“Are YOU doing okay…?”
I remember this conversation like it was yesterday. I was at my oldest daughter’s three-month well-check, and I was very much NOT okay. My daughter’s pediatrician asked how things were going, almost with a slight laugh, trying to break it to me gently. I was not okay.
“You know, it’s fine.” I told her, casually lying to myself. Sure, I had a permanent lump in my throat like I was going to collapse at any moment, but I’m fine!
Nervous that people were noticing me, I got back in my car and texted my friend, Leslie, who had been my sounding board throughout my pregnancy and postpartum period.
“Okay, so what did you tell her?”
Leslie, who I was the absolute worst friend to when she became a mom, was the absolute best friend I had through my journey. I am forever grateful for her, her candor, her vulnerability, and her guidance. I also wish I knew what she needed when she was going through it. Ugh.
“I told her I wasn’t feeling like myself, and I needed a little help,” speaking of the OBGYN we both shared who is, without a doubt, the coolest, most non-judgmental, warm, and open doctor I have ever had.
Okay. I can do this. I sat down to send a message through the patient portal.
“Holy batman, this is A LOT—”
“That IS a lot!” she later responded. Validation. And just like that, for the first time in my life, I started an anti-anxiety medication.
Growing up, my mom put me in counseling at various times in my life for different reasons—but I looked at it like, is there something wrong with me? (No, there wasn’t). I understood the idea of “mental health” but didn’t have an understanding of why it was important. I was ashamed to need the help. I fought the help. “Let’s just talk it out!” others would tell me. Right. Okay.
I tried counseling for the first time on my own in law school, but still felt like there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t figure out my life on my own. You know, why was I not flawlessly handling law school? Why wasn’t I the picture of mental health with a great family, studying 12 hours per day, while my livelihood depended on passing one exam at the end of three years? Never mind dealing with the evolving relationships and friendships one deals with in their early 20s. Can’t handle a little pressure? Ugh, come on, Lizzie!
Fast forward to August 2016, I was three months postpartum with my first daughter. I had a difficult pregnancy, difficult birth (that might be redundant – I’m not sure when birth is cake), and I was having a really difficult time fitting into my new role as a mom. Not only that, I was dealing with a health scare from a family member, juggling a legal career where CHILD BIRTH isn’t a great reason to need an extension, managing a law firm, dealing with family and in-laws who wanted to dote over the new baby when all I wanted to do was hide and, of course, further suppress my propensity for anxiety like I’d done my entire life.
I was definitely not okay. BUT, for the first time, I decided to ask for help.
I stayed on the anti-anxiety medication for about two years before weaning off. I was still dealing with a lot of anxiety from my job, and would have the occasional meltdown, but that’s totally normal, right?
(Reading this back to myself I’m realizing just how long I ignored myself – aye, Lizzie!)
Fast forward a few years and my second daughter was born in December 2019. My husband was on alert because of how much I struggled with our older daughter, and I was ready to monitor my mental health like I monitored my days-old baby’s breathing in the bassinet (I’m not the only one, right?).
Shortly thereafter, BOOM! Pandemic (and, all of 2020, whatever this is).
Everything shut down the week before I was set to go back to work.
Panic. I love my kids, but I hate being at home.
After a few meltdowns I realized – here we are again. I am not okay.
“I don’t think you’re okay, should you talk to someone?” Yep. Right on cue. Also, shoutout to my husband for having my back. He is usually the first to notice when I start crumbling.
I was referred to Sigma Mental Health Urgent Care where, for the first time in my life, I went through a thorough screening (you guys, this place is awesome, and if you find yourself in a position like I was in, you can usually get a same-day appointment). Shortly thereafter, I met with my new provider to discuss what I was going through. Back on anti-anxiety medication—but also, a referral to talk therapy (huh?).
I made a decision. If I’m going to do this, I am going to do this. Still feeling a little broken and slightly embarrassed, I decided that, if nothing else, it would show my girls the importance of investing in yourself. I wouldn’t want them to ignore their mental health, so why am I ignoring mine? I’ve also already noticed my same anxiety in my four-year-old, and I definitely want her to have good coping skills, so it was time to get over whatever I thought and give it a go.
So, reluctantly, and by reluctantly, I mean VERY reluctantly, I made an appointment with the talk therapist I was referred to. I was supposed to see her weekly, while also maintaining my appointments with Sigma.
That was almost four months ago, and holy cow you guys. It is the best thing I’ve ever done.
To make a long story short, I’ve been diagnosed with adult ADHD (what?), which was causing my anxiety to go through the roof (double WHAT?!). I am weaning off my anxiety medication and adding medication to help with my ADHD (triple WHAT?!). I’ve also started going on walks, cut out dairy (I’m not sure that’s totally related but it’s helped nonetheless), and joined a gym.
For the first time in my life, I know that when my stomach hurts at the end of the day I’m not actually hungry—I’m anxious, and I should go for a walk.
I know that when I sit down to work on something, and decide to avoid it like the plague and re-decorate my entire house (which, thankfully, is happening less), that is my inattentiveness, which causes me a substantial amount of anxiety.
I know that when I work out, I sleep better.
I’m learning how to manage my anxiety when it arises (yes, learning—I am also learning that this is going to be a very long journey for me, but it is a journey I need to be on).
I am learning how to cope with things in my life that are hard (and how to deal with those things instead of waiting until I collapse in tears on the kitchen floor). I am learning how to communicate when I need.
I am learning that mental health takes practice and work. I’m learning that, no matter what you try to do, you can’t ignore it, and you shouldn’t ignore it. I am learning more about who I am, which is making me a better wife, mama, and lawyer. I notice changes in myself and how I approach things every. single. day.
So, if you find yourself where I was, from this reluctant mama (or not mama) to you – it’s okay to make the investment in yourself.
Swallow that pride. I know, it’s hard.
You are not broken. You are not failing. You are not a mess.
You need a little help.
And that’s okay, I am rooting for you!