Depression. Anxiety. Postpartum depression.
At one time or another, each of these diagnoses had a home in my medical records. I’ve been in some pretty dark places throughout my life — so dark that bailing out seemed like a viable option. There were times of confusion, loneliness, hopelessness, and anger. Yet I don’t look back with shame or remorse, because I now have proof of my own capacity for resilience. It took work, time, and a ton of discomfort, but I’ve gotten to a place where I can roll with life a little more easily, count my blessings when everything sucks, and ask for help when I need it.
Today I don’t meet the criteria for any of the above conditions. But I’m still me, and boy can I get in my own way. I can get overwhelmed and overstimulated easily. I tend to be a glass-half-empty girl. I’m an emotionally sensitive person. I can overthink and complicate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, among other things. I like routine and predictability and really struggle with big changes or little inconveniences. I have accepted these parts of myself. But if I’m not keeping tabs on me, I can make a real mess of things.
I am extremely grateful to the fertility gods for putting the brakes on my ability to conceive until I was good and ready. In the moment of infertility, I was miserable and fearful that I would never have a child. But looking back, it’s clear to me that I had more growing to do.
So today I have my daughter and my mental health to care for, and each are equally important. So what gives? Nothing gives; it all just shifts around each day, depending on what life throws us, and that is OK. My self-care ebbs and flows with how much my toddler needs me and how much help I have. My moods fluctuate with the seasons, circumstances of life, and the amount of sleep I’m getting (or not getting). But I always manage to get through it.
Whether you have a history of mental health struggles or are simply trying to maintain your sanity as a mom, self-care is a must. Be sure to load your self-care toolbox with all the essentials! Here is what mine looks like these days.
I lift weights for 20 intense minutes in my living room when I can and go on walks when I can. Some weeks I’m active every day, and some weeks I manage one walk. Exercise truly is my lifeline. On days when I work out, I think more clearly, I’m more engaged with those around me, and I’m more positive, energetic, and definitely more patient.
I have spent years off medication and plenty of time on medication. I always seem to do better on medication. It’s not a cure-all, but it’s a non-negotiable for me right now.
Acceptance and compassion for myself and others
I can get super fired up when life doesn’t go my way or if people don’t do what I want. So after I have a fit over my toddler waking up AGAIN (and after wanting to punch my sleeping husband in the face), I work on accepting what is. If something needs to change regarding my daughter’s sleep habits, I will handle it. If I sprinkle in a little compassion for my daughter — and for myself — it lessens the struggle a bit. The desire to punch my husband as he sleeps hasn’t gone away yet, but I haven’t actually punched him, so that’s a win, right?
Spending time with women I can be 100% real with
I’m especially grateful for the women I’ve met in the moms groups I forced myself to go to when I was experiencing postpartum depression. Spending time with these women reminds me I’m not alone and I’m really not unique when it comes to my daily struggles. They tell me when to get off my butt and get out of the house, and they tell me when I need to slow down, relax, and let go of the expectations I’ve put on myself to be supermom. They remind me that I’m perfect just the way I am. I’ve found my tribe. Believe me, it took work. But it was so worth it.
The most important lesson I’ve taken from my work with therapists, trusted friends, and colleagues is that if I don’t learn to accept myself as I am, I cannot heal, change, and grow. I owe it to my crazy brain and to my daughter to continue working on myself. In so doing, I can eventually pass this wisdom on to her. And in the meantime, I will do my best to give her space to figure out who she is and accept all of herself, too.