Note To Self: Battling Your Inner Critic and Accepting Setbacks

File this in your “things no one tells you about motherhood” folder: being a “new mom” can feel a lot like being sixteen again. Especially if you were a late bloomer, like me. Sixteen brought me braces, break ups, awkward acne and ill-fitting clothing. Socially, I lagged behind my friends, dreading lunch, study hall, and anything that required me to make conversation and “just be cool.”  I was a terrible driver, locking my keys in my car the first time I took the minivan on a solo outing and a week later, rear-ending someone on the way to school. Physically, I saw myself as a fixer upper. I caked on make-up and acrylic french manicures. I curled my hair and fussed over my bangs. I wore nylons and dresses and chunky high heels.

At sixteen, I wanted to be anyone but myself.

Like many of you, I have always been at odds with my inner critic. She made herself at home in my head around age 10 and has since proven to be a petty, relentless perfectionist and a shitty roommate. As years rolled by, her voice became stronger and lounder. To her, getting older meant facing your expiration date, which she cunningly told me was age 30. I believe one of the reasons I wasn’t set on having children in my 20s was because I hadn’t figured out how to love myself as an adult.

Since learning more about myself and my brain, my inner critic and I have been pretty civil. She comes in handy when I need to push myself to try new things. Her doubt continues to power my grit and my drive to build a career I can be proud of. She nips at my heels on the days I’m feeling blue, and she’s the reason I chose to get out of bed on the days it feels nearly impossible. I lived to see 30. I got married again, quit my stable job, and had a baby.

Now that I have a baby (which is very different from having a baby) I find it harder to tame this inner critic of mine. Having a baby was all about making lists and reading books and getting prepared for the most important job I’ll ever have. Now that baby is here and life has returned to “normal,” I’m just trying to keep all of our heads above water.

Since coming back to work, the decline in my mental health has manifested itself in many ways: I crashed my car. Shattered my cell phone. Lost my keys. I’m up late refreshing Instagram until the wee hours in the morning. Fully written blog posts started to disappear. I locked the dog in the car. I miss furniture deliveries, text messages, meetings, brunches with friends, phone calls with my mom. With each misstep, my inner critic became louder and louder. And I’m starting to feel a little numb.

And so at 15 weeks postpartum, it’s time to take the gloves off and face this inner critic again.

The hardest part about having a setback in your emotional life is accepting the need for help. That’s what I’m gifting myself today, on my 33rd birthday. The gift of acceptance and self care.

I’ve used this blog to talk about my experiences, mostly in the past tense. It’s very hard to write about what I’m going through right now, mostly because it’s hard to untangle an exhausted brain and partly because it’s super scary. But I’m reminded of how many people we’ve helped by being brave and sharing truths on W&D and I hope by standing up and saying, “I’m not OK right now” we can help others who find themselves where I am today, tomorrow, or in the future.

Last weekend a friend asked me how I was doing and I answered honestly for the first time since August was born. It felt good to say my truth out loud and to give in to the vulnerability that comes with asking for help. It’s important to remember that while 11-20% of all mothers experience some kind of postpartum depression within their child’s first year, life keeps moving. It has to. She isn’t broken; she is in progress.

Image by 2nd Truth

  • As a fellow new mom, I just want to say “thank you” for having the courage to share this. I’m not dealing with postpartum depression myself, but many of my friends have. It’s so important for women to know this is normal and treatable, and that it’s okay to say you’re not okay.

  • This is a beautiful post. I’m expecting and have struggled with some anxiety and mood swings. I am a candidate for post partem depression. I wonder often how it is all going to work? What does not help the worry is the array of perfection-oriented images and messages out there. What does help is hearing from strong women who are not afraid to be honest when things are hard. Authenticity sometimes means vulnerability and i so appreciate your authentic sharing in this post.

  • One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard about my inner critic was to rephrase everything she was saying as a question and then answering it honestly. (I’m a idiot! Am I an idiot? NO, I’m stressed or lonely or tired…) Most of the time I come around to understanding that there is no “there there.”

    I also would just say that if you check in with yourself and say, “I’m not OK right now,” that is fine. But if you say, “In this moment, this exact moment, I am breathing, I am well-fed, I have a roof over my head, and a beautiful baby” (or whatever the true beautiful things are in your life) you may find you can counter your anxieties, for that moment. I have been anxious my whole life, and grounding myself in just the very second of breathing, when I think of it, has been transformational. I wish you peace and joy! It’s a long and ongoing journey.

