Motherhood and Mental Health in a COVID-19 World: Now Is the Time to Ask for Help
Last week I woke up, scrolled social media in bed and came across a video of a man in Barcelona playing “My Heart Will Go On” from his balcony, while a neighbor played along with a saxophone nearby. Dozens of onlookers watched and cheered from their isolated balconies. I played the video over and over again, feeling the intensity of the collective pain in our world. Then I bawled as I got of bed, as I put on the same sweatpants I’ve been wearing for a week, and as I made breakfast for my son.
The whole day was like that, a mess of crying from one task to the next. I thought several times, How can you be so depressed while quarantined at home, when so many brave healthcare workers and grocery store clerks and transportation operators are on the frontlines, putting their health at risk every day?
You should be grateful.
It wasn’t until I spoke with my therapist a few days later that I realized I could be grateful for all those working on the frontlines AND depressed about my personal situation at the same exact time. I could be both.
When I was a child, my dad would have “good days” (sober) and “bad days” (drunk), and I quickly learned there was nothing in between.
When I was in high school, I learned that there were “good foods” (low-calorie) and “bad foods” (caloric) and nothing in between.
As I came into adulthood and developed eating disorders and depression, I understood myself to be a “bad” person,” because I did not match up to the narrative of what “good” people look like. Mental illness had stolen from me the ability to be productive and happy and pretty like everyone in magazines or on TV. I knew what it would take to become “good,” but I didn’t have the energy to even take a shower, let alone be all the shiny things our culture demands of us.
It took about a decade of therapy, a lot of time spent with emotional support animals, medication, and a stay in rehab for me to begin to realize that good and bad days, foods, and people simply don’t exist. All the days, all the foods, and all the human beings on earth are far too complex to be summed up into a sad label.
Deep down in my heart, I know this. I know, know, know that the middle path is the true path, that the magic of life is gray, not black and white. But I am a thirty-five-year-old woman on bedrest with a high-risk pregnancy in the middle of a global pandemic, and these circumstances are ramping up my rigid thinking and depressive tendencies.
I need support with my mental health, and for the first time in my life, I’m seeking it no holds barred. I’m working with a virtual therapist, participating in weekly virtual prenatal support groups, and meeting regularly with my psychiatrist to monitor my medication.
Sometimes my son walks in as I’m zooming with my support team. Sometimes I wish I could be sitting in the same room with the other moms in my support group. Sometimes I worry about the cost of my care, even though I’m fortunate enough to have insurance.
But most of the time, I’m grateful. Access to mental health treatment is opening up in a way our world has never seen. Restrictions from insurance carriers are being lifted. Rules about therapists seeing clients in other states are being re-assessed. As I’m writing this, residents from 37 states are eligible to receive virtual behavioral health treatment from more resources than usual, with more states being added every day.
Now, more than ever before, might be the right time for each of us to let go of the shame and stigma that has kept us from seeking help. Maybe now is the time we stop “toughing it out” on our own and accept all the virtual support that is available to us in new and real ways. Distance does not have to mean disconnection, and in this strange era of COVID-19, we can still bring our doctors, therapists, support groups and loved ones close—so close that we don’t have to walk one more second alone with our mental health struggles.
This afternoon, after my virtual prenatal support group, I asked my three-year-old son, Noah, if he wanted to play outside or indoors.
“Both!” he exclaimed, pointing one little hand out toward the window and one down to the ground, right where he was standing.
“Baby,” I said, “just pick one.”
“Both!” he shouted. “Both! Both! Both!”
So my son and I walked to the back door. We stood facing each other, with one foot inside our house, the other foot in the backyard. He looked out at the sun shining on the lavender plant a few feet away, and then he looked back indoors at a hallway cluttered with Hot Wheels cars and stuffed animals.
“I like both,” he said.
“Me too,” I smiled.