In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to introduce you to my former college roommate Cole Gilbert and allow her to share her story. Cole is a homeschool mom to 4 kids – Ava (10), Grayson (8), Brogan (5), and Livy (3). Her husband is Associate Pastor of Community and Missions at Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana. She is a reminder that there is NO one size fits all to mental health. Everyone has a different story to tell, and we MUST be our own health advocates and trust our instincts. I hope her story touches you as it did me.
Chad and I recently went on a date to celebrate . . . Prozac.
Yep, you read that right. I’ve been on Prozac/Zoloft for 5 years and our date night celebrated one week since I had taken my last pill. I’m officially medicine-free and that’s worth celebrating!
But we were also celebrating and thanking God for how much this medicine has helped me these last few years. I’m glad to be off of it, but I have NO SHAME from needing to be on medicine!
If you are dealing with postpartum issues, depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses, please hear my encouragement to talk honestly with your doctor and/or counselor and get the help you need. This may be medicine, but it could also be counseling to help process issues (trauma or fear), or someone helping you see changes in your life that need to be made (diet, boundaries, relationships, activities). Whatever it is, you will not regret getting help!
I’ll share my story below for anyone who could benefit from my experience with postpartum anxiety, but if you can only read a little bit, then I want you to know this:
You are not alone when life is hard. There is help available. It’s hard to be vulnerable, but getting help is worth it. You know yourself best so trust your instincts. If you feel like you are not yourself, please talk to your doctor. You will have to push through the embarrassment or urge to explain your symptoms away, but it will be worth it. Fight the shame and fear. Call your doctor, call a friend, call someone!
You may not deal with these issues, but chances are good that someone around you does. Be gracious. Be a good friend. Check on new mamas. Beg them to be honest with you about how they are doing. Offer prayers and practical support even when you don’t understand what they are going through. Resist the urge to minimize their issues, judge, and shame. Please don’t suggest that something that is chemical/hormonal is really just a spiritual problem or a lack of faith. Walk through the hard WITH them. The Church can do better at this!
When Brogan (my 3rd child) was 10 days old, something changed. I was of course exhausted and a little overwhelmed with bringing a 3rd baby in the mix, but this was more than just being overwhelmed. I woke up a few hours after going to bed and was having the first panic attack of my life. I spent the rest of the night having panic attacks, throwing up, crying, and praying. By the time Chad woke up, I was a mess. He took one look at me and knew something was very wrong. In wisdom, he asked me to immediately call my OB. I was so confused because I wasn’t having the symptoms of postpartum depression and at that point I didn’t even know postpartum anxiety was a thing. All I knew was that I was not myself and I needed help asap.
I saw my OB within hours and she quickly diagnosed me with postpartum anxiety. Thankfully I wasn’t at the point of thinking of hurting myself or anyone else, but it truly can get that bad. I was given a prescription for Zoloft, which I began taking immediately, but I didn’t understand that it would take 3 weeks in my system to take effect. I went home expecting to feel better right away, but the next 6 days were horrific. My anxiety became linked with my desperation for sleep so even the thought of sleep sent me into a panic attack. Even though I took Benadryl and Ambien (on different nights), I didn’t sleep for 6 days.
At this point I was a completely different person. I could hardly hold a conversation, couldn’t eat, and didn’t trust myself to take care of the kids. I was even considering slamming my head into a wall just so I would be knocked out. I can’t tell you how horrible it was to be so out of control of my own body. Thankfully at this point my OB prescribed me some Xanax to help me just until the Zoloft kicked in. It still took 2 days for my body to relax enough to sleep, but this finally helped me turn the corner.
I came off the Xanax after 3 weeks, but stayed on the Zoloft through my pregnancy with Livy, baby number 4. I cut my dose in half when Livy turned 1, but could feel that it wasn’t time for me to lower it any more. This week, 2 years later, I finally came off completely. To be honest, I’ve had a little anxiety about my anxiety! I’ve wondered what it would be like to be off the medicine because I haven’t been a mom to 3 or 4 kids without it. But God’s grace has truly been sufficient.
The Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness
One thing I want to highlight about my story is how it differs from many stories I’ve heard. I hear so many moms say that they suffered for weeks and months before getting help or they never actually sought help at all. I can’t imagine going through postpartum depression or anxiety for that long without help.
I understood from the beginning that I was having hormonal issues and this was far more than the typical hard of having a newborn. Because of this, it honestly never occurred to me to be ashamed about what I was going through. I wasn’t in sin. I was sick. Chad described it to someone who was a little skeptical as me having “flu of the brain” . . . I couldn’t control it and I obviously needed medicine to treat it. Why would they question my need for treatment when they would never question a diabetic’s need for insulin or someone with the flu desiring medication to help get better?
I definitely believed that Jesus could take away my anxiety and I asked Him several times to do just that, but He didn’t. I was shocked at every comment or insinuation that my struggle was solely a spiritual one. I literally quoted Isaiah 26:3 hundreds of times during that first night of panic attacks, yet I still struggled. Mental illness is just that . . . a PHYSICAL illness. Those suffering need to seek Jesus, who provides comfort and wisdom even when the sickness remains, but they also may need to seek medical intervention. Please support your friends in this complex journey without heaping shame on someone already in brokenness!
Chad asked me that first day if he could ask a few people to pray. My response: “Tell the Church! Tell everybody! We need help!!” Again, I sincerely wasn’t ashamed and this allowed me the freedom to be honest and ask for help. I now know that most women feel the exact opposite. There is a stigma about mental illness and needing help or seeming weak and it unfortunately causes many women to suffer in silence. On top of this, many women who do dare to be honest about their struggle are then made to feel ashamed and judged as physically and spiritually weak.
This grieves my heart so much. Shame is a scheme of the devil that he’s used since Adam and Eve and still wields today. Thankfully, the Word of God calls us out of shame and darkness and fear! Why do we spend so much energy trying to hide our weaknesses? Paul asked God to remove his “weakness” and 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “(God) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
We need not spend a moment in shame! I can continue posting on social media, being honest with other moms, and being willing to talk to others struggling because I can boast of how the Lord has cared for me during this journey and how His grace is indeed sufficient!
My Support System
Chad was incredible through my whole journey, but especially during that tortuous first week. He was exhausted from taking care of 2 toddlers, a newborn, and a very sick wife, but God gave him supernatural compassion and strength to do it all well. Even so, it was obvious that we would drown if we tried to get through this on our own. Because I wasn’t ashamed of what I was going through, we immediately reached out for help. This made all the difference.
A friend drove me to the doctor, another picked up my big kids for a few hours at the park, and numerous friends came by to pray for us and bring food (nothing says love like a hot meal!). Chad’s parents took the older kids for the weekend to remove some stress from Chad and protect their little hearts from seeing me so broken. One sweet friend (that had just started visiting our church) came to sit with me and Brogan while Chad took the kids to his parents’ house. I can’t explain how humbling it was to have a very new friend have to take care of my baby while I sat right there in a fog. I was so weak, but immensely grateful. My parents drove 6 hours to help take care of Brogan so Chad could get some much needed sleep.
And the list could go on. Our Church, friends, and family were the hands and feet of Jesus to us when we needed them most. I would’ve stripped them of this opportunity to serve and robbed us of this blessing if I had chosen to suffer alone.
When someone in your life opens up about their struggle, please commit to sacrificially serve them with compassion and grace! The more this happens, the quicker the stigma surrounding mental illness will be erased!