Featured: Leah on Motherhood & Struggling with Anxiety

October 10, 2016

My name is Leah and I am currently a stay-at-home mom to Chloe (5), Gregor (2), and Winter (6 months). I live with my husband and children in a home we bought last year, right outside of Philadelphia. I enjoy taking my kids on adventures outside the house, and knitting or listening to podcasts while they nap.

  1. How would you describe your everyday life now in comparison to when you were working?  
Life as a stay-at-home mom is much different than my life working as a nurse. I entered the workforce young, ever since I was fifteen I have had a job and was able to make money and even help support myself, even if that just meant buying my own clothes and paying my own bus fare. I always took a lot of comfort in my ability to support myself and save money, and I have always really loved working. I was an emergency room nurse when I started having children, and continued to be up until this past spring when it just didn’t seem as feasible for me to work anymore. I was still breastfeeding Winter, who was two months old, and neither of my older children go to daycare, so my partner would watch them all when I was at work (just like I would watch them all when he is at work). At first I felt really excited to go back to work, but when I would leave home I would feel a bit anxious about leaving everyone. I felt like every time I went to work that I would struggle to focus, because I was worried about how the baby, kids, and my partner were doing alone. After about a month of trying to make it work, my partner and I talked about me leaving my job to stay at home, and after a lot of thought and a look at our finances, I decided to be a SAHM. 

I think the biggest difference between working outside the home and being a SAHM is that I often don't give myself the same amount of credit for the work I put in - for example, at the end of my shift in the hospital, even if I had a really rough one, I could tell myself that I had really worked hard, or that I helped someone, or that my work made a small difference in the life of someone else. Now, I can definitely tell myself the same things at the end of my day as a SAHM, because they are all true, but I tend to not value my work at home as much. I am not sure why that is. 

2. What are some of the specific day to day feelings you have? What have you noticed triggers your anxiety/depression?  

What I struggle with most can be boiled down to three feelings: being trapped, unfulfilled, and hopeless. I don’t feel these bad feelings all the time, but they are constant struggles as I go through my day. I have an interesting mix of ages with my children currently - with my oldest child being very active and wanting to be on-the-go, and my youngest still needing at least two decent naps a day. If I don't get us all outside at least once a day, I feel like I am in prison… even if we aren't having a “bad” day. I absolutely need to get out of the house at least once a day for my own mental and emotional wellbeing - it makes all the difference to me. Sometimes it takes a lot of work to get us all out, and sometimes it’s just not possible - those tend to be the roughest days for me, so I try really hard to not allow days like that to happen to frequently. 

I think the unfulfilled feeling ties back into me not giving myself credit for the hard work of being a SAHM - because it is hard work keeping three small humans alive, somewhat clean, happy and healthy. Not to mention breastfeeding a baby, which can feel like a full-time job at times. I often need to remind myself that just because nobody might see what I am doing with my days, and nights, as I take care of these three humans, and even if I don’t bring home a paycheck, that doesn't mean that my work is not very meaningful. 

I think the hopeless feeling comes from my tendency to see my current situation as a permanent one, rather that just a temporary phase. I know that my kids are not always going to be this young, my youngest is not going to breastfeed forever, my toddler is eventually going to grow out of throwing tantrums and learn how to talk. However, somedays it just seems like I am living the same day on repeat. I know some SAHMs say that these days are the best ones, and that this time is the most special, but many days I feel like we are just barely staying afloat, and I comfort myself by reminding myself that it is not always going to be like this, and that some day my youngest will sleep through the night! 

Sleep is also a big trigger for me in terms of mental and emotional well-being. I notice when I go multiple nights with horrible sleep I am much more on-edge and likely to start feeling down or anxious, whereas when I get decent sleep I feel much more capable and less frazzled. 

3. As we mentioned before in our talks, why do you think there is such a stigma for women/moms to delve into conversations of anxiety and depression?

I think that being a SAHM is sometimes glamorized in our culture. SAHMs are often seen as women who “can afford to stay home” while their partner “brings home the bacon” . The SAHM is often portrayed as a 1950’s Stepford wife who is organized, fun, and fit - and we don't question this woman’s mental or emotional well-being. We aren’t shown much else, and if we are shown moms who struggle with anxiety or depression they are often portrayed as being completely overwhelmed and incapable of handling day-to-day life, or even having substance abuse issues - and definitely not as high-functioning. Maybe people don’t want to think that a mom, who takes care of precious children all day, might struggle with anxiety or depression, and still be entirely capable of caring for and loving her family - of giving her children a really great childhood full of fun, love, and lots of affection? I think social media even plays a role in this stigma as Instagram and the internet is full of accounts and blogs that portray SAH-motherhood as being very calm, peaceful, fun, organized, clean, and even glamorous… and when your life doesn’t look like that, or you cannot quite relate to those feelings, it is tempting to feel that you might not have it right, or that you might not be giving your children the childhood they deserve. I constantly need to remind myself that just because my life isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean that it isn’t good… and just because I struggle with periodic anxiety or depression, doesn’t mean that I am not a good mother or that I love my children any less. 

