Did you know that women are nearly twice as likely to suffer from major depression than men? Or that more than 1 in 5 U.S. adults lives with a mental illness? Or that over 1 in 5 youth (ages 13-18) either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental illness?
NOBODY told me that my motherhood journey would be one of mental health. I had no clue. And now, 13+ years later, I can truly say, I've done some work and want to support others on their journeys. Especially, during this modern age of technology and how it's affecting our health.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and on it's final day, I'd like to share some findings I've had along my way over the last decade or so.
Some of you may know this but I once had a suicidal summer. Life was just too hard for me to hold and I started to dream of myself not here. My best friend would try to console me via phone, as she and all of my family were hundreds of miles away. But, it was like she was on mute. I was in a fog and really saw no way out.
This was around 2015 and my life was either spent working, commuting to work, watching my kids, and cleaning my house while watching my kids. I barely had enough money for groceries and laundry took 5 hours every Saturday. I couldn't believe how many little pieces of clothing I had to clean every week. I even ended up with eczema on my hands from all the household chores.
My babies were 16-months apart and both under 5. I had just pulled myself out of an abusive relationship seeped with guilt, shame and loneliness. I was drowning...working long hours and still months behind on rent without enough money to even buy chicken nuggets. I had absolutely no break from my children for years. That's 24/7, 365 days a year without time to myself. I could barely afford a babysitter.
I remember hearing a news story of a mom who drove her car off the Westside Highway into the Hudson River with her baby in the back. And I remember looking out the window, fully understanding why she did it. Most won’t ever. And the majority of people hearing that story will have 45 seconds of empathy, maybe, and get on with their lives. Mothers are becoming a sinking tribe of heroes who really need more support in our modern times.
Like I've mentioned, entering motherhood was a launching pad into my own personal mental health and wellness. I definitely didn’t know it would be. And, now, it's a tenant of the work here at Moms Winning. I can’t think about moms and not be curious about how they are doing inside their minds.
I often ask moms not just how they are doing, but also how they are mentally. And, if they are seeing someone to talk to. I try to promote therapy like it’s "girl time" so that others don’t feel ashamed. I also ask if they are getting the time off they NEED (not just desire) to be mentally well.
I’m here to say that we NEED more - more space, more support, more time alone…all of it. Just because we became mothers doesn’t mean we just disappear into the background and become useless to mainstream society. Our identity doesn’t just fold into our babies and we are okay if our babies are okay. I mean, that is what we think at first. Until our bodies start to tell us otherwise. People seem to forget, we CREATE mainstream society. Everyone reading this and everyone you know in your entire life came from a mother. Now, we need to be shown some more respect by way of support.
How to better care for our mental health starts with awareness and acknowledgement. It took YEARS for me to admit that I deal with anxiety. After leaving and healing from an abusive relationship, 14 years later, I STILL deal with anxiety. At first, I thought it would just go away forever and I didn’t have to talk about it again. But, even with 200% deposits into my mental health, I still had a very humbling moment of acceptance. I had to see my anxiety and call it out. It was then that I could free myself and also help to liberate others.
So, I still shock people when I tell them I deal with anxiety on a daily. I’ve dealt with PTSD, night terrors, anxiety flare ups, TMJ and clenching my teeth at night. It’s hard for me to do simple things like drive by myself late at night or take a long flight somewhere. That’s why I’m always exercising y'all - it's a stress releasor! But, I’ve used this entire experience to be a launching pad into mental health and wellness. I’m living proof that you can make things better for yourself with consistent healthy habits and good support systems.
Here's my go-to baseline to support my mental health daily:
#1 Therapy I can’t say this enough: there are times when you just need someone with an Dr. in front of their name to talk to. I have been FREED after conversations with my therapist simply because as a researcher and expert of this work, she can hear my stories, see it differently, from an expert lens, and give me options that I never even knew existed. We must continue to press against long-standing culture norms that therapy is only when you are crazy and not for any other reason. Therapy is freeing! We all deserve to deepen our self-awareness and free ourselves not only from other people and situations but also from ourselves. Believe it or not, without awareness, we can gravitate to the same situations that we desire to be free from. And, remember, you can always try a different therapist if you don’t like one you’ve met. Find someone who you can potentially build a trusting relationship with.
