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Motherhood made me confront my anxiety—head on

If it hadn’t been for my daughter, I wouldn’t have begun to take my mental health as seriously as I do now.

Motherhood made me confront my anxiety—head on

I felt like I was dying.

I should have known better. I mean, every psychology 101 textbook in the world will tell you that’s what a panic attack feels like, but when it happened, I didn’t think I was dying. I knew it. Breathing was a concerted effort. I used to run track, but now even hustling for the bus sent sharp pains through my chest. I rode to the emergency room with my husband in sober silence, fearing the worst.


Scarier still was when I learned that there was nothing physically “wrong” with me. Instead, I was diagnosed with anxiety.

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I resisted my anxiety for a long time after that, reasoning that “there’s nothing wrong with me, I just have a lot on my plate.” And that was true. I’ve always worked long hours and feel a little uncomfortable having less than three jobs. I need a backup plan for my backup plans. I did not trust myself to sit still. Nothing I did, no award I won, no achievement felt like enough. All symptoms of anxiety.

Having my daughter was the match that set the haystack ablaze.

My anxiety had largely been contained to worrying about my own sense of inadequacy, and slipped under most people’s radars. Once I gave birth, however, I teetered dangerously close to the edge of my sanity.

Yet, if it hadn’t been for my daughter, I don’t know that I would have begun to take my mental health as seriously as I do now. Teary-eyed and embarrassed, I picked up the phone and began calling every therapist in my network until I found one who could see me.

I wish I could tell you that there was an easy fix to make the anxiety go away. There isn’t. I’ve looked everywhere and talked to everyone.

I still wake up in the middle of the night to make sure that my baby—now a two-year old—is breathing. Good days still sometimes turn into bad ones for little or no reason. I’ll be making breakfast or flipping through Facebook, and almost before I realize it, I’m annoyed. Or irritated. Or maybe just a little sad.

That’s almost always how it starts.

When that happens, the thoughts in my mind begin speeding by like a time-lapse video of cars on the highway. Everything seems to get a little bigger than I can handle, the smallest mistakes become life-threatening, and even getting out of the grocery store becomes too much for me. I wish I was exaggerating, but I have had panic attacks so severe in the canned goods aisle that I’ve needed someone to come and get me.

Things aren’t perfect, but I’ve come a long way in the last two years. Here’s what I learned:

Anxiety is a medical condition.

Just because it can’t be diagnosed with a blood test doesn’t mean that it isn’t real. I resented my anxiety and was embarrassed by it. But if you had some other chronic health issue, like diabetes or MS, would you apologize for caring for yourself? I have a friend with fibromyalgia. She knows that stairs trigger intense pain for her, so she avoids them. I know that running late somewhere triggers intense panic for me, so I avoid that as well.

The right therapist is crucial.

I did not stay with the first therapist I saw, who consistently reinforced that if my husband would pick up more of the slack, I wouldn’t be so stressed all the time. Truth be told, since high school I’ve seen about a dozen mental health specialists. I finally found one who was willing to work with me to develop tools to manage the panic attacks, and never made me feel silly or marginalized for struggling to regain control.

Self-care is an antidote.

When managing panic disorder, it’s important to keep yourself in a positive and empowered place. Structure your day around positive experiences that make you laugh and fill you with peace. For me, that means picking my daughter up from school, taking yoga and fitness classes three times a week, and eating foods that nourish me. It also means not checking my work emails on my day off or skipping meals (because those things trigger negative feelings).

Keep your tools handy.

It may help to create an anxiety emergency kit for yourself. Mine includes cute videos of my daughter on my phone, lavender oil, protein bars, mindfulness podcasts (and headphones), and a notebook with writing prompts for when I need to get something off my chest. I also keep an extra couple vacation hours in the bank at work so I can take a mental health day when needed. And don’t forget the most important tool is always available to you: your breath. Just a couple minutes of breathing deeply can stop anxiety from evolving into a full-on attack.

Go with the flow.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, don’t resist the anxiety. Especially for those of us who are type A, we tend to put a lot of energy into presenting a composed exterior to the world. “I’m fine,” however, takes a lot of energy to muster and and maintain. Give yourself permission to have a bad morning or even a bad day, and realize that it doesn’t define you, your life, or how capable/successful/normal you are. If you’re feeling really bold, find a way to laugh about it.

You may feel like you’re not enough, but trust me—you are and you’re doing great.

I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.


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Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on www.comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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Errands and showers are not self-care for moms

Thinking they are is what's burning moms out.

A friend and I bump into each other at Target nearly every time we go. We don't pre-plan this; we must just be on the same paper towel use cycle or something. Really, I think there was a stretch where I saw her at Target five times in a row.

We've turned it into a bit of a running joke. "Yeah," I say sarcastically, "We needed paper towels so you know, I had to come to Target… for two hours of alone time."

She'll laugh and reply, "Oh yes, we were out of… um… paper clips. So here I am, shopping without the kids. Heaven!"

Now don't get me wrong. I adore my trips to Target (and based on the fullness of my cart when I leave, I am pretty sure Target adores my trips there, too).

But my little running joke with my friend is actually a big problem. Because why is the absence of paper towels the thing that prompts me to get a break? And why on earth is buying paper towels considered a break for moms?

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