Mental Health Doesn’t Make You A Bad Mom.

***I feel like I need to do a little disclaimer before you read this post. If you have never experienced postpartum depression (or loved someone with postpartum depression) some of the things talked about in this post will be unfathomable to you. Please try to have an open mind and to not judge, being honest about motherhood is hard enough without being shamed for being human.***

Before I had Paxton someone said to me, “With your mental health you might not be a good mom.” That person clearly knew nothing about mental health or motherhood, so I tried to give them some grace. But to be honest, I got in my car and bawled my eyes out after those words were spoken. For a moment I let those words take control of my mind and heart. Who wouldn’t? From the time I first found out I was pregnant the thought of “What if I’m not good enough?” has been circling my head. Every mom has that thought but for me it’s a little different, a little more extreme. I have struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few months back, and I’m a recovering drug addict. How could I possibly be a good mom?

I dwelled on that question for a bit, and then I challenged myself to reframe it. How can my mental health, along with my past experiences, help me be a good mom? That’s right, all those years of struggling will actually help me be the best mom possible for my son. Because out of struggle comes strength, and that is exactly what I am: STRONG. First and foremost I had to remind myself that I can be strong and struggle simultaneously. I also had to remind myself that my mental health does not make me a bad person, and neither does my recovery. Let me repeat it, MENTAL HEALTH DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BAD PERSON.

However, because of my history I knew that I would need to have a good plan in place as I entered into the postpartum period. While I was pregnant I spent hours every week with my therapist preparing for the 1 in 5 chance that I would be diagnosed with a postpartum disorder. For me this meant maintaining my regular sessions with my therapist, finding a postpartum-specific therapist just in case, learning new coping mechanisms, and compiling a list of people to reach out to in time of need. Before having Paxton I felt like I was completely prepared for what was to come, and in a lot of ways I was. But, quite honestly, I’m not sure that you can every be fully prepared for the unknown that is postpartum.

Aside from becoming a single mom and all the trials and anxieties that came along with that, my pregnancy was a dream. I was the happiest I have ever been in my entire life thanks to all of the good pregnancy hormones. Then when I had Paxton my entire world changed for the better. I was exhausted and would get overwhelmed easily, but other than that I would say my first two months home were so good. I had visitors coming all the time, I was trying to soak in every last newborn cuddle, and I was just so in love with my son. I loved being a mom and I finally felt like I had found my purpose.

Then when Paxton was about 2.5 months old postpartum depression hit me like a ton of bricks, although at the time I didn’t recognize that that’s. What was happening. I went from over-the-moon in love to overwhelmed to uncontrollably sobbing to extremely angry (nobody tells you about postpartum rage, it’s a real thing) within a matter of minutes, and it seemed as if the happy moments were few and far between. It was terrifying and exhausting, but I didn’t think much of it. I just assumed that every knew mom felt this way and that it was completely normal. It wasn’t until my son was 3 months old and I was sobbing on my bathroom floor, wondering what my life had come to, that I realized maybe what I was feeling wasn’t normal anymore. I suddenly felt like the connection I had with my son was gone, like nothing I was doing was right, and that I was failing at being a mom. As a new mom it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated, some anxiety, and even a little sad from time to time. What is not normal is to be paralyzed by your emotions, to feel like you can’t go on, or to hate your life. Those feelings are not normal, but they are common and they do NOT make you a bad person or a bad mom. They just mean that you need a little extra help regulating the hormones that are causing them, and that is perfectly okay.

When I first realized what was going on I was ashamed of what I was feeling. I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t loving being a mom or that I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore so I kept it inside and let this turmoil build inside me until he was 4 months old. The financial stress of being a single mom had sent me over the edge, and I spent the next 3 days crying and having panic attacks all while still managing to take care of my son. On the first night of my meltdown I texted my mom and all it read was, “Being a mom is so hard.” So she spent the next two nights sleeping on the couch with me making it known that I wasn’t alone. And that’s when I knew I couldn’t do it on my own anymore. I realized that I needed help so I reached out to my therapist, my psychiatrist, my midwife, and a couple of other people to let them know what was going on. I upped my therapy sessions to multiple times a week, I vocalized what I was feeling, and I went back on medication.

