It’s 4:39AM on a Monday, and I haven’t fallen asleep yet. I just spent the last hour angry-cleaning my kitchen, which I hadn’t touched in weeks. I screamed at my dog for moving around in her noisy kennel as if she were a grown human adult banging pots and pans. I snapped at my fiancée for having the audacity to have a cough and back pain at 3:00AM. I’ve been back and forth from our bed to the couch three times through the night, and I have about 65 tabs open on my computer researching my credit score and ways to boost it, how to make my blog successful, how to find satisfaction at a job you hate, and the best ways to purchase a home. I have about 350 tabs open in my brain.
You could say that it was a rough night. And no, not all nights are like this. And yes, there was an identifiable trigger to this particular spiral. I’ve kind of danced around this subject, but I manage an apartment complex, and while that’s challenging to begin with, my property comes with its own set of problems that I get closer to ready to let go of every day. This weekend, a problem tenant had police on property because of gunfire. A vehicle was hit in the parking lot, but there was no bodily harm done to anyone. It’s the second one in both the two years that I’ve worked here, and in the last two months.
I don’t feel scared. I was making moves to get rid of these tenants already for other issues and concerns, but I do feel overwhelmed, like in much of the rest of my life. I feel like I’m not doing enough at work. I feel like I’m not doing enough personally. I feel like I’m not doing enough at home, or in my relationship, or as a future step-mom, and at times even as a daughter.
I feel like I won’t be enough as a mother.
Bean is kicking hard in my tummy because I over-stressed my body trying to clean, and I finally feel numb to the frustration and devastation bubbling over just at the edge of my consciousness. The longest, and most difficult battle that I’ve fought my entire pregnancy is, without a doubt, the one I’ve fought with my inner self.
So, I’d like to take this moment of clarity and lucidity to tell that story. This will be a much darker, more sober tone than the rest of my blog, so please feel free to click away. I sincerely hope that it’s a story you don’t need to hear, and advice that you’ll never need to take. But for those of you who will relate, let’s talk about how scary it can be to be a mom, or a mom-to-be, or an aspiring mother with mental health issues.
This is the real, and the biggest reason why I think it’s important to let people, pregnant women and mothers in particular, be real about the darker side of parenthood. The more we paint parents as one thing (well-grounded, loving, perfect) and the less room we leave for the mundane and the ugly, the harder we make it for people to reach out and ask for help.
In my life, I’ve gone through several extremes on my opinions about parenthood.
That is to say, for many reasons, I’ve flip-flopped on whether or not I wanted children at all. Originally, I was determined to have 5 or even 6 kids, to be a perfect mom and make up for the deficits I felt I’d experienced in my own childhood. Then, closer to graduating high school, I decided I couldn’t have children. I was terrified to become my parents, or worse – to become a villainous perversion of the monster I felt I was during both my highest highs and lowest lows as the demon that is manic depression reared its ugly head in full glory within me. I didn’t know then what she was called, much less how to – or that I could – tame the beast. Most recently, I was told that I would likely never be able to have children, and for a long time that allowed me to work diligently on myself, until about 5 months ago when I found out the hard way that I was absolutely capable of conceiving, and now, carrying to term.
I think that this is something that can be expected with young mothers. Remember, I’m only 24. As we grow, our ideas about parenthood, and what we want that to look like when we begin to make our own families, are bound to shift and change for many reasons like our relationships with our own parents and guardians, our stations in life, significant and/or traumatic events, and even global pandemics. And I don’t think that will stop even when I can hold Bean in my arms and begin to make decisions for her health and her future, not just as the idea of a little human, but as a growing being that I’m responsible for. I think that my ideas on parenthood, from the big things like whether or not I want more kids to the small things like how I deal with homework questions, are going to constantly shift.
But there are some things I can not allow to shift; my strength, my resolve, my love for her, my presence in her life. Bean needs me, and she will hopefully always need me if only in a small way once she’s grown and coming into her own. And I can’t be missing because I failed to manage my mental health. I was always afraid of that; I knew that postpartum depression affected women who had never had mental health problems before pregnancy, and I was terrified of what that would like in an amplified setting. In me.
If that’s the place you’re in now, and you’re scared of getting pregnant or having a baby because you’re not sure if your mind can handle the turmoil, you should know that you’ve already taken the first step to success.
I’ve been in and out of therapy a lot, and one of the most important things I’ve learned in every program and office I’ve ever been in, is that the first step to overcoming any obstacle is awareness of that obstacle. It truly is like they say: step one is admitting you have a problem. If you already know that you need to be prepared, then you will be, if only because you’ll be looking for the signs that you’re in too deep or that trouble is on the horizon.
