Guest Blogger: Tara Bowlin on Motherhood and Mental Health

Hi guys! I am so excited to be guest blogging for Caroline! She and I met via Instagram a couple weeks ago when we discovered we are both motherhood and mental health bloggers. A week ago, I had the idea for us to guest blog for one another, giving each of us the chance to help spread our message about mental health awareness to a broader audience. This also allows the readers to hear a different perspective and story of a mental health journey, hopefully encouraging and helping you all. So first things first, let me introduce myself quickly!

My name is Tara, I am from Tennessee, and I have a two year old toddler. A lot of “T”s, I know. I own a photography business, Tara Bowlin Photography, (clever name, I know), and I focus on lifestyle and wedding photography. Also, of course, I run my own blog, where I share stories of my mental health journey, blogging and social media tips, and anecdotes of motherhood. When I started my blog I knew I had to discuss mental health because I believe in breaking the stigma that is associated with so many emotional disorders. The more openly we discuss our anxiety, OCD, Bipolar Disorder, whatever it may be, the more normalized it will be, the less shame that will be associated with, and hopefully, the more likely those who suffer are able to get the help they need.

From the age of five I have struggled with mental health issues, but I was never fully aware of my disorders until I gave birth to my daughter. The official diagnosis I have been given is PTSD, which has side effects of OCD and Anxiety. My PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a result of being a victim of child abuse growing up. Some of you will probably want to feel sorry or sad for me, but I ask you not to. I survived, and the sad fact is that I was one of the lucky ones. 5,000 kids die every year in the United States from child abuse and neglect.

Now I am receiving help through therapy to deal with this all, and honestly, I am in a really great place in my life. Two years ago, this was not the case at all, and I want to share with you all how I came to realize I needed help. My hope in sharing this story is that if you too are experiencing these symptoms you will get the help you need, but also that you will be encouraged that your quality of life can greatly improve.

Before I had my daughter, I suffered from the occasional bout of depression, a couple panic attacks, and extreme social anxiety. I had alway dealt with all of that the best way I knew how: distracting myself. It never occured to me that any of those were symptoms of a bigger problem. All I knew is that I did not, and had not for many years, felt truly happy. I hated being alone because then I had to face up to all of that unhappiness. All throughout college I surrounded myself with people, social events, extracurriculars, etc. that helped me stay distracted. When I graduated college, I did not have that bubble of a campus that constantly had something going on, so I started partying all the time. When I say “all the time”, I mean I literally drank and did something with my friends at least five days a week.

I had a huge group of friends so there was always someone wanting to do something… and that something involved alcohol every time. Alcohol helped me shed my social anxiety, and I would become the life of the party. For a couple years partying worked great to help me stay “happy” on the surface;  But, as many of you may know, you cannot run from mental illness. There were so many times at the bar I would get drunk, stop and look around, and feel so empty. Inside, I knew that I was not achieving anything of importance because I was constantly at a bar. It was not the type of life I truly wanted, and I knew I was capable of so much more. Yet, I felt I was in a lifestyle that was inescapable.

Partying all the time, having people surrounding you and wanting to hang out with you, getting all dressed up and being hit on at the bars; It’s all shallow, but it’s also addicting. While I wanted a more meaningful life, I was torn because the lifestyle I was living felt kind of glamorous. Eventually the alcohol was not living up to the original intentions I had for it, to distract me from depression and anxiety, so I started moving on to harder substances. First, I tried Adderall. Then my friends’ diet pills. And eventually I was snorting cocaine before I went out. None of it was working though. There was still this cloud looming over me, and I felt as if I was on this downward spiral that I couldn’t stop.

One morning I woke up and had this feeling, out of nowhere, that I should flush my cocaine. So I did. The next day I realized I was late on my period, took a pregnancy test… and sure enough, it was positive. Immediately I stopped drinking and doing any substances. The excitement of my pregnancy and becoming a mom kind of became a new drug for me, but I suppose in a good way. I finally felt as if I was achieving something of importance and as if I was doing what I was meant to with my life. Truth be told, I did not have any real mental health issues while I was pregnant, surprisingly. Of course, I was grumpy as hell that last trimester, but who isn’t?

My problems really started after my daughter was born. Something I did not know is that if you already suffer from anxiety, depression or OCD then you are more likely to suffer from a more intense postpartum version of those disorders. Guess what? That’s exactly what happened to me.

I love(d) my daughter so much, I felt so attached to her it was terrifying, and I became overwhelmed with fear of losing her. She slept so well that first month when we brought her home from the hospital, but I would wake up ten to twelve times a night to make sure she was still breathing. For the first in my life, I had a stable home life. I was in a relationship with a man I love and who cared about me, and we had a beautiful daughter together. My life seemed so perfect, and I did not trust it all because it was something I hadn’t experienced in the past twenty-seven years. Suddenly, I was so scared of losing not only my daughter, but my new happy life.

My boyfriend would run to the grocery store, and I would start bawling because I felt so anxious, sure he would get in a car accident and I would never see him again. I worked from home, and I could not focus on my job because I consistently had to lay my hand on my daughter’s chest to make sure it was rising and falling with her breaths. Anything I could do to try and make sure my newfound happiness wouldn’t come crashing down, I would do, and that is when the OCD crept in.

I needed to control everything so it would be perfect because I felt if it was not, something bad would happen and my life would fall apart. Sometimes it would be as strange as not putting my daughter’s stuffed animal back in a specific place before I left the house and feeling that if I did not, we would get in a car accident . Slowly and surely, I needed everything in my home to be in a specific, designated place. One day my boyfriend left his toothbrush out on the sink before he went to work. I, needless to say, flipped out.

I called him screaming and crying, calling him every name in the book, telling him he was incapable of the simplest task. It was, of course, just a human thing to leave your toothbrush out on accident, but to me, it felt like the end of the world. After a few hours passed, I realized how irrational I was being, but I couldn’t figure out why it had felt so scary in the moment. We both had no idea why this was happening to me, but I am blessed to have a supportive partner who suggested I go to therapy.

My therapist explained to me about postpartum anxiety and OCD, which I didn’t even know were things at the time! Like so many others, I had only heard of postpartum depression. Eventually, my therapist and I realized that I had always struggled with these symptoms, and after disclosing to her about my childhood abuse, I was diagnosed with PTSD. It turns out having a child triggered my PTSD, because I was so terrified of becoming the mother I had. My worst fear was to abuse my child or lose my child how my mom had lost custody of us because I was so angry all the time.

What makes me different than my mom is that I am receiving the mental health care I need. My mom was suffering from bipolar disorder my entire childhood, but she never received any help. Back in the nineties the negative stigma on mental health disorders was even more intense, and we lived in a rural area where things like that were just not discussed. If my mom had been able to see a therapist or get the medication she is now on back when I was kid, I could have had an entirely different childhood.

The most important thing in the world to me is that I give my daughter a happy childhood, a loving home, and a supportive environment, These are the things I was denied as a child, but that doesn’t mean I am incapable of providing them to her. My mental health disorders do not define me or set a path in stone for my life. Life is all about choices, and I am choosing to get help. There is absolutely no shame in that. I have always known I am capable of so much, and now by seeing a therapist and getting the help I need, I am achieving some of my greatest goals. I truly feel so happy. Sure, I struggle with anxiety and OCD still, but my medication has helped a lot. My PTSD may never go away, but I will never let it win or overshadow my life again.

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