Last week I confessed how difficult my "early" pregnancy was to accept — especially the first few weeks. Dark times, my friends. But it's not just an unexpected pregnancy that can make us younger mamas slump into a negative funk. Maybe it's the sudden realization that you still want to live the "typical" 20-something life — that maybe you missed out on something. Maybe it's suddenly becoming a single mom. Or the nagging feeling that you'll never accomplish your professional goals — that you're stuck, and you're blaming motherhood.
Now I am in no way a mental health professional, so when your negative funk turns into a cloudy depression, consider getting some real help. You might also want to turn to someone who actually knows your specific situation — because what do I know?
Well I know what it's like to claw my way out of several negative dips, and I've learned a few things along the way. If I could go back in time, here are some things I would have told myself. And maybe some of it will resonate with you, too.
1. Understand that some change *is* in your control
It's so common to feel out of control — not only with unplanned pregnancy, but with motherhood in general. You go from being in total control of your dreams, setting off on your own path, to suddenly being responsible for other people's lives. You owe them security and stability, right?
I distinctly remember driving up to work one day, after weeks (months?) of feeling trapped in a good yet unfulfilling job, and the same steady narrative was puppeteering my numb thoughts: Plenty of people are out of work right now, you should be grateful. You have phenomenal benefits and the ability to retire early. You have bigger responsibilities than your dreams. And then a simple statement changed everything:
This is your life — your only life — and your only shot. You're in control of this.
There was something about taking back that control, of really owning it, that was like stepping out from a fog. Suddenly every minute felt urgent — like I had to be proactive in shaping my life, even amidst all of the things I couldn't control. I had to try.
Please don't sit down and accept a watered-down version of your life. Don't fall into the stereotypical "Well I was going to _____, but then I had kids." Don't let your circumstances define you — even when it feels impossible. Because it's not.
Take back the control.
2. Be mindful of your thoughts, and the roots of your fears/concerns.
Alternatively titled: STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS.
This is just a general tip that I've found really helpful, and maybe you will too? Negativity feeds off negativity, starting off as swirling dust that spins itself into a cyclone. It's so easy to be scanning Facebook — at photos of your friend's vacation or updates of your ex-colleague's accomplishments — or even just driving in the car while your thoughts wander, and suddenly you're in a darker place. The familiar thoughts — the doubts, insecurities, put-downs — start to get to you, fueling more negativity until you're in a terrible mood, feeling hopeless.
I've found, personally, that it really helps to be acutely mindful of when these thoughts start, and then consciously switch gears. If you find yourself constantly slipping into the past — reliving old mistakes or indulging in the "what ifs" — just stop thinking those things. It sounds really easy and simple, but it actually made a big difference for me. Just acknowledging that a certain thought can lead to more unhealthy thoughts, and then replacing that thought with something healthier, was a big game-changer for me.
It's difficult to stop the thought-tormenting tornado once it's in full speed, but you can stomp out the dust cloud that starts it.
Part 2 is analyzing WHY you keep having those thoughts, and what you can do to make yourself feel better. Basically trying to replace unhealthy thoughts with a healthier mind-state (like turning fear into curiosity).
3. Take responsibility
When you can finally stop blaming other people for your situation — whatever that situation may be — and accept full responsibility, there's a weight of anger and resentment that gets lifted. It can also be the first step in regaining some of that control that I was talking about up ^^^ there.
4. Find forgiveness
This has been a big step for me this year. There are certain people in my life who I held a grudge against — I blamed them for certain situations, all of the situations. But once I took responsibility — owning the fact that I DID play a part, even if it was just by not knowing any better and looking at it as a lesson learned — I was able to really, truly forgive. And it's been freeing.
Forgiving someone isn't about letting them off the hook; it's about letting yourself be free from negative, harmful emotions. It's about YOU.
Beyond forgiving others, it's so important to forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for your dark and disturbing thoughts. Forgive yourself for being angry and negative. Forgive yourself for wanting to let loose and party every now and then. Be kind to yourself.
5. Let go
Alternatively titled: STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING.
Let go of what you thought your life would look like.
Let go of what you think your life "should" be. Of what other people have, or what other people are doing, or what other people think YOU should be doing.
Just let go of the preconceived everything, take a look at the life around you, and start from there. Crawl inside of your family unit and block out the noise around you — because none of that matters.
Just let go.
Finding acceptance and peace with your life isn't something you should expect to happen by the end of this post. It took me years, quite frankly. Because even though there's still plenty within my control, there's also plenty that isn't.
For so long I was dwelling on the aspects of my life that I couldn't change, but god, how unproductive is that? How much of my brain capacity was being used up by magical thinking? I can't magically change the people around me. I can't magically create jobs that don't exist. I can't magically erase my stretch marks with a giant Tide stick. I couldn't magically turn back time and not get pregnant. Along with taking control of the things I could control, came accepting the things that I couldn't. It sounds crazy cliché, but it's a cliché for a reason.
And for the record, I don't think I REALLY accepted my pregnancy until Noah was born — if that makes you feel any better.
So you should maybe accept that this whole acceptance thing might take some time. Be patient.
Do you have any of your own tips? Spill...
All photos are prints from Studio Mela on Etsy.com.