I’ve shared a million baby items and motherhood recommendations, but today I’m sharing the absolute one and only life changing item in my mothering toolbox. For a twist: you can’t buy it, register for it, or gift it, but I cannot mother well without it.
(Remember that scene from Legally Blonde, where Elle Woods has the epiphany in court and says, “Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy, happy people just don’t shoot their husbands!”? It’s kind of like that.)
When Trey was nine months old I thought I was experiencing postpartum depression, so I marched myself to my doctor for a prescription. I knew I didn’t feel like myself and wanted to change that, and it seemed like a straightforward fix. My doctor said, “I get it. But also, how much are you working out?” My response: “Working out? (Thinking, “Do I look like I have the time to work out? I have an infant.”) “Not at all.” She said, “I will write you something, but first I want you to try working out every day for thirty minutes for one month, and then tell me how you feel.”
I agreed, but I actually thought, “This is bad practice.” Telling someone who is depressed to work out felt like telling someone to swim upstream with weights on. The mountain feels insurmountable. Even just finding and putting on shoes takes so much mental energy, let alone moving your body enough into a jog, and when would I even find the time? Also: I come from a thin-framed family, and it seemed like the marketing message I got for the primary reason for working out was for weight loss, and I couldn’t see beyond that for any other immediate benefits.
I have never been so wrong in my life.
I started my “prescription,” by running two miles, every single day. Maybe because it was orders from my doctor, or because I felt so desperate, but for whatever reason, I somehow stuck with it, stringing days together, then weeks. I slowly felt better and better, and at some point, the fog completely lifted. I was back. Everything felt easier again, and more lighthearted. I was my usual self. Little things that used to bother me didn’t as much anymore. I found joy again in motherhood. My email inbox didn’t seem so overwhelming. I became an absolute believer in endorphins. I found a way to fit a workout in every single day, and I was hooked.
Maybe perhaps the most radical idea about all of this is that it was an internal fix, not external, and my doctor knew this and trusted me enough to get there. I came out of it on my own, and I now had this tool in my back pocket should I ever need it again in the future.
And yes, I would need it again.
Fast forward three years to this past summer when we welcomed our next baby. After a traumatic pregnancy, I knew I was poised for another round of postpartum depression. I knew the stats, I went in wide-eyed, I knew it was more likely to go there this time, and maybe even sooner than before.
It did. The first week after Blaire’s birth I felt amazing. She was here, she was whole, she was healthy, we made it. Then something shifted and It was more intense than the time I experienced it before. But this time, I knew what to do. At 5 weeks postpartum I laced up my shoes and started running again, mostly because I was so desperate. We also joined a gym and I discovered a love for group exercise. I made it a priority and I found a way to sweat, every single day.
Miraculously, it worked, again.
I don’t know why I was so surprised, since it worked for me before. Maybe because my PPD felt more intense to me this time, or because when you’re in it, you can’t really imagine anything getting you out of it. Regardless, I was back to my normal self within a few weeks and life didn’t feel so hard. I could handle all the normal ups and downs of life and even the more intense emotional and hormonal shifts that come with the territory of a new baby.
The moral of the story is: if you are struggling in motherhood, whether you are two weeks postpartum or two years, make time in your day for exercise. Maybe group exercise isn’t your thing, maybe it’s swimming or spin (I actually despise both), but give me some running shoes and a good playlist, or a dance class with fun choreography and I am so in. Find what works for you, something, anything, and do it every single day. Get those endorphins however you want, it doesn’t matter the medium, it just matters that you get them. If you think you don’t have time, the truth is, you don’t have time not to. Even if you already fit in your pre-pregnancy jeans. My life is infinitely better in a multitude of facets from endorphins, and it’s pulled me out of PPD twice. I am an endorphins advocate, and I want everyone to know it.
Notes: this is just my personal story to share, I am not a doctor. I realize that no two cases of PPD are alike, and for more moderate to severe cases of PPD, exercise might be helpful but likely not the whole solution. There are many other tools for treating PPD including medication and therapy. Please please please reach out to your health care provider, partner, neighbor, or anyone if you are struggling. You are not alone and you deserve to feel better.
Shared in partnership with my local favorite: Brooks Running. I wear the Launch 6 and Adrenaline GTS 19 and love them both. Grateful to partner with this local company who has made such an impact on my mothering, mental health, and overall outlook on life.