This is a guest post from the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition and Mallory Simmons.
Some would call me crazy, but I’m not. I am an anxious person and I could find something to scare me in the most ordinary of situations. As an example, at the time that I am writing this my one year old is teething and keeps grabbing her ears- so obviously I would like her doctor to check her for a brain tumor. Logically, I know this is false and she is fine, but the thing about anxiety is that I do not get to choose what I’m anxious about. I just get to decide what to do about it.
My mental health challenges are not from seasonal affective disorder, common in these winter months, but have been anxiety and postpartum depression after the birth of my daughter. There is a distinct and pervasive hormonal shift that happens when a woman delivers her child. There is also a lot of physical pain after delivering a child, and many sleepless nights and days that follow. I KNEW all of this going into my pregnancy; I’d read the books and talked to a lot of moms about their experiences. However, knowing and feeling are two distinctly different experiences. I was completely unprepared for the Mack truck of emotions that crashed into me and robbed me of the joy I was “supposed” to be experiencing.
Everyone told me that while a newborn is exhausting, it is the most love you’d ever feel for another person and the best days of your life. This was not my experience in the least! I remember looking down at this beautiful, perfect little girl and sobbing because all I wanted to do was die.
I remember being in the passenger seat while my husband was driving us home from a family event and looking out the window at the ditch thinking “If I just open this door right now, are we going fast enough that my death would be quick?”
I was so confused why these thoughts were circulating in my mind, I was an anxious person-where was all of this depression coming from? I knew I needed to do something to save myself because in spite of what my hormones were telling me, my baby and my husband needed me and I needed to find a way to be there for them, as well as myself.
So I did what I always do, I honed in on my nutrition and exercise habits. We often feel anxious or depressed because our hormones are out of balance. When we eat standard American processed foods – it wreaks havoc on our hormones even more which spins us into a cycle of eating junk food because we are sad and being sad because we are eating junk food.
While my well-meaning husband was only trying to help me by bringing me pastries from my favorite bakery, I could feel myself getting worse after eating those tasty treats. I decided I was going back to my whole foods lifestyle and I was going to start doing Pilates when my daughter went down for her morning nap. Pilates is a low impact workout that would raise the feel good chemicals in my brain enough to help me feel better. After consistently eating healthy food and doing low impact exercise I began to feel like myself again in just a couple of days. My 2 a.m. crying bursts dissipated and I found myself no longer having suicidal ideations. While for many women struggling with postpartum depression medication is absolutely necessary, I was able to use nutrition and exercise to heal my brain and my body from the hormonal chaos that ensued.
I still manage my anxiety on a daily basis and have been able to maintain a healthy lifestyle through focusing on nutrition and fitness. I am passionate about being healthy and teaching my clients, my daughter (and sometimes my husband) that taking great care of yourself is the answer to everything.
As someone who knows firsthand what it feels like to be completely depressed, and as a health coach, I have three tips for you this winter season:
- Eat the foods you love: when you are at a holiday event, do not deprive yourself of all of the wonderful foods you enjoy. Simply savor the flavors and enjoy every bite.
- Honor your hunger and fullness!! The main reason people are able to gain so much weight during the next few months is because when we eat something we like, we eat until we are sick. This is horrible for your health long term and in the short term will lead to weight gain and potentially depression. Make sure you step away from your plate as soon as you are full.
- Enjoy your family or friends. While the sun is gone and we are “stuck” inside during this time of year, it is the perfect time to get out old board games and enjoy your family and friends. Challenge each other to find fun things to do inside.
Healthy Minds is a monthly column coordinated by Ketchikan Wellness Coalition as a way to share positive stories from people living with mental illness, offer information from local mental health professionals about maintaining mental health in your life, and provide details on tangible activities or actions you can take to strengthen your mental wellness. If you would like to contribute to the column, please contact Romanda Simpson at firstname.lastname@example.org