For years I was an athlete. Actually I was two weeks pregnant with our second child, our precious son when I ran my most recent half marathon.
That was 26 months ago. The pregnancy with Logan was TOUGH. By tough I mean, I didn’t complain a ton (or maybe I did), but I was in CONSTANT pain. I slept on the couch most nights in hopes that sleeping sitting up would provide some relief to no avail.
Exercise was non-existent. I don’t think I could move far beyond what was needed for work, even though that was likely what would be the best for me. I remember my neighbor giving birth to her daughter two days before Logan. I couldn’t have been more jealous! When my water broke at 9pm June 26th, I was in heaven. This pain driven adventure was almost over… or so I thought.
Logan came at 1234! June 27th after 15 hours of labor. He was perfect in EVERY way. Our blond-haired blue-eyed boy. We somewhat wondered if he belonged to the mail man because lets just say, my husband and I both have dark hair and myself darker skin, but he is definitely ours.
Either way, he was the little man who completed our family. He was joy, a love and every moment fun and exciting. This was the first 6 weeks. It was summer, I was on maternity leave and life was good. The kids and I meet up with friends at the water park, at the splash pad and have regular play dates. Balancing it all seemed to be falling into place.
I always knew that life with two children would be difficult, for me anyway. I knew that balancing my time and being everything to everybody would be one of my biggest challenges, but I felt prepared for this. I mean everything was headed in the right direction. Nursing was going great. We were all settling into a routine. I was beginning to get active again. I had no complaints.
On a sunny summer afternoon, with a text from my mother, my world paused, it spun on its axis and I was in another place, totally unaware of who, how, and what I was supposed to be, feel, and carry on. The death of my stepfather shook the earth under my feet, took the wind out of my sails. My distress was so apparent that the same friends I had been hanging out, almost daily with, for the last 6 weeks began to worry. They saw me try to manage my day, balance the kids and be there for my family and I was losing it.
My daughter, got the brunt of it. I was sad mom. Probably sometimes mean mom. I definitely wasn’t happy mom, and fun mom was no where in sight. Three weeks of drowning in the chaos of this new world, a great friend reached out to me. She was well-meaning, loving and compassionate, but… I at the time wasn’t having it.
“Carolyn, You need help” she said. I thought she was going to say, go see a counselor, get some psychotherapy, but what she said I wasn’t prepared for. “You need meds, Carolyn. They help.”
All that registered in my mind was, “there is no way in hell-o, that I was going to take medication. I could do this on my own. It WILL pass. I am nursing. I AM NOT putting ANY substance into my child”. The drive home was a blur. At some point over the next 7 days, what she said resonated with me. “Carolyn, you can’t do this alone.”
Once the decision had been made I couldn’t wait for my follow-up appointment. I couldn’t wait to FEEL better.
JUST THE BEGINNING.
Getting on medication, Zoloft to be exact, was only the very beginning. I HAD NO CLUE what anxiety was, until I wasn’t anxious any more. I never thought my mind could be so calm. I never thought I would see the day, where I didn’t feel like I was going to snap, because the house was a mess, everyone was asking or expecting something from me or because, well, I just wasn’t freek’n perfect.
After a couple of weeks on the medication, I started to feel better. As luck would have it I also had to go back to work right about this time. While I didn’t exactly WANT to go back to work, I was at least prepared to do so.
FINDING ME AGAIN
Going back to work, was ok. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it. The drive in gave me perspective and insight. I started listening to pod casts. I would talk to friends. I would brain storm. I had time for my mind to shut down and try to organize my thoughts.
One day in my travels, I thought about the last trip we took our daughter on prior to the birth of our son. It was to Disney. It was hot, and I was 7 months pregnant. I thought about how we sat on the tarmac for almost an hour and a half . When the flight attendant finally stood in the front of the aisle to explain us all of our boarding and flight instructions I was beyond attentive because I just wanted some fresh air. She explained, “should we have an emergency in flight, your oxygen mask will drop down from the overhead compartment. When it does, put your own oxygen mask on first, prior to helping your neighbor with theirs”.
I have never heard this statement quite like I did this day in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I have heard these instructions many of times, but today, on this drive, it resonated. Why. Why, had I not thought of this to begin with? Why had I not even considered, how my lack of self-care was directly affecting my family. Why had I not identifies that putting myself on the back burner was limiting my ability to be the best wife, the best mom, the best friend, nurse, teacher, etc. How could I not see WHAT I was role modeling as an example for my children about self care?
