Put Your Mask on First

Every time I fly I always listen carefully to the emergency instructions, especially after 9/11. In the event that the oxygen masks are deployed, they always point out that if you are travelling with small children that you should put your mask on first before assisting them. I always thought that was odd, but now I see why they make a special mention of it. As a parent your natural reaction is to protect the safety of your children at all costs, even if it’s to your detriment at times. What’s so screwed up about that is that if you don’t take care of yourself first (put your mask on) you won’t be able to help your child and you both could end up paying the price.

For the past 2 weeks or so I’ve been waking up mentally telling myself to “put my mask on first”. Every morning I immediately wake up and think of Esther’s needs. Usually that involves changing her, making her a bottle  and feeding her right away. This process usually takes about an hour. Before I know it, it’s noon and I haven’t used the bathroom, gotten dressed or eaten. My needs have taken a back seat lately. While some of this is expected as a mom (esp a first time one) a lot of what I’ve been experiencing lately boarders on unhealthy and unnatural.

I have a history of depression. I’ve struggled with it since college (although I’m sure I was depressed before then it just wasn’t diagnosed). Sometimes this depression presented itself as an eating disorder, mania, or a deep dark “retreat from the world” feeling.  In the past I’ve managed this demon with psychotherapy alone, medication alone or a combo of both.

Before getting pregnant I was in a good spot. I was managing my depression on my own, meaning I found a great balance between exercise, getting enough sleep and making sure I reached out when I needed to.  I had slowly weaned myself off of my meds and at the time, I felt it was the right thing to do. Then I got pregnant. Immediately my depression was a concern. At my first prenatal appointment I disscussed this with my OB and she said that if I wanted to we could set up a course of action to make sure I was taken care of right after the baby was born. This is where I made my first mistake, I said, “Well, let’s just wait and see.” I refused the help because I thought that my new momma love for my baby would be enough. I thought that I’d meet him or her and that my love for them would superceed any feelings of darkness, sadness, anxiety. I mean who would have time for all of that moping when you’ve received this increadible gift from God? I’ve always belived (and still do) that  there isn’t a way to “wish away” true depression. It’s a medical disease that needs just as much treatment as diabetes or cancer. For some reason, though, I momentarily thought that my baby would somehow “save” me from ever feeling depressed again. Unfortunately, that’s not true.

I’m struggling. It’s hard to admit that. Having a new baby is magical. I love my daughter so much it’s sickening. Really, I’m obsessed with her. Probably to a fault. Being a new mom (first time?) is hard as sh*t!! I wish more moms would share that. Sure- it’s the best thing you’ll ever do, but it’s terrifying at times, frustrating, and like I said…hard as f*ck!! And I have HELP! My husband is here and willing to help-  I just struggle with letting him. This is where my depression and anxiety is creeping in. I feel this need to be around her 24 hrs a day or else something bad could happen to her.

I’m exactly the kind of mother I didn’t want to be. My fear of having a child was that I’d pass on my “crazy” to him or her. I feared that he or she would observe some of my unusual behaviors and someone discern that the world was a bad place. I want Esther to be confident in herself, trusting of others and overall a well  rounded person! I felt I used to be that person and someone lost my way a bit. Anyway, for the past few weeks I’ve slowly watched some glimpses of my previous (depression and anxious ) self return. For example:

1) I really didn’t leave the house with my baby for the entire 1st month of her life. Except to see the doctor

2) I didn’t want anyone around her (some of this is warrented b/c I was advised to keep her away from germs and people in general because of RSV, cold and flu season).

3) I’d have an overwhelming feeling that she would get sick and have to be hospitalized

4) She would somehow get RSV or something else, be hospitalized and die

5) Then if she died, there’d be no way I could live without her

6) I’m obsessed with knowing she’s ok 24 hrs a day. So much so that 90 percent of the time I take her in the bathroom with me, in her bassinet, when I bathe or shower. Oh, and this is when Jim is HOME and could easily watch her

7) I only feel comfortable leaving her with Jim, and I barely do that for fear he’s going to break her

I’m not proud of any of the above behaviors. Rationally, I know it is “nuts”. I still can’t help myself.

Today on a walk I finally said something to Jim about it. He said that I was acting like a single parent when I’m not. Something about that shook me. I realized that I needed help NOW before things get worse. I know that in a few short weeks I’ll be returning to work and Esther will have to go to day care. All of this has been coming to a head because we have to find someone to help raise our daughter (that’s how I look at finding a day care provider because really, that’s what they’ll be doing). I thought to myself, “How am I going to leave her with someone when I barely trust my husband to take care of her.”

