Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the infection rate hasn’t been the only number that has surged in the United States. Depression and anxiety have understandably been on the rise as well. It’s also no secret that the data involving the mental health of mothers is staggering.
As a mom who battles depression and anxiety, I was not immune to those figures, especially considering that I was in an unfortunate situation for several months that compounded my treatment options: Shortly before the pandemic hit in March, I had actually been preparing to transition away from my mental-health provider, a male psychiatrist with whom I just hadn’t been clicking. We had been working together for a while at that point, but I knew deep down he wasn’t the right fit. However, once businesses started shutting down (including the mental-health clinic where I was an outpatient), and he and I switched to phone sessions, it became clear I was going to have to stick with this guy for the time being. For starters, I needed him to provide my medication, and with no lockdown end in sight for those of us living in the New York area, I knew I couldn’t go too long without psychotherapy sessions.
In short, I thought mediocre therapy would be better than no therapy. And that’s where I was wrong. Horribly, dreadfully wrong.
Even though he acknowledged that there was a pandemic out there, this psychiatrist couldn’t accept that everyone’s lives had changed drastically as a result of COVID, and that mothers like me were operating on the thinnest of threads. Despite all my worries about financial solvency and the health and safety of my elderly parents, he laid on the parenting judgment thick: I was shamed for continuing to send my daughter to preschool* and blamed for her delayed potty mastery. It came to the point where I was dreading our sessions instead of looking forward to them as a time of emotional release. Maybe in a different (read: non-COVID) world, his approach could’ve been constructive, because part of therapy is about facing some uncomfortable truths. But as a mother living in the time of coronavirus, I needed understanding from my mental-health provider. Not judgment over my parenting decisions.
For the record, I am no longer seeing Dr. Judgy. Once lockdown ended, I was able to transition to two female mental-health professionals whose treatment methods are much more conducive to my situation. But since I had to continue working with Dr. Judgy until the lockdown lifted, I knew I had to find a stopgap. Something to prevent me from feeling more depressed and anxious after my weekly sessions. That’s when I turned to my old friend Instagram.
No one knows how to live, let alone parent, during a pandemic.
It didn’t take me long to find a whole community of inspiring accounts run by mental-health professionals specializing in what I like to call “Mom Therapy.” After spending months in the darkness — plus being made to feel I was a terrible mother by my own psychiatrist — discovering these Instagram accounts brought a light into my life at the exact moment I needed it.
All of a sudden, I was clogging up my Instagram stories by sharing posts from licensed therapists who talked openly about Mom Guilt, mom-shaming and the “Invisible Load” that we as mothers carry 24/7. These women, through their Canva-illustrated posts, taught me basic truths that Dr. Judgy wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. I learned that we are doing the best we can in, forgive the cliché, unprecedented times — because they are unprecedented times. No one knows how to live, let alone parent, during a pandemic.
One of the accounts that helped me understand that I was not alone in my overall self-loathing was the Breakthrough Mama, run by Anese Barnett, a Washington, D.C.-based maternal mental health therapist. Through her page, Barnett has offered masterclasses in motherhood self-care and self-compassion, the latter of which is a central component of her work.
“[The Breakthrough Mama’s mission] is to break through the silence that can exist in motherhood, that allows for guilt and shame to fester,” Barnett tells SheKnows. “It’s to create a sense of normalcy.”
Following her own high-risk pregnancy and her son’s subsequent NICU stay, Barnett turned her career focus toward maternal support, something she plans to build upon by pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology. She is also preparing to offer a new masterclass in January for high-risk expectant moms that will concentrate on “creating systems in advance that can decrease the likelihood of postpartum depression.”
While Instagram accounts like the Breakthrough Mama should in no way be considered a substitute for professional mental-health treatment, they are a great springboard to getting the help you may need. “It can hold people over in the interim until they can find a therapist,” says Barnett. “It can also inspire people to seek therapy. Maybe they see themselves in a post and realize, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t have to deal with this by myself. I should be seeking professional help!’”
As a working therapist, Barnett was also able to offer some insight as to why these accounts not only appeal to mothers who are struggling emotionally but provide those necessary first steps toward healing: “One of the key principles therapists learn about when taking the group counseling class [in school] is universalism – and I believe that [Mom Therapy] Instagram accounts support that. Universalism means, ‘I’m not alone in this.’ Being able to say, ‘There isn’t something intrinsically wrong with me. I don’t have to be ashamed, because this is a part of the human experience.’”
Other “Mom Therapy” Accounts Worth Checking Out
Run by psychotherapist Erica Djossa, the Happy as a Mother Instagram and corresponding podcast is a valuable resource for those moms looking for acknowledgement of the “Invisible Load” (i.e. the little details like kids’ doctors’ appointments, making sure the house is stocked with supplies, grocery lists, etc.).
The brightly illustrated posts created by therapist Bryce Reddy are an instant eye-catcher, but what really draws you in is the realization that she’s pinpointed every emotion you’ve experienced as a pandemic mom. Knowing there’s someone out there who “gets” you, even if it’s through the wall of social media, can make a huge difference in the lives of overwhelmed mothers.
I love reading Dallas-area therapist Chasity Holcomb’s posts because she is a pro at helping me normalize feelings that can very quickly be defined as “Mom Guilt.” Thanks to her content, I’m reminded that I’m still a fallible human being trying to do a lot at once – and it’s okay if I don’t get it right all the time.
Writer’s Note: I live in Westchester County, New York. My daughter’s preschool was deemed essential by the state and remained open throughout lockdown while adhering to strict safety protocols. There have been zero COVID cases connected to the school as of the time of this writing. My husband and I consider ourselves extremely fortunate that we had this option, knowing that this was not the case for millions of other families.
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