Whatever Wednesday: A bit of exposure therapy

Me, as a Fradoodle

In elementary school, I had ridiculously long hair. After I whacked a bunch of it off in the first grade, my mom chopped the rest of it off. And then she permed it. I looked like a fradoodle. (Frazzled Poodle) That right there is the best photo I can find of my fradoodled do. I apologize for the graininess. It is not intentional.

It eventually grew out. I would waver back and forth between long and short hair for the better part of my life.

When I gave birth to my second daughter, I had long hair. Halfway down my back and Pantene commercial silky. Yes, I had THAT head of hair.

In college, I once had someone reach out and yank pretty hard on my hair as I waited in line at a McDonald’s. Yanno, to make sure it was real and not a weave or wig. And yes, I beat the ever loving crap out of informed her it was real and asked her to keep her friggin hands off please not do that again.

The evening I gave birth to our second daughter, I woke up around 10pm to use the restroom. Before I went back to bed (in the middle of the night at the hospital by myself after 42 hours of labor) I brushed and brushed my hair for 10 minutes. It was the first of many obsessive behaviors to come. It would not be the last time I would brush my hair for no reason at all.

A few months after my daughter was born, I cut my hair off. Why? To keep myself from brushing it so obsessively.

Flash forward to now.

My hair is long again. Not quite as long, but it’s below my shoulders these days. It’s thick, shiny, and silky. Totally enviable again. To be honest, the growth kind of snuck up on me asĀ  I lived life. Sure, I knew it was getting longer but I had no grand plans as for the general direction of my hair and what I wanted it to look like.

A couple of months ago I began to feel some anxiety about my hair. I wanted to brush it. I wanted to brush it a lot. Every time I did brush it, I flashed back. I could see the old me, the hollow, lifeless eyes in the mirror pleading with the vibrant woman inside to come out. But alas she did not. These days, it’s the opposite. The vibrant woman is pleading with the lifeless woman to never come back again.

I didn’t cut my hair.

I decided to let it be. To finally face one of the demons from my past, if you will. I dared myself to brush it and walk away. To be okay if that lifeless woman popped by for a visit because I knew it was just that – a visit. No one can be 100% all the time, after all. It’s OKAY to collapse. It’s OKAY to have hollow eyes every so often. It’s okay.

So here I am. A month after making the decision to not cut my hair. It’s a little longer. It’s still silky, thick, shiny, and I can’t do a damned thing with it because it’s so heavy and silky. (Please don’t hate me)

But it’s HERE. And you know what? I’m okay with that. And seeing a hair brush no longer gives me the heebie-jeebies.

THAT is a huge thing for me. Huge.

I heart my long hair.

Below is a slideshow of my elementary hair and my hair now for those who commented and wanted to see photos:

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The tenacious insidiousness of Postpartum Insanity

Over the past summer as I was working through writer’s block and a few other things, there was an essay that lept forth from my fingers. I’ve kept it tucked away. Why? It’s very graphic for one thing. It scares the crap out of me. And frankly I didn’t want to scare the crap out of you, my dear readers. But I realize that if I am to be honest about my experiences I have to be honest about ALL of my experiences. You simply can’t shove Postpartum Mood Disorders up in a neat little box and tie it off with a satin bow to sit daintily in the corner and wait.

No, Postpartum Mood Disorders are more like the exploded laundry basket that is slowly overtaking your house. Regardless of how many times you empty it, it hops about, filling back up and leaving pieces of clothing all over the place.

So I finally decided to post it after reading another blog post about “Publish Already.”

This is really more for me than anyone else. I realize that makes me selfish to a certain extent but I also know that being so brutally honest may just help someone down the road too. It’s time I stopped living with the fear of what others will think of me (yes, even I have fear – I’m human just like you) when I say or do something. It’s time I did just what I did with my Postpartum OCD. Stand. Turn. Fight.

SO – because this piece is truly graphic and should NOT be read by those who are still struggling, I’ve placed it on a separate page. With a warning in bright red at the top. Be warned that there are also a couple of four letter words in there too. Like I said – it kind of spilled forth from my finger tips in a venting rage. I have not edited it much at all.

You can get to it by clicking here. Feel free to comment either there or here or both. Or not at all.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening. Sometimes that’s all a mom needs.

Is Happiness really a choice?

During my first bout with Postpartum OCD, I could not begin to count how many times I got the lecture “Happiness is a choice” from my husband. But that was then and this is now. We have both come a long way in our sensitivity towards the very real condition of Depression, both of us having struggled with it in our own way.

