Motherhood With A Mental Illness

Happy Mother’s Day! And to those of you who are not yet Mothers, my heart goes out to you. I wish I knew your why, and I wish I knew what to say to take away your ache and heartbreak. Just know you are loved, prayed for, and thought about constantly.

I wrote this post for my personal blog almost two and a half years ago and I had several promptings that I needed to share it here, so with Mother’s Day being tomorrow, it seemed like a good time to finally do so. I deleted some things that were no longer pertinent and updated it to add how I’m currently dealing with this illness as a Mom.

Motherhood is not a hobby, it is a calling. It is not something you do if you can squeeze the time in. It is what God gave you time for.” – Neil L. Anderson

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Photo by Jennie Grange Photography.

Sometimes it’s really hard for me to admit that I struggle with mental illness, especially as a Mom. And for some reason writing about it helps. I guess I do this to know that I’m not alone and that there are others experiencing the same thing. And also because when I share others share too, and we can learn and grow from each other.

In March of 2015, I decided to go off my Prozac. When I found out I was pregnant that was one of the first questions I had, would being on this medication affect my baby? My doctor told me that I would be ok until the last few weeks of my pregnancy and should go off it then if I could. I ran out of refills in March and that was what forced the plunge. I haven’t been back on medication since, with the exception of taking Xanax twice when we flew to Hawaii in January of this year. I haven’t wanted to be on a medication roller coaster through pregnancies and breastfeeding, especially because there was only one month of no pregnancy or breastfeeding between Hayley and Evelyn.

The work of a mother is hard, too often unheralded work… Mothers, we acknowledge and esteem your faith in every footstep. Please know that it is worth it then, now, and forever. – Jeffrey R. Holland (Because She Is a Mother)

No love in mortality comes closer to approximating the pure love of Jesus Christ than the selfless love a devoted mother has for her child.
To all of our mothers everywhere, past, present, or future, I say, “Thank you. Thank you for giving birth, for shaping souls, for forming character, and for demonstrating the pure love of Christ.” To Mother Eve, to Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel, to Mary of Nazareth, and to a Mother in Heaven, I say, “Thank you for your crucial role in fulfilling the purposes of eternity.” To all mothers in every circumstance, including those who struggle—and all will—I say, “Be peaceful. Believe in God and yourself. You are doing better than you think you are. In fact, you are saviors on Mount Zion, and like the Master you follow, your love ‘never faileth.’ – Jeffrey R. Holland (Behold Thy Mother)

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Photo by DeannaPaige Photography.

After going off my medication when I was pregnant with Hayley I had a really hard month full of school and finals, and then stressed about her arrival, but did surprisingly well after she was born… until about two months postpartum. It was then I went to my Doctor and discussed my options with him. I was going to go back on medication when she was six months old but ended up switching my major in school so that I could be done sooner and focus on her, while also avoiding loads of stress from the Athletic Training program. I toughed out a final semester of school and felt pretty good about life.

Then I got pregnant with Evelyn in August of 2016. I struggled practically every day with her pregnancy; emotionally, physically, and mentally (surprise right?). All of my symptoms came on sooner and it seemed like they were worse too. I think I have some PTSD from that pregnancy (and giving birth) because I am absolutely terrified of going through another one. Like there is going to need to be divine intervention for me to go through this again.

There is no role in life more essential and more eternal than that of motherhood.
There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills and abilities, and certainly different children. – M. Russell Ballard (Daughters of God)

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Photo by Elise Airmet Photo.

My second daughter, Evelyn, turned one last week and I was feeling weird about it all day. I realized the reason I was feeling so weird about it is that I feel this pressure to now have another baby, and I’m so not ready for that. Anyone else feel like they need to have kids about every two years? I don’t know if it’s my age, the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth, the fact that I actually can have kids when so many can’t and long for them, or something else. Whatever the cause is… it’s there.

And I know I have so much to be thankful for and that I am truly blessed, and that’s why having anxiety and depression is so extremely frustrating – I know I have so many blessings and things to be happy about but I just can’t sometimes. I cannot “choose to be happy.” I feel alone because of what this illness does to me. And it’s hard for me to talk about it with people who don’t understand because sometimes that only gets me more frustrated and depressed. It’s a horrible cycle. I know it’s not their fault for not being able to understand so I just don’t say anything to avoid the conversation I know is coming that won’t do me any good. And maybe that’s selfish of me but I need to be a little selfish with this illness or things only get worse than they need to. And when I can’t take care of myself then I can’t take care of others and I really hate not being able to do anything for others, especially my husband and daughters.

Your children are the greatest gift God will give to you, and their souls the heaviest responsibility He will place in your hands. Take time with them, teach them to have faith in God. Be a person in whom they can faith. When you are old, nothing else you’ve done will have mattered as much.” – Lisa Wingate

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Photo by Fotofly.

Becoming a Mother is a huge life changer, I know any Mother can tell you that. Since I’ve become a Mother I don’t get as much time with my husband, I feel like I don’t have as many friends as I used to, I don’t have much of a social life, and I don’t get any time to myself because it’s harder to do things with people or for yourself when you have a demanding little human that needs to eat 3-4 hours and take naps and play and be held and all the things that babies need leaving you with little time for anything else. Even when I do get out I still have to put Hayley and Evelyn first and “miss out” on things because I’m feeding them or changing a diaper or they’re crying/throwing a tantrum and I have to calm her down. And I know that every Mom deals with this but when it’s coupled with anxiety and depression it’s different. I worry about all that the future will bring and how I am going to deal with it. Constantly.

At the same time that being a Mother gives me anxiety and depression, it also heals it. I am so grateful for Hayley and Evelyn. They are the reasons I can handle this as well as I do, most of the time. I think that if they weren’t here I would be doing a lot worse, they are the reasons that I have to get out of bed. They rely on me for almost everything but I need them more than they need me. When I have hard days, weak moments, struggles, etc. they will bring me back to life with their smiles or laughter or the new thing that they learned or do. I have been blessed with beautiful daughters and I love them more than they’ll ever know.

Mom was the biggest word in her world. It made her want to dance, and it made her want to hide. And on some nights, when the house was dark and still and the moon peeked through the window, it made her wonder. – Emily Watts (Once There Was a Mom)

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Photo by Brittany Stewart Photography.

I know those previous two paragraphs contradict each other but that’s what having a mental illness will do to you. Welcome to the life of someone living with one. The same thing that runs you into the ground can also be the thing that lifts you out of that hole.

And of course, there’s the loss of identity that we feel as new Moms, and even as experienced Moms. There becomes little time to do the things we love and enjoy, therefore we learn how key it is to MAKE TIME for our hobbies, but even then that time has limitations. Everyone talks about finding the balance, but I am on the fence about believing if it even exists. I do believe in prioritizing, and I’m slowly learning that me, myself, sometimes needs to be placed higher on that priority list. I need to feel like Ally every once in a while, instead of Hayley and Evelyn’s Mom. And let’s just get rid of and let go of the “mom guilt” we feel when we do focus on ourselves. My dear Mom has told me for years that I have to take care of myself before I can take care of anyone else. Can I get an amen? Crazy how this works, but that helps me be a better Mom and feel good about my role as Mother when I’ve taken time to fill my needs. It also helps a lot with managing my anxiety and depression.

Motherehood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service assumed by mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service next to the angels. – First Presidency Message

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Photo by Moments by Ally Photography.

