‘This wasn’t your ‘mom-loses-her-crap-sometimes’ situation. I felt like a pressure cooker.’: Mom battles depression, ‘I’m a better mother when I’m my best self’

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“I had a breakdown last week. It was a huge wake-up call for me that I have not been taking care of myself. For the past few years I have felt very stable and been taking it for granted. Part of me thought I didn’t need help anymore. I still took my medication, but I assumed I would be able to continue without much struggle. I had wandered back into a state of denial about being depressed.

I’ve had depression and anxiety off and on during the past ten years. Pregnancy and postpartum have always presented the greatest struggles for my mental health. I had never experienced these feelings until I became pregnant with my first child.

Courtesy of Kristen Gardiner

I developed depression and anxiety during my first pregnancy ten years ago seemingly out of nowhere. I had looked forward to starting a family with such joy and excitement I never expected to have this challenge. I learned quickly that mental illness does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone, no matter how positive you are, because your brain begins to distort thoughts and emotions independently of your personal control and desires.

A flood of negativity took over my mind and changed how I saw myself and the world. My brain would say ‘You are incompetent, unworthy, and will always be miserable.’ It was so intense I found myself unable to fight back against these thoughts. They were too powerful. I felt so weak mentally and physically. I suddenly found myself unable to do everyday things like go to work, cook dinner, and complete my graduate schoolwork. I was so confused why this was happening. Thank God my husband was supportive. He did everything he could to make life easier for me and to listen to my feelings and concerns.

Courtesy of Kristen Gardiner

I talked to my OB/Gyn who diagnosed me. I cried over the realization I was not okay. The most difficult thing I have ever had to do was to admit the truth to myself. I have depression. She prescribed me an antidepressant which I was afraid to take. I did not want to hurt my baby with any side effects. My doctor explained, ‘Yes, there are risks with medication, but there are also risks with leaving depression untreated.’ Because untreated mental illness can cause stress to the baby among other concerns, my doctor felt strongly that medication was going to be beneficial for both me and the baby. I slowly felt my old self returning as I got used to the drugs. Things weren’t perfect, but I was able to function and cope.

Now that I’m done having babies, I’ve struggled to transition to new support systems for my mental health. I have been continuing to receive the same prescriptions from my OB/Gyn for the past four years with no changes. I had done some therapy, but I hadn’t been in a long time. I stopped the meds for a bit because I moved and hadn’t found a new counselor yet. I felt like I was doing fine, and I thought I could manage with the coping skills I already had. I didn’t feel like I needed to seek out any additional help. I was wrong.

Last week I could tell that something wasn’t right. I felt sad (for no reason), unmotivated, and extremely stressed out. I thought it would pass after a good night’s sleep, but instead my feelings of depression and anxiety began to slowly get worse. It seemed like I could never fully wind down from the overwhelmed and anxious state I was in.

Courtesy of Kristen Gardiner

I was extremely irritable with both my husband and children. This wasn’t your regular mom-loses-her-crap-sometimes type of situation. I felt like this was almost all the time. I would snap at them for almost no reason because I was always on edge. My kids started apologizing every time they asked me a question because they were worried I was going to get upset for bothering me. Every task I had to do felt overwhelming, so I avoided a lot of things on my to-do list.  Any sense of routine we had was falling apart. I would feel more depressed when it was time to pick my kids up from school because I knew the most difficult part of the day was coming. I kept thinking things would get better, but they didn’t.

As we started over in our new city last year, I expected life to be chaotic and stressful. I kept my expectations low for pretty much everything because I didn’t want to add more to my plate than was necessary. We love living in our new community but there have definitely been challenges. I underestimated how easy it was to get overwhelmed with trying to keep up with all the changes. We moved because my husband wanted to make a career shift and we found an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. Things happened really fast and within a month we packed up our entire house, broke our lease, found a new home and had to be ready to close on it within weeks. During the middle of all this, my husband was traveling back and forth as he started the new job. We also had to transfer our kids to a new school and the workload was quite a bit heavier. Their new schedule was more demanding, and we were behind and had to catch up.

Courtesy of Kristen Gardiner

I felt like a pressure cooker that had been building more and more steam for months. When you use a pressure cooker, if you don’t allow some steam to escape the buildup can become too much and cause it to explode. My ‘steam’ came from many sources, but especially stress from moving; finding new doctors and providers, our house having several issues that needed fixing, new insurance, and everything costing a lot of money. My husband’s new job had him traveling a lot, so I felt like everything was on my shoulders. More steam.

We have medical issues we are trying to get resolved for one of my children involving procedures, therapy, second opinions, and so on. My son has always had problems eating. Over the years, it has only gotten worse to the point that there are a very small range of foods he will eat. Every mealtime is extremely stressful. He barely eats anything all day at school. I recently found out he had a tongue tie that was impacting how he swallowed and ate food. We had a procedure to revise the tongue tie, but he needs therapy to learn how to re-use his tongue properly. Until he gets more therapy, he is still struggling. We were also told he needed to have his tonsils removed to breathe properly, but I didn’t want to put him through another procedure unless I knew for sure he needed it. So, making more appointments for second opinions and figuring out how I am going to pay for the therapy he needs, and a possible new surgery has taken up a lot of mental space. I’m worried that if I make the wrong choice for his treatment it’s going to impact him for the rest of his life. More steam. Meanwhile my kids have been doing what kids do–constantly fighting, complaining, and asking for things. All day every day. That buildup left me feeling like I was on edge, constantly.

