Exercise for your brain. We’ve all heard the speech of how great it is for our health, mostly our physical health. I am a big fan of the physical effects, but I’m even more of a fan of the impact it has on my mental health.
I’m not a scientist nor am I a doctor or even a trainer. According to things I have seen and read exercise helps release endorphins that make us happy and it also raises our serotonin levels. Basically, exercise does a body, and a brain, good. Oxygenating the brain gives it the strength to fight the bad stuff. Like my yoga instructor says…inhale the good s$@% and exhale the bulls#$@.
Exercising is what kept me sane after going off medications for postpartum depression.
After our son, I did more of a HIT style training, and then after our daughter, I found yoga.
I don’t remember what made me want to try yoga because I was always of the mindset that if I didn’t sweat I wasn’t exercising. Then I found a place that did hot yoga. I went once, and I was hooked.
Yoga has become the place I go to for mental peace. I send a message to my husband to let him know I will be in yoga and shut out the world for 60-90 minutes. That is a big part of what makes exercise qualify as self-care for me, not just that it is good for my body but the fact that I found a way to be in that moment with no distractions.
It wasn’t easy for me because I did feel that I would miss something if I didn’t check my phone whenever it vibrated.
The problem was that between reminders and phone calls, I would have half my mind on the exercise and the other half on whatever else was going on outside those gym doors. Probably more on my phone than the workout.
Once I stopped taking my phone into yoga, I noticed how much more I would get from my work out. I could push myself further physically and would leave even more mentally ready to take on the world.
As far as what I do for exercise, I vary it a lot. Sometimes I go to the gym and lift weights, other times pilates or barre, and then there is my yoga. When I can, I even combine two excellent cup filling activities, exercising and spending time with friends. It all depends on how I am feeling, and what my body feels it needs. I have bad knees. I modify everything I need to, and don’t let my ego try to tell me that it makes me weaker than the person next to me.
Don’t worry about what anyone around you does, do what is best for you.
Think of it this way. I have seen bodybuilders and yogis lift the same amount of weight. One lifting that weight with barbells, and the other with their own body weight in a handstand. They are both equally as strong, it’s just a different kind of strength.
We don’t even need a gym. Count steps, take advantage of a sunny day and walk to lunch, or take the stairs instead of the elevator. My grandmother will lunge up the stairs or break out some sun salutations after Thanksgiving dinner because that is when she found the time to get her exercise done.
No matter what I do, I just try and do something. I don’t like to leave my exercise routine for too long, because when I do my brain starts to go back to its gloomy ways.
When I exercise I leave all the negativity behind. When I finish the rest of my day is just brighter. I burn away all the anxiety, irritability, and brain fog along with the calories. Not to mention that feeling of accomplishment adds an awesome confidence boost to my day.
Whatever you decide to do, just commit to doing something, for your physical health and especially for your mental health.
Last week I was chosen to be part of collaboration thought of and organized by With Love From P. I, alongside a group of incredible women, was asked about being a woman and being vulnerable. After writing that post, I was inspired. I decided to expand on that topic for this weeks blog post. Hope you all enjoy. What makes us vulnerable makes us strong; it makes us unique, it makes us beautiful.
I fear the feeling of being vulnerable. I loathe it.
When it comes to my feelings, I have always handled everything on my own and never depended on anybody. Not even those the closest to me. I can deal with it alone for months because I am too embarrassed to share that I am vulnerable.
Whether it was a person who used my vulnerability hurt me (we all have that ex, right?) or a stigma in our society that has made me think that I should keep quiet because it would make me a persona non-grata. I was hurt enough times that I equated vulnerability to weakness.
That stopped though when I realized my vulnerability was part of who I am, and I wasn’t going to let anyone’s opinions make me feel ashamed because of it.
The time I have felt the most vulnerable was when I was battling postpartum depression. The day I finally admitted something was wrong I was in deep. It was the scariest thing to admit to my family, but the most freeing once I did.
After months of therapy, medications, and incredible family support I was finally feeling strong enough to speak up about my PPD more publicly. I started with people who I cared about and knew well, or so I thought.
Most people were kind, sympathetic, and understanding. They listened to my story, some had gone through PPD as well and told me their stories, other who hadn’t were more open to learning more about it.
