Postpartum Anxiety – It’s real. I’m not crazy.

“This is it,” I thought, “I’m finally going crazy.”

I know the word crazy has a terrible connotation and can be quite disrespectful for those in the midst of a mental health struggle, but those are the honest words I said to myself, folding my laundry, in the quiet of my home, on a very normal Tuesday.

I had a gorgeous seven month old, a pretty decent routine. I felt like I was conquering momhood, finally sleeping, and able to give my husband some attention. I had friends, good friends, I could call for anything. We had recently moved, were both really still students, so impoverished, but happy.

So why, oh why, did I feel so overwhelmed by the simple task of folding a washcloth?

I had a problem and I knew it. I felt fine three-quarters of the time and then the rush of panic would come on, intense, out of nowhere. It never had anything to do with my beautiful baby, my marriage, or anything meaningful. It just was.

The anxiety and panic had its own realm, its own hold on my soul, and I felt like I would never escape it…it felt like an eternal vacuum, but in reality was really about two minutes, and then it would pass.

Every woman’s experience with postpartum anxiety is different, just like every person’s experience with any health issue is different. Just like diabetes and strokes have various symptoms and manifestations in our bodies, so it is with mental health. There is a list of symptoms – someone may experience three of them, or eight of them; they may be intense, or pretty vague; they may be there all the time, every day, or they may be more transient, and come and go.

Being a person interested in health and mental health, I read lots of articles and google searched everything I could, but I couldn’t find anything to match up with what I was experiencing. I found lots of questionnaires asking me if I was feeling blue or having trouble with motivation, but nothing that used words like

“anxious”

“foreboding”

“panic”

“on edge.”

However, on that day, folding laundry, I knew I needed help. I asked our family doctor at my baby’s next well visit…

“So is it normal to feel super anxious after having a baby?”

She looked up from checking my baby, and gently laughed, “Well, I think just about anything is ‘normal’ after having a baby! But let’s talk about what you’re experiencing.”

She sat down and asked me lots of questions, she shared a little of her own experiences with postpartum ups and downs, she told me about postpartum blues, postpartum depression, and a gamut of postpartum fireworks, from hormones, to body changes, to life transitions.

For the next half hour she sat with me and figured out some ways to try and relieve my symptoms and put our ideas in order of try now, try if it doesn’t work, and what to do in an emergency. We made a followup appointment for two weeks.

In that office, in a tiny town in Nebraska, my doctor gave me a gift:

I felt hopeful.

14 years later, we know a whole lot more about postpartum anxiety than we did then. It’s a thing. It has a name, and there are people working to have it recognized. When we shine light on a hard topic and give it a name and a realness, we help someone else to walk out of darkness, to feel less alone. We end misconceptions like “crazy,” so people can find truth and solutions instead.

My postpartum anxiety subsided slowly, with the help of three things:

Rest

I made a pact with my Dr. that I would do nothing or read a book for pleasure for one hour an afternoon, every afternoon. Sometimes I read a novel, sometimes I read the Bible. This was the first time in my life I ever sat down and read the Bible for reading sake, enjoying the words and soaking in the peace of it. It was a learned skill, cultivating rest, and I’m not sure I would have ever learned it without my doctor’s encouragement and help.

Support

She encouraged me to be more open about my struggle. She asked me to pick three people I could talk to about it that week, and who I could call on at any time if I needed help. As a new wife and mom, I was so afraid that I wasn’t doing life “right” that I was a closed book. I had no idea people were so important in this mom gig. Because of this struggle, and this wisdom, I have since learned that without people, everything is infinitely harder, less enjoyable, and life is laden with guilt and shame. People matter more than most anything – for my own good, as well as theirs.

Medication/Supplements

Doctors and other professionals are absolutely the best people to explain this. Let my encouragement be this: there is a time and a place for medications. There is no shame in utilizing medication as a part of treatment for any physical or mental health issue. It may take time and energy to find the right one, the right dose, and the right timing. My doctor prescribed me an as-needed medication and those as-needed moments came. I was grateful she had foresight to see past my flippant “I’ll be fine” to push a little harder, explaining and reassuring me with kindness and grace.