#2 Movement As a young athlete, I had no idea that I was building a daily habit of movement that I would need for the rest of my life. I now am so thankful for being into sports at a young age, this reason being one of them. After sports, I continued with my practice of working out and became a bit of a gym rat, as they say. As a mom, especially a single one with two babies just 16 months apart, my time to myself to workout was eliminated. I would wish for all moms to have better support systems then I did when my babies were young so they could take better care of themselves. Making movement a part of your daily practice is incredibly helpful in managing moods and stress. Over the years, if I couldn’t get to the gym, I would use my lunch breaks to walk and try to incorporate walks to and from work. With exercise, the chemistry in our bodies changes as if we just popped an anti-depressant. We have an injection of endorphins when we exercise and that is our trusted happy hormone. The more I created a daily practice of movement, the more I could feel better. I encourage all moms to fight for their time and ask for more support so they can prioritize their own health.
#3 Nutrition What I’ve noticed many people don’t realize is that what we put in our mouths is the first data point for how our bodies to feel. Our food choices influence how we feel way more than people think. When I first became a mother, I started to transition into a vegan lifestyle. Now, I just do a plant-based regime and it works for me. Food is an energy source for us. Take a pause the next time you eat something and really see how it makes you feel. For me, having more living food like fresh fruits and vegetables was helpful in feeling better and having more energy for my children. And drink lots of WATER!
#4 SLEEP It wasn’t until about 2 years ago that I realized I wasn’t sleeping well. I thought that since my kids were older and I was actually not being interrupted at night, I must be fine. But, what I realized is that I was still waking myself up at night and that interruption sets off the quality of my sleep experience. Last year, I finally invested in a good bed and started to give myself a wind down routine. I also read the book Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson and that changed my perspective on sleep and how critical it is to our mental health. Without sufficient sleep, many people will face depression and anxiety. Growing up in a culture that said “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” I didn’t value sleep the way I should have. And when I became a parent, not having sleep really took a toll on my mental health. So, now I decided to value it more and set myself up for success when getting sleep. I less often stay up binge watching shows and I even started micro-dosing TCH/CBD to help keep my asleep with my anxiety. I have improved my sleep greatly but definitely have to manage it every week. My apple watch helps me monitor the quality of my sleep.
#5 Meditation After years of going to the doctor over and over again, she finally said "you have to find the root cause of what’s getting you sick." My friends even knew I would always get sick. I thought through everything to reduce my stress but I couldn’t give my kids back so chronic stress was just a part of my life as a single mom. It wasn’t until one day, I realized that I might not be able to take the stress away but perhaps I could respond to it differently. That’s when I started meditating because I was desperate to stop getting sick so much. My meditation practice started slow with just a minute every morning. Now, some 8 years later, I can easier do 15-20 minutes in the morning. And, it helps! We can’t miss this gem of a resource. Our breathe, thankfully, is with us all the time. It can control how we think and feel. Thus, we can utilize it to influence how we feel and that proactive state of bliss will help us respond to situations differently. Give it a try. Quick meditations that I have used are on the Chopra App, HeadSpace (great for kids too) and YouTube. I even get my kids into it because if they can learn this young, they will be way better off than we were.
#6 Support Systems Know who to call when you need. Have the friends you can vent to. Have the friends who you can text during an anxiety flare up. Have the friends who will keep you company when you feel all alone. Having a good social network is good for our mental health. We should have all seen that during COVID. At the beginning of last year, I told myself that I would intentionally build my community more. I started to feel better once I told people that they are part of my support system and if I needed them at midnight, how could I reach them. A good friend of mine leaves her phone on just for me at night. That means a lot. It gives me peace of mind.
What I’ve learned the most from this journey is that I’m not the only one. That’s the genesis of Moms Winning. Raising children in the U.S. is tough stuff. Is it a privilege? Yes. Is it a sink-or-swim situation? Definitely, feels like it at times. But, we are not alone.
How did I break free from my suicidal summer? Meditations and affirmations helped me the most. One day, I just woke up and nothing in my situation had changed, but the load started to feel lighter. And, from that opening, I was able to build momentum. I've been taking it one day at a time since.
Mental health is a layered approach. I have found that when you do all the things a little bit, they have a compounding effect and you start to feel better and better, little by little. I am a firm believer that we must address mothers' holistically and prioritize mental health.
I hope these tips helped you consider some options and I'd love to hear about your resources. Send me a note or comment below. If you found this insightful, please share with another mom friend.
*Thank you in advance for forgiving any typos. #momlife
Let's Win ❤️👑