Finishing out my week on Postpartum Progress as part of the Warrior Mom Leadership Team, I posted there today about how traumatic my c-section was and how triggered I was for quite some time after it, especially by that show A Baby Story! It’s become clear to me (and to my therapist) in retrospect that I suffered some PTSD from that experience. As it turns out, an unplanned c-section is a risk factor for PTSD in mothers.

I am in a better place now, whenever I think about it. But for that first year or so, I cried a lot about it. I felt so raw. I could not even look at my scar. Now, I can talk about the c-section in a different way–with less sadness, less anger, more appreciation for the medical advances that sometimes save moms’ and babies’ lives. However, I do still find myself reeling every time I hear about one of my friends being scheduled for or having a c-section. Maybe someday that will change, but for now I’m just giving myself grace to grieve along with them, if that is what they are doing.

Anyway, I hope you’ll join me at Postpartum Progress if you don’t find this topic too intense or triggering for you. If you do, just know the bottom line: It’s OK to run flailing from the things that trigger you.

Knowing What Triggers You and When to Change the Channel

P.S. I also want to give a shout out to a fantastic post that was also published on Postpartum Progress nearly 3 years ago. I found it after I had written my own post. As I read it, I just wanted to hug the momma who wrote it and also thank her for providing so much information about this topic!

Mom Recounts How Childbirth Trauma Led to Her Postpartum PTSD

P.S.S. Here is a post I wrote years ago about what I wish I’d known prior to my c-section:

Arm Yourself With Knowledge

 

Postpartum depression and anxiety, for me, meant a lot of sleepless nights. Even now, insomnia is still very much a struggle of mine. In fact, it is very difficult for me to fall asleep in my own bed. Usually, I lay wide awake until frustration causes me to find a new place to rest. My therapist suggested a makeover–for my room, not for me! The thinking is that perhaps a makeover would remove most of the negative associations in my room. I think there are many!

The first thing I would change is the orange walls. Orange isn’t exactly a soothing, calming color. It doesn’t lull one into sleep, that’s for sure. It is a beautiful color, and I love the way the orange works with the jewel tones of the curtains and other items in the room. The room has a warm Indian vibe. However, it has been said that orange is the color of adventure. While bedroom adventures sound fun (wink, wink), ain’t no adventure happening if I’m completely exhausted and sleep deprived!!

Then there’s the bed. I remember when my husband and I were at the beginning of our relationship and bought our bed. It was $900, which then felt like a helluva lot of money (ok, I admit, it still feels like a lot). We were so excited to have made our first major purchase together. All I wanted to do was lay in that bed. It was larger than the bed we’d previously shared.

But now it seems so small, although it takes up so much space in the room. There are 4 of us now, if you count the dog–and you should, since he shares the bed. He even sometimes sleeps like a human, his head on a pillow near ours and his body under the blankets. Most nights, I sleep with my son in his Twin bed. I do not like my own bed. It squeaks. It feels tiny. Every time my husband moves, it feels like someone is standing at the foot of the bed shaking it. Every single move wakes me up.

The alarm clock, with its angry red numbers, faces the bed, which seems so dumb. I spent so many sleepless nights staring at that thing. In my head, I begged for sleep until my anger got the better of me and I gave up and got up. Or until the baby cried and I had to get up anyway. I do that thing where I tell myself “If I fall asleep right now, I can get X hours of sleep.” I do it all night long, even though I know better.

Sometimes when I attempt to sleep in my room, I am hit with a wave of memories of the beginning of motherhood. A photograph that features my bed comes to mind when I think about my postpartum depression.

PPD

Taken at the end of my maternity leave, during the beginning of my PPD/PPA.

I’m sitting on the edge of the bed, holding my 4-month-old son. I had just returned to work from my maternity leave, or maybe I was about to. My smile is fake, and my eyes are wide and tired. I can see the anxiety behind the mask.

When I lay in that bed, I am anxious again. My therapist is right. I need to change the room. Insomnia was a HUGE part of my PPD. And my bedroom became associated with anxiety about sleep. During my PPD, I learned subconsciously to associate the bed, the walls, the everything-in-that-space with the darkest, scariest time of my life.

Googling “negative associations of the bedroom,” I found a website that said:

People who are conditioned against their own bedroom typically react with a heightened state of arousal when going to bed, rather than the kind of relaxed drowsiness that is more conducive to falling sleep.

Exactly.

