Normalize talking about motherhood mental health: Depression, anxiety, PTSD and beyond
Motherhood Mental Health: Depression and anxiety are beasts, and they have the potential to steal away significant portions of our lives, but they don’t have to.
I have struggled with depression on and off since I was a teen living in a tumultuous home without guidance or support, throughout my early motherhood where rage was my main symptom and even now as a mom of two kids over five years old.
My mental health hasn’t defined my life so much as my experiences with it has made me into an advocate for it. I want to help break the stigma and come alongside other women in their struggles to let them know there is hope and that they are not alone.
I’d love to say I’m stable, instead I’ll say I’m seasoned.
I’m learning how to cope and I want to share my stories and insight with you.
I’m called Diary of An Honest Mom because I tell the truth about what it’s really like to be a woman and a mom in the 21st century, along with all the complex responsibilities and expectations that come with that. I’m honest about life and mental health and the importance of the state of our well being as women.
I believe that vulnerability and storytelling about what we have been through connects us and opens the door, not only for healing, but for long term wellness. I want women to know that they deserve to feel okay and to prioritize themselves.
Disclaimer: My story is a personal account of my own journey with depression, and it should not be taken as a substitute for professional advice. I strongly believe that anyone who feels they may need support seek the help of a qualified health care professional – they were vital in my own journey, and are trained to find the right support for each person’s unique and individual care. If you are in crisis – know there are many compassionate and expert teams available to help you. Call 911 or consult with your local emergency department. If you need help you deserve it, and can get it.
So, what is Mental Health?
The CDC defines mental health like this:
“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices”
Life is hard: Motherhood Mental Health Awareness and Support Make it Less Hard
I have always felt as though life was harder than it was supposed to be.
Learning to be an adult, trying to become financially stable, managing stressful family relationships, maintaining healthy friendships, relationships with our spouses and partners, and figuring out who we are and how we relate to the world is thoroughly exhausting. And the effects of trauma? That is a whole other post.
As women who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s we were told we could have it all. Go to college or university, get a career, get married, have babies and live happily ever after. But for many, it either isn’t true or it isn’t that easy.
We are constantly having to redefine who we are and what we want out of life. When we become mothers, no one really prepares us for the fact that it will be hard as hell. Nor are we told that we’ll either have to balance work/home life or we’ll have to stay home with the babies and either redefine ourselves or lose sight of who we are completely.
No one warned us about the double standard. We can’t have it all, not at the same time anyway.
For everything we are taught in school, nothing prepares us mentally for the overwhelm and exhaustion of new motherhood. And let’s not even get started on what sleep deprivation does to your brain. Perinatal mood disorders like depression, anxiety and postpartum rage run rampant in new mothers all over the world.
I wish I could say that depression and anxiety are easy to get rid of once and for all. They just are not. But, it is possible to live a fulfilling, peaceful and joy filled life while still living with mental health challenges. Reaching out to friends and loved ones, taking medication, developing healthy coping strategies and lifestyle changes can make an enormous difference to the state of our well being.
Worry, stress, sadness, fear, anxiety, and anger are human emotions. Feeling them does not define who we are, and a diagnosis doesn’t either. If you are struggling, know that there is hope, and by using a variety of strategies, we can stop it from consuming us.
My Experience with Depression: The First Pit of Despair
I’ve been in 2 major pits, and several more large puddles of depression.
Here is a snippet of my first pit.
I grew up with a single mom, though she was rarely actually single, more so paired with strange and questionable men coming in and out of our lives. We lived in poverty and moved nearly every year, were estranged from our relatives and had exactly 0 sense of community anywhere we lived.
We were pretty isolated from the outside world, and I see now that it was detrimental to my well being and formative years. Mental health support was not a “thing” in the 1990’s and 2000’s. I know now that my mom had undiagnosed personality and mood disorders, though at the time I probably would have just said “my mom’s crazy.”
The pinnacle of my depression before adulthood was in my teens, living at home with my mom and stepdad who emotionally and psychologically abused everyone in the house. I got a job at 14 just so I could leave the house. Working at a full service gas station alone in the middle of winter all hours of the night for 20 hours a week was my safe happy place.
At home I lived in sadness and fear and at school and on the bus I was terrorized daily. The girls who sat behind me on the bus would write in the fresh morning dew on the window “go kill yourself”, on the regular. I had exactly zero safe adults in my life, that is until I began to attend church, but even then, I had limited access to them.
I was angry, I was confused, I had zero control over my life, I was sad, and I saw no way out of the situation I was in. I had suicidal thoughts. In 2004, the word ‘depression’ wasn’t in my vocabulary.