Courtesy of Kristen Gardiner

There was a miscommunication about bringing my son lunch at school one day and as a result he was really upset, and I felt awful. This lunch incident was small, but it pushed me over the edge. And I exploded.

The flood gates opened and every frustration I have had over the past few months came pouring out of my eyes. I could not stop crying. It just seemed like I was in so over my head that I was never going to catch up. I was completely defeated and demoralized. My challenges felt insurmountable.

The longer I cried, the more I started to feel engulfed by depression. Nothing felt right. I began to feel like I would never get better, which led me to deeper despair. I cried harder, to the point where I felt like I might throw up. My mind kept repeating ‘You are a failure. You are not doing anything right for your kids and husband and that they’d probably be better off without you.’ I really believed in that moment I was only inhibiting my family instead of adding anything good to their lives. But the thought of ever leaving them made me feel worse. I did not want to do that. I felt trapped.

Courtesy of Kristen Gardiner

It was in that moment I realized I wasn’t handling things as well as I thought I was. These weren’t your regular ‘bad day’ tears. This was serious. I was not well, and I needed to reevaluate my treatment.

I found a number for a counselor and I called her. I really hate making phone calls so this was a difficult task, but I felt relieved when I found out she had a cancellation for the next morning and I could get in right away. It was an answer to my prayers. My husband was very supportive and agreed this was the right thing to do.

I felt hopeful after meeting with the counselor. We created some action steps for the upcoming week. She recommended I make an appointment with a psychiatrist to adjust my meds, since my former doctor was still refilling my prescriptions. When I mentioned I had been on the same meds and dosages for four years, she explained why there was a good chance my body might need something different. I felt a little worried about this and questioned whether I really needed to change things. I told her I could probably get by with what I already had. She told me, ‘There is no reason for you to try to tough this out. There just isn’t.’ Meaning that there is no reason I shouldn’t take advantage of the resources being offered to me. As much as I tell others there is no shame in asking for help, I still needed that reminder myself.

Courtesy of Kristen Gardiner

I’m not a better or stronger person if I ‘tough out’ horrible symptoms when there’s a solution right in front of me. There is no prize for resisting medication or therapy. I can use all of my time, energy, and sanity to maintain the status quo or I can accept help and use that energy to actually improve my life and feel better. I didn’t think going without medication made me stronger than anyone else, I just thought that was what would be the most ‘normal.’ And I wanted to be ‘normal.’ Anything else used to feel embarrassing and shameful. I thought I should not need help from medication. It was fine for other people, but not for me.

Although medication and therapy can dramatically improve my depression and anxiety symptoms, it does not ‘cure’ my illness. Things can change at any time. That illness is still there, which means adjustments to treatment will be needed from time to time. Even though I logically know this, it still can be a difficult process to accept that fact. As painful as this breakdown was, this experience proved to me that I can’t stay healthy if I don’t prioritize taking care of myself.

I’m going to start setting aside the time I need to work on me. That means exercise, seeing a psychiatrist and counselor, journaling, and making time for things I enjoy.

Self-care is a big buzzword these days, but it really is important. And it doesn’t look the same for everyone, so find what works for you. Make that appointment. Give yourself permission to pursue a hobby. Find a type of exercise you like. Sleep. Shower. Eat foods that are nourishing but also make you feel happy.

If you don’t make time for yourself, your body will force you to do it. Take it from me; I am learning the hard way.

Courtesy of Kristen Gardiner

If you’re struggling, know you’re not alone. I’m here too, right in the middle of it. And I’m holding onto hope things WILL get better for all of us. I have overall been doing better, but there have been ups and downs. My therapist helped me identify which situations made me feel most anxious or depressed and which situations made me feel better. She helped me realize that because I am naturally an extrovert, I need to make concrete plans to get out of the house and be around people. Depression makes me feel like going places is too difficult and I want to stay home. But I get my energy from being around people and having conversations. I have been doing more of that and it has made a huge difference. We also made plans to help me better cope with what stresses me out the most and scheduling in time for self-care. She made me feel like self-care was not a selfish thing, but really it is what is best for my family. Because when I can be my best self, I can be a better wife and mother, so everyone benefits. Having support makes all the difference. Reach out for help if you need it.”

Courtesy of Kristen Gardiner

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kristen Gardiner of Dallas, TX. You can follow her on FacebookDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more amazing stories about life after depression:

‘Today, I felt depressed. Instead of fighting it, I copped a squat in a dressing room until I was ready to put my big girl pants back on.’: Woman says depression is ‘not an option,’ accepts she’ll always be ‘the girl with a little less light’

‘I wouldn’t care if I didn’t wake up,’ I texted my husband. I planned to ram my car into the cement pillars under the overpass.’: Woman battling depression reminds us to ‘take it one day at a time’

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