On May 17, Time Magazine published an article written by actress Alyssa Milano.
The article discussed the onset of her anxiety disorder and how she was able to overcome it. She wrote for the magazine:
I am a mother, an actor and an activist — and like over 40 million Americans, I live with a mental illness.
This is the first time Milano has ever openly discussed her battle with anxiety; she called it a “secret” at the beginning of the article.
She said her Generalized Anxiety Disorder was brought on by postpartum depression after giving birth to her now six-year-old son Milo.
In 2011, two years after suffering a miscarriage, I learned that I was pregnant with my first son, Milo — and it was a dream. My miscarriage was heartbreaking, but this pregnancy was beautiful: I did not experience morning sickness; I went to prenatal yoga five times a week; I walked two miles a day; and I took naps in the afternoon.
The actress believes her smooth pregnancy and the idyllic image of motherhood left her unprepared for the struggles of being a mom. It also left her unable to cope with the many unforeseeable changes coming her way.
Milano wrote that she had a “strict birth plan” in place that she was determined to follow to a T. It included “no induction of labor, no pain medication, and no c-sections.”
Milano admitted that she “equated a natural birth to her value as a woman and as a mother,” so when a medical emergency forced her to stray from her plan, she immediately thought she had failed as a mother from the start:
On August 31, 2011, ten days before my due date, I began to have complications. Despite my plan, the doctors had to try to induce labor. I was forced to take an epidural, and I eventually delivered my beautiful son (after 18 hours of labor and three and a half hours of pushing) via C-section. And then, with my darling son in my hands, I was in excruciating pain not only from my C-section but also, from my milk coming in.
That first night, after we returned from the hospital, I suffered my first anxiety attack. I felt like I had already disappointed my child. I felt like I failed as a mother, since I was not able to give birth vaginally or nourish him with the breast milk that had not come in yet. My heart raced. My stomach seized up. I felt like I was dying.
The 45-year-old mom of two was able to overcome that first panic attack, but as her maternity leave was coming to an end, the anxiety started creeping back into her life.
As Milano explained, just days before she was supposed to get back to work, Milo developed a fever, and as Milano was holding her son in her arms, he began to have a febrile seizure.
She explained what she was thinking in that moment:
‘No, no, no,’ I thought to myself. ‘This can’t be happening again. I don’t have time for this.’ This was still 2011, and I was supposed to start work on a television show the following week.
Milano forced herself to hold it together and go back to work despite the crippling anxiety she was feeling inside.
The mom developed “irrational and obsessive fears”:
Like many working moms, I was overwhelmed by guilt for leaving my son during work hours, and like many others who suffer from anxiety, my pain was not taken seriously.
Every day, I would drive to work and think about all the ways that Milo could die in the hands of his caretakers. Every night, after working 16-hour days, after I was finally able to hold my child and put him to sleep, my day’s anxiety would culminate into a debilitating anxiety attack.
It eventually got to a point where Milano couldn’t take it anymore— she travelled to a hospital in the early hours of the morning and checked herself into a public psychiatric ward.
As Milano wrote, she didn’t believe she had any other choice. She remained in the psych ward for three days.
There, the mom was able to find the people she needed to help her overcome her struggles. She calls those people her “angels”:
Throughout this process, I also found angels — including my psychiatrist and my therapist. They convinced me that I had the bravery to face my illness, the value to seek help and the strength to recover.
And I am continuing to do all three. And most likely I will for the rest of my life.
In her article, Milano offered advice to those struggling with mental illness.
Here’s the thing about mental illnesses: you don’t always look sick, and the answers are not always clear or black-and-white. But we should not confront these challenges by placing more hurdles in front of Americans who desperately need the care. I was lucky enough to have the means and the insurance to get the help and support I needed. What happens to those mothers who don’t have the kind of support I received?
Mental health is also not a threat that can only happen to someone else: one in six Americans face mental illness, and less than half of them receive any form of mental health services.
Milano encouraged the world to start talking about mental health and encouraged other mothers going through similar feelings to find her and tell her she’s not alone.