There is no crazy.

Life is hard.

Life is good.

Christ gives us the gift of one another, the wisdom of people He places in our lives, just for this purpose – to share His Hope in the struggle and His joy in the victory.

For more information on postpartum anxiety diagnosis and treatment, please see the following links, or ask your doctor or local mental health provider. I’d love to hear your story. Feel free to message me from the “About Me” page of this blog or share in the comments below:

Postpartum Support International

lots of resources for individuals and professionals also, symptoms, online support, and more

The Other Postpartum Problem: Anxiety

a really helpful, normalizing article from parents.com

2020 Mom Project

advocacy, awareness, and resources for maternal mental health

 

Mental health and pizza

Let me tell you the story of pizza that saves lives.

Well, friends save lives, Jesus saves lives, but pizza is sometimes the simple tool that God uses to make a difference.

We were in the middle of a mental health crisis. No one really likes to talk mental health. We have some level of basic communication on the topic, some good, some unhelpful, general phrases, like

“You should go see a counselor.”

“God brings good out of everything.”

“You’ve got to keep on top of that, make good choices.”

If there was ever a disease we were afraid of catching it’s mental health. There are no Puffs commercials for depression, no home health ad for schizophrenia. Even anxiety is a seen as a personal problem – pray more, worry less! Be grateful!

But let me tell you that mental health comes in your back door like an old high school acquaintance you thought you lost touch with, whom you had no idea was still connected to your life, except for in vague terms, like genetics or a strange uncle who talks funny.

Mental health is, however, whether we care to admit it or not, shockingly universal. Everyone’s stories are different, the diagnoses are different, but we all have the basic gene pool, to create a mental health struggle. No one is exempt, or “better made”. Sin effects our lives and world in frustrating ways – how many of you have family members touched by

addiction

dementia

anxiety

depression

learning disabilities

autism

trauma and distress?

People often back up and back away when mental health enters the scene.

They don’t want to “catch” the mental health cooties (not a thing, fyi). And our culture, while throwing around sexual innuendo and intimate family dynamics on tv and movie screens daily, does not like to be confronted by someone else’s drama when it lives next door.

But what if instead, we brought pizza.

In the middle of our struggles, two of my friends walked in the door, straight through my mess, toting a large pizza, an order of breadsticks, and a two liter of pop to share. They visited. They sat around my table and made me laugh. They asked questions and didn’t offer easy answers. They may have offered some help, but what I really remember is that they offered normalcy. They didn’t look at me like I was scary and had two heads. They were ok with being part of it, even if whatever it was looked kind of messy.

Mental health isn’t discriminating. Most of us will be touched by it somewhere along the road. And we have the ability to change the tide. We don’t have to be therapists or medical doctors, or even super close amazing friends. All we have to do is bear a pizza and say,

“Hi.”

“This stinks.”

“I love you.”

“I still think you matter.”

People did minister and care for us in so many ways, I don’t want to dismiss that. I’m very thankful that so many people jumped right over awkward, weird, and scary and offered affection and care.

But sometimes, I think we just need to keep it simple.

Sometimes we need to know that it starts with a single pizza.

Promises to Keep


My children are promise trackers. If you tell them that we “might” go to visit a friend, it’s as good as complete to them. If you suggest there “may be” dessert in the cupboard, you better have checked the status of the Oreo package before throwing haphazard statements around. Children misunderstand the difference between promises and basic conversation. They often believe that something stated is something as sure and certain as the sun rising each day. Adults should always be cautious about making promises they can’t keep, but it’s also an important skill for children to learn that promises are meant for big things, not Oreos; life happens, and forgiveness reigns where there is trust.

God makes promises to us in the book of Isaiah, over and over again. These are not maybe-there-will-be-Oreo promises. These are big promises.

The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel… 

But He was pierced for our transgressions…

With righteousness He shall judge the poor…

My servant shall be exalted… 

God tells us clearly in Isaiah that not one thing is missing, not one promise is left out or abandon.

