Friday, May 5, 2017

Okay Teacher: Surviving Teaching with Postpartum Panic Disorder

Hello There,

So I know I have really failed at keeping up this blog. Mama life is so busy, and I really struggle to find the time to keep it up. If you really want to see what's going on in my classroom, I highly suggest following me on Instagram (or Facebook if Instagram's not your thing....but it should be your thing.) Anyway, my lovely bloggy friend Lindsey Paull from Miss Johnston's Journey started the #okayteacher movement to share her struggles with anxiety and how she survives anxiety as a teacher. If you haven't already done so, you NEED to read her blog post Learning to Be Okay with Being an Okay Teacher. Hearing about the struggles she has endured and seeing the outpouring of support she has received and how many teachers can relate has inspired me to share my story. I'm probably gonna need a box of tissues for this...

I have struggled with anxiety my entire life. It started as separation anxiety from my mom when I was little, which progressed to anxiety over everything as I got older. I've had ups and I've had downs. I've tried many medications and talk therapy. In college, I finally began working with a psychiatrist who helped me find the perfect medication for me that literally made me feel like a whole new person. I finally found my true self. I was fun. I was lively. I was happy.

My anxiety was well-controlled on this treatment plan for around 5 years. Everyone warned me before and during my pregnancy that because I had an anxiety disorder, even though it was well-controlled, I was at a higher risk for developing postpartum mental health problems. I was positively certain this would NOT happen to me. No one wanted a baby more than I did! I may have only been 24 years old, but I had dreamed of having a baby forever! I just knew I would be okay.


And then....I wasn't. My son was 4 days old when I had my first panic attack. My husband left to go buy some baby things. The baby was sleeping peacefully in his swing, so I went to change over some laundry, and quite suddenly, I felt like I couldn't breathe. Overwhelming dizziness and nausea came over me. I became incredibly hot. My legs went weak. I couldn't walk. I couldn't stand. I could barely breathe. This was the first of many panic attacks to come. (Eventually, about 9 months postpartum, I was diagnosed with panic disorder.)

A couple months later, the anxiety also became coupled with crippling depression. There were days when I literally couldn't get off the couch. I was so anxious I couldn't be left alone with my baby. The only thing that got me through were my incredibly supportive husband, and my wonderful mother and mother-in-law who came to help me with the baby while my husband worked.

The anxiety and depression was at its worst about 2 weeks before the start of the school year. I remember crying to one of my coworkers who has been such a wonderful friend to me, and she tried to convince me to take a few extra weeks off at the beginning of the school year. But somehow I knew that if I avoided going to school at the start of the school year, it would only make it 100 times more difficult when I had to go back. So with lots of prayers and support from my family and OB, I put myself together with tape and glue and got myself to school.

As I got back into the swing of things at school, I realized that being my together-self at school was easier than being my together-self outside of school. I have had to talk myself through many panic attacks during my school days this year, but getting myself distracted by busying myself with a task with my kidlets usually helps me get through it quickly. The mornings tend to be the most anxious time for me. Why, I do not know. But somehow, I have managed to get through this year.

One of my biggest struggles this year has been to accept that I am not perfect. I cannot do everything. I cannot be everything that everyone wants and needs me to be all the time. I have to take care of myself so that I can be a good wife; a good mom; a good teacher. So if that means my anchor charts aren't as perfectly beautiful as all the other Instagram teachers, that's okay. If it means I have to make copies or organize things in my classroom after school so I can leave on time instead of spending my after school time chatting with my coworkers, that's okay. If it means my classroom is a little less organized because I can't stay until 5:00 P.M. every day perfecting it, that's okay. It's okay to be an okay teacher. Like Lindsey Paull always says, what's okay in my mind is still great in the minds of my students. What I give to them and what they leave with at the end of the day is what truly matters.

The most difficult thing for me this year has been pretending to be fine when I really wasn't fine. In the first few weeks postpartum, a lot of people ask you how you're feeling. But when you get beyond those first few weeks, everyone just assumes you're fine. It's supposed to be the happiest time in your life, right? So you've gotta be great! But I wasn't. And I knew I should've been happy. I knew I should've been fine, so I pretended I was fine. But I just wasn't. I felt ashamed that I wasn't fine. I felt it wasn't okay to not be fine, and it definitely wasn't okay to talk about not being fine. There were many months where I even tried to hide from my own husband that I wasn't fine because it's so taboo to talk about. And this, my friends, is why I'm telling my story. We HAVE to end this stigma. Mental Health Disorders are real. Postpartum Disorders are real. And it's OKAY to talk about them. Talking about them and finding people who have gone through it too is the only way to heal.


And most importantly, if you are like me, and you have struggled with PPD, PPA, PPPD, or PPP, it DOES NOT mean you love your baby any less. It DOES NOT mean you want your baby any less. And it DOES NOT make you any less of a mother (and yes, I still have to tell myself this on the daily.) As my son's first birthday quickly approaches, I am excited to see him growing and learning and becoming this little person, but I also feel sadness remembering the pain and struggles I felt, particularly last summer when he was little. I often feel guilty that I maybe I didn't cherish those precious days quite as much as I should have because I was struggling with Postpartum Anxiety and Depression. I wish I could go back and experience him so little again, only feeling the way I do now. All I can do is hope and pray that the next time around I will feel better and be able to cherish those moments more knowing how short they truly are.


The thing that has been my beacon of hope throughout this trying year of my life is the book Down Came the Rain by Brooke Shields. It helped me to hear her story when I had no one else to turn to who has felt the way I have felt. There were many months this past year that I thought NEVER could I EVER go through any of this again, but just in these last few weeks I have started to feel like I COULD do this again, and it would all be worth it. Brooke recalls feeling that way around her daughter's first birthday also. And the best thing about her story is that she didn't experience any postpartum problems after her second pregnancy. I can only hope it's the same for me.

Sorry for this incredibly, obnoxiously long blog post, friends. But the moral of this story is: it's OKAY to be okay. It WILL get better. And you CAN and WILL survive this.


www.postpartumprogress.com


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