I’ve had this post tucked away in my “Drafts” folder for the last few months. It’s a topic I’ve wanted to write and share about, but it’s also a really serious one that I want to represent well.
If you’ve been and R&T reader for a while and remember my mental health story, you’ll know that I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life. Until I was formally diagnosed in college, I felt extremely misunderstood. My doctor wasn’t able to trade understanding for a diagnosis, but I did feel better knowing that something was actually wrong. Wrong? Different? I’m not sure what the word would be, but there was a huge sense of relief that washed over me as I realized the problem wasn’t just me being wierd. There was something physically and emotionally unstable that with a little help and personal knowledge could be managed.
What’s difficult for people without mental health struggles is understanding that the diseases those of us do carry with us are always there being managed. That management schedule is sometimes easy and sometimes more complicated, but it’s almost always changing depending on what else is happening in our lives.
For the last ten months of my life (and yes, pregnancy is actually ten months if you do the math, not nine like people want you to think), I’ve been working on a pretty big task: growing a human being. Out of all the big moments in life, I think this has been one of the most daunting for a few reasons.
When it comes to pregnancy, it is pretty much a woman’s world. While the dad’s all walk through the experience with us, the comments and anecdotes of past pregnancies are usually coming from the ladies that we know. Unfortunately, the world of women tends to be a volatile one. It’s full of insecurity which can lead to a lot of hostility whether it be passive or full on aggressive. I wrote about parts of my experience with this at the very beginning of my pregnancy. Words can be so harmful and when you give up your body to grow a child, the judgements of others can be even more poignant. It’s difficult to keep your mind positive when it feels as though the constant negative experiences are what people want to focus on when discussing your pregnancy.
Another huge factor of stress during pregnancy can be comparison and in the age of social media, comparison is not just a day to day battle but also moment by moment. We have been trained to look at the best clips of someone’s day and take that to heart. So as you’re waiting for your baby to grow and deciding what kind of parent you want to be from moral to clothing choices, it can be daunting as you unknowingly start comparing yourself to someone else’s perfectly curated moments in life.
One of my coping mechanisms for my anxiety is breaking down a task and focusing on small steps to get to the end outcome. A huge part of this is having a goal; more specifically an end date. If I can focus on an end date to overwhelming situations, it’s easy for me to break it down. I can remember as a child and teenager, my dad would always calm me by saying, “You can do anything for ___ “, and he would then give me a designated amount of time. So when I’m feeling nervous to get on a rollercoaster, I remind myself, “You can do anything for just one minute”. When I’m struggling to get through a large, overstimulating holiday party, I say, “You can do anything for just two hours.” Having those markers are huge for me and give me a guidepost for how to manage my day to day anxieties, especially when it comes to large scale tasks. For me, my wedding was one of the most stressful things to plan. I was overwhelmed by my creative mind and the opinions of friends and families and honestly wished the process away. But having an end date made everything easier. I knew that in four months, three months, 2 months, one week, it would be over.
While this coping skill is successful most days, when it came to my pregnancy, I was in the water. Because let’s be honest, due dates don’t mean very much and near the end, you could be facing another few hours or you could be facing a few weeks- you just never know. This fact made the last stretch of pregnancy really difficult for me mentally. I had no end date in sight and while I knew the reality was that he would definitely arrive at some point in the next few weeks, I didn’t have a definite “worst case scenario” end date. I found that this often left me on the brink of anxiety. While loved ones were excited and began texting and emailing every day asking for news, I felt myself shrinking back. The difficulty of the unknown was hard enough to swallow, but constantly having to say “I don’t know” again and again made things even more challenging.
The most challenging days to battle my depression and anxiety definitely came near the end. My body was swollen and uncomfortable at all times. My maternity leave started early which was helpful since my body was in pain most days, however it left me home alone and often bored. Most often, boredom leads to anxious thoughts. I had been really proactive about planning ahead with my blog while I was on maternity leave so I found myself with very little to do other than lay down. Feeling trapped to my bed without human contact was difficult and as I felt my attitude get worse, I recluded even more knowing that I would be a downer for visitors. Everything came to a head when I had my 39th week appointment.
The midwife I met with in my practice is known to not be very warm, but her demeanor during the appointment was so disheartening. Even David, who’s wonderful at seeing the best in people, was unimpressed with her bedside manner. I was told to expect a long wait as well as that our babe had turned and was in a position that would make labor difficult and painful if he didn’t move. So, I walked out of the office with two foreseeable options. 1. Wait another week or even two and spend as much time on my side to get him to flip. Therefore, two more weeks of lonely, boredom ridden laying down. Or, 2. Go into labor soon and struggle through a long, painful experience. The news sucked the very last bit of positivity that I had left in me.
