Becoming a wife and mother has changed me in more ways that I could have ever imagined. My husband Jeremy and my three children have endured all that I am, as well as all that I am not. Being a wife and mother at different moments has brought out the best and the worst qualities in me. But the beautiful thing about being a part of a family though, is that my children and husband have loved me without condition. This type of love I have received has brought a most painful and urgent question to the surface of my heart and mind: Do I actually love myself as I am?
I am a survivor of repeated childhood abuse and trauma. I have struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression for most of my life. While single and while dating my future husband, it seemed easier to minimize or mask the effects of my past. I had formed unhealthy mechanisms to cope with the pain I was feeling. I became an expert at shutting down my feelings and my memories. I could appear to be happy and light when, in reality, I was dying inside. Strangely enough those masks ended up magnifying the problems I had, and I hated myself more than the harm that had been done to me. Even though, I hated this mode of survival, I had no idea how to shut it down, and once I became a wife and mother those struggles were magnified and began affecting the people I loved the most—my family.
I hit an all-time low when I was pregnant with my second child in the fall of 2010. I was depressed and anxious all the time. I was hyper-vigilant and the littlest things would set me off. It was difficult to communicate what I was experiencing to Jeremy and he had to choose his words so carefully out of fear it would put me over the edge. Even my daughter who was only a year and a half at the time would ask me constantly, “You happy Mommy?” I went through the motions of my days like a robot. I was either silent and numb, or a mess of tears and angry outbursts. I finally reached a point that frightened me. I began to think that taking my own life was the only way I would experience relief. I realized then that I could not go on like this anymore and I am so grateful that I found the courage to share what I was feeling with a dear friend and my husband. I was hospitalized that day.
Going into the hospital as a mother and pregnant woman was extremely humbling. I felt like I was a terrible mom for letting myself get to that point, and even judged myself as irresponsible and unfit. I now realize that nothing could be farther from the truth. I have been hospitalized two more times since then and I have come to realize that stretching my hand out when I am drowning is brave. It is selfless.
It is responsible because my husband and children need a healthy wife and mama and sometimes I need more than they can give me or I can give myself. Being hospitalized has also opened the doors to incredible therapies like DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy), a skill-based therapy that has provided tools for me to manage my symptoms and for me to feel my emotions effectively. It has provided networks of support with other beautiful people who struggle with mental health and can therefore identify with compassion and acceptance. I have become more honest about my struggles with my loved ones and learned how to ask for what I need.
Most of all I am learning to love myself and my story in all its imperfections because I am choosing to believe that I am loved and I am enough. I have a long way to go but I am also very proud of the progress I have made. Each day, I get a little more comfortable in my own skin. This is the love I want to give to my husband and children. I want to love them in a way that allows them to be completely who they are and in all their imperfections, but to do that, I need to start with loving myself.