Annie Thorisdottir has won the CrossFit Games twice, earning the title 'Fittest Woman on Earth.'
When she gave birth to her daughter in 2020, she didn't expect to experience postpartum depression.
Being open about it helped Thorisdottir heal her relationship with her body, she told Insider.
Annie Thorisdottir had never experienced depression — as an elite CrossFit athlete, she thought maybe all the endorphins from training meant she wasn't at risk.
But after the "very traumatic" birth of her first child, Freyja, in 2020, Thorisdottir she realized no one is immune to mental health struggles. She told Insider she experienced what she suspects was postpartum depression (although she was unable to see a doctor and get diagnosed because of COVID-19 restrictions in Iceland where she's based).
This was compounded by Thorisdottir no longer recognizing her reflection. The body that had earned her the title of "Fittest Woman on Earth" twice had changed — and didn't "bounce back" like she expected it would.
By speaking out about what she was going through, both with loved ones and with her 1.4 million-strong Instagram following, Thorisdottir realized she was not alone. In fact, 75% of women experience so-called "baby blues" after giving birth, and 15% develop postpartum depression, according to Cleveland Clinic. These conditions can make women feel sad, lonely, overwhelmed, and anxious. "Baby blues" typically subside within two weeks, while postpartum depression can last for months but can be treated with antidepressants or psychotherapy.
With time, Thorisdottir started to feel better both mentally and physically, and she gradually returned to exercise.
Thorisdottir had no intention of competing seriously in the year after having Freyja. But she ended up not only earning a spot at the 2021 CrossFit Games, but coming third under a year after giving birth.
Feeling 'broken' after childbirth
Thorisdottir was surprised by how she felt after giving birth, she said. She was overwhelmed, panicky, and scared. The only thing that calmed her down was holding Freyja.
Thorisdottir was sleep-deprived and recovering from a "very difficult" birth where she lost a lot of blood and ended up being rushed into an emergency surgery suite after days of pushing, where a vacuum cup was used to help get her baby out.
"I was just very, very broken and I felt like, not only I couldn't take care of me, I couldn't take care of my child by myself because I didn't trust myself to carry her around. I had so little blood and I was just destroyed, so it became heavy." Three years on and the emotions are still very real for Thorisdottir, who holds back tears on our Zoom call.
Fortunately, Thorisdottir didn't take long to talk about how she was feeling with her partner and mom, then her friends, and lastly publicly on social media — although she was nervous at first because she didn't feel like an expert on the topic.
"I found out that two of my friends in a group of six had experienced something similar, and one had been dealing with it for a year without talking about it," Thorisdottir said. So she was inspired to open up the conversation and was amazed by the response.
This helped her, as did eventually getting three hours of sleep after being awake for six day following the birth.
"I woke up and felt like I saw colors again," Thorisdottir said. After 10 days, she went out of her house and saw that "the world was still there," she said.
Thorisdottir wants people to know how pregnancy changes the body
While pregnant, Thorisdottir was surprised by how at ease she felt with her body changing. Her growing bump felt good for the most part and she was amazed by what her body was doing.
However, once Freyja was born, Thorisdottir's stomach didn't return to how it was before, which was hard in an industry that glorifies sculpted abs.
"After giving birth, it's just empty and you can almost feel your intestines moving around," Thorisdottir said. "You still have a belly and it's not there for a reason."
Thorisdottir said she felt like she was in someone else's body.
On multiple occasions when Thorisdottir was out with Freyja as a very young baby, people would ask her how "far along" she was, which was hard, she said.
"Even now, I still have abdominal separation and a little bit of a belly, and I get comments on that," Thorisdottir said.
But she feels strongly about embracing her body and showing it on her social media: "I shared stomach pictures even though I felt uncomfortable with a lot of them, because I want people to know the reality."
Thorisdottir took 'baby steps' back into fitness
Thorisdottir reached a turning point when, about a month after giving birth, she sat on an exercise bike and did some gentle pedaling. It was the first exercise she had done, as her pelvic floor was so weak that she couldn't even go for walks. But just that gentle cycle helped Thorisdottir feel like she was gaining back some control of her body, she said.
It's safe to start exercising when you feel ready if you had an uncomplicated, vaginal delivery, but mothers who had C-sections should wait longer, according to Mayo Clinic.
Thorisdottir built her fitness back up very slowly, taking "baby steps." There were a lot of movements she simply couldn't do due to her abdominal separation and pelvic floor, including pull-ups, core exercises, and Olympic weightlifting, she said.
Thorisdottir barely ran at all in the year after becoming a mother because her pelvic floor was so weak that she would leak, and it's still not what it used to be. But she spent a lot of time on a bike and rower and gradually started lifting more weight, she said.
Thorisdottir made it to the CrossFit Games accidentally
In March 2021, seven months after giving birth, Thorisdottir decided to take part in the CrossFit Open, a three-week competition that anyone can enter and is the first step towards qualifying for the Games, "just to test myself a little bit."
She made it through to the quarter-finals, then the semi-finals, and then the CrossFit Games.
"It surprised me what I was able to do," Thorisdottir said. She felt fine, so she just kept going, she said.
Thorisdottir did all her training while Freyja slept, and her newborn was still her main focus and taking care of herself came second, she said.
"My goal wasn't to get to the Games, my goal was to gain a little bit of myself again", she said. "It wasn't about looks or aesthetics, it was about me feeling like me again."
Even on the plane over to Madison, Wisconsin, Thorisdottir thought she probably wouldn't actually compete. She didn't think she was ready, she said.
But Thorisdottir did compete, and not only that but she finished on the podium, taking third place. "It's still insane to me," she said. "It doesn't make any sense to me that I managed to do that."
Freyja wants to be strong like her mom
Despite how hard the early months of motherhood were, Thorisdottir wouldn't change a thing, she said.
Freyja, now 3 years old, watches her mom compete, and although she doesn't understand it, she's inspired to be strong, Thorisdottir said.
"When we're playing, she'll go, 'I'm going to work,' and then she'll go and run really fast or do burpees or something," Thorisdottir said.
Freyja enjoys going to the gym while her mom trains too.
"She'll go, 'Look how strong I am,' and then she tries to pick up a big rock or a kettlebell or something," Thorisdottir said.
Read the original article on Insider