Not one promise is broken.

Hear it for yourself by reading Isaiah 34:14-16 –

And wild animals shall meet with hyenas;
    the wild goat shall cry to his fellow;
indeed, there the night bird settles
    and finds for herself a resting place.

15 There the owl nests and lays
    and hatches and gathers her young in her shadow;
indeed, there the hawks are gathered,
    each one with her mate.
16 Seek and read from the book of the Lord:
    Not one of these shall be missing;
    none shall be without her mate.
For the mouth of the Lord has commanded,
    and his Spirit has gathered them.

While goats and fellows, owls and nests may seem obscure, they couple up. This is how God’s promises work. Verse 16 above brings the obscurity together, reminding us that as we seek and read, our eyes are opened and every promise meets its rightful destination – fulfillment in Christ Jesus.

God does indeed keep His promises…because He gathers.

He gathers prophecies up in His Word and fulfills them all like puzzle pieces clicking together over the course of time. This match here, that match there. We are given the privilege of studying them, finding a promise, seeking its fulfillment in the Word and lifting the pieces up in praise to His name.

We may as parents misspeak. Life may happen and promises might fall by the wayside, but God is completely in control. He reigns over the universe, so life doesn’t get in the way for Him. He is also perfect, so not one promise falls. He is ever-present in all time. He sees the whole of eternity before Him and He plans accordingly.

How often, however, are we like children and try to hold God to promises He never made? How often do we claim He promised worldly treasures, when He really promised just what we need? How often do we rail at Him for our suffering, when He promised to be there with us in it, rather than to give us a life called perfect by our own standards? How often do we demand control in life, when He promised to lead rather than leave us in the white-knuckle life of fear, fighting for control?

God’s message in Isaiah through the gathering of prophecy and fulfillment is this –

He gathers up His promises and holds them tightly for just the proper time. Every Word will be fulfilled. When we can’t see what He’s doing, we lean into His promises that never change.

Not one promise broken. Not one.

Because He gathers.


Exploration:

What kind of plans disappoint children when they are broken? What kind of plans disappoint us, as adults, when they are broken?

How do you differentiate between a plan that is able to be shifted and a promise that can not be broken?

Do you think God differentiates in His word between plans and promises?

What promises of God do you cling to?

Clay accepts: Am I a coffee mug or a vase?

typography-white-door-fence

If you pictured yourself as a clay vessel, formed by God, what kind do you think you would be? A cup, a mug, a vase, a bowl? What do you imagine the potter forming you into? The Biblical picture of clay reminds us that we don’t all look the same. We all have different shapes and sizes, colors and bumps. Perhaps most importantly we have different purposes. Sometimes I like those purposes. Sometimes I’m in love with those purposes, and other times I’d like to take those purposes and shove ’em.

God addresses the issue of my jaded heart in Isaiah 45:9-11. Please open to that passage, if you have your Bible out. If not, read below:

“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
    a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
    or ‘Your work has no handles’?
10 Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’
    or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’”

11 Thus says the Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him:
“Ask me of things to come;
    will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?

Gotta love a passage that starts with a good “Woe to him…” Yikes.

Let’s be honest for a moment –

Does the clay say to the pot? How often do I say to God, what in the world are You doing?

Your work has no handles? Are you sure you’re doing this right, God? I think it might be better if you gave me this or we went over here and did this instead.

What are you begetting? Why? Why? Why, God?

With what are you in labor? What are we making here…it better be something worthwhile, God.

These are pretty convicting phrases when we look at the verse for ourselves and not just as a problem those Israelites had long ago.

My heart can be mighty hard. As soon as I think I’m all over this spiritual maturity thing, thank you very much, life happens. I learn pretty quickly that I’m talking clay, wanting handles when I’m meant to be a bowl.

The problem isn’t our questions, really, it’s the hardness, the “I know better than You.” The “My ways are better than Yours, God.”

Jesus instructs us in a different posture in Matthew 7:7-8 –

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

We still get to ask questions.

