To be clear, I’m not writing this because I think I owe anyone explanations. I’m clear about the fact that women owe no one any aspect of their bodies, no control, no explanations; and we certainly don’t owe anyone a “snapback” success story, regardless of whether we have one or not.
But I am writing this because I believe that in this, as in most things in life, there is a lesson to be learned. And, since my blog is a space where I share the lessons I’m learning on this journey, it’s only fair that I recognize this story here, as well.
As I said before, I actually didn’t gain much weight from the pregnancy itself. Of the over 100lbs I had to answer for, only 15 of it happened during the actual pregnancy. But even though weight loss happens, this isn’t a weight loss story. It’s a mental health one.
That’s a lot to have to answer for as a personal trainer, a nutritionist, and someone who created a public identity around helping people live healthier lives and hopefully shed a few pounds in the process.
The truth of the matter, however, is that my mental health deteriorated in a way that came to a head during the time shortly after childbirth… and, if I were being honest with myself, had been slowly crumbling for a while.
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One of the funny things that happens when you talk about emotional eating, is that people simply want to fix the problem that the food poses. Some people want healthier ways to eat compulsively—that is, they accept the compulsive behavior as a part of their lives, they just want a way to do it that doesn’t result in weight gain or other related chronic illnesses. Some people just want to lose the weight, and refuse to see that the compulsive behavior—or the food that causes it—is actually the problem in and of itself. They want to eat what they eat and still manage to lose weight, because the attachment they feel to what they eat is something they want to maintain.
People don’t want to see compulsive eating for what it is—it is escapism. What are you escaping from? Why are you hiding? What happens when you don’t know?
That’s a question I tried to answer on my own, in several different posts here, and I’m comfortable with my answers. But now that you’ve decided to not escape and hide in food, what happens next? How many ways have you created to protect yourself from the self-harm you engage in when life is hard?
When Baby Sprout was born, I felt the weight of postpartum depression, and I felt it heavily. It’s a widely accepted fact that one of the greatest predictors of postpartum depression is whether or not the person giving birth had depression prior to pregnancy, but I never once considered that what I was feeling was depression.
In those early months, I laid in bed the entire day. I laid there with a pitcher of water, all of his feeding and nursing materials, and the remote. I stayed there, in bed, the entire day, and I was happy to do it—I thought that’s what I was supposed to do, as a new mother. Lay back! Be doted upon! Relax! You and baby!
Except soon, I stopped leaving the bed at all. I stopped getting up to go out, I stopped getting up to go eat. I relented at the idea of taking my oldest to school, I was slow-moving to pick her up each day. Once the summertime arrived, I stopped leaving the house at all. The only time I really ate was when my husband came home, bringing me plenty of food to last me through the next day. I, always starving by the time he arrived, devoured a day and a half’s worth of food in one sitting. My husband became, quite honestly, a single parent—managing the oldest child, the house, the dog, the food, and his job is an exhausting endeavor. I still have no idea how he managed.
When you slowly isolate yourself from the outside world, the outside world becomes difficult to conceptualize. Everything becomes a source of fear. I was terrified of leaving my home and breastfeeding Sprout in public, for fear that someone would bark at me or harm me for having the audacity to bare a breast in public. I’ll never forget—a moment I can look back on in laughter now—taking the baby to the annual Chili Pepper Festival and, when it came time to nurse him, putting the cover-up over both his head and mine, because I was afraid he would feel alone under a sheet by himself. And I cried under that sheet, feeling stupid, feeling embarrassed for being so scared, feeling sad that I wasn’t brave enough to just do it, like so many other women. My husband rubbed my back, told me it was okay, stood beside us like a giant bodyguard, but it was of no use. In my head, this was a legitimate fear. Being overrun by that kind of legitimate fear, however, is its own problem: postpartum anxiety. And it kept me in the house, afraid to leave on my own for almost two whole years.