4. Youre an amazing mother as I've been following you on Instagram for 2 years now, and most recently Snapchat. I love the strength, openness and reality you share with your followers. What has social network helped you with when it comes to anxiety & depression?

While I just said that social media can contribute to the stigma around mental illness, anxiety, and depression among moms, I think there is also a lot of moms, and dads, who are out there on social media, sharing their struggles very honestly. It is affirming to know that you aren’t alone, and I think that people might be more likely to discuss struggles having to do with anxiety and depression on the internet, rather than face-to-face. Social networks like Instragram, Snapchat, and blogs, have allowed me to connect with other moms who struggle with some of the same things I do at this point in my life - the sleeplessness, the worrying about the toddler not speaking full sentences, the melancholy of three days straight spent inside with three sick children, the conflicting feelings of being so damn happy to celebrate your child’s birthday, but so emotionally and physically exhausted at the end of the day. It has been very therapeutic for me to share bits of some of the harder days and have someone else say “I hear you! It is hard!”, and it feels good to be that person for other people too - just to be there on the internet holding virtual hands in solidarity. 

5. What advice would you give to a mom or women who is struggling with anxiety and depression at this moment?

I am a big fan of therapy and counseling. I have been in and out of therapy since I was in my early teens, and as a mom I have found it to be so helpful just to have someone to  talk to. I have struggled for a long time with my own relationship with my mother - especially since I have become a mom. I find that our interactions with one another can be a catalyst for my anxiety - and it has been helpful to be able to talk to someone who is able to give me unbiased feedback and helpful suggestions for how to handle my anxiety when it comes to my mother. 
My last therapist really helped me to sort through many of the practical issues I faced day-to-day while pregnant and caring for two young children, and being temporarily displaced at my mother-in-laws, while we moved from one home to another. It was helpful to have someone there to just listen to me and help me sort out how I was feeling for an hour each week - I think that during that time my life felt too hectic for me to even consider how I was feeling - it was very overwhelming. Having that bit of time each week was the best form of self-care I could give to myself. I would leave therapy each week, grab myself a bit of chocolate or small treat, and feel lighter and cared for.
I would strongly suggest counseling or therapy to anyone who is struggling with anxiety and/or depression, even just a few sessions. Nobody makes it through this life without some baggage, and anxiety and depression is not uncommon, especially for moms who go through many hormone changes and life changes in such a short amount of time with the birth of children. Just because you find that you can function well day-to-day with your anxiety and/or depression does not mean that you would not benefit from having someone to talk to. It doesn’t mean that you are crazy, weak, or incapable - it just means that having someone to talk to, who is educated, trained, and experienced in helping others, might help you feel better.

6. If you won a week long trip to Bora Bora, just for yourself, what are 5 things you would bring with you? 

I would bring a good book (right now I am trying to read “A God in Ruins” by Kate Atkinson), because it’s so hard for me to get any time to read, and when I do I fall asleep. I would bring my knitting, because I find knitting to be really therapeutic and great for my nerves. Knitting also gives me a little sense of accomplishment that I struggle to find in my day-to-day life. I would bring a bikini - even though I am nowhere near having my pre-baby body back. I would bring good practical walking/running shoes, because I have recently realized how much I love being able to move and walk and run without worrying about injuring myself due to impractical, but often cute, footwear. And I would bring my eyebrow pencil, because its one of the only bit of makeup i won’t leave my house without wearing.

7. How does your partner help you on those specific days you are feeling more down then others? 

Chris is really great at not expecting a whole ton of a lot on the hard days - he never complains about cereal for dinner or unfolded laundry. He doesn’t ever say anything about the house being a mess, or crumbs in our bed because I let the kids eat toast there while watching a show so I could go to the bathroom.  It’s like his silence is more than enough at times, because who really wants to hear about your shortcomings at the end of the day? Recently he has been coming home from work and watching the kids so I can get out and take a walk alone, or with Winnie. It is a small thing, but it means a lot to me. He also puts Gregor to bed just about every night, because him and Gregor have some kind of magic together. Chris is also the best gift giver I know, and if he knows its been kind of rough around home, he will stop on the way home from work to grab me a bit of chocolate or a bottle of wine- it’s these small little practical things that I notice are a big help to me when the days are rough.

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