Mental Health Collection: Sheila's Story (Part 2 of 3)
Welcome back! Here is Part 2 of Sheila’s story (for Part 1, click here). In this interview, Sheila speaks about her experience with postpartum anxiety and cervical cancer. She also talks about the tools and support she received to help her through it all. We are honored to have her share her story with us, and with you!
Amanda: Sheila, you spoke earlier about your experience with postpartum depression…but you also struggled with postpartum anxiety. Can you tell me about that?
Sheila: Yes. Rylee, my daughter, was born in June 2012 – two years after Cash was born. I wasn’t taking medication anymore at that point, but Dr. A and I had a plan before Rylee was born. With my history, there was a chance that I would need postpartum medication again. Dr. A said: “We won’t start them until you feel you need to. You are aware, you’ll know when you need them.”
S: Yup, of my feelings and my triggers (at that point, I knew Zach had triggered me when I was pregnant with Cash). After Rylee was born, I was okayish. She nursed constantly and was awake a lot more than my other one. I remember posting a picture on Facebook of Rylee in her swing and both the boys sitting over the swing. It was so fake. Basically, the post was: “Oh, I’m loving life right now.” And that was not at all what I was feeling.
(Sheila's Facebook post from 2012. She said she was loving life...but she really wasn't. And that is okay.)
A: What were you actually thinking?
S: I was actually thinking: “I don’t know how I’m going to do this. How am I going to do this?”
A: What do you mean by that?
S: While I was pregnant with Rylee, a few people made some comments. Not in any malicious way, but just in a flippant way…just because Cash was a very busy two-year-old and I was so tired from being pregnant and running after him. There were comments: “How are you going to handle it? You can barely handle him now.” And I took that on. It was in my head all of the time, over and over and over: “How are you going to handle it? How are you going to handle it?” The mind stuff, right?
A: Oh the stories, yes.
S: In addition to the self doubt, I had other anxiety as well. I am terrified of storms and tornados. The summer that Rylee was born, I would find myself sitting up at night for hours looking out our bedroom window…waiting…watching the clouds and sky.
A: Was there anything happening outside?
S: No thunder. No lighting. Usually clear skies. And if there was any thunder or lightning, my anxiety would be so much worse. That summer was bad for storms.
When Rylee was 10 days old, there were actual tornado warnings in Saskatchewan. I don’t know if it was around our town…probably not…but my mind said it was right above me. I spent most of the day under the stairwell with my two baskets of clothes and food and my baby and my toddler.
When Jeff came home that afternoon and pulled me out from under the stairs, he said: “Okay, there are no storms. Sheila, if you look out the window, there are no storms…” I said: “Okay.” He said: “So, do you have a regular checkup appointment with your doctor tomorrow?” I said: “Uh-huh.” He said: “You need to tell him about this.” I said: “Why? I am not yelling at Zach.” [Laughter] Right?
A: But that’s fair, based on your previous history!
S: Exactly. Being mad at Zach was my previous trigger. But this time, Zach would come home from school and I was able to hug him. So it wasn’t depression at that moment. It was anxiety. It was a full blown panic attack about a cloud in the sky.
I went back to Dr. A the next day for a regular checkup and he said: “How are you feeling?” I said: “Well, I should tell you about this.”
I was able to be so open with him and I never felt judged by him. I felt like I could talk openly. That was a huge factor with me being able to feel good. I went back onto medication, which definitely helped; it helped with the anxiety and the really, really bad days. After a year, I went off that medication.
A: How did you feel after that?
S: I felt okay. I received some counselling information from my doctor, just in case.
A: That’s fair. It sounds like you had some good support from your doctor.
S: Yes, for sure. Then in January 2014, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I had a hysterectomy in March 2014. The recovery was terrible. I remember lying in my room for at least a week and just being under the covers and not being able to move because I was down. I just couldn’t move, I just couldn’t get up, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t walk.