As a young woman I struggled with my self worth, my identity, my self esteem and my day to day living. I would spend my evenings in my room in pure sadness and rage wishing I didn’t have to face the next day. It was one of the lowest points in my life. There was exactly zero support to be had. Some time after this, my circumstances changed but that is a story for another day.
If you find yourself with these feelings, call someone.
Realizing That It Isn’t Normal to Feel This Way: Mental Health is Common, Not Normal
The vocabulary we use around mental health and mood disorders matters. I believe that we as a society can get better at dealing with our mental health and that it does not have to consume us, but I think the road is marked with stigma and misunderstanding. It starts with the words we use and how we use them.
According to John Hopkins Medicine:
“An estimated 26% of Americans ages 18 and older — about 1 in 4 adults — suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.”
Many of us will deal with some type of mental health challenges at one point in our lives or another, diagnosed or not.
It is hard
It is lonely
It is real.
Just because there are enormous percentages of us who struggle, doesn’t mean that it is just a part of life. It doesn’t mean we just have to pretend everything is okay when it isn’t. Past generations tended to have this mentality. That we should just “get over it” or “stop worrying” or “just think happy thoughts”. Believe me when I say, I’ve tried.
Many of us have tried, and if it worked then we would all be better- but it doesn’t. Part of the problem is that when other people tell us it is all in our heads, we begin to wonder if it is. When that happens, we are even less likely to talk about it or seek intervention (something I highly recommend).
Acknowledging that our mental health struggles are real is a very important first step. It can come with shame, embarrassment, fear, and worry- but it doesn’t have to. We can change the narrative.
I believe deeply in the importance of normalizing talking about mental health.
I believe that talking about our stories, our experiences, our symptoms and our feelings has the potential to change the narrative around how mental health is treated and looked at by society.
I believe that although work has been done, there is still immense stigma around mental health. Stigma gets in the way of change. Mood disorders and other mental health struggles may shape our perspective of the world, but with understanding and a little help, there is hope for the future.
Let’s normalize talking about mental health and stop pretending mood disorders are a ‘normal’ part of life.
My Experience with Postpartum Depression and Rage: The Second Pit of Despair
After the birth of my second child, I expected to be tired, to be overwhelmed, and for it to be pretty hard for the first three months. That’s what I told all new moms to be: “the first three months are the hardest, it gets a little easier after that”. Weeks after he was born we bought a house, and sold ours. Our move date was around his 3 month mark. I thought nothing of it.
When feeding was difficult at first I wasn’t too discouraged, but after 3 weeks of him crying for EVERY SINGLE BREASTFEEDING session, losing lots of weight, being generally unhappy all day and sleeping for no longer than 2 hours at a time, I knew something was wrong. The sleep deprivation set in and I slowly began to feel like I was losing my grip.
I began to pump exclusively, but in many ways that was more work because there were bottles to wash and sanitize, it took SO long to pump any substantial amount of breastmilk, and then took a substantial time to get it in him because he refused to take the bottle too. I cried literally every time I fed him and we both began to get triggered every time it was eating time.
My two year old still needed me just as much as she did before he was born. I had 0 time to breathe, to sleep, to be. I became an exhausted shell of a human and resentment began to set in against everyone around me. I desperately needed to sleep for four hours, to go to work like my husband, to be able to enjoy my children or any aspect of my life but it FELT impossible.
Of course preparing to move with two kids under two and a baby who refuses to eat or sleep was hard too. I told myself that once we were settled in the new place and the 3 mark month was up I would feel better. I figured he would eventually start to like sleeping. We moved.
I knew I had to try something different in the food department so we introduced formula milk thinking that it would make a difference- but it didn’t. I felt like a failure of a mom- I wasn’t. I felt like a failure as a human- I wasn’t. I had barely slept in more than three months and my baby cried almost all of the time. I gained a large amount of weight, I had no energy and I barely recognized myself. Instead of getting sad – I got mad.
My anger, rage and resentment towards the world and myself got in the way of recognizing that I needed help for months because I thought that depression was sadness and apathy. I expected that postpartum depression manifested one way when in fact, it manifests in so many different ways. I eventually realized there was a bigger problem and my feelings were not going away anytime soon. I wanted to feel better, and I wanted to BE better for my kids.
Around the 6 month mark I finally went to see my doctor and got the help I needed. I’ll share some of the things that helped me in a later post. For now, if you are struggling with any postpartum mental health struggles, know you are not alone, and seek medical intervention and therapy as needed. There is no shame in getting help.
Check out this viral Tiktok I made about depression in motherhood.
@diaryofanhonestmom just wanted you to know you’re not alone #momsover30 #momcontent #tiktokmom #momandwife #parenting #ppd #momsmentalhealth #sahp #sahm #momlife ♬ Emotional Piano Instrumental In E Minor – Tom Bailey Backing Tracks
Motherhood Mental Health Stigma and Other Things That get in The Way of Change
For generations, people have struggled with mental health and have not sought therapy or treatment for fear of what others might think. Lack of education, cultural norms, lack of resources and lack of access to treatment have also stopped people from seeking help.
When I think back to my own story, as a young girl, I not only lacked the vocabulary and awareness of mental health but I did not have anyone to advocate on my behalf either. Not being taken seriously perpetuated my depression and has affected me for years since. This is all too common.
Stigma not only stops people from getting help, but by not getting help, their pain, trauma and unhealthy coping mechanisms get passed down through generations. Whether it is alcohol and substance abuse, other addictions, cycles of toxic and narcissistic personality traits and behaviour, emotional or physical abuse, people have developed ways to cope with life through a variety of means.
These behaviours and coping mechanisms not only hurt the person who is struggling but cause a ripple effect to hurt those around them.
In order to effect change, as a society we have to do the work of ending mental health stigma. Mental health stigma silences those who are struggling and adds shame to an already heavy load felt by those with mental health and mood disorders.
I believe that one of the most powerful tools we each hold is our voices. By sharing our own experiences with mental health, by checking in with friends, asking hard questions, and normalizing conversations about what it is like to live with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, mood disorders, addictions and abuse- we can change the narrative.
The Damage Done By Toxic Positivity & Comparative Suffering
So what is toxic positivity? According to The Psychology Group toxic positivity is “the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations.
The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.” They go on to explain that by not allowing ourselves to feel our feelings and experiences, it can send us into denial, make us repress our feelings, and minimize our struggles.
While there is good to be said for having an optimistic attitude, when it becomes something that hinders us from allowing ourselves or others to feel their feelings, it becomes toxic. Toxic positivity closes the door to dealing with mental health and invalidates our experiences.
Comparative suffering is telling another human being that their experiences and feelings aren’t legitimate because somebody else has had it worse than them at some point in their life. It’s not cool. It’s not helpful.
When we compare the suffering of one person to another, particularly when they are showing vulnerability, it is completely invalidating. By engaging in comparative suffering we often show a lack of perspective, lack of empathy, and lack of compassion.
And while it says more about them than it does about us, it still hurts, and it stops people from reaching out for help. Empathy is not a resource which is limited. We can show it to multitudes of people and never run out.
We can hurt ourselves with comparative suffering too. Have you ever heard yourself say: “Well I can’t complain, at least I don’t…”? While it is important to keep our experience in perspective and practise gratitude, we do ourselves a disservice by not allowing ourselves to truly feel negative feelings as they crop up in our day to day life. We are allowed to say our day was hard, even if someone else’s day appears harder.
Erica Layne has written a great post on comparative suffering. In it she says “the thing about comparative suffering is that it doesn’t make our suffering any lighter. In fact, I think it makes our suffering feel HEAVIER because we can’t put a voice to our hidden struggles, which leaves us feeling not just exhausted or overwhelmed or worried—but alone too.”
At the end of the day, toxic positivity and comparative suffering make us feel isolated and alone. When we allow ourselves to feel negative feelings and allow others to do the same, it opens the door to conversation, validation, and healing. There is power in feeling seen.
Check out this AMAZING podcast episode on these topics by one of my favourites, Brené Brown.
Motherhood Mental Health Is Real and Important and You Are Not Alone
Mental health advocacy is one of the things I am most passionate about because I have been in the pit and I don’t want anyone else to suffer like I did, or do it alone. The stigma surrounding it stops us from getting help, but I believe we can change that by being storytellers and opening up hard conversations. In this blog I plan to have hard conversations with those who have struggled with a variety of mental health concerns.
Honest truths about our experiences can change someone’s life. By showing grace, empathy and compassion to one another it creates a safe space for those struggling to get help. Addictions, substance abuse, and other behaviours that are detrimental to our health are only perpetuated when our mental health goes unchecked. I believe we all deserve to feel well, and regardless of our circumstances we CAN be well.
If you know someone who is suffering, or suspect someone you care about is suffering, you can help. Be present, listen with compassion and if needed, have support resources on hand. Even sharing this post helps to get the word out.
If YOU are suffering, reach out for help. There are so many people who want to help, you are not alone. Keep talking.
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