Disclaimer: This article contains information on the topic of mental health. I am not a medical professional nor a therapist. Please know that I am not providing medical advice, and recommend that you consult your healthcare provider or therapist as necessary. There are also points in this story that may be triggering for some. If at any point you feel triggered, please close the browser or application, put down the device, and take a deep breath.
Now let’s jump in.
I recently returned from my six month secret Sabbatical and am feeling more renewed and enlightened than ever. Yes, you read that right, I said Secret Sabbatical.
Up until a few months ago, the only time that I remember hearing about the word sabbatical was in college. But then one day at church it popped up. Our pastor announced that after seven straight years of preaching, without much of a break, he was planning to take three months off to spend time with God, his family, and himself. A chance to actually disconnect to reconnect. He said it was a very strategic time. That a sabbatical is soul work. It’s a time to get back to the person that God created. A chance to step away from the noise. A chance for you to fill up your cup…
As he spoke these words my eyes filled up with tears… and the term secret sabbatical came to life. I just knew it was a gift from God as it popped in my head, and I immediately jotted it down in my notes…
Every single thing that my pastor was mentioning in regards to a sabbatical, I’d been doing. For months actually. And I still had the intention of carrying it on for at least a few more months. The only difference between my situation and what the pastor was describing was the fact that I chose to embark on my sabbatical in secret. At the time that I made the decision I didn’t exactly know why. But something told me that my journey wasn’t meant to be shared while I was in it… something deep down in my heart told me that I was being used my God in an effort to heal, grow, and learn so that I could then teach. And so I obeyed. Every single day for six months, until it was clear that the time had come for me to share it. Now I’ll be totally honest. The point that I knew that I was supposed to share came weeks ago. But as with all major points in my life where I’m asked to step outside of my comfort zone, I resisted. I actually sat in bed hours on end battling with God. Trying to find an out… but nope, it kept coming back. It was clear that I needed to get over my fear and go all in.
Now in order to understand the importance of this sabbatical, let me take you back. It was January 9th, 2021. I sat down at my kitchen counter. Opened up my laptop and through the uncontrollable tears, headache, and sense of defeat, I began to type into the search bar…
p.o.s.t.p.a.r.t.u.m (long pause) d.e.p.r.e.s.s.i.o.n.
Pages upon pages of search results came up, and I started down the rabbit hole. I read for hours. Sending quotes and articles to my husband, who I couldn’t even bare to share the news with. I hoped and prayed that somehow through my endless articles and obscene amounts of text messages he would find a way to step in. To save me. Because God knows that I had lost all hope in saving myself. All I wanted was help. I just wanted to feel normal again. I wanted to smile when my baby smiled. I wanted to want to get out of bed in the morning. I wanted to be me again.
Up until this moment it had been a frustrating and emotional journey. Mainly because I refused to believe it. Any new mom knows that every single doctors appointment that you and your baby go to for the first few months, which is a lot, includes a quiz about postpartum depression symptoms. It’s taken very seriously. I remember being at an appointment when our son was just days old. I was holding the baby so I asked my husband to read me the questions and I would answer. The nurse walked in the room and snatched the clipboard away and said that only I was allowed to answer. I didn’t even think twice as I answered. Of course I’m fine I told myself. I am the expert at being fine. I meditate. I go to therapy. I am obsessed with personal development. I’ve been preparing myself for this very moment that I am in for months. I run a successful business, I mentor young women in sports, I’ve got this. (as I quickly checked the boxes and moved on to the next thing)
I had battled intense postpartum anxiety after my daughter was born three years prior. And eventually it took its physical toll on my body. My levels were off, my cholesterol was high, I couldn’t keep weight on, and I struggled to control my thoughts.
Because of this, I had mentally, physically, and emotionally prepared myself for this experience. I had all of my self-care practices in place, put my business in an amazing position, and jumped in with two feet.
I only took 24 hours off of work when my son was born. And although you may think that I am going to say that if I could do it all over again I would change it, but I wouldn’t. Because I believe that my work, especially during these dark, oh very dark times, was my anchor. Scheduling at least once call or zoom per day meant that I had to get out of bed. I had to at least brush my hair and my teeth. And I got to be someone that I recognized. Lauren, the CEO of LW Branding was someone that I knew. It was familiar to me, and quite frankly gave me hope that she would someday return in true form. Because let me tell you, everytime I looked in the mirror I had no idea who was staring back. It was like a blank soul. Sometimes with no emotion and sometimes with so much emotion that I couldn’t even make sense of it.
