Mental health impacts everyone, yet it’s skipped over in sermons and often gets treated like an uninvited guest in the house. As I make my way through motherhood (and over Lego pieces on the floor), I run into the same occurrence time and time again: Women anonymously posting in online groups (having the post published for them) seeking advice on how to handle anxiety, depression, or other aspects of their mental health. Without judgment, I can’t help but wonder why these lovely ladies feel the need for anonymity? Are they worried someone will think less of them? Maybe they just don’t want their business out there, but I still wonder if there’s a fear or concern keeping them from sharing themselves.
I was SO unprepared for what being a mom would mean for my mental health. As I began the journey as a Mama, everyone had all the advice for fitting back into my jeans after having the baby. People talked a lot about the physical changes, but not so much about the toll motherhood takes on mental health and overall self-love.
As a survivor of crippling anxiety and PTSD after having my son, many of these posts tug at my heartstrings. It’s hard to talk openly when you didn’t grow up in a house where ‘that kind of thing’ isn’t talked about. It’s nerve-wracking to be transparent about struggles when you worry about funny looks or feeling judged for airing a little dirty laundry. But people need help, especially moms, and they sure as heck need it. Sometimes, they’re just afraid to say it. Mental health and self-love needs to be talked about. It’s been swept under the rug long enough. You don’t have to share all the secrets, but girl, it’s time to clean some damn laundry. Us moms know all about laundry.
WHY ISN’T ANYONE TALKING ABOUT IT?
I recently sent out a survey to a few dozen ladies, covering a range of topics relating to mental health. One question asked participants how often, if ever, taking care of their mental health was discussed in their family or church growing up. You know what the majority of them said? “Not at all” or “That kind of thing wasn’t talked about”.
The subject of mental health continues to go un-discussed among circles, particularly in the circle of motherhood. The longer I’m a mother, the more women I meet that desperately desire to share their bittersweet exchange of “ME TOO” when it comes to fighting anxiety and overwhelm. These mamas are looking for connection and to be accepted as who they are, right here and right now.
So what’s the hold-up? Why isn’t mental health being talked about? I have no doubt that the topic is set on out-of-reach shelves because of SHAME.
It’s time to stop child-proofing mental health.
Society has long had negative stigmas about things like anxiety. It’s too taboo. In the aforementioned survey, I asked the (amazing) women to share a little about their personal experience with their own mental health journey and how it continues to affect their self-beliefs. Most of the women shared that they have experienced some form of anxiety before or struggle with it currently. Choosing from a list of feelings, I asked them to select how they felt about having anxiety in the first place. Popular answers included sadness, confusion, crazy, and embarrassed.
You know the one and only feeling that was NOT chosen? We’re talking ZERO votes…unashamed.
In fact, the most chosen feeling was shame. These women feel ashamed for having anxiety. But they shouldn’t. Nobody should. How can we expect people to effectively manage anxiety if we aren’t willing to talk about it in the first place?
EFFECTS OF SHAME
Shame makes us feel like we’ve failed to live up to our own standards and to the standards of others. It makes us feel like we cannot be loved for who we truly are. A few words attributed to describing the emotion of shame include insecure, foolish, inadequate, incapable, worthless, stupid, or an overall feeling of insignificance. Can you relate to any of these?
While not all forms of shame are bad (take, for instance, guilt. Guilt is like a form of a healthier type of shame. It allows us to reflect and move towards more positive behavior or make a better choice next time), shame can be toxic. Toxic shame can be paralyzing.
If unaddressed, shame becomes a lens through which we view ourselves. Tainting our true beauty, shame makes it nearly impossible to accept, let alone celebrate, our worth. Shame doesn’t necessarily say you did something bad, it says you are bad. Shame can be stifling. It can keep you stuck in a whirlwind of self-doubt and uncertainty. Shame can feed isolation, making you feel like nobody will understand or accept you. Shame constricts your personality, suffocating you with worthlessness and the fear of being less-than.
When you’re dealing with forms of poor, or at least un-cared-for, mental health, shame will silence you. It prevents those suffering from seeking help. It prevents those in pain from speaking out. Shame tells lies and creates destructive self-beliefs- What will they think of me? Will I be ridiculed or judged? They’re going to think I’m an un-fit mother if I say anything. Something is inherently wrong with me. I should be able to figure it out. I would be a better mom if only I wasn’t like this. I shouldn’t be like this.
So, what fuels shame? Silence.
Shame feeds off the quiet desperation of those too afraid to speak up because they fear being rejected or looked down on for feeling and being a certain way. It’s time to break off the shame shackles and bring our full selves out of the darkness.
Let’s stop casting the shame-stones. Too many people are suffering. Far too many mothers feel isolated and overwhelmed, suffering in silence and milk-stained pajamas. There are too many minds racing and too many hearts breaking because they’re ashamed to say, “I deal with this”. Well, friend, it’s more like, “I ALSO deal with this”. The path of Motherhood is not intended to be walked alone, and it definitely isn’t intended to be full of toxic shame. We need to start speaking up!
HOW TO ADDRESS SHAME
- Recognize that shame is a universal feeling/emotion. You’re not the only one that feels shame.
- Each time you think something or speak something negative about yourself, make note of it. Start to reflect on the inner dialogue you have. Is it negative? Is it life-giving?
- Think about times you feel shame. Consider not only what is making you feel this way but why it’s making you feel this way. Allow yourself the time and space to mull it over. If you don’t have a minute to do it at the exact time you feel the shame spiral, try to go back to it later.
It’s important to try to figure out not just what is causing you to feel shame, but why. Side note: I get it. Mamas are busy and don’t get a ton of time to themselves. It can be tough to find spare time for serious reflection, but it is possible. Use the time in the pick-up line to self reflect, when you’re in the bathroom (if you can manage to escape to the loo without the Littles that is), or even once the house is in bed. Instead of scrolling away on social media, give yourself and your feelings some attention.
QUICK TIPS ON HOW TO START OVERCOMING SHAME
- Be kind to yourself. Replace negative self-talk with more positive, life-giving self-talk. Treat it like you’re talking to a friend. Example: You get anxious and are embarrassed or frustrated at yourself for having anxiety. Instead of thinking, “What’s wrong with you- pull yourself together”, try speaking more kindly. “Everyone gets nervous. It’s okay to feel uncertain and be anxious. You are doing great and you are going to get through this”.
- Practice mindfulness. It’s not as hippy-dippy as you might think. Think of mindfulness as allowing yourself to bring awareness to what’s happening in the present moment. It’s giving yourself space to feel and think and experience. It’s granting yourself permission to sit with your feelings and emotions, here and now, without judgment or dismissal.
- TALK ABOUT IT. Remember, shame feeds on silence and contributes to the feeling of isolation. Don’t feed that beast anymore! Whether it’s with a close friend, counselor, or another trusted soul, share your story. The more you talk about something, the more you bring it into the light and out of the darkness where it feeds on your silence. The more willing you are to talk about shame, the less control it has over you. Doing so will invite others to do the same.
YOU CAN SIT WITH ME
Shame doesn’t have to control your life, but it will if you allow it to. If you still need to have your post shared anonymously or have to preface by saying “asking for a friend”, I’m not going to judge you. But how beautiful would it be if we seized opportunities to be our authentic, imperfect selves, inviting others to do the same in the process?
Mental health is health. It’s okay to be a work-in-progress. We all are. So take off the shame shackles and put on the hater blockers. Pull a chair up to the table. You can sit with me, friend. Let’s have some conversation about how we’re really doing.