I had this thought in December of 2015, it was Fast Sunday during Sacrament Meeting. I was thinking about my mission, where all of this started, and how hard it was while serving and since then. I thought about how “unfair” I thought it all was, and what it did to me. I was a different person while suffering through it on my mission and when I came home. Of course, I will never be the same, and most of the time I can live with that, but other times I still resent the person this illness causes me to be. And as I was thinking all this I turned to look at my baby girl in my husband’s arms and thought about the baby blessing he gave her in September. I thought about how she was blessed to be a source of happiness and brighten other’s lives… and it hit me, that she is going to do that more for me than possibly anyone else. She was given to me by a Heavenly Father who understood what I went through and still go through, and I don’t have to do it alone. She is going to help me through it all. Hayley (and now Evelyn) is going to be my saving grace. My heart just about burst as I had all these thoughts and I feel so overwhelmed with love from my Father in Heaven and grateful that He is so aware of my needs and sends me the help that will get me through my trials.

I feel like having kids has helped my depression lessen but totally increased my anxiety. There are so many more things to worry about and kids are hard to control, and I like to be in control. I’ve definitely had more panic attacks since having kids. A vacation is not a vacation when your children are with you. I feel overwhelmed by all the things I should be doing and teaching or feeding them. And then I feel guilty when I’m not. Or I feel guilty for how easily frustrated I get with these little people who are just trying to learn and figure out their own emotions. And I definitely enjoy their company and the fun we have but most days I’m counting down until it’s bedtime. Every so often I have thoughts of, “I don’t get paid enough for this!” It’s hard and draining and I’m already looking for grey hairs.

The spiritual rewards of motherhood are available to all women. Nurturing the young, comforting the frightened, protecting the vulnerable, teaching, and giving encouragement need not – and should not – be limited to our own children. – Russell M. Nelson

So why do we do it? I have those days where I wonder what on earth I’m doing and if I’m really making a difference. Did I really agree to this? If only I would’ve known what I was signing up for… but I guess it’s good I didn’t? Someone else could be a better Mom for these sweet little girls. Am I doing everything I should, and I am I doing it right? Am I good enough?

But then Heavenly Father steps in… He’s so good, isn’t He? And He reminds me that I’m doing the most important work there is. He tells me it’s worth it and that I’m doing better than I think. And my girls… Evelyn finally smiles and laughs with me. She gets super excited and is so happy to see me. She crawls over to me and once I pick her up she rests her head on my chest. Hayley always tells me how pretty I look when I get dressed for work or church. She randomly tells me I’m the best. She thanks Heavenly Father for me in her prayers. And that’s why we do it.

A Mother is she who can take the place of all others, but whose place no one else can take. – Unknown

I’m so grateful for the Plan of Salvation and that I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a Mom. I’m grateful for how it stretches me, teaches me, pushes me to my limits, and rewards me. And I’m grateful for YOU. I’m grateful for your help in mothering my children, for your examples, for your strength and faith, for your advice, for your sacrifices, all of it. Whether you have given birth or not, you’re a Mom if you’ve helped a child. Thank you!

Hayley and Evelyn are huge reasons I can cope but I would be ungrateful if I didn’t mention that my husband and my family also make a huge difference in how I’ve been able to deal with this, too. They will never know how much their help means to me. The words from Come, Come Ye Saints come to mind as I think about the future and how I’m going to tackle it all… happy day, all is well! And all will be well, as long as I stay close to Him who knows me best and take things with one arm in Daniel’s and the other wrapped around my girls.

I hope that you mothers will realize that when all is said and done, you have no more compelling responsibility, nor any laden with greater rewards, than the nurture you give your children in an environment of security, peace, companionship, love, and motivation to grow and do well. – Gordon B. Hinckley (Stand Strong against the Wiles of the World)

I remind mothers everywhere of the sanctity of your calling. No other can adequately take your place. No responsibility is greater, no obligation more binding than that you rear in love and peace and integrity those whom you have brought into the world. – Gordon B. Hinckley (Bring Up a Child in the Way He Should Go)

You have nothing in this world more precious than your children. When you grow old, when your hair turns white and your body grows weary, when you are prone to sit in a rocker and meditate on the things of your life, nothing will be so important as the question of how your children have turned out. – Gordon B. Hinckley (Your Greatest Challenge, Mother)

 

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