I thought I’d escaped it.
The first few weeks of Selah’s life were a blur of snuggles, diapers, family visits, dropped-off dinners, and so much joy.
I have battled anxiety for most of my life, and on occasion, I’ve also struggled with the hopelessness of depression. Often triggered by major life transitions—even happy ones—my anxiety consumes me during flare-ups. My thoughts run wild, the constant adrenaline makes my whole body shake, and I’m unable to eat or sleep, often throwing up the food I do choke down—not because of disordered eating (though I’ve struggled with that too) but because I just cannot keep it inside. I can’t keep my anxiety inside.
Given my history, I thought I’d be a perfect candidate for postpartum depression and anxiety. I read up and prayed up as I anticipated Selah’s birth. I set my expectations low to avoid doing too much and bringing on more anxiety. I knew exactly who I’d text when the darkness set in.
And then . . . it didn’t come. The first few weeks were even more difficult than I could have imagined, but I didn’t feel abnormally overwhelmed or hopeless. I cried often, but not constantly or uncontrollably.
I had survived.
When I reached 6 weeks postpartum and the doctor declared me normal, I declared me normal too.
But if you’ve ever struggled with anxiety, you know how sneaky and silent it is. It lurks around shadowed corners, waiting to pounce when our guards are down and our hearts are unprotected.
A series of events that started when Selah was six weeks old left me feeling hopeless, lonely, overwhelmed, debilitated. A painful condition with no healing in sight. A baby who wouldn’t nap and cried almost constantly. Nursing strikes. Clogged ducts. Sleep deprivation. Suddenly I was drowning and my lungs were filling up with salty water and my vision for the future was becoming blurry, distorted.
The anxiety grabbed my shoulders by surprise, wrapped its arms around my stomach, and squeezed the air out of my body, threatening to take my joy along with it.
So what do we do when anxiety sneaks in? This isn’t a how-to post per se, but this is what’s helping me right now.
1. Slow down.
Slow down your thoughts and ask Jesus to take them captive. Refuse the spiraling, the what-ifs, and the if-onlys. I know it’s infinitely easier said than done, but we absolutely have power over our minds. It’s a muscle we need to train, so flex it.
2. Get busy.
Go for a walk, run an errand, clean the house. The simple act of moving and using your body can help get your mind unstuck from the unrelenting loop of debilitating thoughts.
3. Ask for help.
Know who you can text or call for help at any time of day. Ask them for prayer, for help around the house, or just for their voice. Consider finding professional help—whether that’s a cleaning service or a therapist or both.
4. Repeat a mantra.
Have a go-to phrase of truth you can speak to yourself in times of trouble. For me, some of those phrases are “This will not last forever” and “One day at a time.” I get so stuck on far-fetched, worst-case scenarios, and I need the reminder that I only have to get through this moment, this day.
It may sound silly, but compartmentalizing my anxiety really helps. When I start to feel anxiety coming on, it’s usually the result of me jumping to a worst-case scenario, not the result of worrying about what’s actually happening in this moment. I tell myself that if this thing gets to the point where it merits worry, I’ll worry about it then.
I’m still struggling to not live my life in fear. Going back to work has actually helped me in this battle, because when I was at home all day with Selah, I was alone all day with my thoughts. I was also alone all day with Google, the most wonderful and dangerous tool for getting instant answers. Being at work gives my mind a purpose beyond playing imaginary games with Selah while imagining the worst outcomes for my own life.
Though you may not be immune, you are certainly not alone. Postpartum or not, mood disorders are real, but they don’t have to rule your life. Don’t wait passively for your life preserver—let other people see you in your struggle, and lift your arms so they can pull you out of the water.