Allisten Hamel, author of the book If Mommy’s Being Honest talks to us about her journey through anxiety that ultimately inspired her to write this children’s book – for moms.
It was back in high school that Allie first became aware of her struggle with anxiety. In her junior year she was put on medication, and although she was also offered counselling she declined that – something she now wishes she hadn’t done. “Looking back I do wish I would’ve gone into counselling,” Allie says. “I feel like that’s one of my biggest regrets, I maybe would’ve handled postpartum better if I had really got to the core of my issues instead of just putting a band-aid on it with the medication.”
Years went by and Allie was now happily married to her high school sweetheart – but at the age of 21 she started experiencing really bad anxiety symptoms again. Thinking the medication wasn’t working any more she stopped taking it and scheduled an appointment to see her doctor. That’s when she found out that she was, in fact, pregnant. They decided to keep her off the pills and see how things go.
Everything went fairly smoothly up until the very end, but at eight months pregnant Allie started suffering from anxiety again – and this time it reached debilitating levels. She had a severe panic attack one day when she was going shopping to Walmart, something she had never experienced before. When she later confided in her husband about what happened they both put it down to her pregnancy, thinking it won’t happen again. Although at that point there were no more panic attacks, fast-forward to when Allie’s son was born her anxiety returned with a vengeance – and things really began to crumble.
“The week when I went home from the hospital I would just cry really easily. My husband and my mom actually did all the diaper changing and all the clothing changing because I was terrified I was going to break him. I would cry, I would shake, and I was completely overwhelmed. But again we just kept saying ‘well you’re a new mom, I bet a lot of moms go through this’. I wasn’t sleeping at all, I would stay up all night, even when my son was asleep I would still be up researching things. I was terrified of SIDS, I had all these intrusive thoughts like I’m gonna look over and he’s not gonna be breathing. I was just terrified of all the unknowns.”
At this point Allie’s anxiety was so bad that every time she tried to drive she would have a panic attack – so she stopped driving. And because she wasn’t driving she was very isolated at home with her baby, but again she and her husband kept saying “well this is normal, I bet a lot of moms are really nervous, maybe just nobody talks about it.”
When they finally decided to seek help was when Allie’s son was around 4-5 months old and she started having suicidal thoughts. “I was just questioning if I could be a good mom, and if I was meant to do this, and I was feeling like such a burden. My husband would have to come home from work a lot because I was just so overwhelmed. I couldn’t do anything because I wasn’t driving, and even if someone offered to drive I was worrying about nursing in public. I just felt like I couldn’t cope and I couldn’t win. I started having really bad suicidal thoughts, and that’s when we decided to go to counselling and get this figured out.”
Writing from the heart
“I love writing, it’s like therapy for me,” says Allie. “I don’t even feel like I can take credit for this book because it just flowed out of me. One day I was sitting there and I wrote this poem to my son, and it started with ‘If Mommy’s Being Honest’. When my husband came home from work I was like ‘I think this poem would be a really cute children’s book’. So I ended up contacting my old art teacher and she did the illustrations, and as I was making headway I thought I kind of want this book to be for the mom.”
Allie knows from her own experience that moms who are struggling often don’t have the energy to read a chapter book about what they’re going through. That’s why it made sense to write a children’s book and at the back include statistics, resources, signs and symptoms to look out for, ways to support someone, and Bible verses. A checklist can help moms realize that if they’re experiencing a lot of the symptoms they should probably get some help, and the Bible verses can make them feel a little bit more hopeful and understood.
“The book explains in a very gentle way to your child that you’re struggling as well, but without sounding hopeless. Each page is honest about that there’s a struggle, and then also hopeful. And I think there should be no shame in telling our kids that mommy had a bad day or that sometimes mommy needs to cry, too.”
“If Mommy’s Being Honest” is a book for all moms. They don’t have to be experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety to find value in it. As Allie mentions, many people come to her who have bought it, saying that even though they didn’t go through postpartum depression they can still relate to the book so much. And for those moms who are struggling, it is all the more reason to read it.
“Had I had this book it definitely would’ve helped me”
Being a new mom is not easy. Allie and her husband tried to be optimistic and normalize things, saying other moms probably feel the same. But had they seen the symptoms list they probably would’ve realized sooner that things were not quite right, says Allie: “I would’ve checked off so many of those boxes. And even if I wasn’t acknowledging it, somebody else who was looking through the book would’ve noticed that I was experiencing a lot of those and I probably needed help. And even the Bible verses I feel would’ve helped me, all the resources, I think they would’ve made me feel really seen and understood, that this is what motherhood is and it’s OK. There’s a lot of women out there who struggle and it doesn’t have to be like this.”
Allie’s dream for the book is to help moms through one of the hardest times of their lives, and let them know that they’re not alone. So many women are affected by postpartum mental health issues; and even if you yourself are not struggling, you might still know someone who is. “I was somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister, somebody’s friend,” says Allie, “and so even if other people can make the argument that ‘well I’m not gonna go through this, why do I need to have an awareness about it’, well you might not but your sister could, or your friend, or your wife. So the awareness needs to be not just in the community of women, but everyone as a whole should be talking about this more, and I hope that my book opens up that dialogue.”
Allie encourages moms to challenge the cultural norm that moms have to always have it together and they always need to know what they’re doing: “We should all be like ‘I’m learning, this is new to me, I can admit that I was maybe wrong about things, I can change my mind about things’. You can change your mind and you’re always learning, and I think moms should be more vulnerable and open about that, rather than just trying to put on this appearance of knowing exactly what they’re doing and being 100% right with everything.”
Functioning from a place of mental wellness
A few months ago life dealt a devastating blow to Allie when she tragically lost her brother in a car accident. This time however, even though her heart is more broken than it has ever been, she didn’t sink into depression – which made her realise on a deeper level that she’s finally functioning from a place of mental wellness. “Because I went to counselling and I did all the groundwork I’m not going back into depression this time. What I’m experiencing right now is deep grief, but I’m not feeling suicidal, and I’m not questioning if I should be here, and in a weird way that has shown me how far I have come mentally.”
“I’m still able to function now from a place of mental wellness rather than illness. I just feel like it has deepened my faith, it made me hope for heaven a lot more than I ever did, and it showed me the importance of mental health awareness. I feel like if you’re functioning from a place of mental wellness then life can literally throw some of the worst curveballs at you and you can still not feel suicidal, and function and not be debilitated by it.”
This experience reinstalled in Allie the importance of trying to spread awareness that mental illness is something that’s very real and it’s not a choice: “When I had my son I had no traumas associated with cars and I still couldn’t drive him, the anxiety did that to me. Now I have an actual trauma associated with driving and I’m still able to drive.”
Allie urges those who are struggling to seek help when they need it: “You should not feel any shame associated with it, because this load wasn’t meant for us to be carried around by ourselves – and when you’re in the position that you’re carrying it by yourself there’s gonna be something that bends or breaks. And so there should be no shame associated with going to counselling, or having to take medication, or asking your mom to help more.”
Her advice for new moms is to know that their journey is very personal and they have choices, and to acknowledge that things are always changing: “What you’re experiencing, even though it feels like it, it will not last forever. All the highs, all the lows, the worst pain that you’re in can’t last forever. All things are passing so hold on tight when things get really hard, because eventually the pain will stop and hope and joy and happiness will come again. There’s hope at the end of the tunnel, just hold on when it’s hard and rejoice when it’s good.“
Thank you Allie for sharing your story with us! ❤