  • Thank you. “I am not ok right now” is such a powerful thing to say to yourself…and know that this, like past times, is temporary (it just doesn’t feel like that). As someone who experiences depression and knows the struggle to get out of bed, put on a smile, and pretend like you can manage what you used to…I just want to send you a hug and tell you that you are stronger than you know. Thank you for being vulnerable on a larger stage to shed light on this. <3

  • Thank you so much for sharing this, Kate. I’m expecting in April and, while thrilled about the new little life to come, am anticipating that I’ll also face postpartum depression given my ongoing struggles with depression and anxiety. Given the high incidence of PPD, it’s sad that so few people share their experiences openly, but I can see why…there is so much pressure to simply glow and bask in the experience. It’s so brave and selfless of you to come forward and share your story…so many of us will benefit from your candor.

  • So beautiful, Kate. Loved reading this, both as a woman and as a mother-to-be in her third trimester. Bravo to you for facing your struggles head-on and knowing that you need help and time and self-care. And, super-Bravo for sharing this here, so publicly. You are one brave, fierce woman. Such an inspiration. You’re going to be just fine. <3

  • First, happy birthday. I found myself in a similar situation after our daughter was born and again after our son arrived, 3.5 years later. The initial weeks after child birth are filled with a kind of dizzy and satisfying “get all the things done!” kind of euphoria. “Nurse! Write a blog post! Do the dishes! Clean some poop! Look, everyone at how well I’m managing!” For me, the hard part came when I realized that that sense of needing to do all the things was never going to fade away, and it began to feel like that’s all mother hood was. I applaud your decision to be public about how you are feeling. I too, struggle, but it’s gotten better. You will find a happy place with your inner voice will just be there to say “keep going, you can do it. Not always perfectly, but doing it just the same. “

  • Thank you for your honesty. I felt so isolated during the first few months of motherhood & then going back to work (to a job I love!) was a even greater challenge & balancing act. I hope you are able to make some time for yourself. Take care!

  • Hey Kate,

    I wish I could hug you. I’m so glad you can offer yourself acceptance on self care on your birthday (happy belated birthday!), and it’s heartening to see someone be honest about the stress and anxiety they are right in the middle of dealing with. Keep taking care of yourself : ).

  • First of all, happy belated birthday and all the best for this new year in your life and the challenges it may hold.
    Secondly, thank you so much for sharing your struggles with us. It’s difficult to be public about one’s struggles, although it certainly shouldn’t be…

    As a fellow perfectionist with a relentless inner critic I can certainly relate. It helps me to remember that all my different (conflicting, imperfect, human) parts are what makes me unique. Take good care of yourself and try not to hold yourself to impossible standards.

  • I came across your blog by coincidence and am glad I did.Am new mom too, lil one is going on 3 months.And I can relate to what you say as though I wont use word depression for myself, it is definitely one. Things annoy me so quickly, it feels as am on emotional breakdown almost everytime i speak to my other half.

    I love your line “She isn’t broken; she is in progress.”

  • You are an inspiration. I’m a frequent reader but infrequent commenter but after this post today I had to say hi. This post is the exact reason I started my magazine, Holl & Lane. More people need to stand up and say “I’m not okay, right now” and I’m hoping to change that. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to have struggles and mental challenges. But the more that we say it’s NOT okay, the more people are hurting. Thank you for reminding me that what I’m doing is needed, and thank you especially for sharing a piece of yourself with us.

  • This is beautiful, Kate. If/when we do share our struggles, it is almost exclusively in the past tense and with a big but – “I was dealing with ____ BUT now ____.” Saying, “I am not okay RIGHT NOW and I don’t have this figured out at all yet” is so powerful.

    You will get to the “I was / but” stage. In the meantime, I’m so grateful that you are sharing the process of getting there. You are brave!

  • Thank you for sharing this. As an “old Mom” -my youngest is 17- this post brought back memories of trying to be perfect. Being a mother is hard work and all the reading and planning cannot prepared you for the challenges. But asking for help, and giving yourself time to enjoy your baby is necessary. Your house can wait, there is take out food available and daily showers are overrated! And accept and ask for help. Take care of yourself.

  • Oh Kate. Thank you for being so honest. While I’m not a new mom, I’m certainly not new to the inner critic and occasional bouts of depression. Please know you’re not alone. And that asking for help is okay. And that you are strong enough to silence your critic.

    Also, you’re doing a great job.

    xo

  • Oh man. Thank you for sharing. I feel what you’re going through. Only looking back now do I realize how low I was during my postpartum days. I knew but couldn’t fully admit that I had postpartum depression. Gosh–such a hard a vulnerable time.
    Please know that it does get better. It will get easier. I love babies but I think my babe is just getting better and more fun as she ages. (She’s 15 months now and SO FUN). Things will never be “the same” as before, but a new normal will arise and you’ll feel “yourself” again. Also please know that you’re doing great and you’re not alone. I think your struggles are more typical that we think, but most people aren’t as brave as you to share them. Thank you for being open with your struggles. I’m rooting for you!

