control my own feelings and emotions at all times was terrifying to a control-freak like myself. Not only was I having to admit that I was not in complete control of my mental state, but then I was supposed to agree to take a daily medication that could possibly cause me to do the very thing I was most fixated on: die.
The truth is, my anxiety was causing me to become depressed. I would never have classified myself as such. I erroneously believed someone suffering from depression looked and behaved in a certain way, but I was depressed because I was hopeless. I was running through a labyrinth of my own fears and everywhere I turned to escape was another wall. It was defeating. It was exhausting. I relinquished my existence to one of perpetual fear and stress. This didn’t mean I didn’t want to exist. As mentioned above, it was quite the opposite. I LOVED my life. I couldn’t even accept how wonderful it was because I was so scared that at some point, the other shoe would drop. I lived in fear of a possible moment in which it would all be ripped away from me.
While yes, lying awake at night for hours, still as stone, listening for any sounds of a potential hazard was exhausting, I carried this burden and accepted it. Yes, grinding my teeth 24 hours per day left me in physical pain, but I ignored it. Sure, my mind was preoccupied with countless “what ifs,” but I classified them as “prepared for anything.” It wasn’t until my anxiety presented itself physically that I realized how bad it had become.
So, two weeks went by as I juggled the idea of continuing along this exhausting, unmedicated path or following a personalized plan from a group of mental health experts. I finally gave in to the idea of medicated treatment when my mom and my best friend both encouraged me to flip the dialog: If I were being prescribed medication for any other illness, would I hesitate to begin treatment for even a second?
You see, we all know that stress is a killer. So why do so many of us allow such a thing to slowly kill us? Because of a stigma surrounding the treatment? Even the more holistic approaches to reducing stress and managing anxiety (such as sleeping, meditating, healthy diets and overall self care) are hardly allowed for in our society. It’s no wonder so many people are weary of what it means to utilize medication.
I am thankful for my treatment plan and for the medication it includes. I am proud and thankful to say that I have been working on managing my anxiety with great success for 4 years now.
Sometimes I still get very scared when my anxiety grows greater than my ability to control it. Sometimes I worry that I use my anxiety as an excuse: that instead of treating self-care as a necessary tool to cope with my illness, I use it as a crutch to avoid challenging things. It’s a very fine balance between understanding what is a healthy way to manage anxiety and what is considered abnormal in coping.
My biggest fear of my illness is passing it on to my children. I see my son exhibit many of my same anxious tendencies and although it breaks my heart, I still thank God for my blessings: you see, there is nobody more understanding of his neuroses – and how to help him manage them – than myself. It’s a tragic bond we share, but it motivates all of my efforts in controlling my own anxiety in the hopes that I can help him control his own. I try to remind myself that in the grand scheme of things, if managing anxiety is our most pressing personal issue, then life is still pretty darn good.
I’m here to tell you that doctors, medication, therapists, prayer and holistic self-care measures are all part of the the beautiful blessings God has granted us. We do not need to live in a constant state of worry. We have many different tools available to help us appreciate and fully enjoy our current blessings without obsessing over potential future worries. I urge anyone stuck in the hamster-wheel of anxiety to seek help. Advocate for yourself. Understand that life in constant fear is NOT normal or noble, but seeking and utilizing treatment measures IS.
Alli Hietbrink is a 32 year old wife and Stay at Home Mother to two children. She is the owner of Ca Natives and lives in Northern California with her husband, kids and two Goldendoodle babies. Alli enjoys writing, decorating, yoga, cooking, crafting, social campaigning and personal growth. You can connect with her on her blog CA Natives and on Instagram at @canatives.
PPS – If you’re ever looking for a devotional on living life while in a waiting season, check out the devotional I co-authored called ‘In the Wait’!
PPPS – Check out the other contributions from this series, including What It’s Like: to experience multiple IVF cycles, raise a child with special needs, use an egg donor, be a DIY-er and home style blogger , be a NICU nurse, Live fully in singleness while still hoping for marriage, suffer with endometriosis. experience depression, start a company, have a micro preemie, lose a parent, be childless not by choice, have a spouse with a chronic illness, fund raise for fertility treatments, have a traumatic birthing experience, take a natural route with infertility, be on a reality show, go through the adoption process, have male factor infertility,be a stay at home mom, be an entertainer, be given a Down syndrome diagnosis for your child , experience multiple miscarriages, have a surrogate, experience a late pregnancy stillbirth, be a police officers wife, be a working mom , be a breastfeeding mother, have weight loss surgery, donate and adopt an embryo, be on a reality show, go through the fostering process, throw a themed dinner party , have PCOS, have had a cancer diagnosis,be a high school teacher,love someone who’s experiencing infertilitybe a step-parent,be the husband in a couple experiencing infertility and experience secondary infertility. Stay tuned for many other amazing topics to come every Tuesday and Friday here!