May is a very special month for me. My birthday is May 1st and my eldest daughter was born on May 1st 2010. The first most wonderful gift. My mother’s birthday is May 23rd and of course Mother’s Day is May 12th this year! But May is also Mental Health Awareness Month. Because of this, it all marks why May is so special for me. I have been diagnosed with clinical depression, anxiety and insomnia.
I have had depression taking antidepressants, before, in college when my Grandmother passed in 2007. But with time I was better. Few years later when we planned for a family, I went through IVF procedures, ectopic pregnancy and miscarriages for 5 years with 3 beautiful kids as a result. But even through all that, I didn’t feel depressed or perhaps it was not as acute for me to notice. I didn’t get postpartum depression, baby blues for bit there but I chucked it all to motherhood, marriage and life in general.
I had a nanny since my kids were 4 months until they turned 2 years old. She had been with me 6 days of the week for most of the day as I had my older one with her schedule. Ana helped me incredibly not only as nanny, but also a friend or companion for 2 years. When I let her go, my Twins were going to go to nursery so I wouldn’t need her help. I had this! I’d pick all 3 up between 2:45 and 3pm. 5 hours until bedtime, how hard could this be?
The Terrible Twos and Thrashing Threes
The Terrible Twos and Thrashing Threes kicked my behind with all 3 in the afternoon for 5 hours. But you go on because you’re a mom and that’s what you were supposed to do.
Closer to the Twins 3rd birthday in June, and summer break coming up with 3 kids by myself, I suddenly felt panic. How would I do this? All day, every day for 3 months! They did camp, but not the whole summer. I felt a reprieve when they were in camp, but at the same time I felt the mom guilt of leaving them in camp so I could get a break from them. That was always the battle; you love them so much and you miss them when they are not with you, but at the same time you are questioning if you are a good mom, wife, daughter, sister, or friend.
Being a Mom
With all the duties that come with being a mom, being social in your community, being productive at work and working on your marriage, this all started to feel like I was drowning. I was lashing out at the kids for no reason and for everything. I was angry all the time. I was frustrated, anxious, worried, unhappy, unfulfilled with my family, and life in general. But the problem was that my kids and my husband were taking the brunt of it all. I could go have a coffee with my friends and be another person. I could be in charge of 22 Room Parents for Primary school, Room Parent for 2 to 3 kids’ class, Ambassador for the school, and endless volunteering for everything in school, work from home and still be on time for pick up at 3:10pm sharp! I wanted my kids to see me throughout the day and for them to know I was present, there and that I could do everything. I wanted to show my 2 girls that women can do anything and everything, be strong and and able for anything life threw at you. But I wasn’t. Not really.
Instead, I was teaching them anger and frustration handling life. It broke my heart. It just hit me like a punch in the gut one day. My eldest said “mommy why are you always so angry and sad?” I had no answer, I just was. I had a seemingly “perfect” life. But I was angry at life and everything and everyone. I knew something had to change. I had to change.
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Time to Get Help
I sought medical help with a therapist to talk about my feelings, emotions, life as a mom and wife, but for months I wasn’t seeing much of a difference. I’d leave her office and vow I wouldn’t scream that afternoon. I’d be calm, that I would speak to my kids getting down to their level, to explain xyz with patience, to embrace those precious moments you know they will one day be gone, to not get upset over spilt juice, or not wanting to eat what I had cooked, or not wanting to shower. I would be a great mom from now on. The mom they deserved. The mom they haven’t seen in a while. The compassionate mom. The mom that was not looking down at her phone to escape reality and make the afternoon pass faster, the mom I always dreamed I would be since I was 8 yrs old. That lasted about a day and half!
The next week, I went for an appointment with a psychiatrist. I knew I needed something more than talk therapy. I need medication to balance my chemical imbalance I knew was creeping over. Weeks after taking the antidepressants I felt different, new, happy! That was short lived. The medications plateaued after weeks. We changed the the doses, brands, cocktails of combinations. This went on for about 2 years. Highs and lows. Just ok.