After crying the entire car ride home and for most of the day on Friday, David and I were both aware that I needed to get into a better place emotionally and mentally. So we spent the next day working through it. David listened to me as I told him what I needed and offered his time and support which was just what I needed to recenter myself and focus on what was important: we were having a baby and even if it wasn’t that day, it would be soon.
Here’s the truth: pregnancy can be a rollercoaster for anyone, never mind if you’re predisposed to mental health struggles. It’s not easy to stay positive, but it is possible. What it takes is hard work and often, support from others. Thankfully, David is my greatest support when I’m struggling. He doesn’t understand how I feel, but he’s able to acknowledge those emotions and offer a helping hand to walk me through them which is really all you need.
So if you’re finding yourself in the midst of pregnancy and struggling to find your way through the woods, remember these little tasks that can help to recenter you.
- Take time away. This is really big for me. When I’m being overly emotional or anxious, I’m very aware of it and feel extremely insecure about it. It’s difficult to explain to people and the added pressure of having to do that again and again to people just adds to the stress. So I need some time to just work through things without pressure from others. Just be careful that this doesn’t turn into a hermit situation! It has to be paired with other coping mechanisms to be affective.
- Tell someone how you’re feeling with honesty. This has been huge for David and I. Since he struggles to understand anxiety and depression, it helps him when I can say, “I’m feeling really anxious and I don’t really have a reason why.” That way he is aware of my feelings and also aware that I’m not even understanding it which means what I don’t need in the moment are lots of questions. Or, if I do know what’s bothering me, offer him the same honesty, “I’m feeling really depressed today because I’m lonely and feel like this process is never going to end.” That gives him a good starting place of knowing how to support me. It takes a bit of self awareness to be able to do this, but if you can, it really helps your caretakers know how to help!
- Do something out of the ordinary. Though you may not feel like it, getting out of your routine can help refocus your attention. The weekend of our negative appointment, David suggested we go to one of my favorite restaurants we no longer lived close to. It was a perfect suggestion because it gave us some extra time in the car on the way there and back which allowed me to be out of the house for a longer stretch of time without walking. Getting to enjoy a different environment and eat order some of my favorite foods was heartwarming. We were away from the day to day and enjoying something small but special. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, but mixing up your routine can sometimes be just what you need to re-shift your focus for just the right amount of time.
- Allow yourself to clear your head. This is where I struggle the most. I don’t like thinking about my feelings, but avoiding them will just continue my spiral downwards. It’s taken a lot of time, but I’ve learned how to navigate my feelings to the point where I can pinpoint what’s bothering me. Even if it’s a broad concept like, “I just don’t like being pregnant”. If I can find at least something to work with, I can begin to unravel the emotions from there. It also helps me with the honesty point above.
- Be sure to let your doctor know about your history with mental health. This was something I was sure to do up front and having that note in my chart was so helpful. Each time I met with a midwife, they followed up with me on it. They offered me options for management if I felt it was getting out of hand and asked me detailed questions about how I was doing. That support was so helpful and they would close the conversation each time reminding me that I could call in 24/7 if I felt like I needed extra support in the process. Knowing that I had support and also a plan of action in case things spiraled really helped to center me throughout the pregnancy.
If I can offer you any advice out of my experience it’s this: talk to people. Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Whether it’s your husband, a family member or your doctor. I would especially press the importance of letting your doctor know your history. Even if you haven’t struggled in a long time or feel stable going into the pregnancy, just mention it. Your body goes through so much change during the process, it can be as fast as the flip of a switch from good to bad days because of all the hormone changes.
I wanted to share this post because May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I want to always keep the lines of communication about my own experience open. It’s so important that you know that if you’re struggling as well, you’re not alone! Link of Hearts is currently running a campaign that can be followed at #thegreenelephantintheroom. If you’re not struggling, I can guarantee you know someone who is! This is a huge topic of conversation that shouldn’t be stigmatized but rather appreciated and open. I love Link of Hearts because they provide tangible reminders of hope for those of us who struggle with mental health and also an avenue of support for people who don’t. For each purchase, they provide a person struggling with depression a bracelet to remind them of the hope they have to carry on. For the Green Elephant Campaign, they have partnered with Bring Change to Mind and are giving 25% of the proceeds from the jewelry to their cause.
If you walk away from this post with anything, please consider taking some time to open up conversations about mental health with friends and loved ones. The more discussion that happens, the less stigma there is!
Until next time,
*Disclosure: Link of Hearts has provided product for this post, however I have not been paid for my words. They are all my own and from my heart. I have partnered with Link of Hearts because of my own personal experience with depression and anxiety and out of a desire to spread the conversation further. For more information, visit my disclaimer page.