What Is Recovery?


In glancing through search terms which people have searched to find my blog, questions about Postpartum OCD are the most common.

The biggest question, and the one I dread the most asks, “Do intrusive thoughts go away?”

My heart breaks when I am asked if the thoughts go away because I know where they are – how they’re feeling. How FRUSTRATING it is to want to be with your child and not have any intrusive thoughts flit through your head as they snuggle close to you and  drink in that sweet angelic baby smell in the dusk of the evening.

I know it goes away.

I know it fades.

What stays, and what is difficult for those of us who have OCD to differentiate, are typical parental fears – the nagging fear that something might happen to your child when you’re not watching. THAT stays forever. It’s not intrusive, it’s a normal heightened awareness which comes with parenting. When you have survived OCD, however, it is extremely difficult to keep these normal heightened awareness type thoughts from spiraling into intrusive thoughts. We constantly battle to keep them from growing into giant monsters.

Recovery, at least for me, is not a cut-off date. It’s a constant involvement in awareness of my feelings, reactions, and coping methods in regard to the ever changing world around me. It’s ensuring that in addition to my daily requirements, I’m taking care of myself as well. Recovery is not a discharge notice from a hospital, nor is it the last pill swallowed at the end of a prescription. It’s not the final therapist visit nor is it uttering the words, “I’m okay.”

This is how the dictionary defines recovery:

Recovery Definition

What is recovery in the living world?

Recovery is life.

It’s living and moving forward with a tenacity learned in the depths of hell, a grip on enjoying all the little things and a determination to not go back. It’s knowing that even if I do go back, I have a road map to lead me back out again.

Recovery is self-care, self-compassion, and self-respect.

It is knowing that it is okay to not be okay sometimes. Recovery is celebrating both the ups and the downs. It’s getting to know yourself SO well that you recognize the difference between yourself and depression/mental illness. Recovery is knowing exactly what to do when the ugly beast stirs to keep it from waking completely. It is about arming yourself with a cadre of weapons guaranteed to slay the succubus.

Recovery is acceptance.

It’s being okay with the tough days and providing a soft place to land when they happen. It’s having a support system in place for the bleak days, one that will also be there for the good days. It’s understanding that sometimes, you’re gonna feel angry about your mental health and that’s okay. It’s learning the range of healthy and unhealthy emotions and knowing when to reach out for help.

Recovery is being imperfectly perfectly you.

According to Alexander Pope, “To err is human.” Perfection is a fallacy (so is control). It is an impossibility we set up in our minds, a standard most of us will not reach. Do the best you can with what you have. There’s a special kind of joy (and peace) to be found when you let go of any expectations you, life, or anyone else may have forced upon you. When you are truly yourself, you shine.

Recovery is personal.

We cannot compare our journey to that of others. There are similarities, sure, but we each carry our own luggage and travel our own road. Our stories are as different as we are from each other. Knowing someone else has traveled a similar road helps. But it is absolutely important to remember that just because someone was at point X by a certain point on their Y timeline does not mean you will also be at point X at the same time. There are SO many variables to every story. It is impossible to compare so stop doing just that.

Recovery is…..

Your turn. What is recovery to you? Share below.

Question From A Reader: “Will I Ever Feel Like This Is The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me?”


A reader emailed me earlier this morning to thank me for my “fabulous blog.” But she also had a question about her current experience with her journey through Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders.

Below is her question and my response:

Her Question:

“I’m over three months into recovery – having therapy and taking anti-depressants. Although I have much improved – I’m more bonded with my son, my sleep and appetite is better, my anxiety attacks are reduced etc – I can’t help wondering if I’ll ever feel that true elation, true joy that despite everything becoming a mum is the best thing that’s ever happened to me?

Should I still be hopeful that this will come as part of full recovery or should I be finding a way to accept that although, I now know I love my son, life is always now going to be a little more miserable?”

My reply:

“Sending hugs, first and foremost.

Second, I’m glad to read that your symptoms have lessened just three months into your recovery and you’re feeling more bonded with your son and your appetite and sleep have improved as well. Those are HUGE things.

Think of recovery this way – first, we have to take care of the essentials – the basic things which keep us going – like eating, sleeping, etc. After those things have sorted themselves out, we can then focus on secondary things, such as mood, etc. Mood can absolutely disrupt the primary but as we heal from mood issues, we must heal the primary first.

It took me a long time to get back to being able to truly feel elation and joy, but that journey and the length of it is different for every person, just as physical recovery is different for every person.

Just as with a broken bone or a severe injury, there will always be a “scar” or “phantom pain” but eventually you regain full use of the complete spectrum of emotions, even if it takes some time.”

Add your thoughts, experiences, or support below. Time to rally!

On Caring for Your Emotions After a Tragic Event


Over the past few years, I’ve grown to be close friends with Erika Krull. She’s an amazing woman and we have a total blast during football season. (Well, except this past year when our teams who RARELY play each other actually played each other. That was painful. But I’ve digressed.)

Erika writes over at Psych Central and is a practicing mental health counselor. We occasionally chat about mental health issues. This week has been no different and I was glad when she asked me, after I posted something on Facebook, for permission to share it with her readers at Psych Central.

I shared tips on how to take care of yourself after a tragic event, specifically in response to the events in Boston on Monday. Turns out they really apply to this entire week because it’s been a doozy.

To read Erika’s article and get some really helpful tips on how to care for your emotions after a tragedy, go here.