It started on day two. We were still in the hospital waiting to be discharged and I could feel the anxiety coming on. I felt like a caged animal in the room. I was pacing. I couldn’t sit down. I couldn’t relax. I just needed to get out of there. That night my husband and I got into a huge fight. I remember sitting on the toilet with tears streaming down my face. I felt so much emotion, all at once. That combined with the lack of sleep, the crying baby, the toddler who couldn’t understand how the baby in my belly was now in our house, the dishes, the laundry, the physical pain… The thought of how hard this was going to be crossed my mind, but I pushed it out of the way and kept going. It’ll be okay. I’ve got this… little did I know that was just the beginning.
It slowly progressed into constant anxiety and then the depression came on hard. Of course it hit right at the time that my husband started his new job and had to travel. And then he caught covid and was forced to quarantine in the back part of our house that we could close off, which also meant that the help that we did have at the time for the kids couldn’t come over. I was left completely alone with both kids for days on end. This was was breaking point number 1. And the beginning of me entering into survival mode.
Shortly thereafter the intrusive thoughts started. In case you’re not familiar this are unwanted thoughts that pop in your head at any time. It’s hard to admit this but my intrusive thoughts involved terrible violence, ideas of harming myself and my kids. Then the thoughts worsened, and it felt like the voices inside my head were trying to convince me that it would just be easier if I went away… this was hard. Even just typing this out makes my body cringe and my eyes well up with tears.
My saving grace in these moments were God, my kids, and all of the work that I had done up until this point.
I would go to battle with the voice in my head. Literally talking back and telling it no. Sometimes I would journal how I was feeling just to get it out of my head. I increased my meditation in an effort to strengthen my ability to be present, to allow the thoughts to come in, recognize them, and then let them move on. Because as we all know, the more you fight them the bigger they get. Then somewhere in those moments, I would hear the baby cry, or my daughter calling my name, and it was like God giving me a subtle reminder that they needed me. As much physical pain and anxiety that I actually felt every single time that my baby cried, it was another anchor. A reminder that the cry meant that he needed something… that he needed me.
As I think back on a lot of this, most of it is a blur. I really don’t remember much from those first few months… I look back at photos and struggle to place myself in those moments. It’s made me that much more grateful to cherish the moments that we have now…
Speaking of moments, let’s bring it back to January 9th. When I finally mustered up the courage to type the words into my search bar… I’ll never forget one particular article. It was a husband sharing his wife’s battle with postpartum depression. After reaching her own breaking point she begged the hospital to admit her to the psych ward. She said that couldn’t go on any longer and she knew that this is what she needed. The hospital refused to admit her. They said that she didn’t look like someone who needed to be admitted. They encouraged her to go home, try therapy, and keep going on with her life. Just days later that woman took her life. There were tons of other articles like these… husbands begging the system, the doctors, the partners to take postpartum depression seriously.
Acccording to Masschusetts General Center for Women’s Health, suicide is actually the leading cause of death in perinatal women. This was a statistic that I did not take lightly.
And so the journey began.
I began researching the underlying causes for postpartum depression. I read countless medical journals about hormones, sleep, and the brain. I researched every single food and supplement that could help, and quickly ordered all of it. I began to journal my emotions. They seemed to make at least a little sense when I could see them on paper instead of just feeling them from my head to my toes.
I took it day by day and moment by moment for a few months… until I decided that it just wasn’t the progress that expected. That’s when I made the appointment with my doctor with the surefire intention of walking out with a script for some sort of medication to help ease these emotional pains and downright scary thoughts.
After a quiz and a discussion, my wish was granted. It felt like such a relief. Finally I felt like someone understood me and that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
However, after reading the pamphlet that came with the prescription cover to cover, and spending the next night journaling and in conversation with God, I didn’t feel like the timing was right. I felt like there were a few more things that I needed to try on my own before I went down this path. Honestly, and I know this might be hard for some to hear, all I could think about was what if all this medication is doing is masking a deeper issue. I wondered that if I took it, and it helped for a few months, maybe even a few years, and then I tried to go off of it, would I fall right back into where I had been? I felt like I had been to actual hell and back, and wasn’t willing to take that risk. If I was going to get out, I needed to get out for good. I wanted to make sure I cleared up the root cause of my issues before going down that path… plus, I had the prescription. It always felt like my safety net being tucked away safely in my drawer.
So I committed to a deeper journey. Something that I knew was going to be extremely hard before it ever got easier. I enlisted the help of my secret sabbatical team which included my doctor, my therapist, my business coach, Oprah, Pastor Steven Furtick, and of course God…
I would like to pause for one minute right here and mention that I understand that the route that I took is not an option for everyone, in fact I have personal friends and fellow mamas who’ve had amazing success with antidepressants, both short term and long term. But my goal here in sharing is not to offer the popular opinion or share those women’s journey. I am not here to give you advice, but only follow what God has put on my heart and that is to share my own journey.
