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
So good, always. Bring on part 2! xo
Oh honey, this story SO resonates for me. Thank you for chipping away at some of the stigma of post-partum depression, as well as taking the “Western” medication approach to feeling better. Yes, there is just so much kale can do (for some of us).
This resonates SO deeply. Thank you for bravely sharing. It has helped me look at “ways of asking for help” differently.
Another mama who thinks yoga and kale can fix it all 🙂
Love this: “simultaneously being afraid of the drugs and thinking I was above them”…
I love the analogy that when our car isn’t running right we don’t just hope it’ll go away, we take it to professionals — so why are we so ashamed to get help when our minds aren’t working the way they should? I’m glad you got help and look forward to Part 2.
I suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety after my oldest son was born. In 1992, this wasn’t something you spoke about or that doctors asked. I certainly didn’t have support from any female members of my family. It wasn’t until the birth of my second son, 22 months later, and a caring doctor asked how *I* was doing before I left the hospital. I didn’t realize my scary feelings were normal or treatable. And learning to love and accept myself – all of myself, since then has been a journey I’m still working on. This is such an important topic to have a conversation around. Thank you, Andrea. Looking forward to Part 2.
I’m so grateful for this, and am eager for part 2. I am newly, courageously facing my life and I feel your story deeply in my heart.
Yes, yes, yes. I have read your blog since I was in middle school (and I’m 30 now). I still remember your initial post about resisting medication for so long, trying everything else, and finally giving Zoloft a try. Stories like yours are so important. Eighteen months ago, my sister took me aside and said, “I know the OCD is rough. Medication has really helped me with my own OCD. Why don’t you try it?”
It changed my world. I have hope now. I can relax into the joy of life. I still have challenges, and I’m still working on anxiety-driven thought patterns and black and white thinking, but the future no longer feels terrifying. It’s like someone turned down the volume on my inner dialogue predicting every catastrophe that could ever go wrong.
Thanks for being one the voices that helped me see that there’s a place for medication.
I can’t take a deep breath, it’s as if there is something pushing on my chest all the time.
And who is this person who inhabits my body? She has no joy, no light, at least not on the inside.
Awaiting part 2.
This totally resonates! I have three small kids, and like many moms, my needs often come last. Motherhood is such a strange and intense time. Can’t wait for part 2!
Yes. Girl, thank you for sharing your story. It makes me feel less alone in my own struggle with anxiety and depression. xo
This made me cry. Thank you so much.
It’s soooo hard telling the truth. It begins with ourselves, we have to be willing to tell the truth about our experiences to ourselves. It’s so brave, you are so brave!
Your honesty has shone a light on some things I am trying desperately to stuff down or do on my own. Thank you. I want to acknowledge that your brave act of sharing makes a difference.
So brave as always, Andrea. I’m all for asking for and taking help in any (non self-destructed) way that works. We are so fortunate to live in a day and age when we have natural and pharmaceutical options for just about everything. Why wouldn’t we give a pill a try if kale and yoga don’t help? Oh yeah, and it resonates. For sure it resonates.
Thanks for sharing. This is so important. So many of us want to “organically” try to work our way out of this pain. I had a similar experience with depression and an eating disorder in my 20’s and then finally taking Prozac which gave me back my life. And I can’t imagine how I would have broken the cycle without it. It took years to be willing to use medication. I felt like a loser, failure, and at that time there were crazy stories about what the drug could do to you. I was so scared and ashamed I couldn’t break out of the pain. When I did, My life totally turned around. I do have many practices and tools like yoga and meditation to support my well being now —but that was a major turning point in my life and I am so grateful for that drug. Now I have a really healthy relationship with food and my mental health.
I love the “look how calm I am!” thinking! I want to get to that place where I can feel gleeful that I am not panicking or feeling like I’m failing in some way at all times. Thank you for sharing your journey — I can’t wait to read more.
