‘I need to leave. I have to get out of here.’ I felt clammy, trapped. Anxiety was taking precious memories away from me.’: New mom shares journey with postpartum anxiety, ‘There IS a way out’

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“For several years, I worked as a Life Skills Clinician at a school in downtown Indianapolis. My job was to come alongside kids who had significant emotional and behavioral challenges and do two things: 1. Proactively teach them coping skills to be resilient no matter what life threw at them, and 2. Help them implement these skills in the moment.

If I wasn’t teaching them the skills ahead of time, I was doing behavior intervention with them in the classroom. Often it looked like a student being triggered by something and responding with some sort of behavior, like refusing to cooperate or even pushing over desks. My job was to calmly step in, hear their side of the story, gently remind them how to use the skills I taught them, and help them calm down so they could rejoin the class, ready to learn.

I experienced a full spectrum of behavior and emotional challenges with kids. I poured all of my time into learning how to help these kids be successful. I learned all of the best strategies for building trusting relationships and communicating with kids in ways that would get them to listen to me, calm them down, and do what they were supposed to do. And the experiences and knowledge I had gained from my career made me feel confident someday when I was a mom, I could handle anything.

Courtesy of Angela Evans

Eventually, I did become a mom! After giving birth, I was excited to start a new chapter of life as a stay-at-home mom. However, in the weeks and months that followed, I began to notice some weird symptoms — things like trouble breathing, random chest pain, and heart palpitations. These symptoms actually sent me to the ER on multiple occasions. I had countless doctor appointments, which led to cardiac heart monitoring, pulmonary lung function tests, lab work… all inconclusive. Everything looked ‘fine.’ Eventually, at an appointment with my primary care doctor, she looked at me and in the most gentle way said, ‘Honey, it sounds like you could have postpartum anxiety.’ She made a referral to a therapist that worked in the practice.

Courtesy of Angela Evans

Deep down, I think I knew she was right, but I remember feeling like I could fix it. I determined if it was anxiety, I could pull myself up out of what was going on. So I pushed off her referral for several months. But the more I resisted help, the more I noticed the anxiety was interfering with my daily life. Some days I would be on our couch, totally frozen — it felt like I was unable to think or move. Other times, I’d have to lay down in bed because the symptoms felt so strong. I felt like I was struggling to breathe, tension throughout my whole body, and chest pain. My husband would have to lay with me and rub my back as I cried because I couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong.

The tipping point was one night when I was at a gathering with friends. It was a celebration dinner to cap off a small group study with some women I had quickly grown to love. It was our last night together, but just as the dinner was beginning, I could feel the symptoms of anxiety growing for what felt like no reason at all. Heart racing, shallow breathing… I felt like I needed to throw up. I went to the bathroom and stayed there for several minutes debating what I should do. I felt clammy, trapped. I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘I need to leave. I need to get out of here.’ And at the same time, I felt so much turmoil and frustration with myself: It was our last night together as a group, and I desperately wanted to be there. But I knew the anxiety wouldn’t stop. I had to leave. I came out of the bathroom and told some of the ladies I wasn’t feeling well. I left just as they were starting to eat, talk and laugh.

Courtesy of Angela Evans

As I got in my car and drove home, the thought that kept repeating in my mind was, ‘This is a step too far.’  Anxiety was taking away precious memories from me. I could see clearly now how much it was interfering with my life. I couldn’t resist help any longer and was determined to finally reach out. On that car ride home, I decided I wouldn’t let any excuses stop me from getting help. I would start going to sessions right away, pay out-of-pocket even if insurance wouldn’t cover it, and continue to try new therapists until I found the right one. And I did. I worked with a few different therapists and each of them brought something different to my healing. The first therapist equipped me with coping skills to use in the moment. She supplied me with handouts that showed me very specifically what was going on in my brain and body, and what I could do to intervene for myself. I had to laugh because these were the same coping skills I taught kids I was now learning how to apply for myself.

