The Truth About My Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

The Truth About My Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

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My baby. She was finally here. She was healthy and in my arms…and she was perfect.

We bought a new home only 3 weeks before her arrival. It had way more space than our tiny, one bedroom condo. It was a place to finally call our own. A place where we could paint every wall hot pink if we wanted to because it was ours. There was room to grow. It was perfect.

Everything was perfect…except it wasn’t.

The immediate months following my transition into motherhood were hard. Really hard. I constantly wondered how every other new parent was able to handle it all, while I was slowly crumbling.

The sleep deprivation alone was enough to break any person into a hundred pieces. But there were also the changing hormones, the new dynamic between me and my husband, and the heavy responsibility of being another human being’s everything. And on top of it all, came the constant arguing, the deep anxiety and the paralyzing panic attacks. I felt so sad that I was almost numb. The scenarios I worried about were not only irrational, they were extreme.

It was all balled up together like a bowl of tangled, spaghetti noodles—everything intertwined and knotted. One thing seemed to affect another thing which led to another, and another and another. I couldn’t find the beginning or end. And I could no longer decipher an irrational meltdown from a logical concern. It was all the same. I was tired and empty and felt completely alone.

I resented my husband for not doing more. Not taking the baby more. Not cleaning more. Not helping me more. But when he offered to help, I didn’t even know which of the moving pieces to give him. I was juggling it all and if I handed off the baby, or gave him one task or chore or action, the whole thing would fall apart. It was just easier if I did it. I felt myself getting dangerously worn but I felt too guilty to stop. There was no solution—I either resented him for not helping or I felt gut-wrenchingly guilty for asking for help. I was the mom. I was the one who was supposed to be able to do it all. Right?

But the single working part that I had become starting breaking. One person can only go or do so much before they just…can’t anymore.

And that’s where I found myself. I couldn’t. I barely recognized the woman in the mirror. Even worse, I didn’t like her anymore.

I longed to be a momma my entire life, so needing help felt like I was failing at the one thing that I always aspired to be. Nobody told me it would be this hard. Nobody told me that parenthood would test the endurance of my marriage, challenge my emotional and spiritual condition, and make me question my own self-identity.

I had heard of “baby blues.” What a cute, non-threatening label. I had also heard of “postpartum depression.” That term sounded more medical and serious, but still, I didn’t truly know what it was. I had never even heard of “postpartum anxiety.”

My preconception of postpartum depression led me to believe that it was uncommon, and when a woman did experience it, it was within the first few weeks of having a baby. I was far passed the few weeks mark—my baby was 5 months old—so it had to be something else. Maybe motherhood just wasn’t as natural for me as I thought it would be. Maybe I needed to get away for a while. Maybe my husband and I were growing apart. Maybe I was just losing it.

I wanted to be a mom and I loved my baby and I was healthy and young. I had a new home, a great husband, and beautiful healthy baby. What was there to be depressed about?

Yet, I was suffocating. I hadn’t expressed my feelings to anyone. Not to the degree in which they were exploding inside of me. All my mommy-friends looked like they had their lives together. It seemed as if motherhood was a breeze for them. They were happy and organized…and showered. I was barely functioning.

And after 5 months of feeling inadequate, overwhelmed, anxious and exhausted, I realized it wasn’t getting better. In fact, everything was getting worse.

I wasn’t just tired. I wasn’t just feeling the newness of being a momma. I wasn’t just “in a funk”.

It went deeper. So much deeper.

Finally, I met my breaking point. “I need help. I can’t do this anymore. I’m done. I wasn’t crying for help with the dishes or housework or holding the baby. I needed help with my entire life. My marriage, my mind, my body.

I called my doctor. I called my pastor’s wife. I called my mom. I talked to my husband. I went to a professional counselor. And I began to open up with the moms around me. Just saying those 3 words were freeing in itself—“I need help.”

The moment I began to feel the warmth from the intentional support of others, my hope and clarity began to restore. I had existed in hopelessness and helplessness for so long that hope felt…strange. Strange but wonderful. Like a precious friend you haven’t seen in years—you know them well, yet don’t fully recognize them.

Because there were so many different kinds of issues and struggles going on inside of me—and because new pains had mixed with resurfaced ones—it took everyone on my “team” to help me. My husband, my pastor’s wife, my counselor, my doctor, my momma-friends. Each person helped me in different, vital ways. Each contributed a level of healing.

