Monday, 21 May 2018

A Personal Note About Mental Health

I don't usually write about my personal life in my business blog, but today I feel like it's important. As many of you know, in January my son was born. Today Finn is 4 months old! When he was born, my whole life changed, and not all in positive ways.

Before my son was born, I was active. I did field work in December when I was 8 months pregnant, walked our dog, had no problem with household tasks, and on occasion did some strength training. I worked on my balance and basic core and pelvic floor exercises to make sure I was strong enough for labour.

After Finn was born I was shocked with how much my abilities were reduced. My balance was so poor that I felt like I was falling when going up and down stairs. Lifting my son from the floor felt like a 1-rep max even though he was a tiny 6.5 pounds. Walking for 10 minutes felt like an hour of cardio. I didn’t know why I felt this terrible! I felt like I was doing something wrong.

I would sit on the sofa, for hours on end, unable to do simple housework, and I felt so anxious. I created scenarios in my mind where I would have to quickly jump up and get the baby, the dog and cat, and myself out of the house for some reason, and was frightened I wouldn’t have the strength to move quickly enough. I imagined that I would drop my son while carrying him to change his diaper. Looking back, I was feeling the textbook symptoms of post partum anxiety, and it was scary.    

Mental health is something that I have recognized in many of my patients, especially surrounding life changing injuries. Dealing with injury is a difficult time and can trigger feelings of anxiety and depression. I have worked with athletes who are having a crisis of identity as they are unable to participate in the sports that have become such a huge part of their lives. Eventually I started to recognize these feelings in myself. I was having a crisis of identity as I adjusted from being a busy, fierce, energetic and able entrepreneur, to being a mom, and I didn’t know how I would ever be able to combine those things together.

As an Athletic Therapist, it is outside of my scope of practice to assess or treat mental health, but I have learned through research and experience that there are two things that I can suggest to a patient to help them through these difficult times; Exercise and Community. I could quote a dozen studies that show that even a slight increase in exercise can positively effect mood. And a dozen more that show that having a conversation with someone, especially someone who is experiencing something similar, can do the same. I often encourage my athletes to continue exercising, incorporating modifications to protect their injury, and to continue attending team practices and events to avoid isolation.

I realized that I was at a point in my recovery that I needed to start following my own advice. But I was scared! Starting something new, especially when you are feeling vulnerable and incapacitated is terrifying. Luckily for me, the midwifes at my clinic, Family Midwifery Care of Guelph are extremely aware of the difficulties with mental health that new mom’s experience. Through the magic of social media, I learned of a group called Up and Running, a program for new moms struggling with their mental health. I joined their walking with babies group, and now every Wednesday and Friday Finn and I go for a walk, and we talk and are open about how we are dealing with our new lives.

I feel so much healthier, both of mind and of body. The community and the exercise changed my life and helped my recovery. I suppose the take home message here is two fold – don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help or join a community of others when you are hurting, and no matter what, keep moving!