I know what I need to do. First and foremost, I need to MAKE the time to spend reworking that room. The walls need to be a different, more soothing color. I’m keeping the curtains–they’re so pretty! I need to rearrange the furniture and maybe get rid of what isn’t necessary in order to open up some space. Clutter makes me angsty. I will remove the alarm clock altogether. I will replace the blinds with the room-darkening kind. I will use aromatherapy in the room. And a sound machine! I will treat myself to a new comforter, the softer the better! And since the floors are wood, perhaps an area rug would change the room even more. I bought my dog a fancy new bed, although I don’t think he will use it to sleep in.

What else do you think I should do to give my room–and maybe my sleep–a makeover?

 

Months ago, or maybe even sometime last year, my therapist gave me a handout that I skimmed and filed, never giving it too much thought again until now. Across the top, it says “Distress Tolerance Handout 5 (cont.)” and at the bottom, the source line indicates it’s from a book by Marsha Linehan, the “mother” of dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT.

I’ve written about DBT several times before; it has helped me figure out the coping skills that work for me when I’m stressed–coping skills I’m having a hard time remembering at this time, when I seem to really need them. Which is why I busted out the handouts again for a refresher.

This morning, I spent 15 minutes in front of my light therapy box (my “SAD lamp” as I call it, which I’m sure confuses some people–how can a lamp be sad?) and pulled out this particular handout, staring at it without reading it for a minute until I remembered all I’d learned about one-mindfulness (another DBT term, meaning to do one thing at a time, letting go of distractions, focusing on the moment).

I focused, one-mindfully, on the first box: Willingness. “Willingness is DOING JUST WHAT IS NEEDED in each situation, in an unpretentious way. It is focusing on effectiveness.” Apropos for a Monday morning, don’t you agree?

My to do list just for today, not even for the whole week, felt overwhelming. Like it always does every morning. So instead of caving in to the voice in my head that was scolding me for taking such an early break from the work (There is so much of it to do! Get doing it!), I continued to read:

“Willingness is listening very carefully to your WISE MIND, acting from your inner self.”

And then:

“Willingness is ALLOWING into awareness your connection to the universe–to the earth, to the floor you are standing on, to the chair you are sitting on, to the person you are talking to.”

Yes, I thought, this makes sense to me today. What was my “Wise Mind” (still another DBT term, meaning the place where your Reasonable Mind and your Emotional Mind meet) telling me? That I always pull off the save at the end of the day–I always manage to check off most of what’s on my to do list. I’m a wonderful employee, and my bosses clearly seem to trust that I’ll do the job well. And if I don’t? There’s another day to try again. And if something gets past me or is late? It has never resulted in dire consequences; I think at this point we all know I’m only human. In other words, it’s going to be ok, even though the list seems insurmountable, impossible. I will find a way to get it done. And because I’ve been in therapy and because I keep these handouts nearby, I’ll find a way to get it done without sacrificing my quality of life.

The handout then described the opposite of willingness: willfulness.

“Willfulness is SITTING ON YOUR HANDS when action is needed, refusing to make changes that are needed.” Oh, denial? Check.

“Willfulness is GIVING UP.” Double check.

Things were striking a chord. With my workload increasing from 1,080 pages per year (I managed 2 health care journals for a publishing company) to 1800+ pages per year (I am now managing 3 journals, with only a minimal increase in help), it would be fair to say that yes, I do feel like giving up. I feel like searching for a new job altogether. I feel like shutting down. I feel like giving up who I am and what I love just to check everything off my long to do list at work. I’ve done a whole lot of ignoring this isn’t happening at work. I’ve also stomped a lot and raged and cried at home. Neither of those things is working. I’ve instead had migraines from crying and being stressed. I’ve let go of anything enjoyable to me–now, when I obviously (even to me) need those things most! I’ve tried to “FIX every situation” (which is also willfulness, according to this handout).

I’m not, and I never have been, good at rolling with the punches. But I think it’s time this old dog learned how to be willing and not willful, before I burn out. I see it happening already, and so quickly. And it’s terrifying.

Wish me luck as I trim the fat from my life and focus, one-mindfully, on only what’s really important, both at home and at work. Wish me luck as I try to practice what I just preached above!

 

Shame loses power when it is spoken…. If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky. If we have a friend, or a small group of friends, or family who embraces our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and power, and fills us with a sense of belonging, we are incredible lucky. ~ Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

I read those sentences last night, and they stuck with me then because they reminded me of my #ppdchat and Mama’s Comfort Camp friends, as well as friends I’ve had half my life. And then today, I put them into practice when I needed help this morning. Further, I’m putting them into practice again now by writing this post.

