PPD Triggers: Coming back to reality
I didn't know there were "triggers" with Postpartum Depression until I saw a video online that sent me into a sudden emotional downward spiral. I later read, "trigger warning" in the comments on the post. In the beginning, I found abstinence from tragic postpartum stories and articles was helpful. Sometimes I couldn't help myself. Perhaps it was curiosity or some deep down desire to feel bad; or to put it very bluntly, my brain trying to kill me. I even took a break from the news and social media; I felt too sensitive and impressionable. It's at times recommended to confront troubling issues and discuss them, for me it caused more harm. My thoughts were irrational and my feelings were based on situations that weren't real; trying to make sense of it and re-living them felt more traumatic. I now pay attention to trigger warnings. It's been a year since I had my daughter and while my Postpartum Depression and OCD has gotten better, I don't feel completely out of the woods. If something feels triggering, I just don't go there.
The tricky triggers are actual events I'm participating in that stir up a fear. When my daughter was 9 months old we were invited to a pool party. Her first swimming experience! Since her first bath, I've had a fear of her drowning. I tried to dismiss the growing anxiety as the date approached. The day arrived and there I was, holding her in the kiddie pool when the thought popped in my head, "I could just let go". The terror started growing in my belly but I couldn't afford to get lost in an emotional daymare. I had to stay present with her. I felt absolutely no desire to let go, the thought was horrifying! I took a deep breath and felt my feet on the bottom of the pool, the way the water felt as it splashed on my face; the feel of her soft, slippery skin where I securely held her under her armpits. I didn't entertain the frightening thoughts. I kept repeating to myself, "they aren't real, they aren't real." We were okay.
Yesterday we had our 1-year doctor visit. I knew vaccines were coming at the end of the appointment. I thought, "procrastinate, just keep asking the doctor questions!". I tried justifying in my head, "she won't remember"... or will she? My heart raced as I held her and sang her a lullaby. It was over in less than 15 seconds. The nurse left the room giving me space to console her. I wiped her tears and held her closely through her sobbing and little breathing spasms. As I paced the room with her crying in my arms, the uninvited thoughts started. I began imagining her being hurt or in pain and not being able to save her. My eyes started to well up, but I took a deep breath. I noticed the white walls with thermometers and otoscopes hanging from them. I observed the brightness of the florescent lighting; I heard the paper crunch when I placed the diaper bag on the examination table. I was in a doctor's office. This is what was really happening. I had to stay present for my daughter. And I did.
My ability to not succumb to the daymares and disturbing thoughts has been a process. I've learned what my triggers are and I avoid them when I can. I've discovered when I am able to make it through an episode, it gives me the confidence to fight through the next; my faith strengthens and those experiences have added up over time. Sometimes I'm not afraid at all.
It's been a year since my daughter was born. Childbirth while amazing, is traumatic physically and emotionally. It takes time to heal– sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. When I feel anxious or begin having intrusive thoughts, I check in with my senses: Where are my feet? What do I see? What can I smell? What sounds are happening around me? I take a deep breath and bring it back to present where reality is.