If you had told me at this moment that 3 months later I would be experiencing postpartum depression, a global pandemic, and a direct hit to our home by a tornado, I don’t know if I would have believed you. However, it did. And this is my story with mental health.
Throughout my pregnancy, postpartum mental health was never mentioned to me in one physician visit. I had somewhat heard of postpartum depression but knew nothing about it and never looked into it during pregnancy. Actually, the first time it was brought to my attention was during labor. They asked me to fill out an anxiety/depression screening questionnaire, which in reality looked like my husband filling out the questionnaire for me as I was mid-contractions.
My first 6-8 weeks postpartum was very smooth. I was tired of course but I do not remember any sort of depressive-like signs up until this point. (The timing of symptoms can look totally different for everyone, this was just my scenario.) About 2 months in though, my body started feeling extremely fatigued. My milk supply started dropping. I started feeling more anxious, more tired, more overwhelmed, and less able to be joyful or excited. I remember looking at symptoms on Google and convincing myself that I had postpartum blues, but “definitely not depression.”
The first step I took as I grew more and more exhausted by the day was to wean nursing. This did help me gain some energy. However just a few days later, Covid hit America. And then two weeks later, my husband, my baby, and I were all at home when our house was directly hit by a tornado.
The weeks following could amount to pages of paragraphs about how my mental health plummeted. But here is the summary. Essentially, I was totally overwhelmed, in shock, and my ability to function started to really struggle. By the time it was May of 2020, I was barely able to help take care of my 4-month old son, I couldn’t physically function and I couldn’t think straight.
My husband and I began realizing that something was wrong but we didn’t know what it was or what to do about it. We didn't know if it was mental health, my thyroid, etc. Also, we were all in quarantine so we didn’t have family or people around us who potentially would have been able to help or recognize signs. And, our house was currently under construction constantly from the tornado so we were in and out of hotels with a baby. It was chaos.
Finally, we started opening up to someone and through a series of events we were able to see that I was experiencing depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I was then able to get the help and resources I needed, and by the end of the summer of 2020, I was a whole lot healthier, and not just functioning, but thriving. My mental health is still an ongoing process today. It takes continuous reassessment when new life changes hit, and I am still seeing the counselor I began seeing in the summer of 2020.
Looking back now 2 years later, it was SO hard to see what was happening when I was in the thick of it. It took others helping me to see and to help me get out. I wanted to convince myself that everything was normal because I didn’t want to need anything. I didn't think that I, or the baby, could afford for me to not be okay. I was of course okay because I had to be okay. I had to be strong.
One of the most freeing things someone said to me during those few weeks was “I hope you don’t feel like you have to be strong right now.” That helped me see that I wasn’t okay, which was okay.
We all have an instinctive desire to want to be self-sufficient. And as moms, I think it’s not just that we want to be sufficient and fully capable, but that we also want to be strong. It is actually a really beautiful instinct, I think, to want to be strong for your child who now depends on you, minute by minute, for their survival. But the reality is, we are humans, which means we are finite, vulnerable, and susceptible to struggle. Our brain and our bodies can only take so much and can only do so much without some help and rest.
My favorite thing about working for MOJO actually is that my two bosses lead with this type of mentality. When I shadow them, they treat every single patient as a human, who has dignity, who is strong, yet who is not perfect and who has been through something. Mental health is not shamed in our clinic, but it is talked about. It is discussed. I have heard the phrase “you don’t have to have it all together right now” more times than I can count. I would love for this type of mentality to start taking place in our communities, friendships, doctor offices, etc. How freeing would it be to live in a world where mental health is talked about and everyone is not expected to be perfect or happy all the time?
I wanted to share my story so that if you can see yourself in this story, even in a really small way, then maybe you can get access to resources quicker than I did. It took a baby, a pandemic and a tornado for me to recognize that I was experiencing postpartum depression. Please don’t let that be you, too. Ask the questions. Find safe people to talk to. Call a counselor. Do all the things you need to make sure you are checking in with your mental health.
May is Motherhood Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health applies to all mothers. Mothers who have lost, mothers who have never had and mothers who have. And we want you to know that we see you, we hear you, and we understand you.
My hope for you is that you go forward thinking about how you are and how those around you are. Mental health and physical health are often intertwined, so contact us at MOJO if you need any help or guidance regarding resources for either.
MOJO Physical Therapist