Let’s talk about this for a minute.
Today is my birthday. I woke up this morning recalling that a year ago I was on my 8th day of parenting and had already breastfed my son several times that day. Little did I know the whirlwind of emotions, challenges and darkness I would face within myself in the first year of parenthood.
Pre motherhood I was coated in a perception that I was a tough, capable and independent person who could put my hand to literally just about anything. In this I had my identity, and in childbirth and rearing I lost it all. I felt everything in my life had flipped upside down and this was foreign to me. I started to have anxiety attacks, which stemmed from a traumatic birth, but continued months into my sons life. Because I didn’t want to acknowledge my lack of control I buried my feelings. But as the months went on and I didn’t acknowledge my struggle for what it was, it turned into a deep despair, a darkness that I hadn’t felt before. I experienced an exhaustion that ate away at who I was and my ability to function. It caused me to believe that my son and husband would be better without me, as I felt the weight of my sadness impact my whole family.
I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t want to share my vulnerabilities, my struggle and my perception of failure as a parent and as a person. And the more I hid this reality from myself, the more exhausted and stuck I got.
Someone very near and dear to me visited our family for a few days, which exposed them (unwillingly) to my mental struggle. They convinced me to seek help. Anxiety and depression is a complete battle of the mind and one I never really had faced before. I felt guilty for disliking being a mother; I felt shame for not being able to control my thoughts and emotions. In this guilt and shame I allowed the lie of internalising to eat me up. A light bulb moment for me was when my friend said to me “would you feel guilt or shame if you had a broken leg or were battling a cold or cancer? It’s the same with mental illnesses. They are sicknesses that need treating and you can’t help it. If you could just choose not too, you would, wouldn’t you?” This helped me accept that what was happening was not my fault and let go some of the guilt. It could have been a result of many origins. Hormones, loss of identity, the social isolation or pre conceived expectations. But ultimately it’s not my fault and its ‘OK’ to seek support and help.
I was very blessed that when I sought help it only took a few months to feel like I was coming out of the dark cloud.
How did I overcome it? This is the crux of this story I tell. Now I am on the ‘other side’ of this season, I don’t want the lessons I learned to die in vain. I want others to gain from them too. And I hope for other parents out there struggling with PNDA. Firstly, it’s ok to admit you’re not doing ok. Secondly, that I may be able to point you in the direction of the true healer.
I bit the bullet and went to a therapist. I did not want to take antidepressants for SO many reasons, so went against the doctors orders there and just decided to try therapy first. I underestimated the power of being in a space where you can be totally honest with yourself and get to the root of issues. Despite my Social Work background and knowledge, I so desperately wanted a quick fix, a magic wand. I didn’t necessarily enjoy the process of going through and dealing with the issues in my mind. Although it did help to be challenged where problematic thinking lay, and have a more empowering narrative found within me.
My husband changed lots of patterns in our parenting and within our family that empowered me to feel less drained, and in turn be able to be a more present mother. This included more sleep training for my son ‘to sleep longer’; weaning him from breast milk, and also one day a week my husband takes the reins for my sons care and Mama gets a sleep in. This was all super crucial in being able to get back to myself again, I trust will be different for every woman’s journey.
From the moment I accepted that I had PNAD and sought support, I had an incredibly quick turn around to feeling like that season is behind me. Everything I mentioned, the therapy, my husbands’ support and talking about it with friends helped my recovery. BUT in all truth what helped the most was my personal journey in getting back to the root of who I am. I knew in my head that I am a child of God, created in His perfect image, but I hadn’t immersed myself in it for my heart to realise this. I began a day-by-day journey of submerging myself in the Word of God, listening to preaching, teaching and prayer. This sped up the healing process extraordinarily, as He healed my heart quicker than any therapy could. I found I had an overwhelming sense of not needing to be in control because He is! And I found that when I perused a relationship with my maker, the emptiness faded away. I am so grateful for being well.
Last night someone said to me “imagine if all you had today was what you were grateful for yesterday”. This really got me thinking about the power of gratitude, relationship and surrendering control. Its been a wild journey but one that I was allowed to go through to gain more intimacy in my spiritual life and to grow as a person.