We still get to come to God because of all Jesus did and Who He is, but we do so knowing that His ways are better. His ways are Life and Salvation. His ways are True and Honorable and Lovely and Just.

There’s another passage about our life as a pot, a jar of clay. Look at 2 Corinthians 4:6-9.

For God, who said,“Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

God’s light has shone in our hearts. Our hearts are different because of Jesus. We are bearers of Christ’s message in everything we have and everything we do and every single purpose we fulfill. We know this now. When things happen in our lives and our steps seem unsure, we rest in the Potter. Our security is in the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Isn’t that beautiful? I’d really rather be Jesus’s face to someone than my own, wouldn’t you?

Isaiah 45 is actually about a guy named Cyrus and some stubborn people, but it bleeds God’s promises across the page in a way that reaches us in the 21st century beautifully. Cyrus would be the King who would loose the yoke of exile for the Israelites, opening the doors of the kingdom of Babylon so that the people of Israel could return to their homes and their lives. Many of the Israelites were resistant to this plan. They liked their own lives, even in captivity. Babylon was a nice place, a comfortable place. Never mind the bondage and all that, it was cozy.

Sound freakishly familiar? I really like cozy. Sometimes when God asks for us to get un-cozy, the best thing we can do is let the Holy Spirit remind us of His promises. Back up in Isaiah 45 to the verses preceding our theme verses for the day and read God’s promise to Cyrus in Isaiah 45:1-2, 5-6 –

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
    whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
    and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
    that gates may not be closed:
“I will go before you
    and level the exalted places,
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
    and cut through the bars of iron,

I am the Lord, and there is no other,
    besides me there is no God;
    I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
    and from the west, that there is none besides me;
    I am the Lord, and there is no other.

God opens doors.

That’s who He is. And He levels the road we walk. He promises to equip these jars of clay and not leave us to our own devices. And along the way, He opens our own hearts to His Word and His people, His work.

What doors has God opened for you in the past? What uncomfortable thing has He brought you through into the light of the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”? How do you see things in your life differently through Christ’s message?

All of these questions are good. They help us to know the Potter, but not tell Him what He think He should do with the wheel.

Ask away, but let Him pot.

You are a treasured vessel, lovingly created and formed from the beginning and each day since. Entrust it all to Him, who molds and makes.

fontcandy-37
*photo made with the fontcandy app, using photo from pexel.com

Exploration:

What do you like in life that’s cozy? What are you most attached to- certain people, a place, a few items you own, etc? (This is a fun question, so choose anything that adds a little cozy to your life, big or small.)

Where have you seen God bring you through the uncomfortable to see a greater purpose?

What open door are you asking God to open right now?

A Love that overcomes

How many of us have seen the image, a lovely rainbow, stretched wide across the sky and it’s eloquent reminder that “God keeps His promises.”

It is indeed accurate, don’t get me wrong. When we teach little children the story of Noah and the flood that covered the earth, at the end of the day, this is the message that we want them to get. God is faithful. God said He would save Noah, and He saved Noah. God said humanity would continue through the line of Noah and so here we are. God said He would never destroy the whole earth with a flood and so He will not. God does keep His promises.

Isaiah gives us the more grownup version of the story. And sometimes it’s time to put on our big girl pants and read a little deeper, a little longer, a little harder.

Today, we’ll return to Isaiah 54. Let’s keep reading where we left off yesterday, verses 8-12.

Isaiah 54:8-12

In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer.

“This is like the days of Noah to me:
as I swore that the waters of Noah
should no more go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
and will not rebuke you.
10 For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

11 “O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted,
behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
and lay your foundations with sapphires.
12 I will make your pinnacles of agate,
your gates of carbuncles,
and all your wall of precious stones.

How many of you have felt overwhelmed? I would brave a guess that at our house this is at least a once a week occurrence for me, and is probably more accurate at once a day. In fact, if I’m honest, at any given time it’s like a tape loop in my head. “I’m so overwhelmed. I’m so overwhelmed.” So much to do…only so many hours in the day…tiny humans to keep alive…moderately happy husband…so many needs…life, just life.

