Alyssa Nicole is a single mom of three; three, six and under, living in southeastern CT, a freelance writer and content creator. Read Alyssa’s story, in her own words, of her ppd journey and how she got through. She is inspiring and helpful to moms suffering with depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide and ppd. You are not alone. There is a way through.
Will you please describe a bit about your mental and wellness journey.
I’ve struggled with generalized anxiety since I was younger but things didn’t really take a turn for me until I started having kids. I had some major postpartum anxiety with my oldest (she is 6.5) but a lot of it now I can look back and see what directly related to the immense pressure I put upon myself to breastfeed and be a perfect mother. That’s a whole other topic I could talk for days about! After my second was born I had INTENSE baby blues for the first 2 weeks. I thought I was literally going insane. I was so angry and completely terrified that my oldest was going to die, not even the baby! I remember thinking that if this didn’t stop I was going to have to go to the hospital. Right around 2 weeks postpartum it completely stopped and I truly felt great. Around 3 months it came back with a vengeance and I was NOT okay. I was having panic attacks regularly, my husband at the time was gone for work, and I had little support. The anxiety was so bad I could not bear anyone else taking care of my kids to help me get help. I ended up getting back on medication and quickly felt exponentially better, but it was not a cure like I acted. Looking back I never really knew how to prioritize everything equally in my life. I could take care of myself or I could take care of my kids, not both. At 9 months postpartum with my 2nd child I got unexpectedly pregnant with my now 2 year old. I struggled throughout the entire pregnancy with my overall mental health and I just knew it was going to be bad after he was born. The pregnancy was really complicated and traumatic, my personal life was beginning to unravel, I was moving my family across country alone at 7 months pregnant. It was just so much. When he was born I just completely went off the deep end. I was destroying my body with food again, I was angry and unstable, I was sad and hopeless. Every negative emotion one could feel I felt and I had no idea how to escape it. I was completely alone in a new city with a 4.5 year old, 18 month old, and a newborn. I had no family and no friends and absolutely no idea how to climb out of the mess I found myself in. To this day I really don’t know how or where I started, but somehow I did.
You write about experiencing PPD, suicidal thoughts and an eating disorder. Can you describe your understanding of how they were or were not linked?
Somehow I was able to recognize that after my son was born I was at a rock bottom. I really think he saved my life. There was no where lower for me to go than death and it took the experiences of this traumatic pregnancy and early postpartum weeks for me to realize that. It was a realization I needed to come to for a long time. I remember so many instances just thinking to myself how easy it would be to end it all right now. How much pain would go away. How my kids would then be with someone who deserved them because I surely didn’t. I remember driving down the road and thinking “I could just swerve off into that ditch and it would all be over.” There is just no logic and no reason when you are in the throes that deeply. It is truly terrifying to sit there and think how out of your mind you feel and not knowing how to escape it other than to die.
My suicidal thoughts were all related to my PPD. The eating disorder was a completely separate experience and struggle for me that just happened to peak during my last struggle with PPD. It became clear to me during my healing for PPD that in order to truly heal my entire self, the ED had to be addressed as well.
What advice or perspective would you offer to moms about therapy/treatment? What is it like? What are you learning, are you different now?
First and foremost you have to ask for help and keep asking until you get it. If you’re anything like me, asking for help can be likened to your worst nightmare. I prided myself on being fiercely independent. I didn’t need help and would often view it as a sign of weakness. Asking for help when you need it is one of the STRONGEST things you can ever do and each time you do it, it gets a little bit easier. Asking for help is what ultimately has lead to me the place that I am at today; a place of being HAPPY, and able to be around for my babies.
Second, take the medication. Medication is absolutely what stabilized me enough to be able to start the process of unpacking my trauma. Without it, there is no way I would have been able to truly heal. I know a lot of people are nervous about it especially with breastfeeding, but it is safe. Use apps like LactMed to check affects on baby. Weigh risks and benefits. Remember that YOU MATTER just as much as your baby. You can not be the best parent for your baby if you are an utter mess behind the scenes. Also, the first medication isn’t always the one that works. If it’s not working, speak up!
Lastly, go to therapy. Trust the process. Be patient. Therapy doesn’t work overnight and sometimes you have to shop around to find someone that works for you. It can be challenging but put in the work. Ask for recommendations in local mom groups. Once you find someone that you mesh with, your life will change. Make the time for it. If you don’t have regular babysitter help, there are apps and programs online that you can do that way. Money and time were both an issue for me. I was able to find someone that would come to me during my kids naps, see me online, and see me in office that also worked on a sliding income based scale. It is out there!
Are there actions or thoughts that are NOT helpful, from your experiences, your own or others?
For me, the most unhelpful thing was to tell me to be positive. Toxic positivity is a hugely problematic ideal that we really need to stop perpetuating. We need to let people feel their feelings and acknowledge their emotions. If it was as easy as just being positive or thinking of something we are grateful for, we wouldn’t be as depressed and anxious as we are. While it’s important to not sit in the negative, we do still need the space to feel what we are feeling. Of course, if someone expresses feelings of self harm or harm to others, do not be afraid to reach out to their partner, parent, etc. They might be mad at you, but you might also save their life.
The best things that people did for me were ask me:
“How can I support you right now?”
“Do you want advice or just someone to listen?”
Don’t assume that someone wants you to fix everything or even try to fix everything. Sometimes people just want someone to listen without sending anything back.
The last thing that I found really helpful and kind were the things that people just sent without asking. Instead of saying “let me know how I can help” (because let’s be real, a lot of us are never going to ask when we are in the thick of it) I had some friends from back home send me Starbucks gift cards, one ordered pizza for delivery from a local place. I would have never asked for that, but it was really helpful at the time. If you are near a friend who is struggling, go clean her house. Do her dishes, wash her floors. Send her to take a shower. That type of physical support is something I wished for so, so badly.
Did you find supportive communities? If you would like to, please mention them.
There are a LOT of communities out there, but I unfortunately didn’t really take much advantage of them and I wish I had. If you are looking for community support, try contacting your local Youth and Family office. Your hospital will likely have recommendations or even support groups of their own. Actually, when my oldest was really tiny I went to meetings with La Leche League fairly often and they were usually just a group of moms chatting and feeding their babies.
What are you most proud of, as a mom?
Two things stand out in particular – the first is how I have advocated for my kids’ medical and educational needs. When things weren’t right I pushed until I found someone that would listen to me and that allowed my kids to receive the level of care they needed and deserved. Always trust your mama gut!
The second is how I have gotten up and overcome time after time when my struggling mental health kept telling me how much easier it would have been to quit. The last few years have not been kind to me, but I’m still here. If it wasn’t for the title of ‘mom’ I definitely don’t think I would be. I had to learn how to better myself while also being a single mom and that was one of the single most challenging things I’ve ever had to do.
What are your plans and goals for the future?
Right now I have a 3 year plan that is really my biggest personal goal. In the next 3 years I want to become completely financially independent (not having to rely on child support) and I want to have an established career. I’ve spent the last 6.5 years as a stay at home mom for the majority with some freelance work here and there and during Covid, but I want the freelance side to become an established career for me! Other than that, I just want to continue making sure I provide the best environment for myself and my kids to thrive. That means continuing to make my mental health a priority. The work is truly never done.