Moms, you’ve heard it before, maybe even in regard to mental health, “Put your oxygen mask on first before helping others.” In this age of decision-pandemic-compassion fatigue, it’s no wonder mental health issues seem to be top of mind and all over our social media feeds. And despite the ever presence of infographics, blog posts, and memes reminding us to take care of ourselves, many of us don’t make our own mental wellness a priority.
I’ve been intentionally managing my own mental health for over a decade (after first doing my best to push my issues and hurts aside for the decade prior). However, I still need to be reminded that my oxygen mask must come first despite having used it before.
The last almost two years (has it really been that long?) have been a rough rollercoaster ride. I was pregnant in 2020; I delivered in early November. Fortunately for me, pregnancy hormones seem to stabilize my mental state. I am more balanced, less anxious, and overall more at peace. While our third baby is a blessing for many reasons, my pregnancy made lockdown and all that followed more bearable for our family because I wasn’t struggling (at least not regularly) with my anxiety and depression.
My hormonal safety net, unfortunately, caused me to delay seeking out a new therapist last year as those hormones began to fade. As the weight of the pandemic, watching my mother slip away from advancing dementia, our increasingly polarized community, and the responsibility of motherhood began to take a toll, I found myself making excuses: “I’m still nursing, so the hormones are propping me up”; “I have too much going on already to add another appointment to my plate”; “I don’t have time to even find someone”; “I’m fine.”
No, I was not fine even if I kept telling myself that. I was yelling more, scrolling more, detaching more, and sleeping less.
Because I’d attended to my mental health before, you’d think it’d be easy for me to dive right back in, but it wasn’t like riding a bike. It was scary. And I’m stubborn.
I realize that not everyone is comfortable airing issues of depression or anxiety, but because I posted in a Facebook group about needing a new therapist, two friends reached out with offers to help me find one. I was glad to have the support and to know I wasn’t alone since both said they had helped other friends with their search. If you feel lost in the search but know you’d like to talk to someone, I would recommend reaching out to someone you know who does see a therapist as a good starting point, asking your primary care physician, or using the Find a Therapist tool at Psychology Today.
However, having a list of names and actually calling someone to book an appointment feel like steps that are miles apart. Simone Biles stepping back from competition because of her own mental struggles pushed me to post on social media more publicly about my own pain and problems. That was the day that I actually scheduled an appointment.
I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am to have found a therapist over the summer because my mom died in September. The grief has been so difficult to process given all that’s going on in the world; not to mention, I feel like I’m grieving my father all over again (we lost him suddenly when I was 13).
While I’ve since had to find a new therapist who was a better fit for the long term, I can honestly say that the support my original provider gave me through the late summer and fall, helped me better manage everything that happened once my mom passed. I also started taking medication again in November. Because I put on my oxygen mask proactively, when I needed to take deep breaths, I was able to do so.
Mental health, like all health, is best managed when not in crisis. But even if you find yourself on the brink or in the midst of crisis, right now is the best time to put on your oxygen mask.