My doctor and I came up with a 3 week plan. Three weeks of counseling, being intentional with what I was eating, how I was exercising, spending time in the sunshine, allowing myself time to be alone. After the 3 weeks, I would have a follow-up appointment to reassess how I was doing and see if there was any improvement. If there wasn’t much improvement, we would then discuss incorporating medicine. It wasn’t night an overnight “cure” but within the first few days of starting my new routine, I noticed an improvement. I could already breathe easier. Because this was an ongoing process, I remained intentional with my self-care routine and stayed aware of how I was feeling.

My senses felt crisper. I was living again, not just surviving. And it happened because I spoke out.

Postpartum depression and anxiety can vary in appearance from momma to momma. Its heaviness can gradually grow like single grains of sand slowly piling up. Or it can come on very suddenly. There isn’t a definitive list of emotions or symptoms and there isn’t an exact timeframe as to when it can happen. And I think that’s why it can go undetected or ignored for so long.

If you’ve recently had a baby—even within the last year—and you feel overwhelmed, hopeless and completely empty to the point of feeling like you can’t function as a person, I encourage you to speak up for yourself. Talk to a professional. There is no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed. I know that you want to be the absolute best momma to your baby. I know you may feel guilty asking for help or wanting to take time for yourself. But in order to fill up the ones around you, you have to be filled yourself. Caring for yourself—mind, body and spirit—should remain a top priority. I’m not sure why there is still such a stigma around postpartum depression but I can tell you with complete certainty, you are not alone, you are not failing and there is nothing to be ashamed about. I promise you, there is help nearby and things are going to get better.

When New Becomes the Normal

When New Becomes the Normal

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This particular feeling of transition is familiar to me. The waiting game. The anticipation. The dreaming and preparing and eagerness and anxiety. The constantly being on edge, while trying to distract myself and not think about how I’m constantly on edge. It’s e x h a u s t i n g .

Oh yes, I know this feeling well. It’s a mixture of heartache as well as over-the-moon excitement. A haze of surrealness that we are in the last days of being a household of 4—transitioning to a household of 5.

I felt this right before each of my daughters were born too—this strange place of savoring every moment of how life currently is while impatiently awaiting what will become our family’s new normal.

I can’t remember life before my youngest daughter. It is like she has always been here. And I surely can’t remember life before my oldest daughter. I am convinced life started the day she born and it is the life that I have always wanted to live.

However, these were not my sentiments right before they were each born. During the days leading up to their births it was more of an, “OH. MAN. How the heck am I going to do this? I barely have my act together right now. Like, barely. And I’m supposed to add another human life into the mix!? This is not going to be pretty.”

But sure enough, after a little bit of time (and tears and small victories and slowly conquering the learning curve) I moved from the scary newness to a more confident rhythm of life. Trust me, we still had those days. We still have those days. I don’t think the frequency decreased. I think maybe I just figured out how to handle them better. I’m not sure. Either way, I’ll take it.

And soon…it was normal. Life with a baby was normal. Then life with 2 kids was normal. And now, with faith that that truth will continue, I know life with 3 kids will become my new normal. And eventually, the details of life before our son will become foggy. Because he will be the perfect puzzle piece that our family was missing.

As I was drying my girls’ hair this morning, (there really is nothing like the smell of fresh babies right out of the bath) one was swaying back and forth singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star at the top of her lungs—the other one was playing a music game on my phone. And as I ran my fingers through their hair, I held my breath a little. My lungs captured that air so very tightly. And I didn’t want to exhale. Because I loved that moment. And I love our family dynamic right now. I love my full days with my 2 little best friends. And even though those full days can be hard and wearing full days, I love them just the same.

But eventually I had to let out that precious breath and when it did my heart exploded with these words…

You are losing nothing and gaining so much. The joy of life is going about to be multiplied. Life will look different, but it will be better.

I am settled into that place—that place of absorbing the right-now as well as the soon-will-be. And I am thankful for both, because both make me a mom.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3:22-24

Confessions of a Quitter and Giving It 51%

Confessions of a Quitter and Giving It 51%

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An early morning a few months ago I found myself standing in front of my kitchen sink that was once again full of dirty dishes. I was talking to my sister on the phone just staring at the task in front of me.

(I’m not sure who breaks into my house every single night just to dirty every single one of my dishes—leaving me to clean them in the morning—but if I ever catch the dirtying culprit, I’m popping him right in the nose. And I have raging pregnancy hormones right now, so it would be epic.)

My one year old hadn’t slept for oh, her entire life. Which meant this momma hadn’t slept for her entire life. Every night for the past 15 months had been broken up into sleepless segments. And then the entire previous week, 3am had become our I’m-Up-For-The-Day.

