Rachell’s Story: This Type of Worry Did Not Seem Logical
I tried to make an offhand, self-deprecating joke when I commented to my doctor at a regular prenatal visit about my habit of checking whether the doors were locked.
Something in her face changed, and she re-positioned her body to show me she was paying close attention as she asked, “How much time are you spending checking things?”
Checking the Doors, Locks and Lights
It wasn’t just the locks, and it was hours every day, especially if I counted the unnecessary trip home and back to work during my lunch to check the light switches, appliances, water meter, and whatever else came to mind.
Every time I left my house I’d have to put my car in reverse at least once in order to go back and recheck everything. And if I wasn’t in the midst of this routine, I was thinking about the next time I could go through everything again.
With my doctor’s full attention, at the end of what should have been an uncomplicated 15 minute appointment midway through an otherwise healthy pregnancy, I was able to admit for the first time what was happening to me and how scared I felt.
Worry Was Out of Control
Worrying about the baby made sense to me—there were a lot of unknowns in a first pregnancy—but this type of worry did not seem logical and it was out of control. In the back of my mind I was afraid it would only get worse once I had the baby in my arms. I already felt like a terrible mother and I hadn’t even seen my little one yet.
Before I left my doctor’s office I was referred to mental health supports offered by our health region and had a workbook on pregnancy and postpartum anxiety on my shopping list. But most importantly I now understood that what I was going through—anxiety brought on by the pregnancy, including compulsive behaviours—was normal. And with assurance that the language of mental illness was appropriate to use, I found it easier to ask for help.
My doula recommended an app called GentleBirth, a “brain training” program, which changed the trajectory of my mindset during this pregnancy. It also set me up for a better experience during labour and the first months as a parent.
Meditation and Awareness
I had never meditated before, and learning about the science behind this kind of body and mind awareness along with the desire to be healthier for my baby was motivating. I finally felt like there were things I could do on my own to change the thought processes that were causing anxiety. Connecting with mental health workers also gave me peace of mind that I would know where to turn if things did get worse.
The behaviour that caused me distress didn’t completely go away during my pregnancy, and I’ll always be the type of person who worries and double checks. However going through this experience has transformed my understanding about how my mind works. In the future I hope I’ll be able to teach my child some skills that can be used when the worry becomes overwhelming.
My compassion for others who are struggling with their mental health has also grown. I now better understand what they’re experiencing. I may have been checking light switches, but it actually felt like someone had flipped a switch in my brain. There was a sudden compulsion to do things that didn’t make sense to me.
The Isolation of Mental Illness
What I experienced was relatively easy to turn around and what worked for me won’t work for everyone, however I am now more aware of how isolating mental illness can feel and how important it is to take that moment to pause and really listen, as my doctor did for me.
I feel like things could have gone much worse if I didn’t have access to a responsive health care system, the time to use what was offered to me, the support of a doula, and many people around me who cared about my well being. Not all pregnant people would not find themselves in such a position, and it’s important that we prioritize mental health in our communities, especially among groups who may be more vulnerable.
We’re honored to share Rachell’s story as part of the Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative’s Marathon of Moms campaign. Stories of lived experience are one of the most powerful tools we have to combat stigma and the shame surrounding mental illness. They’re also vitally important as we look to develop tools, resources and treatments that work for moms and meet their needs. Thank you, Rachell!