IT STOPS TODAY
When I got home that evening, I honestly do not remember what I did. I don’t remember what I explained, if anything, to my husband. What I do remember is I told myself I would NEVER break a date with myself again. And by date, I am not meaning, regular scheduled activities like going for a run or meeting a friend for coffee. I am talking about EVERY DAY BASIC NEEDS! I was going to MAKE it a point that I, yes I, was going to have breakfast just like everybody else, and my daily coffee didn’t qualify as breakfast. If by chance I was hungry at 1030 and the baby needed a nap, I WAS going to get something to eat first. I was going to shower, in PEACE AND QUIET! I was going to sleep, truly sleep for a decent amount of time per night.
I know, this sounds like a fantasy for some while some of you have this mastered. God, bless you to those who just “get it”. I, however was not that gal — it took me some time to get there.
I started asking my husband for help. And ok, I love my husband but I had for all intents and purposes said, demonstrated and implied I had my shit together; He had NO clue I was drowning. I talked myself out of it being MY responsibility that EVERYONE needed to be satisfied, happy and have all their needs met before I addressed anything I needed to do for me.
I started saying no, to a full schedule that made me feel overwhelmed. Let me tell you, my kids, the are pumped when I say we are bringing store-bought cupcakes for their class party. “Thank you Sam’s Club, your cupcakes are, A-M-A-Z-I-N-G”.
Slowly but surely, I started to workout again. I tried soooo hard to wake up early, before the kids and tip toe downstairs, but somehow the snooze button had a pretty strong effect on me after being up during the night with a baby who either wanted to feed or just snuggle.
CHANGING MY FOCUS.
Gradually over time my focus on fitness changed from commitment to being physically fit, to my commitment to being emotionally fit. What a difference ONE decision can make. I started by reminding myself that even if I got 5 minutes at a time of exercise a couple of times a day, I WAS going to feel better. I told myself that even 100 pennies equals on dollar, while four quarters does too.
I reached out to old friends to go for walks in the park, with the kids, or short day hikes in the woods. I changed my diet. WOW, what a difference that made. While I have always eaten healthy, I was lax on many foods with high sugar content while I was nursing, providing myself with the excuse that I needed the extra calories. I committed to ME.
Slowly but surely, I saw how when I made sure I ate enough of the right foods, had enough water, or got even a short exercise in, I was HAPPIER. I had energy to come home and make dinner, bath the kids and do so happily. I wasn’t dragging, grouchy and tired. I FELT good! I was calm and kind. My patience soared. I could educate my children instead of critique. Life was more balanced.
I still wonder, at a time when I felt like my world was crashing, when my mind was spinning, when there wasn’t enough time in the day, how time changed? How is it that I am able to fit in one more thing without the apple cart spilling over. How is it that I didn’t recognize this before? I changed.
TODAY. BALANCE. LIFE AND LOVE.
Today, life is still challenging. I have hard days and easy days. Sometimes, I struggle. I mainly struggle because my five-year old insists, or at least I think she insists, that she is 16. I beat myself up because I forget, LOTS of things. I am late, my kids clothes are messy and well my house, it is often NOT clean. But that is life.
Today, I embrace the imperfections. I accept my flaws, understanding full well that I am NOT perfect and well, am for once TOTALLY ok with that. I seek happiness and practice kindness, EVERY MOMENT I can. It is my goal to complete at least ONE random act of kindness per day. I go to church. I look out for others. Other people’s joy and success brings me true happiness.
Today. I run as often as I can with a tribe of women who motivate me to be better. Who share in my successes, and my failures. They can relate. They don’t judge. They are different. We are all different, but the same.
Today, I continue to take Zoloft because for me, at this point in my life, I am not ready to come off from it. I supplement with daily vitamins. I eat healthy foods. I exercise daily. I don’t beat myself up when I am NOT perfect. I get bummed that my clothes still don’t fit. My kids LOVE Mac and cheese and pizza is an EVERY Wednesday night deal. I find balance it the chaos. I LAUGH often. I don’t sweat the small stuff, or the big stuff for that matter sometimes. I have become a voice of reason. I can see where I am headed. I am a ROLE MODEL for my kids. I embrace disappointment as an opportunity to learn.
Today, I make sure I put my oxygen on first. I make sure my cup is full. And while at times it might be a wine glass, yes you are welcome to come over and enjoy one with me; when I removed my own expectations of myself everything fell into place.
Fitness and nutrition is about FEELING good. It is the FEELING behind wellness that is soo soo vitally important. Whether you are playing a sport, running a marathon or doing a workout video at home; sit and resonate about what that success, that motivation, that ability to be and do the things you desire to do.
In January 2018, I started a business, appropriately named REfocused Wellness. While I have no clue where this venture will take me, I LOVE the fact that sharing my journey is helping others. When I speak openly about my own personal struggles of not being enough, of tragedy and successes, someone else doesn’t feel so alone. I love using my experience, knowledge and personal growth that allows others to achieve their own goals.
For me, this is MY story. This is how focusing on myself, my needs, and a little self-care and compassion saved me from postpartum anxiety.