(warning: trigger alert for other PPD sufferers)
It’s been five years since postpartum anxiety has affected my life so drastically. I talk about it pretty openly with close friends. This post will be the first time I have ever been so “public” about it. What I am about to share with you is from the depths of my heart and soul. Please handle with care! My only hope is that sharing this story will help someone. Even if it’s one person it will be worth it. Even as I type I have a bundle of nervous energy in my stomach. I am not even sure if I will have the guts to post it. But we will see.
It all began as I sat in a graduate psychology class. I was about to embark on an exciting journey towards becoming a marriage and family therapist. What I didn’t know was the evil I was up against. It was waiting for me in the world, in my classroom, in my mind, and in my own home. 7 months after having my son Steven I was completely excited about school. It distracted me enough so when the day came I was blindsided.
Postpartum depression/anxiety T-boned me out of nowhere. I was completely unprepared…I can still distinctly remember sitting at my desk with my palms sweating. I felt light headed. I wanted to crawl in a hole and tear my ears off my head. The professor was talking about a mother who murdered her children. I was horrified. I have heard of stories like this before, but never this detailed. So I left the class, got in my car and had a panic attack on the drive home. I called my husband Scott and just bawled my eyes out. I really didn’t know what was wrong with me or why I was so afraid. But the fear that crawled its way into my heart took root. It grew fast. I didn’t know the huge struggle I was in for.
So here’s the thing. I didn’t know that what I was dealing with was PPD (postpartum depression/anxiety). I thought I was crazy. 100%. I didn’t see anyone else traumatized by that class and to me that was enough to conclude I must have been the only one so deeply affected. I didn’t realize that part of what started this for me was secondary trauma (a very real thing therapists experience when hearing tragic stories). I went down the rabbit hole.
Now had you asked me what I was going through at the time I would have barely been able to explain it. But after years of processing, thinking, concluding, and reframing I am much more capable of conveying it. I didn’t do this in therapy as I should have, all this processing was really just between God, my husband and myself.
I saw a therapist who was not helpful at all. She didn’t know what to do with me. She didn’t quite understand what I was going through. And she made me shut down from talking any more about it for fear that I would be deemed unfit to care for my kids. I then talked to another more experienced therapist who was also a mother. She was able to comfort me a little more. We had this interesting conversation, I could sense that she wanted to tell me that she had gone through the same type of questioning a mom might do in hearing of a story like I did. But she still lacked the courage (understandably so) to just come right out and say it. Perhaps she had some professional reservations about sharing so much of her own personal story. But that’s what I needed. And even from someone I knew could give me that validation, she couldn’t, the stigma for this is way too dark.
So let me come out and say it. For every mom who needed to hear this at some point and didn’t get it. Here is what I was thinking after hearing that terrible story in class.
How could a mom hurt her children?
Would I ever do that?
What if I went crazy and hurt my kids?
How would I know if I was going crazy?’
Wait maybe I am crazy, why am I even thinking about this?
Now I can’t stop thinking about it? Why can’t I stop? I must be crazy!
Ya, so it went something like that. A horrible viscous cycle.
Thoughts like that would lead to my special-not-so-easy-to-diagnose panic attack. I would feel my fight or flight kick in (the body’s physical reaction to a perceived danger whether internal or external). I would misinterpret that scary panicky feeling to think I was about to lose control. I would panic more, and cry uncontrollably because I was no doubt the worst mother in the world. My love for my kids was so intense, all I wanted to do was protect them. They didn’t feel safe to me. Not with me not with anyone.
It’s like holding a dainty china cup that you knew had a lot of historical significance and let’s say it was worth a billion dollars. That’s how vulnerable my kids felt to me. I wanted nothing for them but to be safe yet I was paralyzed with fear. Every single day. I didn’t like to be alone with them. Not because I was afraid that I would hurt them (because if I really thought I would I would check into a hospital) but what I was afraid of was (now listen closely)…I was afraid of thinking of hurting them. It would happen when I would give them a bath. It would happen when I would cut my son a piece of cheese. The knife thing was the hardest and most frequent intrusive thought I had. All I had to do was see a knife and feel my palms get sweaty, even without the thought. I remember one day being so fed up that I grabbed all my knives and threw them in the trash can outside.