Courtesy of Angela Evans

Another therapist I saw helped me process the past events of my life on a deeper level. She helped me look at how those experiences shaped my worldview and often increased my anxiety. After processing much of my past with her, I decided I was ready to have someone who was more future-oriented, and I invested in a mindset coach. I told her my goals and what I thought was stopping me. She would listen and then hold up in front of me the anxious thoughts that were getting in my way. She taught me I had the power and authority to change my thoughts, and therefore my feelings, actions, and even results in life. As I worked with each of them, I learned not only how to cope in anxious moments, but I built up my internal resources (like endurance, patience, joy) to have the resilience to overcome anxiety. I found myself enjoying motherhood more. It felt like the fog was being lifted, and I could finally focus on being the type of mother I always imagined I would be.

Courtesy of Angela Evans

As I continued to grow emotionally stronger, it dawned on me: I finally felt empowered to use all of the positive parenting strategies I had learned over the years in my career. I realized it didn’t matter if I knew everything there was to know about parenting and kids’ behavior. If I was emotionally unhealthy, I wasn’t going to show up as the mom I wanted to be. I realized if I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth and internal resources to deal with my strong-willed daughter, then my parenting would suffer, my relationship with her would suffer, and any enjoyment of motherhood would suffer. But because I had taken the time to get help and equip myself with the tools I needed to thrive, I knew our family would now thrive, too!

Courtesy of Mike Evans

One night I had a moment where I felt God whisper to me, ‘You’re not the only mom struggling.’ He gave me a vision of all of these moms on their own islands, silently suffering, doing motherhood on their own. I shared a post on Facebook about it and the vision was confirmed by many moms reaching out to me saying that is exactly how they felt.

So I decided to do something about it. I started by creating an online community for moms to have easy access to resources and relationships without leaving their homes. And only a few short months after launching the online community, the coronavirus shut down the entire world. Moms were suddenly thrown into more isolation than ever before, with bigger and bigger stressors being added to their plate, like e-learning, job loss, or self-isolation, just to name a few. Kids were starting to show behavior problems, and the stress and anxiety of moms seemed to be on the rise. I had so much empathy for these moms from my own experience of struggle. And I realized all of the emotional coping skills I used to teach kids and had recently learned how to apply to myself were exactly what moms needed. So I began coaching moms virtually one-on-one. I spent hours talking with women who were struggling with their emotional health and wellbeing, which in turn, was impacting their parenting and family.

Courtesy of Mike Evans

The more I worked with moms, the more it became evident if I could tap into mom’s emotional health to help HER become more resilient — her KIDS and family would become more resilient as a result. I saw as moms were getting more emotionally healthy, they were showing up to their everyday lives from a place of overflow. They had more patience and endurance because they were equipped with the thoughts and coping skills to handle the hardest of challenges. And their possession of those internal resources allowed their interactions and relationships with their kids and husbands to be more positive. The whole family’s well-being was elevated as mom’s well-being improved, just as I had experienced not too long ago.

And as I saw moms’ resilience grow and their families change in the midst of a pandemic, I was inspired to share more. I started to share more about emotional health and parenting on social media, continued coaching more moms, and eventually began The Mom Joy Podcast so I could reach more moms with the message: YOUR wellbeing as a mom is the catalyst for the wellbeing of your family. Investing in YOUR resilience becomes your family’s resilience.

Courtesy of Angela Evans

A few key things I learned from this experience I want to pass on to moms that are currently struggling with their emotional health.

1. You CAN become the parent you want to be by investing in your emotional health. 2. You are not in a pit, you’re in a tunnel, and there IS a way out. 3. You don’t have to wait until you’re in complete crisis to reach out for help. Working with a coach or counselor to equip yourself NOW is great preventative work. 4. You are not alone in your struggle even though it feels like it. People want to love and support you, so be careful to not push them away. 5. You are not a victim of your circumstances. You have the power and authority to change your thoughts and change how you experience your life. And 6. The most difficult chapters of your story just may be someone else’s survival guide — so don’t be afraid to share!”

Courtesy of Angela Evans

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Angela Evans from Indianapolis, IN. You can follow her journey on Instagram and on her website. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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