When Holidays and Mental Health Clash

I have always adored marching bands. I loved going to high school football games, not just to watch the football and socialize, but to hear the fantastic music echoing from the school’s marching band. The way it drifted across the field and swept from the ground upward, filling my soul, reverberating inside my chest, redefining my heartbeat for a few glorious moments.

The college I attended did not have a marching band. I missed it.

I remember watching the movie Drumline over and over because I missed it so much.

Then, I graduated, got married, had kids, and Postpartum OCD slammed into me as a ship is tossed into a rocky coastline during a Nor’easter.

I remember the first time we went to a parade after my first daughter was born. It was several months after her birth and I felt okay. As we stood there, in a throng of people, I felt my anxiety creeping upward, swirling around my ankles, climbing desperately toward my heart. I stomped my feet, trying to shake it off.

But then, a marching band rounded the corner.

My anxiety took hold, rocked upward, and choked me. I stood there, motionless, my heart racing, my throat swelling, my mouth unable to move as tears spiraled down my cheeks. It totally caught me off guard as I somehow managed to stand my ground as this overwhelming emotion struck through me as if I were some concrete wall meant to be demolished. Over and over again it slammed into me as I stood there, leaving only as the band finally marched away.

As another band careened toward us, I held my breath and braced myself again for the attack. It came, not as difficult this time but it still clenched my heart tightly and wrapped it’s brilliant musical notes around my head until I felt as if I would faint. Thankfully, there was only one more band, if I remember correctly, and I survived. But the entire experience left me utterly exhausted and perplexed.

What had happened? I adored marching bands. Simply adored them. Why on earth had I reacted so strongly, and, more so, negatively to an experience I once found inspiring and soothing?

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders change us. We find ourselves growing into new people as a result of our brush with this experience of mental health struggles after giving birth to a child. We may not change that much but we may change quite a bit. Some changes are not bad ones, other changes we must simply learn to adapt to and leave behind us. Those are the changes which make things more difficult.

I have had to leave marching bands in my past, unfortunately.

I no longer attend parades or festivities where loud music, specifically, marching bands will be playing. It’s a limit I am not comfortable pushing. And that, folks, is okay.

Here’s the thing about holidays and other festivities: Yes, the goal is to have fun and celebrate, but if it is a situation which causes you considerable anxiety, stress, or intense reactions such as the one I described above, it is okay to stand up for yourself and decline the invitation. If someone gets upset about you respecting your boundaries, ask yourself how much they respect you and your need to do what is best for you.

So you don’t go to the parade. Offer to bring a covered dish to a BBQ later on or whip up a dessert for everyone to have after the parade. How people react to you is absolutely not your gig. Do what is healthiest for you and offer compromises. If they are not amenable to a compromise, then let them deal with their emotions as long as you have presented your reasoning in the best way possible.

With this in mind, I want to wish all the American readers of Postpartum Progress a very happy Fourth of July. I also want to remind you that it’s okay to turn down the invite to the big party and keep your mental health in the green. You are worth it.


photo source: https://flic.kr/p/8fPJ8M