illness, parenthood

Oxygen Mask Theory: Mamas, Let’s Take Better Care of Ourselves

Mamas,  I’m gonna be honest with you.

We are guilty of not taking care of ourselves.

I’m not talking about makeup or hairstyles. I’m not talking about spa days or girl’s nights out –although I’m in not necessarily opposed to those.

I’m talking about taking care of our physical and mental health.

Let me tell you a story.

It was 2004.

I had just had my second baby.  The pregnancy was hard and had triggered health problems –unbeknownst to me.

I started dealing with anxiety and depression like I never had before. This was while I was still pregnant.

I had a 2-and-a-half year old, so I chalked it up to lack of sleep and pushed on.

I assumed that I’d bounce back like I had after the first pregnancy.

I was wrong.

So wrong.

Although I had experienced feeling overwhelmed with the first baby, the postpartum time period after my second was severe.

I would even call it scary.

I thought the neighbor guy was stalking us.

I thought someone had put spy cameras in our house.  I was afraid to nurse my baby uncovered because the people who were watching us would see my chest.

The clincher was driving down the state highway in an undivided section one day.

Suddenly, I had the impulse to throw the vehicle into oncoming traffic.

By God’s grace, I didn’t.

All I could think of was those sweet babies in my car.

I knew something was not right,  so I got help.

Back in 2004, the internet was not really on my radar. We had only just bought our first computer, and I didn’t know about Google if it even existed.

 I didn’t have a momma group online or even in real life that I was part of.

And the people around me didn’t talk about depression.

Except one friend who quietly admitted to me that she had been taking antidepressants since she was 4 months pregnant.

The older ladies at church and even the women’s ministry leaders did not approve of medication.

It was considered okay if I used supplements, but medication was not okay.

When I mentioned to the pastor’s wife that I was experiencing depression, I was enrolled in a discipleship class.

The implication was that if I had been a “real” Christian I would not be experiencing depression.

I’m always up for a Bible study, so I agreed until I found that no child care would be offered for this Bible study time, and I couldn’t afford to hire a sitter.

I was encouraged by the church women to not see a doctor but to pray and read my Bible more.

I’m not going to sugar coat the social and moral stigma associated with depression.

It’s real. It’s definitely there.

More so in some groups than others.

But, here’s the thing, what if I hadn’t sought treatment?

My husband said that he lost his wife for a year after my second son was born.  

How great would the damage have been if I had ignored these warning signs?

I didn’t hear the term “postpartum depression” until a few years ago.  We called it the “baby blues.”

I didn’t hear the term “postpartum psychosis” until a few months ago when I Googled the symptoms I had back then,  particularly the paranoia.

I’ve not really talked to people about this.

It’s scary to think of how much I could be judged for admitting this.

Let’s be honest, who wants to admit that they went a bit psycho for a few months?

But, I think this needs to be talked about.

Not just postpartum depression, but all women’s issues.

You are not helping your family by ignoring your health and mental health issues.

You cannot adequately take care of your family if you have these unresolved health problems.

We moms are all worried about making sure our kids have adequate health care, but what about us?

Remember what they always tell you in the airplane about the oxygen masks?

Put your mask on first; then help your child.

You can’t help your kid if you can’t help yourself.

I know of women who have undiagnosed and untreated mental health problems and it’s negatively affecting their family and basically their whole life.

Some of them really probably do need medication to treat their out-of-control symptoms.  

My health is so bad that much of the time my family has to take care of me, but imagine how bad it would be if I weren’t incredibly proactive about my health!

For many years I was not proactive about my health.

I just followed what incompetent doctors said –even though I knew they were wrong.

I just got sicker and sicker.

Mental health problems complicated by autoimmune diseases.

Nearly a decade went by.

When I finally started worrying about dying from my symptoms, I started fighting for my health.

I became my own advocate.

I didn’t give up until I found answers and treatments that worked for me.

This has been a long and arduous process, but it has been the best thing for my family.

I honestly think that mental health is even more important than physical health.

Because, if I can’t physically take care of my family, but I’m loving, kind and calm that’s not traumatic for my kids.

If I’m angry, obsessive, verbally abusive, controlling, paranoid, manipulative due mental health issues that need addressed, that’s worse than a mom who can’t walk.

That’s seriously damaging.

So, check your mask first, mamas!

I’m not saying to ignore responsibilities and abandon your kids.

I’m saying find out your issues.

We’ve all got issues whether it be Adrenal Fatigue or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or something else.


Fighting for your physical and mental health is fighting for your family.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you it’s not.

Don’t let anyone ever shame you into thinking you shouldn’t take care of yourself.

Don’t let anyone shame you out of taking medication that you need to take care of your family.

Address your issues so you can help your kids address theirs.


Sarah Forbes


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