by Tal Carmel February 11, 2020
By: Kristen Garzone, FRÉ Ambassador since Oct 2017
I have always been afraid of becoming a mom. With a history of mental illness, how could I possibly raise a child? This was something I worried about constantly throughout my 41 weeks of pregnancy. After 25.5 hours of labor, when Ellie Josephine was finally welcomed to the world, I remember my husband Steve crying uncontrollably and me thinking, “What is wrong with me? Why am I not crying?” Looking back on that now, it’s really where it all began; that constant worry and confusion as to why I was not feeling all the good others had.
Pregnancy and motherhood is portrayed as this wonderful, beautiful thing. Don’t get me wrong – it is indeed a blessing but it’s certainly not all rainbows and butterflies. When Steve went back to work after the first 2 weeks of spending maternity leave with me, fear shook me. I remember celebrating the fact that I had made it through the first day alone with Ellie, but it seemed to go downhill from there. It was basketball season which meant Steve coached after work and was not home from about 7am to about 8-10pm every day. It was during the winter months so it was gloomy most days, dark early, too cold to get out a lot, and friends/family were busy with the upcoming holidays. I had never felt so alone.
Days were filled with feeding, pumping, cleaning bottles, putting EJ down to sleep, trying to then eat myself, and it always seemed that by the time the cycle was complete, it started all over again. I was miserable and always frustrated. When I think of my time on maternity leave, it isn’t filled with constant smiles and cuddling my beautiful baby as many often describe. All I picture is me crying hysterically (while trying to pump or something along those lines) with Ellie screaming at the top of her lungs and Troy (our golden retriever) howling at it all. Crazy, right? I felt like I was losing my mind. It still makes me sick to my stomach and leaves me feeling embarrassed when I picture those days in my head… how awful is that?
I cried a lot. And when I say a lot, I mean a lot, a lot. I took 12 weeks of maternity leave thinking it would be the “greatest time of my life” when honestly, I was miserable and hated most of it due to my (not knowing then) postpartum depression. I couldn’t wait to go back to work which seemed ridiculous and on top of it all – I didn’t feel connected to Ellie at all. Don’t get me wrong, I loved her but I didn’t get all the warm and fuzzies that so many other mother’s talk about. That’s where I found I was constantly asking myself, “Why am I not happy? What’s wrong with me? Why am I an awful mother? I miss my old life. Why did I choose motherhood?” It seemed like I became angrier and angrier each day, which my husband did not, and could not, understand at all. It was an awful chain reaction where that growing anger led to more guilt and lingering depression, which then of course led to more of a disconnect from my daughter and husband. I felt useless; that I had no purpose. I felt as if I was not important and my family would be better off without me. And sadly enough, I felt that I was the only one to feel like this. I was ashamed and even more afraid that people would judge me for these feelings as a new mom.
After losing one of my very good friends, Kristin, to postpartum depression last June, at 5 months postpartum, I began to really realize how much I was struggling. It hit so unbearably close to home and honestly, it broke me. Those first couple of days, I barely got out of bed, didn’t interact with Ellie at all, and could not stop crying. When a new week started and I had to drag myself out of bed, I figured, “just put a smile on your face and act like everything’s OK”, when everything was certainly not OK. I remember people commenting to me about how beautiful Kristin was and how she looked as if she had it all. Those comments really opened my eyes – just because a person may seem “picture perfect” does not mean they aren’t suffering on the inside. Case in point – I have recently had numerous people say to me that they were surprised with my struggles from PPD because they thought I had a great grasp on motherhood. Man, do pictures (on social media) lie. I’m guilty of playing into that, and the “picture perfect” perception just adds to the stigma even more. Not to mention, it really does have a way of making you feel even more alone and depressed.
