Editor’s Note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.
While I definitely experienced dark days in the first year of my daughter’s life, the mental and emotional challenges really arrived in the second year that followed.
What started out as a sleep-deprived flurry of “new mom” overwhelm led to feelings of wanting to completely disappear. Those sweeping emotions only grew as my daughter transitioned from a baby to a toddler. In my moments of deepest despair, I’d tearfully break down in front of my 18-month-old, dropping to my knees and begging her not to come close to me. Panic attacks became a way of life, I began to self-harm for the first time in a decade, and I painfully believed that I’d never come out of the darkness.
What I now know is that I had not only been suffering from a form of PPD, but was also experiencing PTSD from my own childhood trauma.
Thankfully, I had loved ones close by who encouraged me to talk openly about my struggles. A year of intense therapy later, I am a totally changed mama. Yes, I still deal with moments of overwhelming anxiety and stress, but now I have the tools and support I need to successfully work through them. I also have a newfound hope that I can get through anything, which is especially helpful now that I’m pregnant with my second child.
But for many mothers, the fear of speaking up often keeps us from getting life-saving help. Add to that the shame we can often feel in struggling well past early motherhood, and some of us may never open up to others.
Which is why I’m so grateful for Tess Holliday, who just reminded me why I’m not alone in my long-term postpartum challenges.
The plus-sized model has been refreshingly vocal about the PPD that arrived when her second son Bowie was born. But this past Wednesday, she shared an Instagram post that showed a whole new level of vulnerability.
“This was taken a year ago today, and up until about a month ago, everyday since this photo was taken, I thought in my head: ‘I wish I could just vanish,’” she begins. “I’ve never had suicidal thoughts, or [thoughts of] self-harm, but the thoughts of just wanting to stop hurting and feeling helpless were new and frankly overwhelming.”
The mom shares that while her “baby” is now almost 2 years old, random days can still be filled with moments of crippling sadness and anxiety. And with the mounting societal pressure to “bounce back” physically and emotionally after giving birth, Holliday felt too ashamed to seek out the help she needed. This caused her to reach a breaking point so severe, it forced her to speak up.
“Most of us, myself included, still have days where we feel like a stranger in our bodies, unattractive to ourselves and partners, [and] lonely because friends stop inviting you to stuff,” she continues. “I’m grateful to have support in my life [and] friends to talk to, but it got so bad that I had to take action, and by doing so, it potentially saved my life.”
Most importantly, Holliday urges moms to reach out before it’s too late.
“Don’t let it get to the point mine did, where you feel like you’re losing your mind. Don’t think because your child isn’t a ‘baby’ that you couldn’t still be suffering from PPD,” she explains. “Because I’m here to tell you, you most definitely can. Ask for help, talk to someone, find a support group or hell, message me. You aren’t alone and you don’t need to suffer alone.”
Holliday’s moving post received over 63K likes, with hundreds of mothers thanking her for validating their personal struggles. Reading these responses was so uplifting, because they gave me concrete proof that I’m not the only one who needs more courageous mamas like Holliday sharing their stories.
The truth is, we collectively need more moms opening up about the mental and emotional obstacles that naturally accompany every stage of motherhood. Because every single mom deserves to feel seen and heard and accepted, no matter what she is battling against. And asking for help, no matter how far you are in your parenting journey, should never ever feel shameful.
If you are a mom suffering in silence, please talk someone you trust about it. If motherhood seems more overwhelming than you can manage, please know that millions of mothers are struggling just like you. As Holliday so eloquently states, you are not alone, no matter how lonely you may feel. And trust me, I’ve felt more isolated in the challenges of motherhood than during any other time in my life. It took seeking out support to realize I didn’t need to feel that way.
I think it’s going to take a lot more effort to completely break down the stigma around postpartum mental health. But with women like Holliday, I have faith we will get there.