Weight gain looks like a lot of things, and is caused by a lot more. I know that—I always knew that, and that’s reflected in the pages of this blog. Being empathetic towards people who struggle with different parts of this journey was an early blessing, because it made it easier for me to express the self-compassion needed to assess how I got where I was and how I was going to get out of it. I don’t judge people by how they look and assume they suffer what I suffered through, and that wouldn’t make sense anyway—even once I achieve my goal, I’ll still live with these mental health concerns, just at a far smaller size.
Put more crudely, I was a mess when I was fat, I’m a mess at a smaller size now, and I’ll just be a thinner mess when I get where I’m going.
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I live with depression and anxiety daily—it is a part of me that I have to work with, not ignore or hide or pretend doesn’t exist even when I’m staring it in the face. But this makes me a better trainer, a better nutritionist, and a better resource to the people who follow and support the work I seek to accomplish. I know what it looks like to feel like you’re stuck in the quicksand of depression; I know what it sounds like to have adopted a framework that mentally stifles you instead of liberates, encourages, and supports your growth. I also know what it means to feel absolutely no motivation whatsoever to do anything that doesn’t give you the joy or satisfaction of doing for others. It has made my empathy muscle stronger than I could ever imagine.
I know what it feels like to lack motivation to feed yourself healthily, or feed yourself at all. I know what it feels like to really want to get up and move, and still feel unable. Those aren’t problems caused by “excuses.” Those are problems that need a special kind of encouragement. I’ve been there, I am there, and may very well always be there. And hopefully, I can help someone else who’s there right now.
My mental health took a dive in a way that I was wholly unprepared for, but I am prepared, now. I am getting care. I have a weekly date with a psychiatrist. I work hard to ensure that I leave the house each day. And I go to the gym often as a means of not only relieving pent up tension and anxiety, but to get back into fighting shape. And, I’ve got to say, I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I’m maybe 30lbs away from my current goal—I can’t say for sure because, hello, #ScaleFreeForever—and man does it feel good.
If there’s a lesson to take from this, it’s to stay in tune with your star player. When things feel off, ask yourself: “what’s going on?” Use the cues around you—not just whether or not your clothes are fitting correctly, but whether or not your friends are hanging in there. Whether or not you’re getting out of the house, whether you’re feeling increasingly stressed out, whether your grocery carts are looking a little more like you’re ready for an overeating session.
I let my mental health get away from me in the rush of life, but I now know how bad it can get, and that I have to be just as protective of myself as I am my children. I have to stay healthy for the people who love me and depend on me just as much as for myself.
I am thankful for the sisters (and brothers) who worked to uplift me, rebuild me, drag me out of the swamp, throw me lifesavers and—in some cases—hold my head above water to keep me from drowning. I am thankful for the brother who sat on the phone with me and coached me into leaving the house each day until I had my own internal tape that played for me, coaching me to do it on my own. I am thankful for the sister who took my left hand in hers, put a glass of wine in my right hand, and said “I think you need to go to therapy.” I am thankful to the sisters, like my girls Bassey and Sam, who are so open and honest about their mental health and their self-care. And I am thankful for the people in my life who are supporting my effort to return to the real world as a full human being, imperfect and learning, but still standing.
And as my sisters (and brothers) said to me, I am saying to you: be proactive about your health—mental or otherwise. We talk a lot about the risks to black women with regard to childbirth, but what is flying under the radar is the fact that we are dying at the hands of mental-health related causes, too. Mental health-related causes are, in fact, determined to be a leading cause in pregnancy-related death. Just like we may now need to stay on top of our heart health during pregnancy and be our own physical health advocate, check in with a therapist once a month during pregnancy and stay on top of your mental health, too. Don’t look at me like I’m crazy—pun not intended, for once—I’m serious, fam.
Stigma is real, y’all. And we have to protect ourselves, and each other. Don’t be afraid to say, “I have a therapist,” or “I need a therapist.” Don’t be afraid to be proactive and get mental health care while you’re pregnant. And don’t be afraid to say “something isn’t right,” or take the active steps to figure out what it is. Had I not done so, I might not be here to write this post.
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Or lift that weight. All 170lbs of it.