This is real. This is postpartum depression.

Paxton is now ten months old and I feel like I am finally starting to feel normal again. I have put in a lot of work the past couple of months to make sure that I am the healthiest version of myself possible. I began working out daily, taking time for myself, and even started a new job. My love for being a mom is resurfacing and it feels like there is finally some sunshine back in my life. I still have my hard days, but the bad doesn’t outweigh the good anymore and that was my ultimate goal. Today I am strong, I am brave, and I am capable. Today I am also overwhelmed, I am exhausted, and I am full of emotion. And today I am a damn good mom, mental health, feelings, and all. Moms often get shamed for showing any sign of “struggle” when it comes to mental health in motherhood. We get labeled as “bad moms” for being human. Humans feel emotion, it’s what we’re designed to do and it’s not something that anybody should ever be shamed for.

So to the mom who’s struggling right now, I see you. I see you having to remind yourself to take deep breaths, I see you having that panic attack in the bathroom, I see you crying yourself to sleep, I see you feeling alone in a room full of people, I see you fighting back tears because your child won’t stop crying. I see you because I am you. We’re in this together. And with that being said, if you are struggling and you need someone to talk to my inbox is always open. I will sit with you in whatever way you need so that you feel a little less alone. I will watch your kid(s) so you can have a few hours to yourself. I will make you a meal or vacuum your house if that’s what you need that day. And if you reach a point where you need more professional help than me, I will help you find someone. When I say I’m in this with you, I mean I’m IN THIS WITH YOU – through the good times and the hard. You’ve got this, Mama, and you’re doing a damn good job.

Fight for yourself. Always.

You Aren’t Weak For Going To Therapy.

Therapy.  I have always been against it. Always.

My mom did the right thing from the start by sticking me in therapy.  From a young age she noticed my anxiety, recognized that I needed help, and did everything in her power to get it for me. However, there was one problem: I didn’t want help.  She tried for years and years to get me to go, and I put my foot down time after time.  It was to a point where she would go in and talk to my therapist while I sat in the hallway hysterically crying because I didn’t want to be there.  Talk about needing help, right?

After my first suicide attempt I tried therapy again, and still hated every minute of it.  It caused me more anxiety than not, and I think I made it through two appointments before giving up.  For me I always thought that if you needed to go to therapy it meant that something was wrong with you, that you were weak because you needed help.  I could not have been more wrong, and I wish I would have realized that sooner.

It was April of 2018 and my best friend, Omi, and grandpa had all recently passed away. I was struggling with an addiction that nobody knew anything about, and my soul was really, really heavy.  I started researching therapists on my own, realizing that maybe I did need help.  I stumbled across a therapist, Elizabeth, who I thought would maybe be a good fit for me (truthfully I chose her because I thought she was pretty and looked like someone I would be friends with.)  I researched her a little bit, and then shut down the idea completely remembering my insane reasoning for never wanting to go to therapy before.  It wasn’t until after my second suicide attempt and first real blackout moment (I’ll talk more about those later) that my mom said enough was enough.  I was in the ER at St. Joseph Hospital and my social worker gave me a list of therapists to contact when I got out, Elizabeth being one of them.  My mom called her and I had my first appointment the following week.  I went into it so nervous, and quite honestly ashamed that my life had gotten to that point.  I came out a different person.

Elizabeth has changed my life in a way I never thought possible.  When I say she’s my favorite person (non family member, of course), I’m not kidding.  I wish that she knew how much she means to me, because she holds a spot in my heart that nobody else can ever hold.  I brought her into my life at my absolute lowest point, and I like to think that she saved me.  But I think if I were to tell her that she would just smile, shake her head, and respond with, “Nope.  You saved yourself, I just helped.”  I see her twice a week now, and those two days are my favorite days of the week simply because it’s ME time. For two hours a week it’s all about me.  Sounds a little selfish, right? WRONG. It’s never selfish to take care of yourself.  It’s not selfish to put yourself, and your wellbeing, first sometimes. And it’s definitely not something to be ashamed of.