I was thinking about you a few days ago when you sent the picture of the boys and said it hadn’t been a wonderful time and wondering how you are. And then this. The picture of so much what looks like bruising on you is difficult. I hope you aren’t feeling like that now. And if you are, you know how many people are in your rooting section! I appreciate your willingness to be self-revealing. Such a good model.
Wow. I have always felt a connection to you and I was never sure why…I bought one of your necklaces years and years ago and I think of you whenever I wear it. It makes me feel strong and worthy. But I always knew none of that was a result of your writing, which was the only contact I had with you. Now I know…we are kindred spirits. Your story could be mine. Thank you so, so much for sharing this.
I can relate to almost everything you wrote. I still have so many of these feelings. I think that is why you and I have such a strong connection. Thank you for sharing this.
Dear Andrea, as I read this I also think of all the completely conversational posts, ideas, moments you write about which counter many of the thoughts and feelings expressed here. It always amazes me we encompass such an emotional range and they are all within us willing to show themselves – the loud and people orientated, the quiet and sensitive recluse. Great you have found a way to give them all a workable space and embrace they are all part of what makes you the person you are. Finding a balance where you can better function and call on the best of you is a wonderful thing.
It’s wonderful that you can share this with the many of us going yes, yes, ah ha that’s me too. Always great to know we are not alone in our life struggles. 🙂
We are cut from the same cloth my dear… almost literally ;). I appreciate you speaking my mind and offering me another view of these shared experiences. You do it so well – thank you!
Always grateful for your sharing, Andrea. There is so much baggage associated with being a good mother, I think. The sleep deprivation thing is huge. We forget that despotic regimes have actually used it as a way to torture people, yet expect mothers who are waking up every 1-2 hours to not just function but thrive. I definitely enjoy my son much more now that he sleeps in larger chunks… Sending you love x
Thank you for telling your story and being so real! I think this is a conversation we all really need to be having more because we’re all struggling but not talking about it.
My sister and I have been following you for probably 10 years as well! We love you!
I so admire and appreciate the work you do!
I appreciate your courage and openness so much to share this with us Andrea! Eagerly awaiting part 2!
Nobody who knows thinks motherhood is easy or effortless. Inside your head can be a very scary place and shining a light in there should be a regular practice for everyone. In a fit of despair I once asked my strong, amazing, perfect father if he ever thought of killing himself and he said yes. That was a turning point for me. Getting help, learning how to take care of yourself, should really be called a life skill. Good job you! You deserve lots of hugs and kisses. Also, I hate kale.
meds saved my life.
As always this is wonderful Andrea! I’ve followed you for years and now I am eight months pregnant with my first child (a boy!). Hearing your experience gives me immense permission to have whatever experience I have and deal with it in any way that seems best. Thank you for being so honest and sharing yourself fully! You help us all more than you even know. <3
There is nothing like someone else’s honesty with the raw truth to give you courage to face your own truth. Thanks Andrea, for holding a flashlight in the dark. <3.