  • A great piece Kate. As hard as it is to talk about it. Your words are great as always. I was so low at about this same time you are at. I mean very low. Like look in the mirror and couldn’t see who I was anymore one day. I was exhausted, beat down, lost, and hard as hell on myself. It has taken me time to work back to any level of myself that feels whole, but little by little 2 steps forward and 1 step back I feel at this time 30+ weeks I see myself and have found my footing. Everyone is different, but I am here telling you it gets better because I have been at a dark place where I wasn’t okay. I have friends going through it in every direction. Hang in there. Take care of yourself. Be gentle. You are doing great even on the days you feel you aren’t. You are doing great, because you are trying and that’s all that matters. Talking about is huge though. I remember saying I was struggling out loud for the first time and it felt just that was a step in the right direction. Happy Birthday by the way.

  • I had postpartum depression also – but didn’t realize it till years later while in nursing school reading about it. I kept telling my doctor how TIRED I was. was told that is normal. It didn’t feel like a normal kind of tired. I loved my baby – and felt horrible about not having energy or motivation to do even the basics. Eventually – slowly, so slowly – it lifted. That was 25 years ago – Kate – you are a brave, strong woman – naming it and asking for help is hard – but will go a long way towards getting you the help you need to feel better now – not months or years later. My heart and prayers are with you.

  • Thank you so much for this! As the mom of a toddler and one on the way AND a business owner trying to get it all done, your honesty, vulnerability, and grace really resonated. Thank you for the important reminder that one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is acceptance and self-care. Wishing you all the best!

  • Kate, you are courageous and strong sharing what you’re going through right now. I didn’t realize until much later that I too battled some postpartum depression, and wish I recognized in the moment. As I anticipate the arrival of my second, I’m keenly aware that I need to be alert to this happening again. Hang in there and know being a mom is a continuous learning process, but you’re not alone. The sisterhood of motherhood is a wonderful thing when we support one another.

  • Love your last words. I was running around at home yesterday like a mad woman trying to 50 things in 15 minutes and just felt so frustrated, over nothing but yet everything. That and this are a great reminder to always be honest with ourselves, no matter how hard it can be. Here’s to making progress.

  • As a new mum, I struggled so hard with a super fussy baby (reflux, milk allergies, cat napping the lot). I would cruise social media during the endless rounds of night feedings and feel that I didn’t have my life together, all these other new mums on instagram did. They would talk about how amazing new motherhood was how their baby just slotted into their life and they can’t remember a time without them – they would be out of the house in a cafe! when I couldn’t even get my baby into the car without us both crying. I applaud you for opening up and indicating that beneath a picture so much more can be going on in someone’s life. I applaud you for so saying so publicly I am not okay now but I will be. You have a massive audience and I hope other new mums can see that it is tough and that it is okay to take it one day at a time. You don’t need to be a super mum your baby just needs you to do you – whatever form that takes. Ps. having a fur baby as well is so tough although the love the two share is so worth it in the end.

  • I don’t have children, but I will say that being able to see and share the fact that you are in flux (feeling depressed, stressed, anxiety), is so important. Gifting yourself the space to be honest is paramount.

  • Thank you for sharing your truth. There were many times after I had my first that I remember thinking “Why did I read everything about having a baby, but not about being a mom??” My brain hurt, I felt off and different. Whoever I had spent 30 years making myself into was now someone I barely recognized. My partner and I struggled through normal days. Neither of us knew what was happening with me. It wasn’t until I read Cup of Jo’s post in 2/2012 about “the hardest two months of her life” that I considered maybe I was not “fine”.

    You are right, you are not the same person anymore. Your body and mind have changed in HUGE ways that may not be evident to everyone else. But I encourage you to be kind to yourself.

    We have #2 coming any day now. My partner and I have talked about how I/we will be different afterwards in no way that we can truly prepare for. However, this time we are ready for certain changes to take place, to ask for help from our friends and loved ones and to honestly look at how I am day-to-day.

    Please, keep sharing what you are comfortable with. The more we talk in this space, the more we can help each other.

  • Thank you for sharing, Kate. You’re right on. Motherhood is amazing, that little human is amazing, you created that little human! But it is awfully tough and just plain miserable at times, and that goes unsaid too often. Once August starts interacting with you and showing his own personality, the fun will really begin! Best wishes to you and your family!