If happiness truly is a choice, then why are so many of us struggling with depression? I mean, really, who chooses to be depressed? I sure didn’t. My husband didn’t. It just happened. Not overnight, mind you, but it happened. The thing with depression is that you don’t feel yourself fading away. As a Casting Crowns song states, it’s a “slow fade” as you fall away from happiness. Such a slow fade sometimes it’s not caught until it’s too late.

I don’t like the intimations of happiness being a choice. Call me jaded if you want but I just don’t like the idea of someone telling a depressed mom that she made the “choice” to be depressed. Yeah, right. I CHOSE to have horrific thoughts about harming my children. I CHOSE to slide so far down my pole that I landed in a psych ward. Yeap, that’s me. Choosing to be horrifically clinically depressed with OCD thrown in just for kicks. Why? Cuz I like it there. I like it in the dark, all alone, milling over thoughts of how to hurt my kids, thinking that everyone is out to get me.


I hated it there. Abhorred is an even better word. Emphatically detested the place, actually.

But now that I’ve graduated to Survivor, I have a very unique insight into the subjectiveness of this very phrase.

I didn’t choose to become a sufferer of Postpartum OCD. Nope, that part kinda bit me in the ass all on it’s own.

However, I CHOSE to become a survivor.

Like David gathering rocks to throw at Goliath, I turned and sought for my own rocks to place in my bag as I stood strong in the face of the Giant.

My rocks were strength, faith, and endurance. I needed all of them to carry me through. I found strength in stories of other survivors who had gone on to become tremendous advocates for other women and were now reaching their hands out to me as I struggled mightily to stay afloat. I found faith in God’s word and actions. Through my journey with PP OCD, I realized I had not strayed as far from Him as I thought. The wandering path behind me suddenly became clear as I moved forward. Everything, even the traumatic events that had once rocked my world, became illuminating lights that allowed me to develop endurance. I had been through several family deaths as a child, having lost an aunt at just 5 years old. It was through these losses that God prepared me for the road ahead. I knew I could strap on those boots and turn and fight.

Let me tell you something here. There is no feeling more empowering in the entire world than victory over your own personal demons, whatever they may be… mental illness, cancer, heart disease, etc. Those of us who choose to stand and fight know the taste of victory and it infuses into all we do from that point forward. We know we are not immune to the challenges of life. We just know how we’ll handle them no matter what they may be.

The biggest lesson I learned through all of this? Life isn’t about what it hands you. It’s about how you handle life. Looking at life through that lens would make it seem that happiness is a choice and to a certain extent it is a choice.

But sometimes life throws a screwball you just can’t avoid. So what are you to do? You have two choices. You can either let it knock you flat on your ass and stay there for awhile…..Or you can pick yourself up, dust off the dirt and mend the wounds, and go on your way.

What are YOU going to do?

A Little Slice of…. Normal?

photo from flickr

photo from flickr

As my Postpartum OCD slammed against my shores, the skies darkened and angry bolts of lightning seared through the atmosphere. I hunkered down in a deep dark cave, curled up in the fetal position while wishing the skies would clear. Eventually they did and as puffy white clouds took the place of the dark angry ones, I began to realize the island I now found myself on wasn’t so bad. The laughter and comraderie filling the valleys no longer grated on my nerves. Not even the whining and crying could push me back to my cave. In fact, I slowly began to forget where my cave was – I think it’s been overgrown with dense vines or is hidden away behind a waterfall.

This afternoon with the kids was completely blissful. All three of them played together in the floor without arguing. They peacefully shared with their toys and burst with laughter. Allison wove a wonderful tale of marital bliss with Cameron’s toy cars. Charlotte giggled at Cameron’s newfound block playing skills. And Cameron just soaked up the attention from his big sisters as they surrounded him.

I immersed myself in the joy of watching my three children enjoy each other’s company. THIS is what motherhood is like without the angry and confusion of a mood disorder. Wow. I didn’t have a mood disorder after having Cameron but there were all the issues with Chris’ addiction that threw me for a loop. Moments like these- moments so tantalizingly perfect never fail to blow me away. They make all of this worth it – all the struggling, the fighting, the tears, the pain – all of it makes the joy I now feel so much brighter.

And it’s this joy that i wish for all the families I come in contact with because I remember all too well not knowing it.

Mondays with Pec Part II

Today we finish up last week’s post with Pec by looking at signs and symptoms of various mental health conditions that can occur during the postpartum period. As always, discuss any concerns you may have with your caregiver.

How do I know if I have postpartum depression or anxiety?

