Ask The Therapist: “I know everyone says pregnancy is an amazing experience, but I just don’t feel like myself.”

In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety amounted to roughly 1.1 billion. Since then, numbers have likely continued to rise. Moreover, studies have also shown women especially on average are a) more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and b) less likely to talk about them. The taboo in Pakistan surrounding depression and anxiety disorders only serve to aggravate the individuals suffering even more. For the women who cannot seek out full time therapy, or simply need advice about their problems, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained counsellor. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

“I am recently pregnant and I have been experiencing a lot of mood swings and hormonal changes. I don’t even feel like looking at myself in the mirror or interacting with people. I know everyone says that pregnancy is an amazing experience, but I just don’t feel like myself.”

Shahrukh’s Response:

Dear Anon,

I hear you, and I can really feel your sense of distress. Firstly, I want to address this statement of how “everyone says that pregnancy is an amazing experience.” I can assure you that there are women out there who do not have this profound and positive journey through pregnancy. An experience – any experience, really – will be different for each individual. You are completely within your right to feel the way you feel about yours. A lot seems to be coming up for you in terms of how you see yourself, and I imagine that holds a great deal of importance to you. Let’s try to explore and unpack what’s happening for you right now.

Pregnancy, Body Image and Shame

Let’s look at the concept of body image: this is the relationship or perception that we have with/of our physical bodies. Now, being in a culture like Pakistan, there is an enormous emphasis in how we are meant to look, and certain messages around weight and beauty. One of the more common beliefs that our society has is that slim/skinny = beautiful = being good enough. A message like this can be extremely damaging and can really trigger our shame, and is more or less the core of the body shaming culture that is quite prominent in our country. 

Carrying this belief that our bodies are meant to look a certain way in order to be beautiful or good enough can be quite stressful, especially during a time like pregnancy, where bodily changes are part of the process. To me, it really feels like some of that shame is being triggered right now, and I can understand the struggle. Remember, your feelings are valid and they are coming from a place of pain. Now, the question is: what can you do for yourself during this time?

A Guide To Saying “I Am Enough Just As I am” And Really Meaning It:

Recognising and accepting what your body is going through right now: It can be tough to let go of some of the messages around body image, but it is important to recognise that changes are a part of pregnancy; whether it’s the weight, the mood swings or even the food cravings. Your body is doing a lot and it’s nesting new life! That in itself deserves recognition, praise and even a bit of love and compassion.

You don’t need to be okay all the time: Try to ease off on some of the pressure you’re placing on yourself in terms of how you’re “supposed” to feel. There is no right or wrong here. You are allowed to feel down, you can take some time out for yourself and say: you know what? This is hard and right now I want to stay with what I’m feeling and honour it. It’s okay to not be okay.

Tell the shame to buzz off:  Shame is a monster that serves absolutely no purpose. It is there to control and hurt you. Try to explore some of that shame and ask yourself: what would I rather feel instead of shame? Is it love? Is it compassion? Use positive affirmations – say them loud and say them constantly to yourself. I am enough just as I am. I am brave. I am worthy of compassion. My body is worthy of love and compassion. Whatever works for you, but say it to yourself! You deserve to hear it.

Try to avoid the comparison trap: Living in the age of social media is a tough one. It has perpetuated the concept of making comparisons. We’ll find ourselves scrolling through Instagram for hours, comparing our lives to those around us, or even celebrities. Comparing yourself to others really enhances this idea or notion that you are not enough as you are, or where you are in your life. While it might be tough, try to limit your social media exposure, and be mindful of the content you scroll through. If you do want to explore, try to look at those who might have gone through a similar journey or struggle – and believe me, there are many others who have – and recognise that you are not alone in how you feel. 

Prenatal Yoga: Prenatal yoga is not only geared towards being active during your pregnancy, it also promotes self-love and acceptance especially for your body and the experience you are going through. If you need a recommendation, there is an instructor by the name of Haya Baig. She is an excellent yoga instructor and specialises in pre/post-natal yoga. 

Talking about your feelings in a safe space: Finding a grounding for yourself during this time is really important. Try to surround yourself with those who are there to support you, hear you and who will pick you up during this process, rather than bring you down. If need be, try seeking help from a mental health counsellor or therapist who can perhaps help you work through some of the emotional stress you might be carrying. 

Anon, my heart really goes out to you right now. I imagine it is not easy to carry that burden of expectation around all the time, and I really am rooting for you. Stay in your power, and know that you are enough and perfect just as you are. Good luck! 

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