There are two major things I’ve learned since I started therapy. First is that it’s okay to not always be okay.  It’s okay to breakdown.  It’s okay to struggle.  It’s okay to cry.  It’s okay to feel down sometimes.  Just don’t stay there.  “If it matters, let it matter.  If your hearts breaking, let it ache. Catch those pieces as they shatter, know your hurt is not in vain. Don’t hide yourself from the horror.  Hurt today, heal tomorrow.” – Lyrics from my favorite song by Johnnyswim.  Elizabeth constantly loves to remind me that negative emotions are there to move you.  They aren’t stagnant. They are doing something, something big.  It’s up to you, however, to find what that something is.  And if you need help doing that, that is perfectly okay.  The second thing that I’ve learned is that it’s okay to feel good.  Sometimes I struggle with that – feeling good.  A silly thing to think, right? Life has thrown me so many curveballs.  From divorce, an unnoticed eating disorder, grief on grief on grief, heartbreak, addiction, anxiety, and depression.  Sometimes, when I feel okay I don’t want to feel okay.  Sometimes, I don’t feel like I deserve to feel happy. And that’s when she steps in. That’s when she reminds me that I am brave, beautiful, loved, and strong.  That my feelings are valid, and that I’m not crazy for feeling the things that I feel.

Finding the right therapist can be hard. It can be daunting and defeating when you feel like you just don’t click.  But let me tell you, when you finally find the right one it’s the best thing in the world.  It’s magical.  It’s empowering.  It’s life changing.  Don’t give up, your person is out there.  So today I am here to remind you that you are not weak for going to therapy.  You are brave.  You are trying. You are healing.  You are breathing. You are alive.  And today, those things are enough for me.  Let them be enough for you, too.  If you think you need help, get out there and get it.  Don’t be ashamed. If you just need someone to talk to, do it. You don’t have to suffer in silence.  And if you’re struggling with finding the right therapist, don’t give up.  Your Elizabeth is out there.

Side note: Elizabeth, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU for everything you’ve done for me.  Thank you for constantly reminding me that I am enough.  For reminding me to be gentle with myself.  For letting me be me.  And of course for all the music recommendations (Smashing Pumpkins all day every day).  You have made me a better person, thank you.

Fight For Yourself.  Always. 

My Best Friend Died, And I’m Stuck Here.

I met Cali Noel Hall in 2014 while attending school at Life Christian Academy.  We instantly clicked and before I knew it we were spending every day together.  Whether it was running at Point Defiance, going to Frisko Freeze, cuddling in bed, sitting in the car, or just simply being in each other’s presence we were always happy, laughing, content, and full of life.

Our senior year Cali moved in with my family for a while, and I’m not kidding when I say every night was a party.  We blew up a queen size air mattress on my bedroom floor, leaving absolutely no room to walk or even open the closet door.  But we didn’t care.  We were just happy because now we were officially more than best friends, we were family.  My family took Cali in without hesitation.  My aunts spoiled her, my grandparents adored her, and my parents made her do chores as if she had been there all along. We were truly soul mates.

I loved every single thing about Cali, but there was one giant piece that she chose to hide from me: addiction.  When Cali and I became friends I had no clue about her past.  I had no clue that addiction was such a big part of her life.  It wasn’t until she was living with my family that I realized that she had a serious problem.  In that moment I had two choices: step away from the friendship or love her harder.  If you know me at all you know that my heart is big, really big.  So suddenly I was thrown into the world of loving an addict, which is no easy task but I’ll talk more about that in a future post.

There’s one question you always have to ask yourself when loving an addict: am I loving them or am I enabling them?  Phone call after phone call, long drive after long drive, rescue after rescue.  Was I loving or enabling?  It was right before graduation that I heard a quote that said, “If an addict is happy with you, you’re probably enabling them.  If an addict is mad at you, you’re probably trying to save their life.”  After graduation I had to sit my best friend in the world down and say the hardest thing I’ve ever had to say, “Cali, I love you but I can’t keep saving you.  You have to learn how to save yourself.” After that conversation I didn’t see Cali for six months.  She moved to Hawaii to start a new life and I moved to Bellingham to go to college.  We still talked constantly, but it was clear our friendship wasn’t the same.  How could it be after a conversation like that?