What happened those next six months is what has become my secret sabbatical.
The number one thing that I did was sleep. After intense research I found out how much of an effect sleep has on our bodies, and our hormones. And for those who aren’t familiar hormones play a huge role in postpartum depression and the postpartum journey as a whole. Sleep regulates the level of cortisol, which is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It’s also known as the stress hormone. Cortisol helps regulate other hormones in the body. I became so intrigued by this knowledge and research, and of course put it into practice right away. Now up until this point our son had been sleeping in our room in his bassinet. But because I had committed to this journey and making my health my number one priority, not just for me, but for my family as well, it meant that it was time to transition our son into his own room and sleep train. My husband was fully on board, so we bought all of the sleep sacks out there, and within 4 days he was sleeping 7-8 hours at a time, and then eventually 11-12 hours every single night.
This was crucial because it meant that I could get consistent REM sleep, which is the phase of sleep that restores your brain and is good for memory and learning. I also found out how good it is for postpartum depression and anxiety.
Once I conquered sleep, I added a morning ritual. I made a point to get up at least 5 minutes before the kids so that I could enjoy my cup of warm water with lemon and apple cider vinegar in peace. Even just these 5 minutes felt like such a treat. It was a time to give thanks to God, list off a few things I was grateful for, and just breathe, before the rush of the day began.
And this is how it went. I would slowly start to add in new habits and rituals as I conquered them. I know myself and knew that trying to instill tons of new things at once would feel overwhelming and the likelihood of them sticking would be slim.
Then I built out my tool box.
My toolbox is all of the things that I do on a regular basis whether I’m in a good or bad place. It’s become particularly important on the good days to continue to keep my cup filled up so that if something pops up (because it always does), that I can handle it more with ease. The toolbox also serves as my emergency life preserver in the midst of straight chaos.
Some examples of what I keep in there include: morning water, electrolytes, meditation on the calm app and insight timer, the spa music channel on my amazon alexa, prayer, deep conversation with God, daily movement for my body which sometimes meant a full on pilates class and others a walk around the block, herbal tea, taking baths with epsom salt, essential oils, reading tons and tons of books, sermons, soul sessions with Oprah listening to her Super soul conversations podcast, therapy sessions, painting, palo santo, gratitude lists, and most importantly time to be fully present – that meant and still means time away from my phone and computer, time in silence. And last but not least is acceptance and permission. I accepted that I was not okay, and became okay with that. I also gave myself permission on a daily basis to make myself the number one priority.
I think we underestimate the power of acceptance and permission. Especially in a society that tells us that our worth lies in our ability to perform, what we look like, or how much money we have in our bank account. It’s why it’s so hard to make the decision to go down a deep spiritual journey with ourselves. Because how dare we choose ourslves over our work or our friends. But the reality is we can’t be our best selves to our work or our friends if all we do is give.
Although this is ending on a light note, I can’t help but mention how freaking hard this has been. It’s hard to choose a book and en early bedtime over netflix and a glass of wine midweek. It’s hard to choose saying no to friends or family to instead ensure that I have a weekend to relax, unwind and meditate. It’s hard to force myself to events when my social anxiety is at an ultimate high. It’s hard to turn down business that would add to my bottom line, but not to my overall value and mission… it’s all so hard, but it’s all so worth it. And the ultimate best part of my secret sabbatical is that I’ve successfully figured out how to live a life that lets me rise to the top in business, relationships, and joy, but still make the decision every single morning to choose myself first.
My secret sabbatical opened my eyes to a life that is brighter. Both literally and figuratively. I swear that colors look brighter to me. I notice more little things, like a butterfly or a flower. I can find joy in the least of places. And most importantly, I can bring myself back to center at a moment’s notice… because although I’ve done intense work, the depression and anxiety are still there. I’ve just learned how to see it, address it, live with it, and embrace it. One of the most beautiful gifts I have been able to give myself is embracing all that I am, and all that I was created to be. Not trying to course correct or fix, but to embrace, embody, and enhance.
We all have a choice. What will yours be? Will you join me on this journey. Will you consider taking your own secret sabbatical?
If at any point reading this you were touched or moved, all that I ask is that you share it with one person. And if you feel compelled to reach out to me directly I only have one request – please don’t apologize. I don’t want pity for the darkness that I’ve walked through, but I do always accept love and light. I remember the first frew times I shared my story with friends and their reopsnse was “I am so sorry that you went through that”. I kindly said, please don’t be sorry because I am not. This has been the most transformative experience of my life. And I appreciate you taking a moment out of your life to share in it. We’re all in this together. xo