For a long time I have had in my heart the desire to share mother’s stories. I have many friends over the last few years who I have cried with, sat with, listened to, and done their dishes when they were too sick, too tired, or were on bed rest. Stories that were filled with heartache, but on the other side of the sadness; peace was found, or sadness was lessened as time went on.
I have longed to share these stories, to put them in a place where other moms could read them, and realize that no one is alone in heartache or hardship. Finally after years of thinking about it, dreaming about it-hoping to just help one mother realize that she is going to be ok, the time became right. A big part of this happening was me finally coming out of my own hardship. *please note how happy I look in all these pictures. Sometimes people are very, very good at covering their mental illness.*
It’s hard for me to exactly pinpoint the beginning of my depression and anxiety. I had postpartum depression after my first son was born, and I remember I had a hard time connecting with him for about 3 months. We found I couldn’t produce the milk he needed-despite the lactation consultants and the herbs and the pumping and the one little tube thing I used to tape to my breast to supplement with a bottle. Ugh. It was agony. Once we went to a bottle 100%, he finally could thrive and I could finally relax. The depression lifted a bit. I had to have my gallbladder removed. Then when he was 18 months old his little sister was born. She was something else. I honestly (and sadly) can not remember the first 6 months of her life. It was such a sleepy blur… I don’t think I had PPD with her.
After my 2nd was born I started working out like crazy. As a woman who had always weighed about 200 pounds, I was determined to get skinny. I set the goal to lose one pound a week, and for that year, I almost did. I lost 40 pounds one year and went on to lose 20 more….and that’s when my disordered eating and scale obsession began. I’ve come to learn that those things are very normal for anyone who diets, but I didn’t know that then. I thought I’d have to diet forever and after a year and a half of that I was over it. I started eating erratically. I’d stuff my face for 3 days and then not eat anything for 3 days, (while every day getting in at least an hour of intense cardio) that way when it came time for weigh in day-I’d stay the same. Or maybe even lose an ounce or so. The number on the scale consumed me. It made date night unbearable-how could I track anything that didn’t come with a label? I panicked when baking with my kids and then just stopped all together. I can remember snapping at my husband when he drank from my water-bottle. How would I track my water if he kept drinking it?! I want to weep for that girl now. I wish SO much my mind could have been clear to see how destructive I was to my body and mind.
Just as I was in the thick of this I became pregnant with our 3rd. I gained almost 2 pounds a week that pregnancy. I was so consumed with the weight I might gain during the pregnancy that I just couldn’t stop stress eating. When that pregnancy ended I was at the same weight I had been at the end of my other two pregnancies. My body is pretty consistent, eh? It knows what it needs, what its comfortable with. But I hated it. I was SO angry. I was so angry at my weight gain when I had spent “so much time” losing weight. I can remember just screaming after a workout, (into a pillow, not to anyone), thinking that I was such a failure, that I had to “start all over”, and that I must be just so weak because of my weight gain. It never even occurred to me that a body is constantly changing. That different seasons demand different things of us. I forgot about grace, and seasons of growing. I forgot about rest. Instead of extending myself grace, I got mad. Livid.
I can’t express enough my fury I felt then over my weight. The depression set in again. And instead of manifesting itself in a ‘ho-hum’, dreary sort of way; it came out in rage. Impatience. I never laughed. I thought everything my children or husband did-anything silly or immature-was irritating. I rolled my eyes and bristled. I went on feeling this way for months. Maybe even a year. I don’t remember now. Then one day I realized I had an awful attitude about life. I realized that it had been a while since I’d laughed. I realized that it felt like I was watching life through a window. Everyone told me how wonderful and amazing my children were, and on the outside of the window I could see it. But I couldn’t enjoy them. I buried myself in housework. I shrugged them off over and over again. I found great projects for them to do that made me look like I had it together on Instagram and Facebook, but I didn’t interact with them more than was necessary. It just felt like too much.
Once I could finally see this, and I finally had a brave conversation with a friend where I told her exactly how I was feeling, I realized I had depression. Immediately I looked for answers. I listened to podcasts. I looked up all talks and articles on happy mothers. I prayed and dove into the scriptures. I started to exercise and made myself go outside for at least 30 minutes a day. I drowned my wrists in essential oils. I read tons of personal development books. I prayed about therapy, but after a whole lot of prayer, I realized that it wasn’t what I needed (I sure as heck could have used it years earlier though, and I would totally go in the future should I ever need to.) Slowly I came out of the darkness. I felt SO much better. I started laughing. I started to like sitting on the floor to play with my kids.
Then, the doctor found a cancerous tumor on my husbands hip. I spiraled hard. Back to the disordered eating. Back to the anxiety. Because my number one fear in the whole world is the death of my husband. It would be awful and devastating to lose a child. I can’t even imagine. But to lose my husband…I just feel like it would be so much worse. I knew now though how to claw out of the depression. Or I thought I did. I read. I prayed. I oiled. I exercised. But the depression lingered. Even when the cancer was removed, and he was in the clear.
In the end my healing was a miracle. I went to my women’s church group where we listened to a meditation. The meditation told us to imagine Jesus Christ walking with us in a field. It told us to take our heart and give it to Him. I remember in my mind that I took my heart out of my chest and my heart was just black. I was so sad. Always just so sad. Especially then, imagining holding a black heart in front of my Savior. The meditation told us to give our hearts over to Christ and to take His (which of course was perfect and full of goodness). I sobbed through this meditation. I could feel the love of my Savior so strongly for me. I prayed; “I just want to be happy.” and…I was. After that my depression and anxiety was gone. It was a true miracle.
I have been happier in the last 8 months than I have been in about 3 years. I am expecting our 4th baby. I am the heaviest I’ve been since college. I have no idea if PPD will hit me again. I pray every day that it doesn’t. Part of me feels really robbed of the time I’ve had with my babies. I haven’t been able to enjoy any of them. I plan on not putting this kid down and smelling him a lot as I can now see how fleeting it can all be. I plan on giving myself tons of grace and time to enjoy yet another new season. I can extend grace and empathy now with friends struggling with mental illness. Its impossible to understand until you’ve walked through it.
Dear Mama, so often we can’t see past the heavy work load; endless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, mismatched socks, and our 3rd day of dry shampoo.But I see you. And I know that you understand that this is a magical-and oh so hard – season. Don’t sit behind a window and watch your life go by. As hard and as terrifying as it is, reach out to others. You are not alone. You may not feel your best. You may not think that anyone sees you. But they do. And YOU will see yourself as a new person eventually and you will be able to look back on the things that impacted you so profoundly, and with that understanding you will hold up another person who needs you.
Don’t give up. I promise the other side of the sadness is a joy worth staying for.
October 10, 2019