Courtesy of Mary Sauer

I Kept A PPA Diary For A Week

When I was pregnant with my third child, who is now 7 months old, I tried to prepare myself for the early months of postpartum life. I tried to convince myself that I would handle the challenges of caring for a newborn with more grace than I had in the past. I tried to wish myself into a place of being stronger, believing I wouldn’t drown in anxiety again this time. My first two pregnancies had been a breeze, but the months following the births of my children hadn't been so easy. I had a lot of anxiety over breastfeeding and my capabilities as a mom, I was dealing with some postpartum depression and neither of my children slept through the night until well after their first birthdays. As the birth of my third approached, I was excited to meet my new baby but I wasn't excited about the possibility of dealing with anxiety again.

It didn’t work. No amount of pep-talks or positive thinking could keep me from the inevitable. No amount of coaching could keep me from crying over the overwhelming feeling of dread when I woke up in the mornings. A few months after the birth of my third child, I’m still struggling with postpartum anxiety. I’m still falling into bed at night with my mind racing. I’m still feeling my chest tighten in the afternoons, when each of my three kids under five need their mom at the same time and dinner needs to be cooked and I have emails to respond to.

In addition to medication, which was prescribed during my pregnancy and has helped with depression but hasn't provided a lot of relief for my anxiety, I have been working on learning some new coping skills to use when I am feeling anxious. I recently took up meditation as a way of coping with my anxiety-induced insomnia and made an appointment to check in with my therapist. These things are helpful, but I’m still not coping well with the stress in my life.

In the past, I have done a lot of writing in my journal to work through my fears and worries. But, with three children and work and all that comes along with that, I haven’t been making time for it lately. This week, I decided to pick it up again, to start using my journal for five or ten minutes to unwind at the end of the day. I hoped that it would lessen my anxiety, or at least help me see what needed to change for me to feel more in control of my life. Here’s what happened.

Day 1: Monday

Courtesy of Mary Sauer

At the end of day one, I was practically dizzy with anxiety. I sat down for a few minutes and wrote down everything I was feeling. "I feel like I'm failing," I wrote. "I can't keep up with work, I can't keep up with my house and can't seem to make time for my kids."

I was feeling like I was drowning in my to-do list and it was keeping me from spending as much time as I wanted with my kids. I tried to link those feelings to specific events from the day. I was anxious, overwhelmed and frustrated because I had childcare fall through and I was juggling a huge insurance mix-up, work and my three kids.

After reading all of that on paper, I could see that anyone would be having a difficult time with that amount of responsibility. I still felt like my anxiety was way too high, but I could also see that some of what I was feeling was a reasonable response to the events of my day.

Day 2: Tuesday

Courtesy of Mary Sauer

The next day, I had help at home. My mother’s helper, a teenager who comes to my house and helps me entertain my kids while I work from home, came over for the first half of the day and I was able to work in my room without interruptions. At the end of the day, my anxiety level was close to my baseline. I journalled a little about how I was feeling and tried to make note of how much having help lowered my anxiety.

Day 3: Wednesday

Courtesy of Mary Sauer

On Wednesday, I had a lot of work but my mother-in-law also had my kids for part of the day. Even though I was able to make a lot of progress on my work for the day, I still felt my anxiety getting high after I got my kids home in the afternoon. My big kids were cranky and fighting, and my baby wanted to be held while I was trying to cook. I also had to put all three kids to bed alone, since my husband had plans after work.

By the end of the day, my house was a mess and I was a mess. I ignored the dishes in my sink and the toys all over the floor. I skipped writing in my journal and turned on the TV. It was obvious why I was so anxious: I didn’t need a journal to help me figure out that things had been pure chaos all day.

Day 4: Thursday

Courtesy of Mary Sauer

The next day, I had a few hours of work to get done, but no childcare. I bounced between my computer and taking care my kids for most of the morning. While my baby slept, I wrote and the big kids played legos and colored. While that baby was awake, I strapped him to my back in a baby carrier, turned on an episode of Dora the Explorer and tried to wrap up everything I had left to do.

"I feel so anxious when I think about everything I have to do today," I wrote. "I don't know how I will ever catch up."

That afternoon, when I sat down to journal for a couple of minutes, it only took a few minutes for me to realize I was doing too much.

"I feel so anxious when I think about everything I have to do today," I wrote. "I don't know how I will ever catch up."

It was clear that my anxiety was high because I was doing too much. I either needed to learn to cut back on my responsibilities or get more help at home.

Day 5: Friday

Courtesy of Mary Sauer

On Friday, I tried to take it easy. I tried to focus on just spending time with my kids, but my to-do list was constantly on my mind. I still had work to finish and laundry in the dryer. I needed to get started on a million little things that were going to trickle into my weekend and keep me from enjoying time with my family. I felt like there was no winning, that if I wanted to be a present and fun mom, I was going to have to disappoint one of my editors or leave some housework undone.

That night, I spent a few minutes writing about that day and the entire week.

It was clear that I had too much on my plate, and that I needed more help if I was going to continue working from home full-time.

"I wasn't anxiety free today, but it did help to take some time off from work. I wish I could find some way to spend plenty of time hanging out with my kids and keep up with my work," I wrote. "My hardest days this week were the days I had too much going on...But I love my work and don't want to give it up...I feel stuck."

I could see a common theme each day. It was clear that I had too much on my plate, and that I needed more help if I was going to continue working from home full-time. I didn’t end the week feeling any less anxious than I started, but writing in my journal did allow me to problem-solve and troubleshoot some of the sources of my anxiety. It allowed me to see the events that were causing me to feel so anxious and to start brainstorming ways to adjust my life to lower my anxiety.

Now that I can clearly see the specific issues causing me so much anxiety, I have a few ideas for how I am going to move forward. First, I'm checking in with my doctor again next week, to talk about how some of my anxiety seems way higher than normal, even given how much I have on plate. I think the logical next step is to cut back on work, but I'm not sure that is what I want. I'd rather get a little more help at home and keep working each day. So, I'm bumping up my mother's helper's hours and asking for help from my family more often. I hope this is all temporary, that I will feel relief from my anxiety as my son gets older, as I start to get more sleep and as I learn to balance three children with a little more grace.

If you struggle with anxiety or depression, please consult professional help or call the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) at 800-950-NAMI (6264).