For the last installment of my Maternal Mental Health series I’m discussing the recovery and resiliency factors of maternal mental health.
Healing is a process and therefore recovery from maternal mental health issues is a process as well. Unlike some medical illnesses its not as if mental health issues are simply cured and never return. For some of us symptoms will return here and there. The challenge is recognizing what we can handle on our own after treatment and when its time to ask for help again.
It’s normal to experience some initial relief in treatment from the serious symptoms you were experiencing. Once you seek help it can feel as if a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. Many people attend one or two therapy sessions and already feel “a lot better” so they stop attending. However, it is very normal for there to be slumps after you intially feel better so its important to stick with whatever treatment that is working for you to maintain your recovery for at least several months depending on your presentation of symptoms and struggles.
As a therapist one indicator I often relied on to show me if someone was maintaining recovery was being able to show resilience in the face of challenges and stressors. Sometimes when a stressor ends or is removed from our lives we feel better and thus think that all is well. But when a new stressor comes up or the old stressor returns our symptoms and struggles can return as well. What we are seeking during recovery is our ability to bounce back from challenges without falling apart because of the new perspectives we’ve gained, skills we’ve learned, or stabilization we’ve achieved from medication.
After you’ve gone through some bumps in the road to your recovery and have managed them in more a healthy way you are starting to then work towards recovering your confidence in yourself as a mom and in life. You may start to take on more responsibilities and get yourself out more. Just remember to prioritize self-care and take things slow. Sometimes we can get ahead of ourselves and take on too much when we feel great and then start to get overwhelmed.
Another part of the recovery process is grieving. You may grieve time you have felt you lost with your child due to your mental health struggles. This is very normal. Many moms say this is one of the most difficult parts of recovery because it is accepting the past and learning to let go of it. It is okay to feel and experience this grief and talk about it. Try to write or talk with someone about it as you work through it while also remembering how far you’ve come and how you are different now.
A powerful tool during your recovery process can be sharing your story with others. It takes careful deliberation to figure out when and how to share it and if you are emotionally ready for that process. If you’ve been following my blog you may have noticed that last week I did not have a story from a real mom with maternal mental health struggles as planned. That is because the person who I had asked to write her story contacted me saying she had thought about it further and decided that she wasn’t ready as she was still struggling with some things. This was such a brave thing for this mom to do and I praised her for it because it takes a lot of self-awareness and strength to realize when you’re not in a place that you thought you were and need some more time. Take some time to think before you decide when you’re ready to tell your story. You can share your story a variety of ways during your recovery. I would advise to first share with those closest to you that have earned your trust and respect enough to hear your story. After you felt you have shared and processed with those closest to you, you can then begin to share in other ways like submitting to a blog or online support group. Your personal experiences are special and should be guarded carefully.
Other than the standard definition of resiliency which is the ability to recover from adversity Dictionary.com refers to resiliency as-
“the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched”
I absolutely love this definition because it’s a great metaphor for maternal mental health struggles. We are resilient and powerful when we are able to come back from being bent or sometimes even broken. Maternal mental health can bend and break us in signficant ways. We can be compressed and flattened to a shred of ourselves by feelings of depression, anxiety, shame, and anger. Motherhood sometimes stretches us to beyond what we feel capable of. Only I would challenge one part of the definition in terms of the resiliency I am referring to –“to the original form.” You won’t be your “original” self but you will be re-defined in a powerful way. Whether or not you had maternal mental health struggles motherhood can not return you to your original form. You have been changed by this experience and in some ways for the absolute better.
Here are some resiliency factors you can hone in on to continue to be resilient when it comes to maternal mental health struggles and even just the daily struggles of motherhood:
- Flexibility and Letting Go of Perfectionism – Life is grey and not black and white no matter how much we want it to be. When we let go of imperfections and learn to accept uncertainty we truly liberate ourselves from a losing battle of “never good enough.” So instead of focusing on being “better” or giving more all the time learn when to say “good enough” and “I’m worthy just as I am.” When it comes to flexibility I think this post from late great Dr. Wayne Dyer sums it up perfectly. He talks of the ability of trees to be flexible with the wind because if they didn’t -they would break.
- Support System– I discussed this last week in ways to build your village but I can’t stress enough the importance of making sure your support network is strong and diverse. Make sure there are people to go to in various situations that are physically and emotionally available to you. Strengthen those relationships by keeping in contact and lending your support to them as well. These people are your lifeline.
- Enjoy the Moment- The most beautiful moments of motherhood for me are when I am fully present for my son. When I am not thinking of the mistake I made earlier this morning or the stress I feel about what I have to do later. Take a deep breath. Look around you and just enjoy this moment. Try not to let those negative thoughts rob you of more time than they have already. And if you feel you can’t ignore or refute them then think about asking for help.
- Speak Your Truth- Remember how hard it was to admit you needed help and asked for it? How did that work out? How amazing are you for doing that? Remember that great life lesson from speaking your truth and asking for what you need. If it helped you the first time doing that over and over again will not only get you more comfortable with asking but also get you the support and encouragement you need and deserve to lift you up in times of need.
Stay strong Mamas, you got this and we got you.
I hope you found this series on Maternal Mental Health informative and helpful. I’d love to hear your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.