Rarely do I have a post I want to write – and know what I want the body of it to say – but do not know how to start it. In this case it is probably best to start at the beginning. It is no secret that I am a passionate advocate for mental health – particularily in agriculture – but really in general. This is largely due to my own struggles with postpartum depression and anxiety. But I realized after a few recent conversations that I did not have a post telling all of my own story. So here it is.
That was me – in October 2017 – so relieved to realize that something was not permanentaly wrong with me. I had postpartum depression. Here’s the link to the Instagram post I wrote at the time. In part it said:
“. . . It has taken me months to realize I was struggling, months of suffering from increasing sadness, desperation, and an inability to enjoy a lot of things I used to. It didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t even happen every day. But it happened. Slowly. . . .”Michelle Jones – Instagram October 4, 2017
If you scroll backwards in me feed though – you will not see much indication that I was struggling. Not included in my Instagram feed is a trip to Washington DC for a highly successful Wheat Fly-In, winter wheat seeding, and a lot of other things that would indicate I was okay and well adjusted to 2 under 2 mom life plus a busy farm and roles in public policy. But I wasn’t . . .
Sometime between October 2017 and April 2019 I stopped taking my postpartum depression medicine – the kids had grown a little older and I felt better. Perhaps that in and of itself was my first mistake. Regardless struggle crept back in – and I was not okay. The difference was I knew I was not okay – and I reached out to a few contacts on Linkedin who I knew had mental health resources, I made some calls, all of them went unanswered. No therapist returned my call or had appointments available. I live 30 minutes from the largest hospital complex in Montana. This was insane! That frustration led to this Instagram post (I was orignally posted to twitter – but my twitter feed “cleans up” itself so the tweet no longer exists). The outreach from my network was immediate. One of my friends from the Grain Growers had me an appointment in Great Falls with a therapist he knew within the hour (no exaggeration). That was the moment that I realized not only did I have resources, but I also needed to be a better advocate to get people the resources they needed, but also by being open with my struggles it helped normalize struggles for others.
Here is the part of the story I do not know if I have ever told. While medication and therapy kept my anxiety at bay – I still was not truly happy. I never meant to be a stay at home mom and I was not happy doing it, but most of the year that is exactly what I was. And while we certainly live a privileged life – agriculture is always uncertain and financial stress was always a constant. Meanwhile I knew that I could be earning money for our family rather than just spending it. I was meant to do something different than be a stay at home mom. The combination of mental health, financial security, and the desire to do something different led me to my current job at Amazon.
Mired in the midst of the 2020 Pandemic – I wrote this post about Farm On and the mixed emotions that came with the status of “essential worker” in the middle of nowhere Montana. The pandemic led to a rapid expansion of Amazon Last Mile and my initial move back to corporate America (and several job roles later). But two years later we are seeing the scars of the pandemic, the stress on “essential workers” and the stress they have worked under for the past two years to balance family life, social isolation, illness, personal sacrafices, loss of jobs, and so much more. In the US we are over one million lives lost, no real end in sight to the pandemic as it moves to endemic status, rising inflation, and so much more.
People who started their careers in the middle of a pandemic – and were ill-equiped to handle the stress. Who can blame them. Pandemic careers are not what the young professionals in their early 20s had in mind when they imagined their lives. Same for those of us in the middle of our careers, the same people who survived the Great Recession at the beginning of their careers.
But there are a few things I want people to know about myself and mental health in hopes that it helps you. I am by all accounts high performing and successful. If you just look at me – I am certain most people will not see someone who struggles with anxiety or depression. But I do. Success and how you perform do not equate to mental health. Some people’s work does struggle as a result. My work performance never has – but lest someone thinks I have my entire life together even while struggling with mental health – what does struggle is house work and other things I hate. I looked for a picture that showed the state of the house but I did an exceptionally good job not photographing it. The fact that the bulk of my mental health challenges occured prior to the pandemic and because my early career began shortly before the Great Recession means I am better equipped to handle the stress, but not without medication and the foundation established years ago.
The next thing I want people to know is there are resources at there and people that will absolutely make sure you get the help you need. The lack of resources in rural America is the reason I maintain my prior post on Agriculture’s Hidden Crisis. As well as a passionate advocate for improved broadband access to increase among other things our access to proper telehealth resources. There is also no limit on “how much help” you need before you reach out. I struggled with “who do I call – I am not suicidal” and while that is true, there are a lot of other resources. My post linked above maintains a lot of links that are focused on agriculture, but for those outside of that here are some:
- Large companies almost always have EAP resources that can get you help. Here is the link to Amazon’s for interal employees (other companies use the same resources – so the link works if you are employeed by another company that uses Resources for Living).
- Mental Help.net as Anxiety and Depression hotline.
- Nami Helpline
If there is one thing I hope you come away from this with: everyone struggles and it is okay to not be okay. It is also okay to reach out for help. Those people you look up to and see as high performers – they struggle. They may be able to hide it or are highly successful at working through their struggles. But they also might start off their day every day with medication to allow themselves to succeed. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness it is a sign of help. Fighting to change your circumstances and doing what you have to to make yourself happy is a sign of strength. It is absolutely okay as a mom if you are not happy staying at home. It is not everyone’s dream and not everyone’s story . . . It is also okay if you are not happy working and want to be a stay at home mom. Fighting to make whatever your dream is a possiblity is a sign of strength. Reach out, use your network, ask for help, do whatever you have to to make your mental health a priority. I promise it will be worth it.
The last thing I hope people takeaway is for people like myself – people who are leaders, mentors, and live with mental health. People with enfluences and teams, who are considered high performers, who are looked up to and the people younger professionals dream of being. I am talking to myself at this point as well. We have to do a better job of supporting people. We have to do a better job of uncovering when people are struggling. Mental health check ins are great – and I do them a lot – but generally people who are struggling will not admit it. So maybe admitting our own struggles is the first step. We naturally try to shield our teams from our own stresses – but maybe we need to let down that curtain to a certain degree to ensure others feel free to do so. Even still – with all the benefit of hindsight that I have – I am still not sure how to successfully do this, but I still know we have to try. So maybe this is the right first step.