Fast forward to September of 2017.  I was studying abroad in Paris, France and Cali was still in Hawaii.  I was sitting on the train to Monet’s Garden, surrounded by a whole bunch of strangers, when I got a text that changed my world forever.  It was from a random girl on Facebook and all it said was, “Cali has passed away.  I know you were close with her and wanted to let you know.”  That was it.  No other information.  No reason why.  Nothing.  I texted her mom and asked if it was true and she immediately responded with, “Yes.”  In that moment my world fell apart.  Being as I was surrounded by strangers and a few classmates I hardly knew, I didn’t say anything.  It wasn’t until we were leaving Monet’s Garden nearly six hours later when I finally lost it.   I spent the next two weeks in Paris just trying to make it through each day with a fake smile on my face.

By the time I made it back to Washington the sadness had subsided and anger had taken its place.  I sat through her funeral without shedding a single tear.  I watched my family mourn the loss of our pseudo sister and I felt nothing.  I physically couldn’t mourn and it angered me that that’s how I was.  They say a single thread of hope is a very powerful thing.  For three years I had been holding on to this hope that one day Cali would be okay.  That one day she would get clean.  That one day she would realize that she had this community around her that loved her more than she knew.  That one day I would get my best friend in the world back.  And then that thread of hope snapped.  It broke.  It was gone, vanished.  Occasionally I forget that she’s gone.  I find myself hoping that she’s doing okay, that maybe she’s clean, and that maybe one day she’ll move back and we’ll continue our friendship as sisters.  And then I’m hit with the gut wrenching reality that none of those things will ever happen.  Because addiction stole my best friend.  And now all I have left are memories.  And for a year now that thought has been making me angry.  Angry because I will never make another memory with her.  Angry because she won’t stand by my side at my wedding.  Angry because my future kids will never call her “Auntie Cali.”  Angry because she couldn’t find the strength that we all knew she had to get clean.  Angry because I couldn’t save her.  But even though I am angry I am still grateful.  Grateful because I got to call her my best friend.  I got to call her my soul mate.  I got to call her my sister.  And that’s something that can never be taken away from me, no matter how far apart we are.  And for that I am forever grateful.

Cali taught me what it’s like to feel loved.  She taught me how to genuinely care about people.  She taught me how to laugh, how to dance, how to cry.  She taught me that life is about so much more than addiction, and I want to recover because she didn’t get the chance to.  She showed me just how precious life is.  So now I choose to live everyday in honor of her.  Living life without your best friend is really damn hard.  It’s something I would never wish on anyone.  Something funny happens and she’s the first person I want to laugh with.  Something sad happens and, again, she is the only person I want to talk to.   Sometimes I still find myself typing “soul mate” into my contacts to see if she wants to hangout.  And those things all come along with this physical pain in my chest as I remember that she’s not here, and I am.  But that’s the point – I AM.  I am alive.  I am breathing.  I am recovering.  I am hurting.  But I am okay.

Grief is a bizarre thing.  Sometimes it is all-consuming.   Sometimes it makes it harder to breathe.  Sometimes it makes me feel like I’m drowning.  It’s been a year and I still cry myself to sleep most nights.  I still want to share every memory that pops up on my Facebook.  I still want to talk about her constantly.  But unless everybody else around you is in the same grief journey, they get to be sad for a minute and then move on.  I’m stuck here mourning my best friend while the rest of the world carries on like nothing happened.  People don’t like talking about Cali, I know that.  Whether it’s because they find her death uncomfortable, they are confused by the way she died, or they just simply don’t want to talk about it I see it and I feel it.  Mentioning her name won’t make me sad, it will actually do quite the opposite.  So let’s talk about her.  Let’s remember her.  Let’s raise awareness about addiction and mental health.  Let’s fight for her.

 

Fight For Yourself.  Always.