I was recently honored to be asked to share my pregnancy and postpartum journey with the popular and helpful website Autoimmune Mom. The full story can be found here. The post details my journey from a relatively tranquil pregnancy to a postpartum “storm.” It includes three sections after Charlie’s birth:
1) Survival, Mastitis and Flare-Ups (0-3 months)
2) Feeling Like I “Almost Got This,”or Wayward Optimism (4-16 months)
3) The New Normal: Accepting that life/parenting/my health is now in a permanent state of flux (16 months to present).
Ideally, the full post should be read in order for the ultimate lessons I have learned to make sense in context. For those who might not have time to read it all, I wanted to provide three of the 8 lessons I learned through the process of seeing a clinical psychologist (the rest of which are detailed on page 3).
Lesson 1): The therapeutic relationship has been more powerful than I anticipated. Regardless of the “outcome” of a visit (e.g., whether or not I can put into practice the things we discussed), the time we spend is meaningful and therapeutic in and of itself. I have felt validated and listened to in a way that feels different and sometimes more powerful than I have experienced elsewhere. In addition, checking in with my therapist weekly gives an emotional anchor to my week, a consistent time I can depend upon to reset and devote time to examining my life in a structured way. I really recommend therapy to anyone who might be on the fence about it.
Lesson 2): Creating a mental/physical health timeline helped me see patterns in ways I couldn’t previously. I created a timeline of the 4 main intertwined mental and physical health issues of my life (autoimmune/RA activity, stress/anxiety events, loss of appetite, and claustrophobia/panic attacks), and color coded them (COLOR CODING FOR LIFE!). With this chart, I saw for the first time how all the aspects of my life are intertwined in ways I had never connected before (see picture below for an excerpt from years 1981-2007). I understand now that when my physical state is less than ideal, I have a much harder time coping with stressful events and any underlying anxieties. I think it would be an interesting exercise for anyone dealing with a chronic health issue.
Lesson 6: Accepting rather than deflecting emotions. One of the hardest parenting adjustments for me, aside from health issues, is how quickly my emotions swing from highs to lows and back. One minute I may be dreading wrangling my squirmy 30+ pound toddler into his car seat because it hurts my hands, but then a split second later he might start singing in the sweetest voice I’ve ever heard, or doing something else that melts my heart, and I have to make sure to pause and drink in those moments, because the next minute later he might be throwing a toy car at my head.
Through the ACT approach, I have learned how to observe my thoughts rather than judging or trying to change them; previously, I would get down on myself for getting irritated or angry, whereas now I am able to accept that those feelings are part of my life, and I can observe those thoughts from a more distant stance. Paradoxically, in accepting rather than deflecting the negative aspects of my current state, I actually feel better rather than worse. Truly being present with my current state (such as feeling pain or just feeling worse than I’d like) has opened me up to feeling more at peace and even happier than when I was attempting to deflect or minimize my experiences.
I am hoping that by reading my story, others may not feel as alone in their journeys. I look forward to hearing others’ comments on the original full story or here!