My World Of Extremes - Recovering From Postpartum Depression/Rage
“I live in a world of extremes,” I blindsided my husband the other day with my world shattering epiphany. He stood there in stunned silence, part of him wanted to do a celebratory dance of this revelation that he’s lived with for years and the other just wanted to embrace me in a long, much needed, hug. He knew that for me this was a huge breakthrough. I had finally seen the truth and just maybe it would start to set me free.
I’ve been holding on to this topic of Postpartum Rage for some time, letting it marinate in my heart. It’s extremely sensitive for me, because anger isn’t perceived as a feminine emotion. Even talking about it feels taboo. One thing I’ve learned about postpartum rage, or anger in general is the suffering sit in silence, but they are out there. My anger can come like the quick bolt of lightning flashing across a dark sky, there and then gone.As I started digging into the roots of my soul to discover just where it all comes from I had to go back to my days of therapy to journal it out of me. You see identifying the triggers are easy, finding the root of this rotten fruit is painfully hard. Discovering who I am is a journey to healing that had to become a priority.
After having my second daughter the explosive bouts of anger crashed like waves against the boat of our happy life. I had to have the hard conversations with my husband about how I was acting. Together as a family we faced the truth, I was dealing with Postpartum Depression and Rage. I am so thankful for the screening at my daughter's pediatrician’s office during her four-month check-up. There it was written in black and white, I have postpartum depression. Now it was time to act, to seek help. Being someone who has already been down this familiar road of depression I knew it had to start with a visit to my doctor, and a tiny little pill that made me function at normal level for the day. Author of the book, Body Full of Stars: Female Rage and My Passage Into Motherhood Molly Caro May spoke words to my thoughts in an interview with Scary Mommy, "for me, postpartum rage was as if a train that had always chugged along in me suddenly got so much steam power it sped up, overtook all the tracks, ripped them up and could not stop itself."
I always knew my anger train was there; just ask my family about the 2004 Cracker Barrel incident. On good days I hardly notice it with the help of medication, however that just takes the edge off. In steps the help of counseling, research, journaling, and a lot of time with God. I felt a lot less alone in my struggles as I read Paul’s confession of how he struggled with being a slave to his sin in Romans chapter 7. I'm definitely not saying anger is a sin; it’s the reaction to it that God calls us to control. As the soil was dug up I could see that my roots were selfishness, a need to please people, a need for structure, and my perfectionism.
As a new mom all your systems are in overdrive and overwhelmed, so for some people, like me the internal reaction is anger. Loss of control over the small parts of my life quickly added up. A researcher on the neuroscience of anger describes it as, "frustration in overdrive." Often these outbursts are so second nature that they are done, "without regard for any potential goal." What did I gain from them? Nothing. Actually, I was losing; neurologically my brain was being rewired to default mode of anger. I perceived these daily inconveniences, all a normal part of life as a stay-at-home-mom to two little ones, as a threat to the stability my soul craved.
Psychologists say that anger is an expression of fear. We know that fear can be a dirty awful liar. It was not indicative of who I want to be or who God says I am. I had to pray scriptures like this over my life. "Put on your new nature, created to be like God - truly righteous and holy." Ephesians 4:24 or "Human anger does not produce righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives and humbly accept the word God has planted on your hearts for it will save your soul." James 1:20-21
Now that I had discovered my roots, I needed to follow those up to the branches and identify my triggers. The freeing thing about doing this is it gives me the power to recognize the outbursts before the point of exploding and stop them in their tracks. A few of my triggers are sleep deprivation, interruptions, poor nutrition, lack of a plan, and unrealistic expectations. Some of those I can combat head on with schedules or meal planning. Others aren't totally in my control, like interruptions and lack of sleep (hello mommy hood), but I can find other strategies to help.
"So letting your sinful nature control you leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace." Romans 8:6
I had to stop tying my happiness up in whether my girls slept well. I had to place my unrealistic expectations at the feet of Jesus. Those are both still very much a work in progress. My sweet 3 year old has started singing Daniel Tiger songs to help her control her emotions, and that tiger is pretty darn smart. She can see the emotions building up in her, pause, recognize what she’s feeling, and sing. My holy pauses are completely necessary to my life now. I might not sing a song in that moment, but remembering what God says my truths are how I can navigate my heart back to His.
I often have to remind myself that I will forever be in a recovery process and it will be a moment-by-moment battle. For me it's not enough to just change my mindset. I want to find ways that I can fill my heart with joy before the triggers come, so their power will lessen and lessen and lessen. From the advice of a friend I created some daily non-negotiables, things that I have to do each day in order to make it a joy filled day. This list is posted in my kitchen as a constant reminder of how I can kick some PPD booty! I also love to research. Through some time spent reading scientific journals I found that much like a recovering addict I need to reprogram my neural pathways. One way to do that is flood my brain with oxytocin by long hugs with my husband, laughing with the girls, or a family dance party. "You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy." Psalm 30:11
I am always on alert, because I don't want Satan to get a foothold in my life (Ephesians 4:27), but I can rejoice in the small victories that eventually will produce big ones. I can be confident in knowing that I am now growing from a place of healthy roots that produce more and more of the fruits God desires. My self-control can be a direct reflection of the Spirit's work in my heart. I wouldn’t have ever wished this on my life, especially on my family, however it has given me a greater joy that could only have been found in this journey. "More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." Romans 5:3-5
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