Thank you, Erika, for a wonderful piece, and for turning my struggles with Sandy into something meaningful. I sincerely hope it helps someone.

Who’s that girl?


“When you see her, say a prayer and kiss your heart goodbye
She’s trouble, in a word get closer to the fire
Run faster, her laughter burns you up inside
You’re spinning round and round
You can’t get up, you try but you can’t”

 -lyrics, Who’s that Girl, Madonna-

Innocent enough lyrics, right? Of course, given that they’re Madonna lyrics that’s an arguable statement. Yet these lyrics are so very applicable to Postpartum Mood Disorders.

As a mother with Postpartum Mood Disorder, we drag ourselves out of bed in the morning after a lengthy internal argument between “have to, able to, and want to.” We stumble into the bathroom where we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror. Raw. Unkempt. Barely awake. Depressed. Anxious. Angry. Petrified. Unrecognizable. So we hide her. We hide the girl in the mirror behind make-up. Behind a forced smile. We tuck her away in the corners of our mind and pretend to be okay for everyone else.

It works for awhile.

But then the mask begins to crack. Chips fall to the floor. We can’t replace them. The cost is too great. Exhaustion sets in, keeping us from fixing the veneer we have worked so very hard to replace. Our hearts and broken minds spill out into public view. We crumble as the pain of exposure overwhelms us. Frozen with fear we become deer trapped on a country road as vehicles race past us.

Until finally someone stops, gets out, and approaches us with compassion. They hold us and walk us back to ourselves, allowing us to lean on them along the way. As we awake each morning thereafter, the girl in the mirror begins to look a bit more like us. Sure, we still have our raw, unkempt, angry, sad, depressed, exhausted days. But in between those days, we cautiously regain our glow. Our eyes once again transform into a beautiful stained glass window to our soul instead of the broken window to the dark soul of the depression or anxiety which has gripped us for so very long.

But the window to depression or anxiety which exists in our eyes, jutting deep into our souls, will never fully close. It stays open, even if just a centimeter. Each time we falter, fail to live up to our own impossible standards, our mind will scurry to that window to measure the opening, to see if it’s widened. We will check and re-check, not believing original measurements equal to the original. Eventually we walk away somewhat satisfied but never fully believing we are recovered.

Depression and mental illness thrive on doubt. They thrive on suppression, stigma, and questioning of our own abilities whether from others or the internal struggle for sense of self. Even without mental illness, we question ourselves our entire life. Grab onto the positive. Grasp tightly onto balloons of hope when they float by. Marvel at the flame of a beautiful candle when it shines light onto your path. Find your light where you can, when it is offered, and let it flood your world. Don’t hide it behind the darkness in the soul of your depression.

Let go. Allow the light flood into your world until you recognize the girl in the mirror again as beautiful. It’s not that she disappeared. It’s that your perception of her was stolen by Depression, a sly thief. Steal her back.

Reanimating my past


Reanimation

Image via Wikipedia

Some time ago, I blogged about how brushing my hair triggered my PTSD from the birth of my second daughter. Not too long after her birth, I chopped all my hair off. It’s long again and I am finally okay with brushing my hair but still mindful of how long I brush. I make every effort to brush only as long as necessary, forcing myself to put the brush down and walk away.

Today, for the first time in over five years, I am listening to Linkin Park’s Reanimation.

Why is this significant?

This is the album I listened to the day my five year old daughter had surgery for her jaw at just 9 days old. I took the MP3 player into the sleep room at the Children’s Hospital right outside the NICU, curled up, cranked it up as loud as it would go, sinking blissfully down into the rhythm of the pulsating beats and the angst of their screaming voices. Thing is, I sank so far down I did not want to come back. I yearned to stay there, hidden, safe, with their angst. Lost in the darkness. Because there, there I did not have an imperfect newborn. There, I was just a soul moving to the rhythm. Nothing was wrong. I was not angry. I was not sad. I was NUMB. I wanted to be lost forever in the solitude of peace which existed amidst the digital beats, the persistent piano tones and haunting echoes behind the remixed rhythms. My womb, my saviour, my peace. I clung to the MP3 player until my knuckles were stiff, refusing to let go, closing my eyes to sink deep beneath the surface of reality.

But today, I sit here, each song echoing into my ears, my soul, my heart, and I am shaking as I type. Breathing deep through pursed lips and wiping away tears. This is music. This is just beats. Just rhythm. Just voices. This is NOT my daughter’s surgery. This is NOT the pain I felt five years ago. It’s not. Today I am letting all of this wash over me and turning it into the music it’s meant to be, not the hell it used to be for me. Today I am not numb. Today I am feeling. Today I am listening. Today, I’m singing with the words. I’m dancing to the beats. I’m reclaiming the music for joy instead of pain.

Today, I win.

Today, I refuse to let this music trigger me any longer.

It’s taken me five years but I’m finally strong enough to refuse to let this beast control me anymore.

Not easy, but necessary. A step toward the new me. Toward the healed me.

Why am I sharing this with you? To let you know that yes, healing takes time. It’s a process with each step presenting itself as you are ready. If you falter, don’t despair. The step will come. You’ll overpower the step with strength from an unknown place when the time is right. It won’t be easy. But it will be powerful. And once you’ve done it, you’ll look back and see just how far your journey has brought you… and how much strength it has added to your life.

Own it instead of letting it own you.