Recently, I have found myself saying to close friends, “Did I tell you about the time I was close to losing it?” “It” being my mind. On the surface I always look like I have it together. At the risk of sounding pompous, I actually like giving off this impression because usually, I do feel like I have a good handle on my life. But I have been close to my breaking point.
Two times I came dangerously close to needing some serious mental health help:
Six months after giving birth to my twins (I have NOT written about this explicitly)
I’ve discussed how it took some time for me to get to know my twins here and there. It’s smooth sailing now, but if you talked to me at exactly this time two years ago, I would have looked like I had it all together, but under the surface I was floundering.
Where it all started: a high risk pregnancy and then the self-imposed pressure to be the most amazing mother
I know what it’s like to feel desperate for stability, familiarity, and support while trying to adjust to a new life entirely (it’s probably similar to how a lot of people feel starting college or moving to an entirely new place or starting a new job).
My twin pregnancy was medically uneventful, but the day my twins were born was both the most amazing and most traumatic day of my life. It was stressful because Baby B decided to come out feet first, but I wanted a vaginal breech delivery instead of a C-section. I just wasn’t prepared to see my baby come out blue and not breathing due to the cord prolapsing and cutting off her oxygen. Seeing how close we were to losing one of the babies definitely helped me put things into perspective. I am incredibly grateful for the outcome of two healthy babies, but I still needed time to process what happened. (Thankfully, I know the best way to address post-traumatic stress disorder is through talk therapy, so I talked A LOT to my husband about what happened during her delivery and the few minutes immediately after. He was right there with me through the whole pregnancy and delivery. It was a bonding experience like no other.)
Everyone says the first year of life with multiples is the hardest and it goes by in a blur. For me, months 3-6 were the hardest not because of the demands of having new babies. I was struggling due to the mental fortitude and undue pressure I put on myself to be able to do everything with ease.
Looking back, I see I didn’t have to stress. My oldest daughter gave me experience in babyhood, so I knew what to expect with infants. At three months, we sleep trained the babies, so we were even enjoying uninterrupted nights of sleep for 11-12 hours. And I did not have to scramble to get the kids to day care because we found a phenomenal nanny who joined our household seamlessly. It was clear if my husband and I were not home with the girls, she was the next best person.
I couldn’t stop the broken record of thoughts playing in my head
I was constantly thinking about who needed what and how to anticipate everyone’s needs, while balancing the demands of a job outside of the home and creating a new routine/schedule for everyone in the house. I was also thinking about what I needed to do next instead of living in the moment with my family. It felt like there was a lot on my shoulders because “I’m the mom.” Note: This was just my perception because my husband does not slack in household duties. The only difference between us is I can lactate.
While I had the constant “who needs what” recording playing, my other thoughts focused on disappointments I experienced in the past year.
The marathon of mental fortitude began when I learned there were two babies at our first ultrasound around 12 weeks into my pregnancy. I was scared about the unknown future health of my babies. Being pregnant with multiples does not mean you are just brimming with two times the love. Growing and carrying more than one baby means you are having a high risk pregnancy and while I wanted to put all scary things out of my head, it was still a time full of anxiety while doing my best to keep it together to keep the babies in my womb, growing the way they needed to in order to get to full term. I could see the challenge laid before me, “Carry these babies to term” and I was up for the challenge. Even before we knew there were two babies, I spent a lot of time puking or escaping nausea by napping. Growing more than one baby is physically and mentally exhausting and just plain HARD.
During this time, I needed mental and emotional support. When I didn’t find it in the places I thought I would, the disappointment was crushing. And then I had two tapes playing in my head, “Who needs what next?” and “How could they?!” on constant loop. These thoughts didn’t stop until my twins were six months old and I knew I had to find a way to turn off these damaging recordings because I was getting close to my breaking point.
Close to my breaking point: the scene at 6 months postpartum
I was back to working full-time, and really struggling to keep all the balls I was juggling in the air. I was constantly thinking about:
- nursing two babies
- pumping for two babies to cover the milk they drank while I was at work (even with multiples, I was not a milk goddess, I always had just enough)
- standing FIRM about exclusively breastfeeding (amidst naysayers who did not understand the science and unquestionable value of mother’s milk – I was going to give my baby’s the best food possible- it just happened to require my breasts)
- taking care of and reconnecting with my oldest daughter who was 2 years old at the time (this is after a long hiatus from mommy-time because I was too tired and ill during the pregnancy to really care for her. BIG props to my hubby for basically being a single parent for over 9 months)
- grocery shopping (to feed the other 3 people in the house who did not drink solely breastmilk!)
- making sure we had dinner each night
- finding my footing with my marriage (we both felt like we weren’t “us” anymore, we needed to redefine our relationship)
- adjusting to our new family of 5
- general household chores (cleaning/laundry)
- getting back into the swing of things at work
My head was swarming with thoughts of how I would get dinner started while nursing the twins. Or how was I going to squeeze in an extra pump session, while starting my toddler’s bedtime routine?!
How I finally turned off the nonstop thoughts in my head and learned to live in the present moment: meditation, communication and asking for help
I was in therapy in college and it was super helpful. I have always said I love therapy. I love all sorts of therapy… mental therapy, physical therapy, massage therapy… I did not reach out to a professional therapist in this case, but I reached out to my therapeutic friendships and was clear about needing help.
I have the great fortune of being friends with people who know how to counsel and advise me, and it’s what I relied on here because I needed to come back from the brink of mental destruction, and I knew I couldn’t do it alone. Along with learning about my values through value mining, I signed up for a free course on meditation and yoga at my local studio. The book we followed was “40 Days to Personal Revolution.” The title sounds like something a self-help guru would try to sell you, it left me skeptical, but open-minded. Also, the fact the course only required me to buy the book and just show up, meant everything else was **free.** It was just up to me to make this happen or not. All I had to do was show up and put in the effort.
Over the next six weeks, I found my perspective on life truly change with the introduction of daily meditation and writing in a journal. Writing became a form of therapy. Meditation opened the doors to mindfulness and Zen Buddhism and I found what I was searching for: peace of mind. As a bonus, I have been able to really connect with my spirituality and practice mindfulness in a way to really slow down my life, be present, and appreciate everything I have and really spend quality time with my daughters and husband.
I have accepted I cannot control what’s going on outside of myself. I can control what I do, and how I respond. I gave myself permission NOT to stress over figuring out what everyone needed before they knew they even had the need (aka be super human). Now I am living my life in the moment.
Suddenly, the burden of running a household, working full time, and providing maternal love and support to my toddler and 6 month old babies, while carving out time to focus on my marriage and redefine my partnership as a new parenting team for 3 kids, became fluid and more effortless (that’s a mouthful!). The stress of making it all happen simultaneously melted away and I could just enjoy my evening at home with my family. Everything would get done, but it did not need to be forced. This was a revelation!
I am sharing this because I know the feeling of internal stress, chaos and just feeling lost in uncharted waters (especially after a particularly difficult experience preceding the current struggle). I was desperate to find some sort of stability and answers on how to make my life better before I blinked and my kids were in college. I did not want to miss out on their awesomeness! I could not keep up the pace and I was going to break.
Meditation may not be for everyone, but it’s worth a try. It doesn’t require any special equipment or skillset, just sitting and breathing and allowing yourself to just be.