Before I got pregnant, my mental health was largely self-managed. This does not mean that that is the answer for everyone, but I have a family history of addiction and drug abuse and an addictive personality myself, so I knew early on that I would not be choosing a medication route if at all possible. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t try it during the days when I was young, and management didn’t seem like a possibility. It never worked for me, and I was always too scared to fall down a rabbit hole I wouldn’t be able to pull myself out of.
So, instead, I cut off toxic relationships. My relationship with my family had been toxic, so most relationships that I formed thereafter followed that pattern. I cut them all out. I got rid of my nasty habits (or started to, as you know if you read my post about finding out I was pregnant, the last of them went more recently) one by one and cut that negativity out, too. I found a belief system, and rewarding hobbies that I could throw myself into and surround myself with when my mania hit. I educated myself as much as I could, using as many available resources as possible, about my mental health concerns and what coping strategies I could use. My suggestion here would be to research not just your diagnosis, but the diagnoses that are commonly associated with it. Some of your symptoms may overlap and it’s good to know strategies for each.
At some point, I realized that my diet and exercise habits were also toxic and I worked, and am still working, to correct that. It was a very long, hilly, and difficult terrain to traverse, and it is certainly a road that I will be on for the rest of my life. That was probably the hardest part to come to terms with in the beginning; I’ll be managing my mania and depression and anxiety all of my life. There will never be a day when I get to stop and say, “That’s it. I did it. I’m cured, and I can now go on to live a normal neurotypical life.” At first, it just added to the depression and helplessness, but I’ve learned to feel empowered by that fact.
When I was in college, I was in education courses, and I had a professor explain learning disabilities to me in a way that I’ve carried with me since then. Students who come into your classroom without the same advantages as your other students, whether it’s low SEO status or dyslexia or anything on the spectrum, are not necessarily awarded the same adequacy in tools. As many accommodations as you may make, there’s not a one-size fits all solution and that student will always have to work harder to achieve the same result, especially when they’re working outside of your classroom or for another teacher who’s a less adequate teacher.
I feel the same way about the extra measures I have to take to function as a human and in society. I will always have to work harder at happiness and fulfillment and general sanity than the average bear. Is it exhausting? Absolutely. Alienating? Constantly. But it also makes me that much stronger than the average bear, and it’s been the same experience in pregnancy.
Before I found out, I had actually visited a gastro about concerns for my gut health because my recurring stomach issues were getting really intense. Instead of listening to me or running any tests (much less a pregnancy test???), he prescribed me with anti-anxiety medicine pretty much the moment he saw depression and anxiety checked off on my chart. It was not an unfamiliar routine with new doctors, but it was still frustrating. So I was actually set to start taking another brain drug, and was going to go through with it if for nothing else than to convince the doctor that that was not my problem.
I shortly thereafter got pregnant and immediately stopped taking the medicine. I also had to immediately stop partaking in all of my harmful vices, which meant that I was totally sober and totally terrified going into pregnancy. The drastic changes in combination with flaring hormones just felt like a recipe for disaster, and I had no idea what to expect. Not only that, but my personal and work life were both definitely not in control, either.
Ultimately, I shocked myself. I was way more capable of handling myself than I ever thought, and sometimes I wonder if Bean came around (in part) to show me that I was doing better than I thought I was.
That is not to say that there have not been some rough times. I’ve hit walls where I wanted to give up on life. My fiancée has had to hold me, inconsolable, in his arms while I sobbed uncontrollably for seemingly no reason. Weekly I find myself with the sudden urge to completely change my life and lifestyle and start over. It’s been a bumpy ride.
Most days, though, I sing to Bean and count her soccer ball kicks and daydream about what life will be like when my perfect baby finally arrives. I’ve been at work every day (though that’s definitely another blog for another day), and I’ve learned to be more vocal and honest about what I’m feeling instead of ignoring or placating. I have a much larger arsenal of tools at my disposal now when it comes to manic episodes or depressive episodes and even high anxiety.
Saturday, we’ll talk all about what those are, but today I just want you to know this if you, too, are terrified of what pregnancy and postpartum may do to your brain: you are more capable than you think. Pregnancy has been many things, and has taught me more, but most importantly I’ve realized that I was stronger than I was giving myself credit for all along.
I was in the kitchen last week, slicing an avocado and getting dinner ready for my fiancée, his son, and his brother, and he smiled at me and said, “You’ve been looking a whole lot like a grown woman lately.” He tells me all the time how proud he is of how much I’ve changed (grown, really), and we both have. Life has been hard, and will continue to have difficult moments, but I have no doubt in him or myself that we have the strength it will take to overcome it all.