I received so many great submissions for the Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health. SO. MANY. And because of the limited number of slots I wasn’t able to include all of them. Still, there are a few other people that I think it’s important for you to hear from. This letter is from Alyssa, Warrior Mom and postpartum anxiety survivor. I think her words are very appropriate for today, which happens to be the American Psychological Association’s Mental Health Blog Day.
I want to say: I know.
I know what the weather’s like. I know it’s stormy, and rainy, and cold and gray. I know your umbrella is broken, you packed the wrong jacket, and the forecast doesn’t look better for days, weeks or months.
There are days when it feels like nothing will ever be better. You will never feel like you again. Things will never return to the way they once were. Hope is hard to come by when you are overwhelmed by postpartum anxiety and related illnesses.
I am not here to say, “oh it gets better!” with a fake smile and shiny white teeth. I am here to look you in the eye, put my hand on your shoulder and reassure you that your sun will shine again. And until that day, we have a spare umbrella, a sweatshirt to share, and some warm tea to get you through.
I spent a long time, too long really, hiding from myself. I fought my darkness, thinking that I could do it on my own, and that my anxiety and intrusive thoughts would just go away. They didn’t. But I continued to hope they would, instead of confronting postpartum anxiety head on. In retrospect, I wish desperately that I would have addressed it sooner. Why did I suffer quietly? Was it shame? Fear? Truthfully, I don’t know. I just know that I wasn’t ready to acknowledge it as reality.
When I started seeing a therapist, I was given a diagnosis of PTSD, postpartum anxiety and a little bit of postpartum OCD. I had a traumatic c-section, which I thought was the root of my issues. However, once we dealt with the trauma, and watched it dissipate, more anxiety and OCD tendencies came out. The intrusive thoughts got even stronger. So, just when I thought we had “talked away” the real issue, more problems literally overwhelmed me. I was convinced I was broken, and that I would feel this terrible forever.
Until the day that I had an a-ha moment. I don’t know that everyone has these moments. I was talking with my therapist, bemoaning my reality. I am sick of feeling this way. I want to know when it will stop. Why can’t it all just go away? She looked at me quite simply and said, “Have you ever thought to thank your anxieties?” I am sure I looked at her like she had 14 heads and 5 hideous noses. She continued, “You went through something terrible. Your emotions are valid. Your anxieties are valid. Your mind is so aware and so hell-bent on protecting you that this is what it’s doing. Is it out of control? Yes. But how amazing, how lucky you are to have a brain and a body that cares so much for your well-being that it goes to such great lengths to ensure nothing like this happens again.”
It wasn’t that statement that fixed me. Truth be told, I am not “fixed.” I still feel my anxieties daily. But after that day, I started reframing them. Acknowledging them. Thanking them. It was so much easier than fighting a losing battle.
Today, I am a proud mama. I love my baby girl more than anything. I still think at least 200 absurd thoughts a day, and occasionally, on bad days, the intrusive thoughts are strong again. But my darkness is gone. Anxiety is a lonely, cold, terrible place to be, and I couldn’t let it be my reality. Now? It isn’t. It’s a part of my reality, but it is the same way any of my other character flaws (poor communication, bluntness) are.
You will be here, too. I know you will be. I believe in you, and I trust that you will find the same support I found. Look for it anywhere–close family, trusted friends, here on this very website, full of amazing resources and reassuring voices. Know that we are here for you, rooting for you, holding your hand. Know that there is nothing to be ashamed of. You are a great mother. You are a worthwhile person. And YOU will be YOU once more.
With all my love and hope,