When it was happening I felt like I was a freak of a mother. I felt that surely there was no way anyone else had any thoughts like these. It wasn’t until I could no longer keep it to myself that I started confessing my thoughts to my husband. I would call them bad thoughts.
When I confessed to my husband Scott each and every thought I had I felt the weight lift. I would tell him, “I had a bad thought.” He would ask me what it was. I would tell him, “it’s too horrible.” He would make me tell him (in a loving way) I would utter the words and he would hold me like a baby while I cried into his chest. He would remind me that I wasn’t crazy. That the love I have for my kids is both my biggest strength and my greatest weakness. (sometimes I had to hear this every single day) And he would remind me that he too has had similar thoughts. The difference was that he was never scared of them.
But for me, my intrusive thoughts overtime became traumatic. And even when they faded away I was still left with some internal post-traumatic stress.
So how did I heal? First I clung to God. I clung to him like no other. Every night I would get in the shower and mentally, physically and spiritually collapse on my knees and sob. I was so tired of fighting and praying. Tired of taking my thoughts captive. The fear hit me in the face like cold ocean waves. Over. And over. And over. So often and so fast that I did nothing but gasp for air (spiritually speaking).
I finally went to the doctor and got on medication for a few months. But even on medication I still wasn’t completely free. I read a book called Battlefield of the Mind which changed my life. I was already a Christian but this book reminded me that there is a mental war and there are such things as spiritual attacks. There are such things as lies from the enemy. I learned that no matter how tired I was I needed to give every thought that wasn’t from God ‘the finger’ and to reject it. I needed to not let my mind wander without my permission. It was in reading that book and focusing on God that healed me from that initial bought. But I am still in process, of healing and fighting it. Some times are harder than others but I will never be as bad as I was five years ago!
God has helped me put pieces of the puzzle together over the years. All that I learned in school and all my experience in being a mom of a newborn (five times now) has taught me so much. Moms are biologically wired to assess their environment for threats to their newborn. I began to see ordinary appliances or tools as credible threats even though they weren’t. It’s a survival instinct that came on too strong. I believe when this blessing is unbridled or out of control and oversensitive, that’s when the bad thoughts or feelings come.
In the psychology field they call it intrusive thoughts. But what I know now in retrospect is that I was never thinking of hurting my kids, I was actually thinking of not hurting them. (which to me more accurately depicts what was going on, and without the stigma) But I didn’t understand how to convey it this way, even to myself, so it perpetuated the doubt and caused the obsessive compulsive disorder aspect of my problem.
Since I wasn’t getting any relief from my perceived threats, my brain said hey, you better make sure you are not thinking of hurting your kids with that object or whatever was in the room. In OCD of locked doors, they have a habit of “checking.” Someone might check that there door is locked 10 or even 100 times to ease their obsession. So what I was doing was “checking” my thoughts. In doing so I actually created them. No one ever told me this. The stigma for this problem runs deep and I believe it’s because many lack the tact to explain it appropriately. I want to end the stigma. I want moms who have suffered to read this and say, EXACTLY. I knew I wasn’t crazy. I want moms to know they are not alone. To be healed. No one ever came out and told me I wasn’t alone. I want to be for others what no one at the time could do for me.
Writing and sharing this story is so healing for me. Every time I share it I feel a little more restoration. I am so thankful that God has walked this dark path with me. He never promised life would be easy but He did promise we would never be alone. Through my struggle I have asked God many questions. I believe He gave me the words to explain it. He gave me the courage to share it. I have a much better grasp on what was going on in my noggin than I ever have before and I honestly believe God allowed me to piece it together.
This is why I wanted to start a blog. To share this story. Please I beg you to share this story on facebook. Not for attention for myself. But for every mom who might just need to hear it.
9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
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