Since this is an “I’m Doing It Right” post, I should begin at the beginning, which includes a self-pat on the back for something I did that needed doing despite my inclination to procrastinate more. It’s been a while since I had a complete physical–probably a few years before I got pregnant with Jax, who’s now 3. I believe that taking care of my health (and being proactive about it, more than anything else) is a responsibility I owe to my family (and it’s an act of self-care, although not nearly as fun or relaxing as a bubble bath). So even though I am terrified of needles and anything health-related tends to trigger my anxiety, I scheduled an appointment to have a physical. But first, my doctor ordered bloodwork, and today was D-Day.

I scheduled the lab appointment for 9:45 this morning, as early as I could get it, given that I had to fast ahead of time. This meant NO COFFEE. And this after a night of terrible sleep by Jax (which you probably noticed if you follow me on Twitter, where I tend to rant about these things).

The blood draw itself was the most painful one I’ve ever had, complete with a tourniquet that felt like an amputation. When the phlebotomist finished, she failed to have me bend my arm at a 90-degree angle and apply pressure to the site. Later, I learned that this is the reason for the trauma that happened to my vein.

She applied a wad of gauze and a crap-ton of tape to the area. It was bandaged so tightly that I couldn’t bend my arm. The second I got back to work–yeah, I had to go right back into the office after this good time–I took off all that get-up because it was excruciating! And then I had an instant anxiety attack when I saw the amount of blood on the gauze and then purple, golf-ball-sized lump under my skin. I’d never seen anything like this nor had I ever felt so much pain after having bloodwork done!

I very nearly passed out upon seeing what my arm looked like. It got to the point of my vision fading and my skin feeling cold and sweaty at the same time. I called over to my co-worker that I was about to faint and I rested my head on a stack of books. She brought me Smarties and water and rubbed my back a while. I will not forget her kindness. Another co-worker stopped by to check on me and reminded me that the Xanax I was about to take would kick in soon and I would be okay.

When the nausea and lightheadedness passed, without even really thinking about it I texted two of my friends, A’Driane and Susan, whom I know have experience with anxiety and whom I trust to walk me through mine.

Intuitively, this was the best thing I could have done. Immediately, A’Driane reminded me to breathe and said she was breathing with me. She even sent me a picture of her doing it, because that’s the kind of friend she is! It calmed me to know she was on the other end of the phone breathing with me and to see her face as I did the same. Then Susan called me, and we talked for maybe 15 minutes. When that call began, I was shaking with anxiety and in pain. Susan reassured me that when this happened to her years ago, she didn’t lose her arm! ;) And she convinced me to take some Advil. Halfway through the call, Susan said my voice had life in it again and I started to feel so much better.

When I went back to my desk, shame set in. I couldn’t believe I’d had an anxiety attack in front of several co-workers. How mortifying! And then shame piled upon shame when I said to Susan, “But the thing is, I know how to handle anxiety! I can’t believe that after so long without having it, here I am having a huge anxiety attack!”

So to send that shame packing, I thought I’d blog about this experience. Yeah, I feel kind of silly now that I freaked out over what, according to the nurse I spoke to, happens all the time when a phlebotomist screws up, but in a way I’m glad this happened. Why? Because I have friends I can lean on, who don’t judge me, who just love me and know what I need. Who also apparently have their phones at their side at all times, just like me.

I am proud of myself for leaning on them this morning. There is no shame in asking someone to hold your hand or for admitting you need this.

Brene’s quote resonated with me today. I am SO lucky to have so many awesome, wonderful friends. I could have texted any one of them, I know it, and they would have held my hand through my anxiety.



The Universe brought Brene Brown into my life many times before last Sunday, but I didn’t listen because I wasn’t ready then. I pushed away the notion that I should read some of what Brown has to say because I was afraid. I knew enough about Brown’s work as a vulnerability and shame researcher to be afraid to read her books or listen to her powerful message. Vulnerability? No thanks. Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. The thought of letting myself be vulnerable in front of others terrifies me and makes me uncomfortable.

Why? Because the message that has been taught to me over & over by well-meaning (but wrong) people in my life is that being vulnerable is a weakness and that wearing armor is a strength. That when I cry (which, yes, I kind of do a lot & openly), I’m making others feel uncomfortable. Crying, to them, is something to be done rarely and in private. Keeping emotions inside is safe and brave and the right, courteous thing to do. These are the messages I’ve carried in my head for 35 years.

But I’m done now. (This is what I am doing right.)

Upon watching Brene Brown on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday (part one), I purchased Daring Greatly and read 20% of it in one sitting last weekend. I cried while I read it because so much of it hit home, beginning with the title of this post, which is a quote from Daring Greatly and the prompt for this post today.

It’s been a while since I wrote from the gut here and let myself really be seen. I’m going to change that. I’m going to allow myself to be vulnerable in this space.

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

Have you read any of Brene Brown’s books? If so, which one(s) and what is your favorite quote or message?




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