Mental Health Awareness :: Moms, When Self-Care Is Not Enough

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As moms, this provides a great opportunity to discuss the emotional impact of the global pandemic with our families.

Mental health is defined as emotional, psychological, and social well-being. In essence, the term means a properly functioning mind or brain. So why does mental health have a negative stigma attached to it? It may be attributed to a lack of education accompanied by negative stereotypes promoted in society. This negativity compounds what is already a serious concern in our country today. 

Mental Health Statistics

Here are some interesting statistics in the United States:

  • 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year
  • 1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
  • 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
  • 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34

It goes without saying that moms are included in these numbers, as well as our children, family members, and friends. 

Journey to Wellness

If sharing some of my journey to wellness will help fellow moms, then it is a privilege to do so. This journey may not look the same for everyone, but I have found what works for me. It has included self-care, medication, counseling, life coaching, and spiritual direction. 

In 2006,  I had my baby girl 364 days after the birth of my middle child. When she was three weeks old, we moved to Birmingham. Exhausted and grieving, I found myself isolated in a new home as my husband was building a practice. I loved being a mom and felt so blessed, but overwhelmed.

At my husband’s insistence, we found a precious lady to help clean twice a month. We also hired our next door neighbor, a high schooler, to be a mommy’s helper. She helped as I potty trained, gave baths, and ran to the store. I tried to rest and exercise and go out by myself a couple of times a month. It all helped tremendously, but I still was having a hard time mentally and emotionally.

Doctors and Medication 

I felt shame and tried to push through. However, I finally began having conversations with a few trusted friends. These friends shared that they too struggled with anxiety and depression. One mom gave me the name of a trusted psychiatrist. I had been very reticent to go but discovered that she was a doctor trained specifically in medicines for the brain.

I realized that if I had a diagnosis of cancer, I would take medicine for it without reservation. Why not my brain? I reframed mental health as brain health and found a medicine that worked for me. 

Counseling 

I also did counseling which helped with past trauma and ongoing grief. The counselor pointed out lies I was believing. This helped me be aware of when I was operating out of false narratives.

I asked Julie Sparkman, counselor and author of Unhitching from the Crazy Train, how counseling can be beneficial for moms. Julie said:

“All of us have learned to identify and react to what’s around us, instead of being aware and responsive to what is within us. When counseling a mom, I focus on how a mom can center herself to engage her world in such a way that she responds in ways she desires instead of reacting.”

This was exactly my experience. As I took care of my emotional health, I became a better mother. However, recently I realized that I was “stuck” in some areas. Grief, life transitions, goals . . . That is when I discovered life coaching.

What is a Life Coach?

To help others understand the role of life coaching, I asked Lisa Donohue, a certified coach, to explain:

Life coaching varies significantly depending on the specialization of the coach, credentials, place of accountability, and their pursuit of life coaching (self-proclaimed or as a profession.) For me, Christian life coaching is the pursuit of the mind, body, and soul as a means to engage life with hope. It’s about movement forward with grace and dignity, and sometimes it’s a surprise to both the client and me in how that plays out.

Life coaching is different than counseling in that we start right where the client is and provide traction forward. It provides a strong bridge out of the muck, or at the very least, healthy steps forward. The techniques I’ve found most transformational have proven to make generational changes, but begins with the client’s willingness to be both known and coached.”

How is Life Coaching Helpful?

Lisa continued:

​”It’s easy to forget that the brain is an organ and requires the same tenderness and attention as any other organ of the body. Additionally, there’s a cultural expectation that faith will fix that which we’d seek medication or treatment of for any other organ. Therefore, with grace, dignity, and a bit of science, we move together to empower clients to voice their concern and to truly understand and engage in healthy self-care, including brain wellness. This may include addressing thought patterns, referrals to different medical specialties, and/or employing the tools to address a client’s specific needs.

Mothers labor to love and care well for their children, often at the expense of their own health. The result of neglected self-care might be revealed in short tempers, sleepless nights, anxiety, addictions, and overcommitment. Life coaching equips mothers to protect the house (their heart and mind). Regardless of physical address, the home we occupy 24/7 is our mind and from our thoughts, life flows.”

Spiritual Direction

The final component in my journey is spiritual direction. It has been of the utmost importance for me personally. I have a precious local church community where I am discipled. There are mom friends further ahead who encourage and speak truth to me. I have also met with women involved in spiritual direction. I asked Linda Barrett, a spiritual director, for her wisdom. 

Linda explains:

In Christian spiritual direction, a trained fellow believer accompanies another to help her hear and respond to God. Unlike other therapeutic relationships, the focus is not problem solving but on a growing ability to live a life with God from the heart. Direction offers an objective, non-judgmental space for you to talk freely about what’s on your heart and to be gently nudged toward Christ. Insight often arises in a one hour session, but it also comes as you take time for communion with God between meetings. Direction benefits those who long for deeper faith and Christlikeness in their day-to-day struggles. On a first visit, you ask questions and share why you might want spiritual direction. After that, you set the agenda.”

There are so many great resources for those who want to stay brain healthy. My prayer is that moms embrace this topic with positivity and hope. By addressing our own personal brain health, we are setting examples for our own families. This has the potential to have ripple effects and a beautiful impact within our own communities. 

 

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Melissa is originally from the Mobile area but moved to Birmingham after graduating from Auburn University. After marrying and teaching for several years, she moved to a couple of different states so her husband , Bobby, could finish out his medical training. They came back to beautiful Birmingham in 2006 , and she is now a stay-at-home mom with their 5 children ( ranging from ages 8- 17) and their two fur babies. It’s usually crazy and loud in their home but she loves having an open door policy to build community. She loves Jesus, the beach and connecting with others. You will often find her at one of the many local coffee shops reading a book or listening to others stories over a cappuccino. Melissa is passionate about racial reconciliation in the church and helping women build bridges through listening and learning.

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