“I was in uncharted territory as a new mom trying to make all of the pieces of my old life fit back together” – Jackie’s Story

“You have to get spiritual.” Upon hearing the word “spiritual”, I stared blankly at my new therapist with my hands folded on my bulging belly. I’ve just listed the reasons why I sit on her couch at seven months pregnant and her response didn’t register in my brain. I had no idea what she meant by the word “spiritual” but the mere sound of it turned me off and after an eternity of awkward silence, I shrugged my shoulders.

I sat on her couch because just weeks earlier, in July 2017, my world shattered. The fast pace of life, coupled with an impending move, overtook me and I completely broke down. My mom thought I must have miscarried my second son when I called her and all I could manage to say between sobs was “I can’t do this anymore”.

Before and after the breakdown, I daydreamed about escaping. Just getting in the car and driving away; no packed bags, no destination. Wherever I ended up had to be better than the mess I had created out of my life. In truth, the mess was really in my mind and in my heart, so my location didn’t matter. What’s that old saying? “Wherever you go, there you are” – my emotional baggage was always packed and ready to go.

Ironically, “spiritual” was one of the words in my therapist’s profile description that drew me to her, but by no means was I a spiritual person at the time. Raised Methodist, I struggled to connect with God or feel that any higher power had guided the first 37 years of my life. My attempts at prayer felt empty and needy. I feared judgment, holy or otherwise, and had no clue how divine assistance could help with my mental and emotional predicament

Depression, anxiety and I were old pals for a long time; a trio long before I ever got pregnant with my first son, in 2013. But I chalked up my feelings as just being part of who I was and never searched for the causes of them.

Near the end of my first pregnancy, I reported to my then-obstetrician that I felt depressed. He brushed off my low feelings as normal, hormonal baby-blues and as a first time mom-to-be I took him at his word, despite my doubts. In hindsight, those feelings were a huge red flag: after my son was born by emergency C-section in February 2014, I endured eighteen months of postpartum depression and anxiety.

That time is still a fog but one clear, painful memory I do have is my daydreams of escape: of simply wading into the ocean and allowing the waves to sweep me away into the calm, cool stillness of its depths.

I returned to work eight weeks postpartum and I cried myself home from work every day for months. I wasn’t sure what “normal” was, but I was pretty certain that my daily tear-filled commute was not. Finally, I let my husband in on the secret and told him that something was not right, even though I couldn’t explain what was wrong. He encouraged me to call the doctor right away, and within two days I saw the midwife at the practice.

I was prescribed an anti-depressant and progesterone, and told to follow up in a few weeks. When I checked in, I was feeling more balanced and crying less but I still wasn’t myself. Perhaps this was just the new, postpartum-mom-me. How was I to know when I was in uncharted territory as a new mom trying to make all of the pieces of my old life fit back together around a baby?

I continued the medication for a few more months and, while I appreciated feeling level after being on a roller coaster of emotions, I soon felt flat. My son’s developmental milestones, which should have sparked laughter and excitement, felt dull. What should have been moments of joy were mile markers of a dark endless road. After four months, I weaned off of the medication.

All the while, I was desperate to remain tethered to my son. Breastfeeding was extremely important to me and so, while I spent long hours working away from him, I pumped enough milk for two babies. I made sure to make up for our lost time together by nursing on demand at night and as a result, I was sleep deprived for well over a year. Finally, he slept through the night when he turned one and I also weaned off the pump, but my feelings persisted.

In the summer of 2015 my husband suggested I sign up for a 5K road race as a way to get back into running; a pre-pregnancy activity I had enjoyed for many years. In spite of myself, I signed up for the 5K.

Running rejuvenated me. It not only reconnected me to my physical body, but finally lifted the fog from my mind. I felt genuinely happy again. As an added bonus, I ate more nutritiously and found that the benefits of a healthy diet were not only physical, but emotional as well. My bouts of depression and anxiety felt more manageable and occurred less frequently.

After a year of running, and the completion of my first marathon in October 2016 (wowza!), I felt ready to try for a second baby. I now had the tools of exercise and nutrition to help me through pregnancy and postpartum recovery. I also found a new obstetrician and was very upfront with him about my mental health. He was calm, steady and confidently reassured me that a potential pregnancy would go smoothly.

I got pregnant fairly quickly, and within about a week of my positive pregnancy test, my tools began failing me. I felt nauseous, tired, and emotional, all while working full time over an hour away from home and chasing a three year old. Normal feelings for the first trimester, but I felt defeated pretty quickly given my history and sure-fire certainty that I would breeze through this pregnancy with exercise and healthy food.

Exercise eluded me most days and the nutritious foods that my pre-pregnancy body craved now made my stomach turn. In addition, the stress of becoming a first-time home buyer was added to the mix. Within short order, I didn’t know which end was up and by the time I broke down, I was in dire need of Divine intervention.

My second son is now eighteen months old. Despite my initial hesitation, I had a planned C- section which went better than I ever imagined, even with a last minute change in my delivering doctor. Recovery was the complete opposite of my first postpartum recovery: within three weeks I was cleared to drive and within six weeks I was back to light running. Six weeks after my first C-section, I was still taking pain medication.

I am nearly twenty-one months into counseling. About six months after my therapist’s initial suggestion I finally asked the Universe for a sign that there is more to my life than meets the eye; something greater than my depression and anxiety. I received resounding confirmation shortly thereafter and to this day I explore the infinite magic that surrounds us, and is within us, at all times.

I journal and meditate daily, sources of deep solace and a solid foundation for my everyday life. Personal development boosts my confidence and self-esteem, and figuring out what makes me tick and finding activities that bring me pure joy have been paramount to my emotional well- being. Running has also taken on a new meaning as I connect with nature and my intuition to provide others with spiritual guidance.

We must each take our own path to healing; no two alike but all of equal value. Here are a few suggestions for anyone feeling lost:

• Trust your feelings. Your feelings are your emotional guidance system. They warn you when you are heading into dangerous territory and, as often happens with depression, you don’t realize you are swimming in the depths of it until you are sinking.

• Be your own advocate. If something your doctor, or someone of authority, says to you doesn’t sit well, get another opinion. You deserve to be comfortable in your own skin, and if a diagnosis (or lack thereof) doesn’t feel right, keep asking questions and searching for answers until YOU are satisfied.

• Get moving. Running is my exercise of choice, but any physical activity is vital. Yoga, walking, dance, cycling, swimming – it doesn’t matter! Depression is stuck energy so when you move your body, you move your energy and depression has no choice but to move out, even if only temporarily. Over time, consistent movement equals consistent flow of your energy and the energy of depression will no longer find a home in your body.

• Ask for help. You are worthy of help, from yourself and from others, even if you can’t explain how or why you need the help.

“Getting spiritual” was the master key to my heart and to my mental health. My way out of depression was by searching within myself for the answers to my prayers. Where before I looked

outside of myself for the reasons for my problems, I now believe that I am enough and that my greatest source of love, strength and peace is within my heart.