Last week I dedicated Mind Your Strength’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts to mental health awareness content and resources in tandem with Mental Illness Awareness Week, leading up to World Mental Health Day on Saturday, October 10th. I really enjoyed the personal stories shared by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) through their #YouAreNotAlone campaign and it got me to thinking….I want to build a strong relationship with my readers by sharing parts of my personal story to connect with – and hopefully inspire – any of you who may have gone through something similar.
We talk about such deeply personal topics here, so I think it’s only fair that I share my personal mental health struggles with you and how I got through them; stories from very dark periods of my life that took many years to heal. Grab the Kleenex and keep reading…
The first story I’m going to share with you occurred almost 15 years ago (where does the time go?!) When I was pregnant with my first child, I was SO excited ,and equally nervous!, about becoming a mom. I had a beautiful full-term pregnancy that, for the most part, was uneventful…until the delivery. I’ll spare you all the gory details, but I had a very traumatic delivery without any medication that left me with two bloodshot eyes. (Did you know you can push the wrong way?)
Luckily, my new baby daughter and I were physically healthy, but emotionally I took a hit. I spontaneously cried most of my hospital stay but was told that I had the “new baby blues” and that it was totally normal and would let up in a few days.
Well, they were wrong.
The baby blues did not go away. Instead, post-partum depression set in. I cried all the time and I literally thought it would never stop. My daughter would not stop crying either and the hopelessness really started to settle in for me. Breastfeeding became something I obsessed over and became anxious about along with a focus on the lack of sleep that I was experiencing. Like a perfect storm, I found myself in the midst of a deep, dark depression and no matter how I tried, I just could not see a way out.
I started attending meetings with breastfeeding support groups, thinking I’d find some sisterhood or support. Yet when I’d ask or try to assess if the other new moms were experiencing similar challenges with their emotions no one could relate. During a follow-up visit with my doctor, I asked if this was normal and what I could expect for the future. She gave me some brochures that gave more information on the baby blues or hotlines I could call in the case of an emergency.
Nothing seemed to help and the support seemed to be lacking.
And my shame was further compounding these negative emotions. I had a mental health background, I should be able to help myself through this, right? I didn’t want to admit that I was struggling so I internalized it and hid it from most of my friends.
The days and nights blended together and with lack of sleep and depression, I became worse. I started to feel detached from my daughter and myself and I even had fantasies of leaving her with my mother while I went far, far away and slept. My thoughts really started to freak me out and I felt trapped. Everyone in my family had to work and during the day I felt so alone. On one of my particularly lonely days, I remembered that my sister’s friend had once mentioned that she struggled with postpartum issues and in a desperate moment, I gave her a call. She immediately validated everything that I had been thinking and feeling and offered to come over to spend some time with me. She even offered to sleep overnight or to be on call in the middle of the night if I needed some support because she knew those were some of the loneliest moments.
Over the course of the summer, we would walk and talk, while my daughter screamed. Despite her cries, I started to feel better. I read Brooke Shields’s book “Down Came the Rain” about her journey with postpartum depression and I felt less alone. I started to see a therapist who helped me work on my negative thought loops and my obsessions with sleep and breastfeeding and the relief continued. At around 12 weeks my daughter started sleeping better and I was starting to feel a little like myself again. It would take another 3 months to fully recover, but slowly yet surely I did.
As I look back on this dark time, when admittedly I had thoughts about hurting myself, what helped me through it was the support from others who had gone through it themselves. When you connect with someone who just gets it, so much healing can occur. Therapy was another crucial tool in my recovery (along with finding time to sleep). Ultimately, it all came down to my ability to check my ego surrounding my profession at the door, understand what I was experiencing was very real and very valid, and ask for support.
Next week, I will tell you the story of the time I went to the emergency room during a panic attack, but for now, check on your mom friends everyone! Postpartum depression can be very serious but is treatable. If you or someone you know is experiencing more than the “new baby blues”, please know that you’re not alone and there are resources to help. As always, you’re more than welcome to reach out to schedule a connection call so we can talk on a more personal level about how I can help.
Have a wonderful weekend!
Mind Your Strength,
Melanie Shmois, MSSA, LISW-S, is a licensed social worker, holding a Master’s Degree (MSSA) from Case Western Reserve University and a B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Spanish. After spending 2 decades helping others achieve their mental and personal goals, Melanie worked with Master Coach Instructor, Brooke Castillo, and became a certified Life and Weight Coach through the Life Coach School.