Symptoms can vary from woman to woman. Here are some of the most common symptoms:

  • Sadness (sometimes comes in waves-women feel “up and down”)
  • Guilt (often women feel like they aren’t good moms, “maybe I just wasn’t cut out to be a mom”)
  • Irritable, less patient than normal (women often say they are snapping at their partners, or not enjoying their older child/children the way they did before)
  • Sleep problems (often hard to fall and/or stay asleep at night)
  • Appetite changes (may eat more or less than usual), often rapid weight loss
  • Lack of feelings toward baby (“I can bathe her and feed her, but I don’t really feel what I thought I’d feel towards her)
  • Worrying about every little thing (“it feels like my mind won’t shut off”)
  • Lack of fun or pleasure (I often hear things like, “I used to sing in the shower or with the car radio…. I’m not singing anymore”).
  • Overwhelm (“I just can’t cope”)
  • Lack of focus and concentration and difficulty making decisions

Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

About 3-5% of new moms get postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Women who have a history of OCD or a family history of OCD are at a higher risk. I find that in my practice women who describe themselves as “worriers” or “anal” (have a high need for order and things being “just right”) are at a higher risk.

The word obsessive refers to repetitive thoughts. Compulsions refer to the behaviors people do to avoid or minimize the anxiety produced by the obsessive thought. In the movie As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson portrayed a character with severe OCD.

Postpartum, some women get obsessive worry, often about things happening to the baby. Sometimes women get frightening thoughts or even mental pictures of something bad happening to the baby; often the pictures may be about the mom herself hurting the baby. These pictures can seem vivid and horrifying. Unlike women with psychosis, who are not in touch with reality, these women are painfully in touch with reality. These women know they do not want to hurt their babies, and we call these thoughts “ego alien”. Women with postpartum OCD are horrified, “how could I have these thoughts? I love my baby. I would never hurt her. I feel like a monster”.

These thoughts may just pop into her mind- we call them intrusive, and they are repetitive. Sometimes women have behaviors or compulsions that help them feel safer. These are may include things like hiding the kitchen knives or avoiding being alone with the baby.

Postpartum Panic Disorder

About 10% of new moms experience panic disorder. Some of these women have had panic before, sometimes even in pregnancy.

Symptoms of Postpartum Panic include episodes of extreme anxiety or worry, rapid heartbeat, tight chest or shortness of breath, choking feelings, dizziness, restlessness, and irritability. Panic attacks can happen without any specific triggers, even in the middle of the night. Women often feel a sense of doom or that they are going to die. They worry about when the next attack will happen.

Postpartum Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder can occur after birth. PTSD is seen in about 1-6% of women. Symptoms of PTSD include recurrent nightmares, extreme anxiety, reliving past traumas, avoidance of reminders of the trauma (for example, the hospital). Women with Postpartum PTSD often feel that they were abandoned, not well cared for, and stripped of their dignity during the birth. Another common feeling is that their voices were not heard and that there was poor communication during the labor and/or delivery. Some women with Postpartum PTSD state their trust was betrayed; they felt a sense of powerlessness and lack of protection by their caregivers.

Postpartum Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is often incorrectly diagnosed as depression. It is not uncommon for people with bipolar disorder to suffer over 10 years with an incorrect diagnosis, and therefore, inadequate treatment. Women taking medication for bipolar disorder are often told to stop medication before getting pregnant. Some, but not all, medications used for bipolar treatment can cause birth defects. Unfortunately, up to 80% of women who stop medication become ill during the pregnancy. Postpartum, bipolar disorder puts women at risk for a manic or psychotic episode. Women with bipolar disorder need to be working very closely with a psychiatrist trained in reproductive mental health.

Symptoms of postpartum bipolar episode can include

a decreased need for sleep and severe and rapid mood swings. Often there is a family history of bipolar disorder.

Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum psychosis is considered a medical or psychiatric emergency. There is an increased risk of a woman hurting her self or her infant or children.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include:

  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Incoherence
  • Decreased appetite
  • Paranoia and confusion
  • Hearing or seeing things others do not (hallucinations)
  • Inability to differentiate reality from hallucinations
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Delusional thinking (lack of touch with reality)
  • Manic behavior (hyperactivity, impulsive behavior)

These symptoms come and go (she may be fine one minute, and acting strangely the next).

All of these postpartum mood disorders can be treated. If a mom is not well, the family is not well. We now know that untreated maternal illness can cause long term consequences for the infant, as well as other children in the home. Postpartum mood disorders also contribute to marital/relationship stress and discord.

Unfortunately, these postpartum mood disorders do not always go away by themselves without treatment.

You are not alone.

You are not to blame

You will be well again.

Seek treatment from someone trained specifically in postpartum depression and postpartum mood disorders. To learn how to screen a potential therapist, go to http://www.pecindman.com.

Important resources:

http://www.MedEdPPD.org (a very informative website)

http://www.postpartum.net Postpartum Support International 1.800.944.4PPD

Beyond the Blues, A Guide to Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression (2006) by Bennett and Indman