May is Postpartum Awareness Month. So when Kara Hololik shared her wish to write about her experience with postpartum anxiety with my readers, I knew this would be the perfect opportunity.
Walking Through Postpartum Anxiety-Kara’s Insight
My nickname in high school was Happy Kara. It’s seriously written in my yearbook, and that persona has really been with me throughout my life. Relentlessly positive, but in a good way, seeing the bright side, finding the good, and always smiling. I can’t be sure, but I think if you ask anyone who knew me they would not have called me negative. But inside my own mind, I lived in a hidden anxious world. It was a constant buzz and I believe all my outward positivity was partly fueled by this nervous energy.
My transition into motherhood was relatively bumpy, with a 33-hour induced labor turned c-section and failed attempts to nurse. I was able to throw myself in full force though and came out on the other side at the first birthday party feeling confident and secure. During my second pregnancy, I went headfirst into VBAC prep and doula hunting. My friends and family were a little worried at just how consumed I was but I had my eyes on the prize, and when it was successful, to say I was elated would be the understatement of the century.
There wasn’t a crash after that.
It was a slow and steady decline from the post-birth high into hell.
Signs and Symptoms
After months and months of no sleeping, and nursing stress, and oh the expectations, I snapped really bad at the baby. I don’t remember what he was doing, but I was visibly shaking in anger, my face was hot and red, and I just screamed. I am still surprised I didn’t shake him or do anything physical, but it was close. I was home alone with a baby and a 2-year-old, and that moment brought me right to attention. What could a 10-month-old possibly do to make me so angry? This just doesn’t make sense. Why am I so angry?
I immediately called a therapist and booked an appointment. I unpacked many years-worth of anxiety. Layer after layer, I discovered root causes, and triggers, and management tools. I can see now that the anxiety was creeping up on me during my second pregnancy. I was able to successfully hide it from myself with my birth preparations and the general busyness of mothering until my reserves were depleted. My go-to method of replacing anxiety with positivity turned against me pretty quickly into a shame spiral.
I believe now that I didn’t recognize my anxiety sooner because it presented itself as anger. Happiness and positivity were so much a part of my identity, I could not recognize it. The electricity of anger and anxiety felt the same as excitement. It was right there under the surface, slowly rising in temperature so I didn’t notice until I was boiled. It affected everything and did a lot of damage, mostly to my own sense of self and psyche.
It’s taken some time to dig out, with the help of therapy and medication, but I really feel like it’s for the best now. I can recognize the anxiety when it creeps, and differentiate it from the expression of other healthy emotions. I have developed ways to not only manage it but also how to own it and walk through it. I don’t need to hide behind positivity or happy smiles to tamper down the racing thoughts, in fact, they only added fuel to my fire. Staring anxiety in the eyes, and owning its role in my life, has given me power and agency not only over my brain but of my life.
Post-partum anxiety revealed hidden thought patterns and poor management skills. It gave me the opportunity to recognize this and build new skills and boundaries for better stability in emotions and relationships. Instead of Happy Kara, I now strive for calm and predictability to reduce the wild swings of anger and slow the racing thoughts. Peace and internal centeredness are my new happy. I think I would still be riding that roller-coaster if it wasn’t for the post-partum anxiety snapping me to attention.
Written by: Kara Hoholik
Kara Hoholik is a socially conscious impact entrepreneur and serves female-owned businesses through her work at a tech startup. She can usually be found drinking coffee, writing articles, and traveling the world whenever she’s not chasing her three muddy children and husband around their 14-acre farm in West Michigan. You can connect with Kara on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or her website myeducatedstyle.com