Someone asked me recently, “Have you forgiven yourself [for having been overwhelmed as a mother, traumatized, wanting to run, pushing my children away, burying myself in distractions – build a business? check. obsess about knitting, sudoku, ‘House’ reruns? check. – to avoid them]?” I burst into tears. Clearly, the answer was “no.” Then a Wayne Dyer quote came into my email inbox: “The importance of forgiving yourself cannot be stated strongly enough. If you carry around thoughts of shame about what you’ve done in the past, you’re weakening yourself both physically and emotionally.” And then Elizabeth Hunter Diamond wrote this beautiful post called “When Honoring The Past Becomes The Gateway to Wholeness.” (http://www.wearetrees.us/when-honoring-the-past-becomes-the-gateway-to-wholeness/)I read it on BART in the morning, on the way to that business I created all those years ago, and I started to cry. So, I went to the woods – with the intention of forgiving myself for who I had – and had not been – for my children. And to grieve the loss of the dream that motherhood had promised. I got lost on the way to the woods. I wound up nowhere near where I had intended to go. But I just walked into the woods anyway, with a bag of cherries and a bottle of water. Who knew how long this was going to take. I didn’t go far, and then I just sat down at the base of a redwood, and … pulled out my phone. I re-read Elizabeth’s post. And then I dug around in some things I had written years ago, about the pain I had felt and feared I had imprinted on my kids. And I read these words I wrote years ago about a conversation I had with my then-seven year old girl: “I want to teach you something. I want you to know something that I never learned until now. Making mistakes is the most important thing you’re going to do. Did you get that? Making mistakes is the most important thing you’re going to do. And even more important is going to be learning how to talk to yourself when you make mistakes. Kindly. Gently – like you would a friend, like you would someone you love deeply. So will you promise me that when you make mistakes – like at school, or when you do something you’re not proud of, whatever – you will trust me enough to bring your mistakes to me? Because I want to teach you how to be kind to yourself and to get all that you can out of whatever wonderful mistakes you make!” My words – my own words – shocked me. They were the balm my heart needed to open up and talk to myself kindly – about how painful – devastating, really – life had been. About how I simply didn’t have the foundation or tools that I do now. And how I could not have known what I was getting into (thankfully, thankfully), or that I was so ill-equipped. I sat in the woods with no other human around, reading my words, and the guilt and shame lifted. And forgiveness settled in, feeling so much like self-love. xx Lara
Yes, this completely resonates. So much so that I am weepy as I read this at a cafe. I have felt like this since my son was born and its been 8 years. I never read emails that come in my inbox anymore. Its all too over stimulating for my nervous system but something, something told me to open this one of yours up. Thank you, old friend. xx
Thank you. This is a great story. Looking forward to part two!
I’m afraid for this to feel familiar. I do not children and have only recently started experiencing anxiety and anxiety attacks but to be honest…I kinda maybe think that perhaps at this age after a lifetime of fighting against it all, it’s always been there but I can’t contain it any more.
So things to think about. Thank you.
Totally relate Andrea. I’ve been on Prozac for about 20 years. Started because of panic attacks. Never had my own children because I knew I couldn’t handle it. I went through boults of agoraphobia in my early twenties. As much as I’d love to get off of medication, I have to admit it gave me a life.
Beautifully written and so very movingly honest. Thank you. I will be sharing.
This is what brave looks like, A. Thank you.
such a beautifully written piece. such a nutritious read. thank you for sharing. please don’t stop eating kale, andrea! much love to you.xoxo
This so resonates. I knew parenting could be hard but I didn’t know that it would require so much of me, my energy and in the process of trying to regain some balance I’m realizing that my whole world has shifted and it’s scary. Thank you for showing your vulnerability and strength so that we may join in a journey of wholeness.
Oh shit, I’m out of Kale and Ideas! Love…. me
dear andrea, thank you for sharing your story. it is so important to speak out about all these experiences and feelings. i know some of them as well and in my close sourrounding similar experiences and emotions are felt and known..i also know about resisting western medicine and in the end it helped me too..have the experience that integrating different healing approaches makes sense..it is not black and white but colourful!*^°*
I could totally relate to the aversion reaction to “inner child” and “self love.” I’ve been doing this work on myself for 30 years and it has taken me a long time to embrace that wounded part of myself. I’m learning to honor that young part of me that wasn’t heard and didn’t get the attention she craved. Like my spiritual guide told me….”young Faye should be in the back of the car in a car seat and you can listen to her, but the adult Faye should be the one driving the car.” Valuable advice, because I find that often my reactions are driven by young Faye, but if I can pause instead of react, adult Faye can respond in a mature way. But it all comes back to acknowledging those young wounds and feelings. Thanks for being open about your journey as it’s a good reminder to me honor and love that wounded part of me.
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