The Big Move
We moved to Virginia from Miami last year. I was excited for a new start. I’d hate to leave my family and friends, but I knew that just being with my 3 kids and husband is what I needed to refocus. Everything would change and it would be better. After moving in May, setting up the new house, getting ready for school, organizing our new life and my new project that kept me busy, wanting my kids to be home instead of camps. Everything in the house was done. I was going to embrace the summer with the kids in our new home and city. School started fo r the kids, and I was alone. Completely alone. No friends to have sushi with, no PTA meetings, no having my mom over or my mother in law to babysit for date night. Alone. The meds had stopped working. I fell into a dark whole.
I had and have a great life, but I was sadder than ever, anxious to the point of not being able to breathe, falling asleep at dawn. I wanted to leave, disappear, not exist, not have to deal with anything or anyone. I was in bed for 2 weeks straight. My husband had to completely take over. I physically couldn’t get out of bed. I could sleep 16 hours straight and it wasn’t enough. My bed was the only place I wanted to be. Many thoughts ran through my head those weeks that really scared me. I’d think if my kids would be better without me. If they’d have a different life for someone not screaming at them everyday. For my husband to be the parent my kids would grow up and have had the childhood where that parent was present, happy and teaching them to be good, compassionate, happy humans. Many what ifs crossed my mind in that dark place. But I couldn’t give up on my kids. I had to get better.
I saw a psychiatrist here that recommended a different kind of medication, cocktail and dose that my doctor in Miami approved. By November, I was feeling better. For the first time, I wanted to just be with my family, us 5, no one else. and I was happier. Christmas was usually a very stressing time in previous years with family and friends and December social calendar in general. That Christmas was one the best Christmas I have had in about 5 years. No one to answer to, no gifts other than for each other, no events to go to. Nothing. Just enjoying my family. Being present or them.
2019 brought a lot of self-awareness for me. My new years resolution would be to not use my phone when my kids were home after school. I would help with homework, go to soccer practices and ballet classes. I would not bring my phone down on weekends. I would spend Saturday and Sunday as a family. Playing with them. Sitting with my husband having glass of wine watching our kids. I realized right there, this was happiness. All I needed was kids and my husband. All the obligations with family was external and that you can say no to certain “obligations”. I missed my friends but I enjoyed the quiet. No lunch dates, no school meetings, no family drama, no social life. And it was exactly what I had needed. Without my medications, I would still be in that dark hole.
End the Stigma
The stigma of medications, therapy and mental health is a far cry of the attention and awareness it needs. We need to speak out, talk about voice our feelings without the pressure that you don’t have to be the perfect mom, wife, daughter or friend. We need to be more compassionate with each other and check in with our close ones about how they are feeling not what they are doing. And sometimes we need to learn to choose to take things off of our plates when it just gets to be too much. Also learn to say no. We don’t have to accept all the responsibilities or requests asked of us. We need to simplify.
Mental Health America is an amazing resource.
“Mental Health America (MHA) – founded in 1909 – is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and to promoting the overall mental health of all Americans. Our work is driven by our commitment to promote mental health as a critical part of overall wellness, including prevention services for all; early identification and intervention for those at risk; integrated care, services, and supports for those who need it; with recovery as the goal.
Our B4Stage4 Philosophy
Much of our work is guided by the Before Stage 4 (B4Stage4) philosophy – that mental health conditions should be treated long before they reach the most critical points in the disease process. When we think about diseases like cancer or heart disease, we don’t wait years to treat them. We start before Stage 4—we begin with prevention, identify symptoms, and develop a plan of action to reverse and hopefully stop the progression of the disease. So why don’t we do the same for individuals who are dealing with potentially serious mental illness? Like other diseases, we need to address these symptoms early, identify the underlying disease, and plan an appropriate course of action on a path towards overall health. MHA is committed to addressing mental health Before Stage 4.”
They have screen tests that you may find helpful to learn where you may need help.
Also, there is a great key ideas to help with your mental health.
About the Author
Joanna Navarrete has been TLC’s USA President for 4 years and is a mother to three beautiful children – one girl and a set of fraternal boy/girl twins. She was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and lived in Miami for more than 17 years and is bilingual English/Spanish and a graduate from the prestigious International Maternity and Parenting Institute alongside being CPR certified. Joanna is experienced in both retail maternity and baby gear and has featured on the infamous UnNuevo Dia con Adamari Lopez as their resident ‘twin expert’. Alongside being an active leader in the Florida multiples groups, Joanna also is a key member of hispanic multiples communities offering an online class in Spanish once a month.