When I first started blogging I was given the advice to not share too many personal details. I agree. I think some parts of our lives are meant to be hidden treasures saved for those who we experience them with alone.
On the other hand, I also believe that some things that feel personal are actually meant to be shared, however uncomfortable that may be. The body of Christ can only live in communion so far as we practice vulnerability and availability in our triumphs and sufferings. We aren’t meant to be alone.
With these thoughts tumbling around my heart, I’ve decided it’s time to pull back the cover in my life a little and share some crosses, some hopes, and some dreams. The goal blogging has always been to be a little light somehow for other Catholic families like us. I pray my words reach that purpose here.
A POSTPARTUM SHAPED CROSS
Since the birth of our fourth, we’ve had some pretty stress filled days. A ruptured appendix, house guests, job changes, and a move across town.
This perfect storm of chronic stress, little sleep, and out of sync hormones has lead to postpartum anxiety.
To those who see me regularly, this is probably no surprise. To those far away, I’m sorry if this is news to you. That’s the funny thing about postpartum anxiety. It is often a silent cross women carry – hidden beneath layers of constant energy being poured into acting “normal” while we battle within.
THE THREE Cs
I learned a while back that family members who’ve grown up or lived in an alcoholic home often carry the burden of thinking they caused the drinking or could have changed the outcome somehow. They are taught the three Cs of alcoholism: you didn’t cause it, there’s nothing you could have done to change it, and you can’t control their behavior. These three Cs become empowering because they give permission to let go of guilt and shame.
I think we see this cycle of guilt, shame, and blame when it comes to health in our culture, especially mental health. If someone is given a diabetes diagnosis, we assume they weren’t eating well enough. And while eating poorly can trigger health issues, the person didn’t willfully pick out diabetes and try it on for size. I find the same attitude rampant with mental health. Depression? You’re not thinking positively enough. You must somehow be choosing to be like this. Anxiety? You should stop worrying.
With it being mental health awareness month, I find it freeing that people are more open to talk about these things. I’ve been carrying this cross of postpartum just wondering if I could have done something different or better to have prevented it. It’s been inspiring to read other’s stories, talk with friends, be so incredibly low at one point that I must depend on friends and family around me, and really feel the truth of mental illness: I didn’t cause it, I can’t change what has already happened, and I can’t control everything around me. All I can do is move forward with hope.
THE KEY TO HEALING
When things started to interfere with my every day life, I sought help. I saw a doctor to rule out other health issues and found out my progesterone levels were close to zero and needed to address that. (You can read more about progesterone being linked with postpartum mood disorders here.) I called on friends to pray for me. I set up an appointment with a therapist. I took the biggest step I’ve ever had to do in terms of vulnerability: I had to actually tell people I’m not okay and let them see me that way so I could get better.
It’s been a wild and scary ride for sure. But I’m amazed at what I’m learning through this cross. I’ve been humbled beyond belief. I had to ask my husband to say no to things he really didn’t want to say no to so he could help me through some hard times. I had to let friends see me in my misery. And they all loved me anyway. There’s no real way to pay back those who have been here for me and continue to be here for me. That’s humbling.
It also was a wake up call to clean up my diet and sleep since two of the best ways we can care for our bodies and minds is proper nutrition and adequate sleep. With my past health issues and successes, it seemed right to start the Autoimmune Paleo diet to reduce inflammation in my body and it has helped immensely. (But can we pause for a moment? RIP morning cuppa joe. Tear drop.)
I heard Brenee Brown say once that perfectionism is just shame hiding. It’s been tempting to try to appear perfect and hide that I’m battling PPA (postpartum anxiety). But I’m realizing doing that just means I’m ashamed of it. And I’m not. There is no shame in PPA and no shame in seeking help. In order to heal, I’ve needed to reach out and be vulnerable in a lot of different ways. To doctors, friends, my spiritual director. But the shifting point was when I made that first step.
So what now? Well, I know that the road to recovery is not straight up. I’m having a lot more good days than bad days, but I’m also anticipating hard days ahead as a natural part of recovery. I’m hopeful though. I think that is the biggest thing right now – hope. When things were the hardest, it was really hard to have hope things would ever change. This postpartum has been a lesson in the school of hope and I’m avidly taking notes.
I’ve been learning a lot about myself through this all. And a lot about others. I often have a tendency to think the worst of myself and assume others believe the same (cognitive distortion anyone?!). Seeing how deeply my husband loves me when I was at my lowest crashed that distortion into a million pieces. I can’t even explain what it did to my heart to have him hold me when I felt the world was going dark all around me and just love me in that moment with no judgement or impatience. It was Christlike.
One of the biggest lessons here is that I can let go of unrealistic expectations I’ve put on myself for this blog and for my life as a mother. I’ve decided to change our curriculum for school at home to something more approachable next year to reduce stress. I’ve decided to go ahead with some dreams and ideas and not care if they turn out perfectly. I’ve decided to take some risks, not caring if others judge me or not.
All this really means is that you might see some shifts in my blog themes and content to something a little more personable and relate-able, a little more me. And it also means I’m going to finish the ideas I’ve been having for a while without fear. Hold me to it, friends!
And in my home life, this means learning to let go a lot more and make space for faith, hope, and love in our every day living.
(I want to note here that it’s important to follow through with any medical treatment you’re receiving – I know I often speak in spiritual terms when I write, but I’m not sailing through this time on prayers alone. I’m following my treatment plan daily and this is a huge part of my success. That could be different for every mom – meds, vitamins, whatever. The important thing I learned is that healing from postpartum mood disorders is multifaceted and outside aids in whatever form are often needed.)
“BE BIASED TOWARD HOPE”
I want to end with this quote that was in an article my therapist gave me. “Be biased toward hope.” I was not biased toward hope for a long time this postpartum. It wasn’t until I started opening up and found that others have traveled this road that I started seeing hope again. One of my biggest helps was a cousin who bravely opened up about her struggle with mental health issues on social media. Because of her vulnerability to share, I knew I could reach out to her. She was such a comfort on many days for me – just knowing I wasn’t alone. I am praying you find that same sisterhood and love either in person or through stories online. Be biased toward hope, move in the direction of hope.
“I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you.” -John 14:18
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