Jeff made me go to the doctor. I went back on medication and it was a different pill than with the postpartum; I wasn’t breastfeeding anymore so could take different medication. I didn’t like that one at all. I didn’t like how it made me feel; it helped because it took the really bad days away but I didn’t laugh, I didn’t enjoy life. I didn’t have any good days, I was just very…
S: Numb, perfect wording for it. I ended up going off that medication, and going to counselling instead. I’ve also had great support from family.
A: What did the support from family look like?
S: After Cash was born, I experienced social isolation because I didn’t have any mom friends. I didn’t get out of the house. My only outlets were Jeff, Zach, and my in-laws. Thank god for my mother-in-law. She was amazing! She supported me and she was absolutely lifesaving. After I had been to the doctor and got on medication and felt more stable, I mentioned it to her that I was taking medication. Then she opened up to me about her struggles with depression.
A: That’s amazing.
S: It made a big difference. There is some depression and anxiety in their family, so sitting there and watching them and learning from them and seeing how open they are with a lot of their stuff has helped me big time.
S: Yes. It’s okay to have a story. It’s okay to talk. Like one of your decals says: it’s okay to not be okay.
A: [Laughter] Isn’t that amazing though, that you are with a man whose family has experienced some struggle…to have that support and that comfort level. That’s beautiful.
S: Yeah it is!
A: Beside family support and medication, what else has helped you?
S: I started going for Bodytalk sessions last year, which has helped so much. I’ve also talked openly about my experience. And I’ve had great support from friends. I still do. And this is actually where Grounded Goodness comes in. In the decal packs, you’ve included blank decals, to write on?
A: Yes, absolutely.
S: I bought your decals, my friend Cindi bought decals. One day, I was having a really, really, really shitty day. Cindi took the ‘You are beautiful’ decal and put it on my mirror. Then she took a blank one and she asked Zach to write on it for me. He wrote: “We do! Love you!”
And it took me a good six hours before I actually looked in the mirror and saw them. It was just a really shitty day and I don’t look at myself when I am having a really shitty day. And Cindi put them on my mirror to make me feel better.
(Sheila's Facebook post from 2016, showing the encouraging decals on her mirror from her friend Cindi and her son Zach.)
A: Did you cry when you saw the decals on your mirror? Like, good cry?
S: Yup. [Laughter] That was in 2016. The depression has been part of my life for years now on and off.
A: Overall, would you say you’re feeling much better?
S: Yes, for sure. Because of the counselling and BodyTalk and talking.
A: Can you share more about the ‘talking’ aspect of it?
S: Being open, talking, sharing my story is the biggest part of healing. I have a little bitch in my head who just says a lot of bad things; it’s just this gremlin in my head right? That’s what my depression is: a gremlin. Talking shuts her the hell up [laughter].
A: I love your honesty. Your bluntness. Thank you.
S: Talking about it is huge. This is the Doula coming out in me. Women struggle to talk about it because they are ashamed, and then it keeps the depression going. There is this thought out there that women should enjoy motherhood. Women should be good moms and that if you yell at your kids you are not a good mom. But there are many things that factor in, and depression and anxiety are a couple of them.
A: You can be a great mom, but feel like you’re not being a great mom. And it’s just related to what’s going on in your head. And you can’t control it.
S: Yes, exactly.
A: It’s awesome that you got help.
S: Yeah…I think so too.
A: I’m intrigued by how your experiences have shaped your being a Doula?
S: It’s all related. Being a doula is my calling – it’s me. It’s what I do.
This concludes Part 2 of Sheila’s story. Watch our website and social media for Part 3 on Friday. You won’t want to miss it, as Sheila speaks about how her experiences with postpartum depression and anxiety have had a positive effect on her role as a Doula.
Thank you Sheila, for sharing. You are an inspiration and we are very grateful for you.
Amanda, Rebecca and the entire Grounded Goodness Team
P.S. We are simply trying to spread awareness about the importance of mental health, by sharing stories and experiences. We are not qualified to extend advice, but there are many resources available, which include the following: