I am so honored to have Susan’s trust with this post. Susan (@learndhappiness on twitter ) is a member of my Mama’s Comfort Camp group, and her insights and sweetness always inspire me. She shared her lovely Rainy Day Letter with us last year, and she bloggs at learnedhappiness.wordpress.com/
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Of all the things I regret about my time with postpartum depression and anxiety, the anger is the one I have the hardest time not feeling guilty about.
I want to make sure I’m being precise. It wasn’t just anger. It was rage. Blinding rage. I don’t know if I can type what comes next, but I’m going to take a deep breath and try.
I can vividly recall standing at the edge of the brown patterned bassinet adjacent to the bed, looking down at my two week old daughter, and screaming while tears streamed down my face, “why won’t you just fucking go to sleep?” Slumping to the floor, I felt my heart break into pieces. What kind of mother screams at her newborn?
Fast forward seven months and I’m sitting on the floor attempting to change a dirty diaper while my daughter struggles to free herself from the clutches of cleanliness. I grab both of her arms, pin her to the floor, and yell at her to be still. ”Oh my god!” I yell in her face, “just stay still for one second!” Horrified, I jump off of her and sit, stunned… and thankful no one was there to see, frightened at my reaction.
She didn’t sleep until she was over a year old. Getting her to nap required timing, coordination, and patience. I would hold her body close to mine and bounce, humming to calm myself more than to put her to sleep. At times I would suddenly notice that I have stopped bouncing gently and was now practically jumping up and down with her in my arms. I pictured all of the signs from the hospital room. ”Never shake a baby,” they said. And yet it took every ounce of self control I had to stop and gently rock her back ad forth.
My PPD and PPA went ineffectively treated for so long that I can only hope she has no memories of being almost two and cowering in the corner of my room as I rushed at her in anger. The terror in her eyes stopped me in my tracks. I sat on the floor next to her and we sobbed together, both of us out of fear.
I wish the memories I hold so dear from the first two years of my daughter’s life weren’t punctuated by moments of such hatred and anger. It felt like my body was taken over. I wasn’t myself. And I often acted in rage before I realized I was feeing it. When the medication I took during my second pregnancy (and continue on now – the new baby is 6 months old) lifted the worst of the rage, I was honestly surprised at how automatic it had become. A reflex almost.
When the postpartum OCD began around 5 months postpartum with this second baby, the rage was the first sign. It started as irritability. PMS on steroids. And then one afternoon, as I was driving with both children to the store, I noticed how tightly I was gripping the steering wheel. I was just just irritable anymore. I was furious. At nothing. I called the doctor that afternoon.
I’ve discovered, through some intense therapy and honest self-reflection, that my rage is result of pent up anxiety. It’s worst on days when I am expecting a triggering event to occur, like vaccinations or being alone with the kids in the evening. If I pay close attention, I can feel the tension in my shoulders and stomach, and hear it in my tone of voice. Vigilance allows me the opportunity to take measures to release the tension in a healthy way – asking for help, taking medication, taking a nap, or getting some exercise. I liken it to my good friend’s experience with type 1 diabetes. She has to monitor her BG levels *before* she is in crisis. She’s constantly aware of how her body is feeing and how she needs to adjust her self care throughout the day. I try to treat my anxiety and OCD similarly. The rage isn’t me. It’s a symptom. That change of perspective has been key to my healing.
It’s huge for me to be able to tell you that I have not once yelled at my 6 month old. Though this time I struggle with intrusive thoughts, I have thankfully never found myself rocking her too hard or worried I would hurt her out of anger. I still have tense moments (most likely triggered by the challenging almost four-year-old) but my physical reactions haven’t returned, and I am getting better and better at sensing the anxiety and reacting with curiosity and self-care.
It is my hope that my story helps other mothers feel less ashamed and less alone. I hope I serve as proof that you can heal. But most of all, I want you to know that the anger you are so ashamed of? That you can’t bring yourself to tell your best friend, your husband, or your doctor about? The anger you think makes you a bad mother? Is a symptom. A symptom you deserve to be free of. I used to say about myself, “I have a temper.” Now I say, “I suffer from a temper.”
If you are suffering, reach out. Tell your partner. Tell your mom, your doctor, your neighbor. Tell anyone. You are a good mom. You deserve to feel better.
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A post of this courage magnitude deserves our love, don’t you think? I hope that you can take a moment to let Susan know how she touched you.