Then there were others who believed the negative stigma that anyone with PPD was a lousy mother, a broken person, and a monster.
There was no sympathy, just judgment with those people. They didn’t want to know what I felt, and it didn’t interest them to learn more about the subject.
I explained to them that I had felt my emotions were not there, and how at my core I wanted to have that perfect postpartum love and happiness, but I couldn’t get there. How I went through all the motions of being a mom without feeling any of the emotions I so desperately wanted to. I even pulled out the statistics of how many people go through this after they have kids and different facts about maternal mental illness.
I told them everything I went through and how thankful I was to be on the other side.
Instantly their expression changed from happiness and smiles to shock and disgust. Then I got questions, “Why you be sad after having a baby? I was never sad after having my kids, it’s incomprehensible? How could you not love being a mother? How selfish of you, some people can’t have babies, and you are sad?”
Once again I was hurt because I was vulnerable with the wrong people.
Hearing all those things from people I cared about made me want to put my wall back up around that time in my life, and never let it come back out.
Then I thought about it and decided…NOPE NOT TODAY! I realized that the support I got from those who were kind, outweighed the judgment of those who weren’t. Yes I was vulnerable, yes some people weren’t pleasant, but it doesn’t make it a bad thing. I could let them hurt me, or I could take their comments and let them go in through one ear and out the other. I decided the latter.
It had finally hit me that it was ok to be vulnerable and those who judged me for it are people I shouldn’t want to be close to anyway.
I finally learned that I could be vulnerable and be strong.
In life, we can’t control other peoples actions, the only thing we can we can only control is our reactions. Sometimes it’s intentional, and sometimes it’s not. Either way, we can’t keep people from using our vulnerability to hurt us, but we can choose to walk away.
We should be comfortable admitting when we are vulnerable. We are human. The more honest we are with ourselves and those around us, the better off we are in the long run.
I know it’s scary to feel someone might use our vulnerabilities to hurt us, but we shouldn’t keep hiding them because we are scared. They are part of what makes us who we are. There are people out there who will listen, and who won’t judge.
Surround yourself with people who have seen you at your most vulnerable and tell you “it’s ok.” Be with the people who appreciate your strength in being able to open up about it. Focus on the support you get from them to help you get through the encounters with the judgmental people.
Always remember that what makes you vulnerable doesn’t define you, but it is part of what makes you the unique and remarkable person you are!
I survived Postpartum Depression (PPD).
This week is Maternal Mental Health week. Not many people know this. Why? One big reason is that many people who experience maternal mental illness are too scared to talk about it for fear they will be seen as a bad mother.
My personal battle with maternal mental illness was against postpartum depression. An illness I describe as a slow-moving fog of blackness that sneaks up completely consuming you, and by the time you realize it… it’s already too late.
PPD symptoms can vary from person to person so that’s why noticing you have it is complicated.There is no one size fits all when it comes to PPD.
Having a predisposition for depression I have always tried to be very self-aware. Psychologists have been a part of my life on and off since I was young. Anytime I felt emotionally imbalanced I would go to therapy for a bit, talk about what was going on and quickly get the all clear.
Because of my predisposition, I told my OB/GYN that I feared I might experience PPD. He recommended a psychiatrist and I started my sessions before I even gave birth to our son.
I was “prepared” and PPD still caught me by surprise.
My Psychiatrist told me I was having PPD symptoms, and I still spent months thinking it was baby blues that would be gone soon. I always handled my emotional imbalances without medication, this would be no different. I didn’t need help, or medication, or even therapy at times.
When I gave birth I felt that I had to be this perfect mom and nothing was ever allowed to be wrong with me.
I thought I wasn’t supposed to feel anything except wonderful.
Denial and fear didn’t let me accept what was actually going on. I was thinking I would be considered a bad mother, bad spouse, and weak person if I admitted I had PPD.
My PPD presented itself in the form of extreme sadness followed by emotional numbness with a hefty side dish of OCD and Anxiety.
In the beginning, I cried a lot and I got angry when things didn’t go exactly as I expected. If something came up last minute, it meant canceling everything else I had to do that day. I would make any excuse if it meant staying home in my PJ’s.
