Disarming PPD with skills for happiness.

This post contains the text of an article I wrote for GreenLeaf, which is the newsletter of GreenStar, a venerable local co-op. Here is a link to the PDF of the actual paper. This article was based on  which I wrote for Miranda at Not Super Just Mom, during her Mental Health Month blogging rally. The post at Miranda’s place is funnier, and she herself is as awesome as  they come, so   

Every mother has her ups and downs. The ups are exhilarating, while the downs can be excruciating. My particular downs involved severe postpartum depression and a suicide attempt that thankfully failed. This was followed by six years of practice being an emotional detective, explorer, and experimenter. I’ve been seeking joy in motherhood, and examining the barriers to joy. For me, trying to fight and pretend my negative emotions away were the worst offenders. It helped to accept that motherhood was hard, and even that learning what to do instead of fighting was hard. Who wants to embrace all that guilt and struggle? Besides, words like acceptance and surrender gave me the creeps. After a lot of emotional learning, I began to reframe my emotional “stuff. ” I tried and used many healing modalities, and with time, integrated the aspects that worked for me into a framework that I’ve come to call Permission-Based Healing. It allows me to drop trying to embrace my struggles (yuck!) or fight them (ouch!), because when I allow the struggles to exist, when I no longer see them as proof of failure, I can disarm them. Meeting myself with compassion is a skill — which means it can be developed and strengthened. My is a set of emotional tools for disarming depression, anxiety and guilt and validating what’s hard while seeking and savoring the joys of motherhood. I needed to acquire these tools because skills for happiness are not taught in school. Neither are skills for motherhood. In a culture of perfectionism, we’re supposed to just “naturally” know all that. No wonder motherhood kicks our behinds. Before we had kids, we had lives. We had jobs, projects, trajectories. We wrote papers, reports, campaigns. We were good at things. We looked good in our work clothes.

Then we got pregnant.  Then we had little people depending on us for their very lives! Now we spend our days in sweatpants, worrying about putting food into them and cleaning up their poop. All the skills that allow women of our generation to climb ladders, run races, get tenure, or break through glass ceilings are almost useless in life post-bundle-of-joy. (I should mention that I have not actually done any of these things, so if neither have you, all this still applies. )

You can do all the research in the world and not find a way to make a colicky baby stop crying. You can’t negotiate with sleep. You can bring a child to water, but you can’t make him drink, no matter how dehydrated he is. And that glass ceiling might be easier to break than the resolve of an angry toddler. We are so busted.   No wonder so many women have a hard time postpartum. We were force- fully evicted from our loft on “I’m-so-good-at-this Avenue” and our new dwell- ing is a tent at “What-the-fig Alley,” and it’s pouring rain.

When all the skills we’re used to relying on fail us, our identities go through an earthquake. Our self-esteem plummets, while our hormones go berserk. Postpartum depression and anxiety are perfectly natural reactions. How does anybody go through an identity earthquake and hormonal storms, while sleep, rest, and privacy are taken out of the equation, with her mental health intact?

So we break down. We struggle; of course we do. And we think it’s our fault, but it isn’t. Even if you manage to avoid depression, good luck avoiding guilt. Motherhood hurts a lot more than it has to — but struggle is not failure. There’s an opportunity here: The breakdown of everything that worked so far forces us to learn new skills. It’s not easy, it’s not fun, but it’s necessary; and, thankfully, it’s also possible. Motherhood (and life) will always include discomforts and pains, but the suffering can be greatly reduced. Lecture an art of transferring information from the notes of the lecturer valuable source to the notes of the students without passing through the minds of either. Not by fighting what is, but by learning the skills that bring ease to what is, when what is hurts. In my experience, healing depression and guilt means:

• Recognizing that you are not the only freak in town who is struggling. • Finding a community where you can talk and normalize your struggles. • Seeking qualified mental health and medical care providers with whom you feel comfortable talking openly. • Harnessing and harvesting guilt: guilt is not going to disappear, so let’s disarm it and learn from it. • Learning kinder self-talk. • Allowing playfulness and silliness, and if you have a kooky side, perhaps letting it shine. It’s in learning these skills that we equip ourselves with what it takes to actually enjoy the crazy hard thing that is motherhood. These skills saved my life, and now they are my mission in life. I teach these skills in my classes and in my coaching sessions. I disarm depression and anxiety through teaching mamas skills for happiness. I love my job. And I would love to work with you. If the thought of learning such skills with me gives you a smile from the inside out, come to one of my classes or ask about one-on-one coaching.  

Lecture an art of transferring information from the notes of the lecturer to the notes of the students without passing through the minds of either.


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