Lee Ann has become one of my heroes. She is honest and vulnerable about her journey and she is a light to everyone around her. She is supportive and kind and an amazing friend. When you find a woman like Lee Ann you hold on tight and make her a big part of your life. Thanks for being you Lee Ann!
Lee Ann’s Story:
My children have brought me more joy than I could have ever imagined. Giving birth to them also brought me the deepest and darkest times of my life through postpartum depression. Each time I had a baby the depression increased to a new level of sadness and inner darkness. When I had my son in 2011, I fought the hardest and longest battle of them all. Even with medicine, exercise, diet and every other technique that I tried, it took nearly two years to heal. It was worth every terrifying and suicidal moment. I will admit though, knowing I was done having children offered me a lot of relief simply because I knew I didn’t have to go to those dark places ever again. I was wrong, I went there again in 2019. It began after having a hysterectomy to combat my ever increasing physical pain and other complications due to the effects of PCOS. I had no idea what that surgery would do to me. I didn’t know that one week after I would feel exactly the same way I had after giving birth. It was terrifying because I felt that I couldn’t do it all again. I couldn’t fight that same battle of wanting to live but not having the will to. I had survived before but this time I didn’t have two toddlers and a newborn to keep my body and mind busy or fill my heart with hope. So, I hid. That is what I always did when the darkness came into my life. I couldn’t control when the depression would hit me but I could control the amount of anxiety that accompanied it by hiding away and not facing it.
A few months later, after many random and inexplicable occurrences, I found myself signed up for the Get Out There Girl Cowgirl Retreat. I immediately regretted signing up. The only “getting out” I wanted to do was to get out of going. When I told my husband I wanted to go and had signed up he, assuming I was joking, laughed. He knew I wouldn’t want to go. I had never wanted to go and do anything without him and our kids. He knew my anxiety would get the best of me. Especially with the deep depression I had been in for months. He also knew it would be so good for me and that I needed it. So, with his encouragement and my hatred of wasted money, I somehow mustered up the strength to go.
As I entered the lodge on the horse ranch and saw all of these beautiful, and obviously perfect women, my anxiety placed itself right into the forefront of my thoughts and I knew I had made a mistake. Who was I to show up here and act like I could fit in or find a friend amongst them? None of these women would want to talk to me or get to know me. As I listened to each of them introduce themselves I knew I was way out of my league. I was tempted to get back in my car and go home. The only thing keeping me there was knowing I was going to be riding a horse. I grew up riding horses and learned the majority of life’s lessons while horseback with my Dad. I hadn’t ridden in nearly 14 years and hoped riding again would help me remember those lessons and possibly find a way to heal.
Within a few hours I found myself on the back of a horse and I was right. Sitting up there with my feet in the stirrups and reins in my hand I felt at peace. I was certainly rusty, and it showed even more the next day at the barrel racing competition, but being on the back of a horse reminded me of the people I love and what they had taught me. I was surrounded by miles of open rangeland and the smell of leather and sagebrush that was reminiscent of my childhood. For the first time in months I finally felt a bit free. This wasn’t a mistake after all and I knew why I had felt inclined to come. It was to ride that red dun horse named Sadie. I was there to sit in a saddle and ride a horse the way my Dad had taught me to do so many years before.
Later that night Brittany led us in a workshop on resilience. We sat in a large room gathered in a circle sitting on western style chairs that reminded me of my Grandpa. One of the first things that she spoke about was her experience with postpartum depression. What?! This perfectly perfect happy little blondie had postpartum depression? Soon after, other women around the room started sharing experiences from their lives and the various trials they had faced or were facing at that time. I was in awe at how vulnerable and open they were. I wanted so badly to share how I was feeling but I was overcome with emotion. I knew if I tried to speak nothing discernable would come out because I couldn’t contain my tears. Of course they weren’t sweet tears that everyone else had gently rolling down their cheeks like raindrops on a flower pedal. No, these tears were uncontrollable and there was nothing sweet about them. My eyes and my nose were both crying. It was a sight to behold I am sure, but it was warranted. These women weren’t sharing small insignificant moments in their lives. They were sharing very raw stories of heartache and pain that touched me right to my core and brought all of my own pain to the surface.
It was then, and many moments throughout the rest of the weekend, that I realized the real reason I was there. It wasn’t the horses or the fresh air, though that experience was amazing, it was the women. It was Tosha, my neighbor who I barely knew before but finally connected with as I learned so much about her life and the person she is deep down. The person that she doesn’t often allow others to see. I was there to meet Angie, whose friendship and kindness opened my heart to a new me with more confidence and belief in myself. Something I hadn’t felt in a very long time. It was Arica, who I had spoken to a few times before but never really knew much about. She is the toughest chic I know but also has a heart full of compassion for others. It was Shanan, who is the tiniest bundle of joy that makes everyone around her feel like a million bucks. It was Brittany, who suffered from postpartum like myself and later gave me the opportunity to find true self-compassion through her book. It was all of the women in one way or another. I wish I had enough space here to name them all, not only to explain to you how incredible they really are, but share how much meeting each of them and hearing their stories impacted my life.
I will forever battle my anxiety, and the deep depression may return someday, but I am now more equipped to win that war. My experiences on the retreat, and many since, have taught me to be more patient and compassionate with myself. They taught me that I can be a better me, and therefore a better wife and mom, if I take some time away to work on improving myself. Mostly they taught me that when the darkness and the fear become too overwhelming to combat, I don’t have to hide. All I have to do is get out there and join the army of women who are ready and willing to fight with me, because they too, have battled.