Later I would swallow the lump that built up in my throat to avoid crying so I would seem ok. After so long of swallowing my feelings, my emotions just shut off.
Eventually, I was a robot going through all the motions but never truly absorbing any of the moments.
My OCD had me thinking if I didn’t rock my baby exactly 10 times before putting them down or if I didn’t sleep facing the nursery something terrible would happen. Not your “average” terrible, I mean out of the bloodiest horror movie terrible.
Anxiety would keep me up at night checking to make sure the baby was ok, even when I had a 24-hr nurse 6 days a week. The fear that something bad was going to happen wasn’t a first-time mother anxious feeling, it was anxiety that would send me into full-blown, chest constricting, hyperventilating, panic attacks.
How could I be that anxious and be emotionally numb at the same time?
One day day I was in the car with my husband and explaining to him what I was feeling. I said I was feeling like,
“There is a boulder weighing down my emotions…I can’t be as happy or even as sad as I want to be.”
I loved my baby, I just wasn’t able to push that rock off that love to outwardly express it.
That feeling that people looked at me with anger, hatred, disgust, and disappointment makes it so much worse. Like I was a monster.
Even though I had an incredible support group, that was probably almost as afraid as I was, I felt incredibly alone.
I waited. Waited the 8 weeks I was able to breastfeed, waited the 4 months past it possibly baby blues. I waited.
I spent almost 6 months locked away in my brain before I agreed to take medication.
That was whole other scary scenario. I had to take something with side effects that might be worse than the symptoms I was having and had to pray that I wasn’t part of the 2% who feel those extreme side effects.
One thing I cannot emphasize enough is…DO NOT STOP THERAPY WHILE MEDICATED! She helped adjust the medication, work out any problems I had with side effects, and once I was ready we worked together to get me off the medication. DO NOT DO THIS ALONE!
Two weeks after taking the medication I felt a literal weight lift off my shoulders.
The boulder holding down my feelings floated up like a light fluffy cloud on a sunny day. The fogginess around my brain disappeared.
When I was thinking a little clearer I found other things that would be able to support my emotional state once I went off the medication. I got into yoga, started taking vitamin D, and changed my diet among other things.
That was when I realized I had to fill my cup first.
I learned that nourishing myself was vital to my wellbeing, and vital if I wanted to be able to nourish anyone else.
Once I was better and more outspoken about my PPD I had people say things like, “I could NEVER be sad after having a baby,” or “how could you act that way when you have a baby to care for,” or even, “why would you want to feel that way.”
That’s right because I chose to feel that way. When I gave birth a magic birth fairy came to my hospital room and told me, “‘You can feel happy and great or miserable and not yourself,’ and I said ‘ You know what? I am happy enough all the time I will take the miserable thanks.’”
I was feeling better and these people said these awful things looking directly at me with no concern of how incredibly hard it was to go through. It’s hard for anyone to understand that we don’t choose to be sad or anxious.
Nobody wants to feel that way, nobody chooses to feel that way, it is not their fault.
I believe I still deal with the effects of PPD and those medications to this day. Sometimes I find myself sitting at the edge of that black hole dangling my feet and looking at shiny objects at the bottom wondering how far I can scoot down before I am not able to get back out. I know better now though than to go down there if I can help it.
PPD doesn’t define me, but it will forever be a part of me.
I try to fill my cup full whenever, and however, I can. Not just because being happy and confident is awesome, but because I know the alternative is frightening.
I am so thankful to my support system for helping me through that scary time in my life.
I still feel guilty when I think about the quality time I lost with my family because of PPD.
So how do you know what you are going through is PPD? Talk about what you are feeling. Talk to your spouse, to a therapist, your OB/GYN, to a family member, a friend.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE ASHAMED!
It happens to so many of us, and so many of us go off to cry quietly in a dark corner and it can’t get better if we don’t get help.
The faster speak about maternal mental Illness, the more others will know they are not alone, and that it’s ok to say “ I need help!”
The faster the stigma goes, the more these mothers will be able to enjoy motherhood.
Speak up for you, speak up for them!
If you think you or someone you know might be suffering from a Maternal Mental Illness here are a few helpful support links (there are a ton more…even specific ones for your state or country you can search for):