As a mama who has spent the past 7 months struggling to stay clear of a second bout of post partum depression, and as a normally very upbeat “go get ‘em” kind of person, it is amazingly challenging for me to be as honest here as I know I need to be. Before having kids, I was sure I’d always be insanely busy; super social; well recognized and liked for what I do; a mama who didn’t let kids “get in the way” of who she really was. Well, after battling post partum depression throughout the first year of my now three year old’s life and unfortunately revisiting that gloomy place following the arrival of my second son, I realize that pre-kids, I knew nothing about how profoundly having children would affect and change me.
As so many of us are, I was committed to holding onto my “old self”. But as uncomfortable as it has been, I am realizing that in many ways that “old self” no longer exists. As hokey as it may sound I feel somewhat reborn. I am not the woman I was before kids. Yes, the concept of yoga, dance and backpacking do still thrill me… I still love people and truly thrive in social and community related arenas, but at the same time, just about everything about me has changed. It is wildly uncomfortable but what I am working on today as a “newish” mama, is seeking peace with the new me. Listening to my gut. Leaving behind the world of doing it right and achieving. Accepting the unknown. Redefining myself and yeah, kind of starting over.
In retrospect and through the pain of depression, I realize how , prior to becoming a mother, I survived on shining accolades from the outside world. Were the dance events I held full to capacity? Did I exceed the wildest expectations of my clients? Was I best friends with a pretty ridiculous number of people? Were my weekends booked to overflowing with exciting volunteer and social activities? Did I have inspiring and interesting stories to share at every turn? Was I liked and accepted? Was I doing enough and doing it perfectly?
Letting go of what in many ways made me “me” pre-kids, has allowed me to step beyond an almost paralyzing need for approval and recognition. Being the best at things. Having the best stories to tell on Monday at work. Making sure I was liked by everyone… It was exhausting on a core level. Wiping clean the slate, has in many ways freed me. I will achieve. In fact, I am achieving now but it’s on a more intimate level than ever before. I am walking a private path. This is new and uncomfortable for an innately social person. Can I stay true to my need for love, community and adventure while simultaneously honoring my new self? Being quiet has helped. Simplifying my social circles. Letting go of “shoulds” and comparison. Doing less, not more. Contemplation. Walks in the woods. I know I could successfully coordinate mama-oriented events. I could launch back into work with smiles and success. I could recommit to an awe-inspiring yoga or dance schedule. I could definitely do more, more of what the “old” me would have done. But where is the line that honors this new path?
Recently I was asked to answer the question “Who am I?” without saying anything about things that I did…. I was stuck and found myself near tears. The depression and questions I have struggled with since having the boys has evolved around becoming okay without constant outside reassurance that I am the best/succeeding/loved/doing more & better than most..etc. Can I be me, truly accept me and not define myself by a job, a project, a form of exercise, a hobby? Without wild tales of success to tell when I run into acquaintances, can I accept myself not as Leonie; the friend, the realtor, the event coordinator, the world traveler, the dancer; but rather as just Leonie… a strong, loving, committed, hungry, passionate, positive, friendly, willing to be quiet, tired, scared at times, antsy, curious, mama to two and introspective woman nearing 40? Can I smile and share a piece of the real me, rather than depend on a crazy tale from my latest accomplishment in order to be accepted and feel connected?
It is this question and my willingness to surrender into it which is helping me to find a way out of pretty ugly periods. I am blessed that this second bout with the blues has been quite mild compared to the first. I feel blessed that I have had the chance to strip away everything and ask these questions. If I had kept working as much as I once did, had stayed as busy and as externally focused as I once was, this raw and real side of me, this more authentic, grounded and straightforward me, this new me would have remained unknown. And this new me is capable of anything. I might not be climbing mountains, but I birthed two incredible boys and that alone was insanely beautiful and life changing. I might not be hosting sold-out dance events, but I made it through long months of “colic” with both kiddos and some damn ugly post partum depression. Life is simple now and there’s a whole lot more space in my heart and head when I’m not worrying about the rest of the world and what I “should” be doing. Honestly, not knowing this side of me, no wild tales or grand list of accomplishments, would not only have been a disappointment to me, but I know that in some awesome ways that being this vulnerable, willing and real of a woman, will only benefit my boys, as well as the rest of my wild and wonderful journey as Leonie.