Today I put my g*ddamn mask on already!! I called my internet to re-fill my meds (as a back up). I called a psychologist who was listed on a postpartum website as a coordinator for my area and she was able to talk to me on the phone today. Coincidently I was a patient of her’s in the past when I was 25 and feeling like I was having a quarter life crisis. It was actually nice to chat with her and she remembered me- which put me at ease a little bit and made me feel like I’m headed in the right direction. I have an appointment with her right away Monday morning to talk about course of treatment/action.

I’m doing this because I don’t have a choice. I cannot let myself fall into a dark place. It’s not fair to me, but more so to my sweet little girl and husband. I’m getting a mammogram soon because there is a family history  I don’t want to get breast cancer and leave them alone. To me, my mental health is just as serious as that.

I’m sharing this, this very personal thing, because I hope it helps someone- specifically a new mom.I think sometimes we don’t want to talk about the struggles that come along with being a new mom because it’s supposed to be this happy time- and it IS, but it’s also challenging and it’s ok if you’re struggling.  Just don’t struggle in silence and by all means put your mask on ! You need to be  your best self for this new little person in your life.


4 Replies to “Put Your Mask on First”

  1. Hey there, Momma Tanisha! (I must say “Mama” and “Tanisha” sound rather odd together — having known you mostly as a “single lady” and not even attached, much less a married mom!)

    You are brave. You are doing all the right things. And you are not alone! The best thing you can do, along with “putting your mask on first,” is to learn to forgive yourself for any imperfections you may have. He has forgiven us… we need to learn to forgive ourselves as well. And let those around us, help us. After all, isn’t that why He put that wonderful husband and these wonderful friends in your life? To serve as his angels and lift you up in challenging times?

    Which reminds me… it’s time that you and your husband had an evening to yourselves — which coincidentally will also give you some practice in letting others have an opportunity to support you and Jim, and to get to know Esther.


    -Bill and Frances

  2. Tanisha, I have caught bits via Facebook or your blog of your “extreme worry” (as characterized by my beloved chiropractor and hypnobirthing instructor when I went through exactly. the same. thing.) for the safety and well-being of that sweet baby. She said to me “You’re picturing things in your head and obsessing about bad things happening to her, aren’t you. Ok, that’s not normal, let’s get you some help.” As new moms, we can be fooled for a time into thinking that worry is all normal … and it is, in fact, but there’s worry and then there’s the painful/extreme stuff that’s just over the line and sucks some of the joy out of this experience. I was on my guard for sadness, but post-partum for me manifested in constant fear for her safety and really harsh anxiety … not cool.

    Anyways, the other day, I said to P.J., “I think Tanisha and I have a lot more in common than I ever would have thought.” Beyond brilliance and style and writing and UST and good taste in husbands, I mean. And this post just further validates that. I am SUCH a worrier and have struggled with depression as well. I’m so glad that you’re getting yourself all set up with a great plan now (for me, there was relief in just identifying what was going on and making a plan to fix it). I really didn’t start to truly suffer until i went back to work, and then it got to the point where I felt as though tragedy was not just possible and preventable, but imminent and inevitable. Between difficulty making enough milk to keep up with her bottle feedings during the workday and her rolling over onto her tummy in her bed before she was unable to lift her head up, I lost my shit. I was convinced that she would die and I would die, too. I said to P.J. through buckets of tears: “This is killing me!” I stopped giving her baths (made P.J. do it) because I would obsess about her drowning, even with me RIGHT THERE. It was some of the most painful days of my life, but meds are beautiful and I made it to the other side (and am now back off of them and at the “good place” of managing with cardio, rest, etc.) … and when you get that balance back and can breathe a little bit, then you will not BELIEVE how much you’ll enjoy her even MORE. Perhaps you didn’t think it possible (to be more thankful, in love or overjoyed with this gift), but when you’re able to just relax a little bit and rationalize, new motherhood takes on even more beauty and fun! I look forward to that for you, especially because you’re already an incredible mother. Know this: You are, without a shadow of a doubt, a LIONESS … fiercely devoted to the safety, health and bright future of that precious little girl, and together, you and she will be unstoppable. Jim? Jim will stay pretty average, but you and E. have an incredible journey ahead as mother and daughter. Please do not hesitate to let me know if there is absolutely anything in the world I can do for you, and bravo, fearless Mama, bravo!!!

  3. You is smart. You is kind. You is important. You is brave. You is loved. This is what you will pass on. It sounds like your husband is sooo there for you. You are generous to share that you have demons, like the rest of us. Just don’t keep them hidden. What we love about others is their humanity. Often what we try to hide about ourselves is our humanity. I love you. I trust you. I admire you – demons and all. Terry

  4. Hey Tanisha,

    You’re very brave to share your vulnerabilities. It’s unfortunate that depression carries so much more of a stigma than cancer, for example, or arthritis. However, your honesty with yourself and others will get you through this.

    Hugs to you.

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