As sad as it sounds, it took losing Kristin to save my own life. Ever since last June, I have been more real about getting real. Every day has been a constant battle and it is SO insanely bittersweet that it took losing someone I love so much, to realize I really had to get help myself. Luckily, I had the support of a very good friend who literally pushed me to the doctor by making my appointment herself. I will forever be thankful for that. Some days are good, some days are bad, and I am so thankful to have amazing friends who love me regardless, a ridiculously STRONG support system, an inspiring community I owe to Instagram, and most importantly – running.
Running has been a form of therapy for me over the past 10 years; at the best times and through some of the hardest times. It has helped me through anxiety stricken days and has taught me to never give up; reminding me to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes it is hard to get out the door, especially when you feel broken down or the anxiety piles up so badly that you feel like you can’t move, but once you do, it’s as if a weight is lifted off my shoulders. Those anxiety-driven thoughts seem to diminish and reality sets in; it provides clarity and has a way of showing us all that we are much stronger than we think we are.
During my maternity leave, I was training for my first big race back postpartum. That half marathon training cycle might have saved my life. Not only did it give me something to look forward to but, it also gave me a reason to take time for myself every single day. It provided me with something I knew I could succeed at, by not quitting at a time when I felt I was failing miserably (at motherhood). After completing that half marathon, I trained for my 6th marathon, the Chicago Marathon, which at times was super overwhelming and stressful but it also gave me a deep sense of pride and reminded me of the strength I had to keep on going through each training run; through each passing day. Running, I really do believe, helped me survive my first year of motherhood andI am so proud to call myself a mother runner now.
Through my daily running posts on Instagram, the running community has not only inspired me and provided support daily but they also helped me open up. I found that the more I shared the struggles and truths behind my everyday life, the more people chose to share their own faults and stories of mental illness with me as well. Those messages and conversations are what keep giving me the courage to share more of my story. It has become another form of therapy, but I also share to spread awareness, to honor Kristin, and to hopefully help someone else out there who is struggling and may be too afraid to ask for help. If I would have read someone else’s story when I was at home on maternity leave, I might not have felt so alone.
I often say now that I wish more mothers were real with me on what motherhood may bring; that more of those women would have given me the brutal-honest truth. I wish that when people told me that having a baby is the happiest time of your life, they would have also said that it is a transition as well; a process and motherhood does not always look and feel the way we expect it too. I also wish that when people told me how much I would love it, they would have also mentioned that I may struggle and there may be many ongoing ‘battles’, but that’s OK and it does not make you a bad mom. We need to start being honest with new mothers and not shaming them into believing that they must keep all of the bad in; that it’s OK to let their emotions and raw feelings out.
After doing myfirst podcast with Kaitlin Wheeler on Chasing Bravery recently and discussing some of my story and struggles with PPD, I felt insanely anxious about what others would think, but after the amount of love and support people shared, it has inspired me to speak up more through these different outlets. Thank you all so much for that. Thank you for welcoming my story with open arms and helping me feel brave enough to continue to share my story, to increase exposure and awareness. And a special thank you to FRÉ for allowing me to write about my experience with PPD.
So, for now, I will keep on running and keep on sharing my story. I will continue to run, to feel like me, and to make time to train for upcoming races, so I have something that is my own. I know running will not cure me, but I do know that running will continue to help me as I cope and heal. Remember - we are all enough, we are all strong, and we all got this. Hang in there and keep on running.
“When my daughter remembers her childhood, I want only for her to remember that her mother gave it her all. She worried too much, she failed at times and she did not always get it right… but she tried her hardest to teach her about kindness, love, compassion, and honesty. Even if she had to learn it from her own mistakes, she loved her enough to keep going—even when things seemed hopeless. Even when life knocked her down. I want her to remember me as the woman who always got back up.”
[May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month and if you are looking to get involved, pleasecheck out and sign-up for the Run To Believe 5k/10k Virtual Run which will be held on May 12th, 2018! All proceeds will be donated to Every Mother Counts in honor of Kristin; my beautiful friend we lost last June]
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