The term self-love used to make me cringe.
In the same way that “inner child” did or any other term that made me feel vulnerable, exposed, embarrassed, seen for my wounded self. And so it caught me by surprise when I realized that I’ve been on a deep journey around self-love for the last several years. Who knew?
It feels odd to say this, but I can trace it back to the Zoloft being the first (and possibly the most profound) breakthrough. I resisted taking anxiety medication for decades, muscling through with kale and yoga and supplements, simultaneously being afraid of the drugs and thinking I was above them – stronger than that.
And so I suffered a long time this way.
Until my symptoms got out of hand. Panic attacks came regularly – first as a result of public speaking and then out of the blue with no warning. Once, while changing Nico’s diaper, I merely had the thought of going to the city for a friend’s book party and I collapsed to the floor in a full blown panic. My life became small. I was afraid to do things like drive, or go to parties, or even run into someone I hadn’t seen for a while at the grocery store (too stimulating for my sensitive body). The worst part? My boys energy was too much for me. I kept them at arms length. They were too loud, to tactile, too chaotic for my nervous system to handle. I couldn’t hold their energy.
Also, I was depressed. But I don’t think I registered that. I always thought depression looked one particular way – listless, blue, can’t get out of bed. Instead, I was jumpy, had a hard time sitting still, couldn’t sleep well, startled easily. I didn’t recognize this as depression or illness, just as my own personal failing – neurotic, wound up, anxious, too worried, abrasive, annoying… What I didn’t know is that I came by all of it honestly- my nervous system was all jacked up.
There were other factors too. I had a baby that woke up every two hours for the first year of his life. I only slept a few hours a night and still had a full time job. He started having seizures at 12 months. I was in a constant state of hypervigilance for years. It felt like an electric current was inside me, a live wire that could be activated by the slightest cough in his crib or a weird spacey look in his eyes. It was an impossible time.
What was I telling you? About self-love? Oh man, that was a lot farther out in the distance- unfathomable really. I was in deep shame most of the time. My self-talk sounded like this: Why are you such a bad mother? Why don’t you love this motherhood thing like everyone else? Why am I filled with so much rage? Why am I not motherly like everyone else? What’s wrong with me? Why does it look so easy for everyone else?
Once, very pregnant with Nico, I asked Heather Armstrong of Dooce (who I knew went through intense postpartum depression) “How do you know if you have postpartum depression? What do you look out for?” She responded, “When you start thinking they’re better off without you, you’re in trouble.” Oh shit, I realized. I think that all the time.
Taking the Zoloft might have been the first self-loving act.
It doesn’t work for everybody (and I am not here endorsing the stuff) but for me, even trying western meds was saying yes to the possibility of getting help or of life being a different way. It was me throwing my hands in the air and saying, “I give up! I’m out of kale and I’m out of ideas.” It was a new kind of surrender. And I was lucky it worked so well for me.
It started slow. At first it was just the panic attacks that subsided and the general anxiety remained. This seemed like progress. But eventually, after about 11 weeks, something else lifted too. I felt gooooooood. Maybe for the first time in my life?
I felt like I inhabited my body again. I used to feel like I was floating upward, slightly above things, buzzing like a hummingbird. Now I was back in my skin. I could go to a crowded grocery store without freaking out. I could go to Costco or Ikea! (I had been known to abandon full carts at Ikea as I got close to the checkout stand and realized I couldn’t bear it for one more second) I could receive my boys without pushing them away. I felt heartier, like there was more of me to absorb life with. I felt grounded and calm. I wanted to shout, “Look how calm I am everybody! I can totally have a conversation with you!”
Part 2 coming soon… Let me know if this story resonates for you! I’m guessing many of us are in this together. Sending love, Andrea