I wasn’t just sleepy, I was e x h a u s t e d—physically, emotionally and mentally depleted. I think most mommas know the place I’m talking about. And boy oh boy, I was in that place.

And on this particular morning as I stood in front of that sink of dirty dishes, I became totally overwhelmed. That sink was just the beginning of what I needed to get done. I don’t remember exactly what our topic of conversation was, but it wasn’t a serious one. However my response to whatever she said just burst out of me—and with a shaky voice attempting to hold back tears, I said,

“I don’t finish anything. I just quit…everything…all the time. I start and then…I quit.”

My vision began to blur with tears. And then I began to go down the list of all my failures and all of the projects I had started but for one reason or another, had quit.

Nothing like an early morning, lighthearted conversation with your sister, right?

My physical and mental exhaustion had stripped away my excuses (along with my good attitude and normally happy demeanor). And that rawness had suddenly and violently stirred up this regret and frustration about things I had quit.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve battled procrastination and quitting—always wishing to trade in those habits for ones of persevering and finishing. I’ve written about my journey of recovery before. This struggle isn’t a new thing for me.

Big life events…small every day tasks…friendships…ministries…workout programs. You name it, I’ve quit each of them at least once.

I would feel alone in it all. I’d watch other women who seemed to have it all together. Every detail in their lives seemed to be in place. Every project completed. Always on time. Always floating, not walking. And I would wonder why I couldn’t seem to get my act together since others seemed to do it so effortlessly.

And honestly, I still feel that way sometimes. Why the heck can’t I just figure this life thing out? Not just with keeping up with dishes (which would be a beautiful miracle), but with…projects…dreams…life.

Shortly after my dish-hating/I’m-such-a-quitter meltdown in my kitchen, I heard about a book called 5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn’t Quit and got an early copy of it. I love the author and the title practically screamed my name so I was eager to dive in. The book follows the life of Ruth from the Bible and pulls out truth and examples of how her steady faithfulness changed countless generations.

This book has been such an unexpected game changer for me. You know those times where you don’t need advice, or a coach or a teacher or a drill sergeant…you just need a friend? Yeah, this book has become my friend. The kind of friend that says, “Yep. I’ve been there. I’m still there. I’ve not figured it all out, but I’m on my way. Let me share with you.”

There have only been a handful of times in my life where I can look back and honestly say I feel pleased with how I stuck to something. I’m talking about the kind of somethings that took a lot of time, a lot of energy and…gulp…a lot of persistence (for like, more than a week).

But what if my definition of success simply meant staying consistent?

This book is jam-packed full of goodness. But 3 of the things that I walked away with after reading 5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn’t Quit:

1.) I am not alone in my struggles

2.) There is hope to change my quitter-habits and replace them with finisher-habits

3.) If I can’t give 100% that day, give 51%

That last one was a big aha moment for me. And looking back at the times I actually did finish well with large tasks, that’s sort of what I did. Even if I couldn’t hit some amazing goal that day, I did just one thing that kept me moving towards my main goal. And sure enough, enough days of doing one little thing led me to finishing that big thing.

In her book, Nicki writes about the power of 51%:

If success can be redefined as “not quitting,” it’s this idea that if we can just stay 1 percent above 50, we are heading in the right direction.

So, while you determine in your spirit you can’t handle Jillian Michaels’ bossy commands today, you choose the 51 percent route and go for a quiet walk. No, you didn’t give everything you had, but you gave it 51 percent, and so that’s a step in the right direction.

I’m really excited about the tools I learned from 5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn’t Quit. Particularly learning how to identify why I quit and then figuring out how to reform habits that have become obstacles. (I highly recommend snagging a copy if you too struggle with finishing things. There are too many gems in it to talk about in a short post, but it really is worth the read.)

Some days, I just don’t have the energy or time I wish I could fully devote. But instead of an all or nothing mindset on those days, I’m excited now view consistency as success. Eventually all that movement forward, despite the speed, will lead me to that finish. And I’m already seeing the benefits of those newly formed habits! How awesome!

So to all my fellow recovering procrastinators and quitters, we can do it! One habit, one step, one word, one consistent forward movement at a time.

Click here to buy a copy of 5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn’t Quit, by Nicki Koziarz.

