It was a typical morning. I had just dropped off my boys at school and pulled into the St. Elmo’s parking lot to grab coffee. Once I park, I usually sit in my car and check my email, deleting spam as I go. That moment of quiet with the seat warmer on is my reward for getting the kids out of the house in one piece.
That particular morning, while scrolling through my inbox, I stopped on the subject line “Pilates Boot Camp.” Although she was new to my classes, I knew exactly who this email was from—she had just performed the running man in front of 30 people at Mind the Mat after I’d dared her to do “The Humpty Dance.” Even though she realized it was the wrong dance, she continued on—partying like it was 1999. So I chuckled when I saw her name remembering that awesome moment.
As I read on, the second part of her email took my breath away:
“You saved my life.” I felt that in my gut. A member of our Armed Services, highly trained by the United States military to defend our country and to survive combat, had been saved by a local studio in Alexandria, Virginia.
So that others may benefit as much as she did, we asked her to tell her story. She is doing so anonymously, not because she is ashamed – she is not – but because there remains a stigma attached to mental illness, and we did not want to compromise her professional standing.
But her anonymity is also powerful because her struggle with postpartum could be your sister’s, your friend’s…yours. And as you can see, there is a way out…
I work among some of the most incredibly resilient, powerful souls in America. Some of the service members I work with come home with severe injuries, both visible and invisible. So who the heck was I to complain about two C-sections and some pain? I had two beautiful healthy babies — so what if I couldn’t run like I used too?
But it wasn’t just that. I was depressed. My health was affecting every aspect of my life. I had just about given up when a close friend and colleague convinced me to take a yoga class at Mind the Mat.
It took me quite some time to admit that something was wrong. Really wrong. Once I finally realized it, I didn’t know how to fix it. I felt like my body was beyond repair. I felt like I had no control over my physical fitness and that my body was permanently damaged. After two months of recovering from my second C-section I went out for a run and after less than a mile the incision started to bleed causing an infection. This set me back another two months. I started again and sprained my hip, then my knee. This led to bursitis, plantar fasciitis, and weight gain. I was depressed, out of shape, and ready to settle with what I had.
As an athlete most of my childhood and serving in the U.S. military as an adult, my self-esteem and self-worth were shattered. This affected my marriage, my relationship with my children, and even my work. I am still not sure what came first. Was it postpartum depression that led to a slow painful recovery? Or was it my injuries that kept me from seeing I had postpartum depression? It probably doesn’t matter but it wasn’t until I was lying on my mat and covered in sweat that it all changed and I realized these problems I had were inextricably linked.
I know this sounds dramatic but the combination of yoga, Pilates, and the incredibly supportive environment that the instructors at Mind the Mat provided brought me back to life. They helped me regain the strength I needed in my core. They taught me how to breathe again. They taught me how to refocus my energy and trust my body — all of this in an inspiring, motivating, safe environment.
I spent a few weeks with a physical therapist and that really helped, too, but it was yoga and Pilates that my body craved. I started to feel like myself again.
Soon after, I no longer needed medication. No more cortisone shots and no more excuses. Within six months I had my body and mind back. I was happy at home, more productive at work, and felt like I was OK and ready to be the mother my children deserved.
What I learned from all this is that depression comes in all sizes. What I went through is so small in comparison to what some people have to deal with, but no matter the size, you can’t go through it alone. I needed a network of people that I could rely on a few nights a week who shared a common goal and a common place where we could leave it on the mat.
For me what happened after giving birth both physically and mentally cannot be separated. Mind the Mat was the one place, for me, where I found both: my body and mind reconnected.
As mothers we all recover in different ways and at different speeds. We want what is best for our children and at times forget to take care of ourselves. I learned that setting aside an hour to reconnect and rebuild the strength in my core with such passionate, skilled instructors was best for not only me but my entire family. When I get home from a class at Mind the Mat, there are two little people, soon to be a third, waiting to show me their favorite yoga position and to learn something new from mommy. I come back home happy thanks to Mind the Mat and I am physically fit again. Namaste.
Originally published in Alexandria Stylebook: https://alexandriastylebook.com/saved-life-postpartum-depression-journey/