Normally, when I address a topic like this I’d give you the 500 different reasons why you don’t need to be overwhelmed. I’d share Bible passages about God being our rock, our hope, and our solid foundation. Today, though, when we read Isaiah 54, overwhelmed may be just the thing we need for a little while; not forever, not for good, but for a time.

In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you…” (v.8)

Anger itself can be overwhelming for us. The God of the Universe overflowing with anger? Heck yes! Overwhelming. How does this fit in with a study of being loved?

A memory comes to mind of my mother when I was in my early twenties. My brother, 20 or so years my senior, was an alcoholic. In my effort to avoid labels I would say he had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, and he would correct me. He had been sober for years and would honestly admit to friend and stranger, “I’m an alcoholic. Can’t be around the stuff. I think it solves my problems and it never does.” He was having a hard time and had come to stay with my parents. My brother was overwhelmed. He was overwhelmed by life and his pain. He was overwhelmed by his own inability to change and to change the world around him. One night he came home blindly drunk. I opened the door for him and he fell flat on the ground. The thing that sticks with me is my mom’s face. She was livid. “Look at how far you’ve come, to throw it away! What happened? Why this? Why now?” And at the end of her rant, my father drew her in to himself and what did she do…she turned her face away. She could not look. It was too painful. She did not love him any less. I’m certain in that moment her heart was exploding with love for my brother, for each of us, for her family. She loved so much that it hurt to look.

I hid my face from you…”

God will not watch us destroy ourselves, but He also will not take over. He loves us enough to wait for the proper time, sometimes the bottom of the pit, to reach in and lift us up.

This is like the days of Noah to me…” (v. 9)

Take a look at Genesis 6:5-8.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

Every intention of man, evil- from his mind to his heart to his actions. All of it, evil. Think of how overwhelmed Noah must have felt, a believer of the Most High God, imperfect, yes. Faithful, through God alone, yes. If you browse through Genesis 7-8, you will see that the promised flood did come. Noah’s reality was not rainbows and sunshine for some time, days and months seemed to linger on and on.

Genesis 7:23-24 –

He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.24 And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.

Do you ever have a day when you hear one too many news reports and think, “Lord have mercy!”? Does the feeling of not being enough, not getting it right wash over you, flooding you…overwhelmed? Have you had a struggle in your family that causes you to look around and say, “I’m done, Lord. Overwhelmed. Finished. You take it from here.”

Isaiah 54:10 gets really honest. Read again, below.

For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed…

We will be overwhelmed, girls. We will. The world, it’s not getting better. Those mountains will depart it says, the hills will be removed. This is active language. The Hebrew root for the verb removed is mot (pronounced mote)*. This root also means shaken, slip, fall, give way.

We will be shaken. We will fall. Difficult things will come. And when you love deeply, your family, your neighbors, as God intended, there will be days that the struggle washes over your whole self and you feel a bit like you’re drowning. But here is the good news

You are not overcome.

You are overwhelmed. You are not overcome.

God does keep His promises.

Isaiah 54 continues in verse 9 –

…but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

This is the grown-up promise. We may be overwhelmed, but we will not be overcome. God has made a covenant of peace with us in Christ Jesus. This promise is laid out all over Isaiah, let’s see just a sample in two verses a few pages ahead.

Isaiah 63:7-8

I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord,
the praises of the Lord,
according to all that the Lord has granted us,
and the great goodness to the house of Israel
that he has granted them according to his compassion,
according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
For he said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will not deal falsely.”
And he became their Savior.

…according to the abundance of his steadfast love…He became their Savior.”

We may be overwhelmed. We are not overcome.

We have a Savior. His name is Jesus Christ, Savior of the World. We need Him. He is not shaken. He is a solid foundation. He does not slip, even when the earth gives way.

Don’t you love grown promises? I am not overcome.

Until next week, girls. God keeps His promises.

IMG_2040

*biblehub.com/interlinear