5 Habits cover

Seasons of Savoring and Suffering

Seasons of Savoring and Suffering

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Here’s some honesty for you: A few months ago I lost my makeup bag. Not misplaced it. Not set it down somewhere I don’t usually keep it. I straight up lost it. I couldn’t for the life of me remember when I had seen it last (meaning I couldn’t remember when I had actually put makeup on last.)

I sometimes very often find myself standing in the middle of my kitchen just staring at the overflowing sink full of dirty dishes and wonder, How? How can 4 people make all these overnight? And how in the world are there 47 dirty sippy cups in here!? We don’t even own 47 sips cups, yet here they are.

And my bedroom almost always has at least one pile of laundry in it that’s just begging to be folded and put away. My reaction to its pleas are always the same. I kick it out of the way to show it who’s boss and sternly remind it that it’s lucky it even got washed.

Ok, ok. My examples of missing makeup bags and condescending laundry piles may not totally resonate with you, but hey, I’m a mom to 2 littles (and one on the way.) So my makeup-less days really are filled with wiping, scrubbing, changing and washing. And an occasional, “Spit that out of your mouth!

But I’m not just talking about housework or mommyhood. This happens to me as a wife. And a friend. And a woman. And a human being in general.

I feel like I’m constantly moving—yet not going anywhere. Like I’ll be stuck in a certain place with a certain routine forever.

My days become this constant, repetitive spinning cycle. And if I let it, I get caught in its rotation and forget to…you know…breathe.

My point is this. It’s so easy to just do routine. To get what needs to be done done. And one day, you pause and look around and think to yourself, Where am I? How did I get here? I used to have the energy to put on makeup everyday. I used to have time to finish things. I used to be so confident as to what direction to go in life.

But what the Lord has been showing me recently is that life comes and goes in seasons. Nothing lasts.

And when I grasp that perspective, it makes it a little easier to push through the hard days and causes me to more fully savor the good ones.

I’m sure there have been seasons of your life that have felt endless, but looking back at them now, you can see they didn’t last forever.

There were times in college where I literally thought a class was going to kill me. The work was hard, the professor sounded like the guy from the Clear Eyes commercial except not as interesting. (I probably just dated myself with that reference. If you’re a little young thing, please smile and nod…then watch them on YouTube so we can be on the same page.) I had to work my tail off in those classes just to make an average grade.

But that time didn’t last. The class really did end and eventually it became a faint memory that still makes my eye twitch. It was a season that passed.

After college I went through a huge emotional shifting. I had to figure out life very quickly when my entire world felt like it was crumbling around me. I didn’t know what to do or where to go or if I would make it out in one piece.

But I did make it—more whole than I ever could have thought possible. In that dry land of unknowns, I cultivated strong friendships. I learned more about myself in that season of difficulty than I had in any previous season of ease. That time didn’t last. It became a season that passed.

After my husband and I got married, there was so much to figure out and get used to. Thank goodness he put the roll of toilet paper on the right way, so that wasn’t one of the battles. (The correct way is over…not under. Ever.) But we still had a lot of other important decisions to make. Jobs, moving, finances, transition. And then there was the general settling in to our new married roles. There were many times that we didn’t know what was around the corner or if our rent would even get paid.

But we made it. The hardships sealed us together in the most beautiful way. We had to lean into each other and rely fully on God during that season. It was scary and wonderful and life changing. I wouldn’t want to do it over again, but I’ll tell you, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Because we learned to quiet ourselves to hear His voice when we desperately needed direction, we recognized His voice when He called us into the next wonderful season. And every year we’ve gotten strong and stronger.

Four years ago and 2 years ago, I miscarried babies. We went through a season of grief and rawness. I ached for my babies and I cried every day. There were no answers to the whys or guarantees for the future. But those times changed me. My losses stirred up strength. The brokenness brought wholeness in some ways.

And although the scars will always be there, the initial sting lasted a season.

Life is not a solid line stretching from point A to point B. It’s fluid—constantly moving, changing and shifting.

If you are grieving deeply and feel like nothing will ever resemble anything close to normal again, remember—there will be life again. There is a future and it is filled with more seasons. Healing is on its way.

If you find yourself in a place of confusion and you’re wondering whether you should move forward or hold still, remember—this is a season. Listen to His voice. Clarity is coming.

If you can’t find your makeup bag for 4 days because you barely have enough energy to do anything besides chase adorable little people around the house and wash their 47 sippy cups every night, remember—little people grow up and one day there won’t be sippy cups to wash. So savor the chaos. Forget the makeup. It will soon be a season that passed.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: Ecclesiastes 3:1

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. Ecclesiastes 3:11