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How I Learned to Love Myself

How I Learned to Love Myself
by Angie Fitzpatrick

I didn’t learn to love myself until June 2006, thereabouts.

I had my first child at 35. I waited years for a variety of reasons: not enough money, not a ‘good time’, relationship wasn’t ready, etc. but it never occurred to me that I wasn’t ready. Or that I wouldstruggle, doubt myself and be filled with an overwhelming sense of dread, confusion and anxiety while embarking on the journey or motherhood. I expected the picture-book version and in that version, I was the ultimate mother, loving, kind and completely happy.

Ferguson Spitfire was induced four days past his due date. All in all it was a really pleasant birth experience. We brought him home doing the happy parent dance and settled in for what we knew would be a hard time.

About six weeks out, I couldn’t stop crying. I cried at everything—all the time. I cried at McDonalds commercials with the happy mama who bought her daughter a Happy Meal and smiled at her. I cried because I didn’t feel happy. I didn’t feel that joy I was supposed to feel.

I also started to become increasingly anxious. Actually, the anxiety was probably always there but I just now started to notice it. I worried incessantly that he would stop breathing at night and maybe I should check –just one more time. I worried that my crying would screw him up somehow. Then I really got into trouble. I start worrying about my ability as a parent. I surely couldn’t provide enough education—enough nourishment –enough social structure—enough happiness. I knew I was failing as a mother.

My husband said, “You gotta talk to your doctor.” Enough was enough right? I should be happy! I wanted to be happy. But I don’t need help. I can manage. I can do anything I want. I was raised that way—a child of the 70s and a girl child at that. Feminism taught me that I can do anything I want do to, be anything I wanted to be. Hadn’t the women before me laid enough of a foundation for me to, in 2005 do whatever I wanted?

Reluctantly, I admitted I was having a lot of troubles, with everything at that point. Keeping together, making it through the day. I was having troubles leaving the house and even doing everyday things like making dinner or taking a shower.

I had postpartum depression. Although I’d heard of it, I had no idea what it would look like or what it would feel like. I also had postpartum anxiety which, as it turns out, is more prevalent than I thought especially in the “I can do it all” type mama that I was.

I got help… I got medication from my doctor. I started seeing a LCSW because I couldn’t afford a Psychologist or Psychiatrist. I saw really great lady who started using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with me and put me on a step by step plan to ‘fix me’. What I came to discover is my anxiety stemmed from lack of self-love. I had no faith in myself. No confidence. Flash back to high school and lack of participation in social events—my 20s and lack of participation in social events—an extreme fear of being disliked, of not being perfect.

I worked hard. I was so tired of feeling this way –inferior, inadequate, unlovable.

I had weekly assignments. Pay attention to your thoughts throughout the day and stop negative spirals, replace your thoughts with positive ones. “Talk myself out of the tree”. Be accepting of your limitations and not expect to do it all. Set yourself small goals, accomplish those then relax, you’ve done enough.

My hard work paid off. I got better. And I’m pleased to say that I’ve had not one bit of social anxiety ever since. No feelings of “not fitting in”. Instead, I felt full of self-love and accepting of myself in all aspects. It’s ok to not get the dishes done every day or to make an adequate dinner and not a perfect meal.

I started volunteering with a local organization that helps mamas coping with postpartum depression and anxiety. Through working with them and helping others, I completely healed. I wasn’t alone and neither were the mamas I spoke with on the phone. I understood and together we were united in the common goal of loving and accepting ourselves in our journey into motherhood.

And now, six years later, if I start to feel anxious, or to have doubts about myself, my self-worth, I merely need to remind myself that I don’t need to feel that way. I don’t want to feel that way. I’m ok. I like myself. I love myself. And I all owe all my self-love to postpartum depression and the birth of my son.