Brushing Up on Mental Health Skills
No time to do it like your third trimester! Woah, has it ever been an intense winter. Here I am at eight months along, and as the world begins to emerge from those short, gray days into the season of renewal, I find myself emerging from a pretty rough period, too. Thankfully, with many lessons learned to carry forward. Having both my kids in full-day school this year turned out to be a major adjustment for me, as has tapering down my client work in preparation for this baby's arrival. Add to that a slew of highly stressful events arising throughout the course of 2018 (each of which could have taken up a separate blog post of its own, had I felt the space to write one), plus the general uncertainty of adding a third kiddo to the family, and my new "free time" became a recipe for rumination, to put it lightly.
Having passed through some pretty severe bouts of anxiety in the past, I'd purposefully set out on this final pregnancy journey to stay well and enjoy every bit of it (I hoped!!). I prescribed myself a course of all the right things, feeling quite confident these would immunize me from any serious troubles. I diligently exercised, ate whole, organic foods, minded my prenatal supplements, prioritized sleep, did regular acupuncture, yoga, meditation, journaling and gratitude practice. I saw my therapist. And my husband even got me a light therapy lamp for Christmas! But despite all these efforts, by January I could no longer ignore increasingly physical symptoms that my anxiety was running on high. To my dismay (and fear), I began experiencing heart flutters, spells of uncontrollable shaking and a vague sense of dread I couldn't seem to shake. At the time it all seemed to come out of nowhere. Sure, we'd had an incredibly stressful year, with Mike's infection returning briefly in December to boot, but everything had turned out fine in the end. So what was going on with me?
Feeling extremely frustrated, adrift and distressed, I reached out for additional support from a group of professionals specializing in perinatal mood disorders, Wellsprings Health Associates. With their help I began to realize that paradoxically, a key ingredient I'd missed was orienting my mindfulness practices toward, rather than away from my worries, which I'd actually been doing everything in my power to control and suppress. In the process I had become so far out of touch with my fears that I'd created the ideal conditions for generating my seemingly baffling, acute symptoms of anxiety. All along it had felt so much easier to divert to focusing on the positives, silver linings and gratitudes! After all, Mike had gotten well again and I was an experienced mom! A professional doula no less! And I'd been taking such great care of myself! There was certainly no reason for me to be feeling anything less than good and confident.
With patience, faith, my husband's support and a whole lot of professionally overseen practice, my self-talk, journal entries and meditations finally began unearthing and examining the hard-to-acknowledge fears, and leaning into the unpleasant-feeling uncertainties I'd been battening down for months. I relearned what it meant to accept all my thoughts and feelings as they arose, rather than judging them as good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable. Removing the judgment, or at least noticing it and forgiving it, helped me stop reacting to the feelings with still more fear and self-judgement, which had perpetuated my anxiety spiral over time. Instead I got back in touch with lending myself the same compassion and grace I would have to my clients. Change didn't happen for me overnight, but I'm here to tell you that self-acceptance and self-compassion heal. They just were a lot harder to achieve than I had ever appreciated. Unpacking those concepts and applying them to ourselves takes real work, insight and practice, and it often cannot be done alone. Even as a prenatal/postpartum wellness professional myself, I needed others' help to guide me back to see my situation clearly and make the needed modifications. As I look back over these past few months, the feeling of renewed peace I have as I prepare to meet my new son has been the greatest reward imaginable, following what may have been some of my darkest hours.
I know I'm not out of the woods, with my ninth month, birth and postpartum ahead of me! And nor will I (or any of us) ever be, while traversing life's many peaks and valleys. I always find it ironic when people tell me, "oh, you're an old pro at this!" when they learn I'm expecting my third child. The truth is that much of the time I don't feel as though I have this stuff any more figured out than I ever did. I'm not sure something as monumental as childbearing can ever be neatly packaged into a comfort zone for any of us, and I think I was scared of what that reality meant about me, both personally and professionally. But after moving through this experience, I'm reminded that's actually a big part of what makes a great mom and doula. Our work isn't about providing answers as much as it is about offering fellowship and empathy, on this walk through the sometimes muddy territory of life. When it comes to my own doulas, friends and family, I can only express my very deepest gratitude to all those who have helped me find my way again. You know who you are I love you!
Yours in wellness,
One in seven women experiences prenatal or postpartum depression or anxiety. It is absurdly common, and with the right support it is treatable! Always address your concerns with your providers and be proactive about seeking out referrals. I am always happy to provide referrals within the Chicago area.