Music as Self-Care

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Music has always been a part of my life.  I realized the depth of my struggles through postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety when I could not recall the last time I played music.  I sang bedtime songs for my daughters, and that was the extent of it.  I grew up in a musical family, and I met my husband doing community theatre.  I remembered the key events of my life through song.  My love language was and still remains music.

My music nerd self totally geeked out when I heard that Natasha Bedingfield had partnered with philosophy to release an original song that is dedicated to people who are facing mental health issues. philosophy became one of the first organizations to focus on mental health and well-being.  They created a hope and grace initiative  to donate at least 1% of their sales toward charity that will support community-based groups that are focused on maternal mental health and well-being.  We applaud these efforts to provide more women with the access, the resources and the awareness of the mental health resources that are available to women in need.

I dedicate these lyrics to my fellow Warrior Moms.

Hope

Remember morning always comes
As night surrenders to the sun
No matter how dark it may become
Don’t stop your light from shining on
‘Cause nothing’s ever over till you say it’s over
And nothing’s ever finished
Not unless you walk away

You see I’ve got hope

Oh oh
I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way
Hoooo-ope hooooo-ope, hoooo-ope
I’ve got hope

It’s easier to say you can’t when you know you can,
It’s easier to let go then to hold somebody’s hand
But if you do, then you might just understand yeah
That it’s okay to not know where you’re gonna end

I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way
I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way

Ooh oh oh oh oh, you need hope
Oooh oh oh oh oooh, I got hope

You see, I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way
I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way
I’ve got hope

Give me hope
I need a hand, I need a hand, I need a hand

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A Tale of Two Moms: Postpartum Rage

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postpartum depressionI hid this side of my struggle with postpartum depression from everyone but my immediate family.  My postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety manifested itself in rage.  Postpartum rage made feel like I suffered from a split personality disorder. On the outside, I appeared mostly together, just a somewhat stressed and frazzled new mom.  Cut me off in traffic, and I would go from zero to sixty in two seconds.  Rage felt visceral to me.  I could feel the heat building up inside of my body.  The tips of my ears and my cheeks would flush with anger and frustration.  My vision became like a tunnel; I could only focus on the object of my rage.  I could feel my heart pounding in my ears.  I felt the need to hit something, anything.  I threw remotes, books and phones.  I slammed doors and drawers.  My rage turned me into an out of control monster.  I could barely recognize myself after one of these bouts of rage.  Anything and everything could set me off.  My poor husband, my sweet three-year old and my infant daughter took the brunt of my wrath.  I yelled and screamed until my throat was hoarse.  I had no idea at the time that these feelings were symptoms of postpartum depression.  I believed that I was simply a horrible person who did not deserve the beautiful family that she had.

I felt like a pot constantly about to boil over.  Everywhere I looked, I saw disorder and chaos.  If my husband forgot to set something out that I needed in the morning like the bottles for the baby, that minor infraction was enough to make me lose my temper entirely.  I felt completely unhinged when I was in the midst of one of my rages.  I truly thought I was losing my mind.

My lowest point came when I pushed my husband in front of my oldest daughter.  I wanted to provoke him into rage like I was raging.  After that incident, I realized how out of control my rage was.  I felt sick to my stomach realizing that my actions spoke louder than my words to my preschooler.  How could I expect her not to hit if I did it?  I was wracked with guilt and worry that I was damaging my child.  I have not hit anyone since that time.  I felt so much guilt and shame for my behavior that day.  I regret that explosion more than anything.

I felt like I needed to rage and be angry against the whole world.  I felt so much loathing and self-hatred.  I could not understand what was happening to me as the rage took hold of me.  I felt powerless in the grasp of my rage.  I always dissolved into tears of shame and guilt after these blinding rage fits. Medication helped take the edge off of my rage.  Another key component in managing the rage was therapy. I had to put in the hard work to recognize the early signs of rage that threatened to overwhelm me.   I needed to identify the emotions that were my triggers.  I used exercise to help manage both the anxiety and the rage.  I welcomed company when I struggled with anxiety.  When rage started to build, I needed to remove myself from the situation.  Kickboxing, weight lifting and running were fantastic outlets for my rage.

Postpartum rage nearly destroyed my relationship with my husband.  I lost myself within that rage, and I needed to repair the damage that I did.  My husband and I went to counseling separately, and we went to counseling together.  It took love, support, and lots of communication to repair the cracks in the foundation of our marriage.   My husband reassured me that we pledged to love each other in sickness and health. That season of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety was my season of sickness.  Postpartum rage brought me to my knees, and it threatened to consume me in its wake.  I rose again, armed with compassion for myself and others, knowledge of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, and the belief that I would be well.

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The Truth About Postpartum Psychosis

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emergency-stop-buttonThese are the kind of posts we don’t like to write. But they are also the posts we must write because these situations carry the most potential for stigma and misunderstanding as they relate to the Perinatal Mood & Anxiety realm.

A recent situation in Cincinnati is the reason for this post. I won’t link for safety reasons, and if you are fragile, I would recommend you NOT Google for the story. (If, however, you do, and you need someone to talk to about it during the day, find me on Twitter here: @unxpctdblessing. I will be happy to chat with you.)

Media sensationalism along with misunderstanding by society at large can turn a singular incident into a large scale stigma fest. THIS is why we write posts like this. To educate and prevent misunderstandings in the future. It is a delicate balance to write these posts without triggering our audience, hence the emergency stop picture. While I have tried to keep this post as non-triggering as possible, again, if you are fragile, you may want to skip this post.

When a mother with Postpartum Psychosis follows through with behavior which is limited to a very small percentage of mothers who do experience psychosis, it is splashed across the front pages and often combined with the term “postpartum depression” or “baby blues,” leading readers to believe a depressed mother is capable of this act.

Let’s get a few things straight here.

Postpartum Psychosis only occurs in 1-2 of every 1000 births, or .1% of births.

Of those .1%, only 4% may commit infanticide, and 5% may commit suicide.

Postpartum Psychosis is NOT Postpartum Depression.

Postpartum Psychosis is defined by hallucinations, delusions, rapid mood swings, decreased sleep, and increased paranoia.

Postpartum Depression is defined by increased sadness, irritability, increased sleep, feelings of guilt, and loss of interest in usual things. It also carries the risk of thoughts of harming your child or yourself, but mothers with Postpartum Depression are highly unlikely to follow through.

Baby Blues is experienced by up to 80% of all new mothers and is NOT a disorder found on the Perinatal Mood & Anxiety spectrum.

It’s important to note here that I know more than a few mothers who have successfully fought back against psychosis and won. They (and their children) are still with us. Psychosis also does not always equal the death of a mother or a child. It is, however, the one disorder on the spectrum which carries the highest risk for loss of life.

I want to add that Postpartum OCD is the other disorder on the spectrum closest to the signs and symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis. How do you tell the two apart? OCD moms are typically disgusted by the thoughts which flit through their heads while moms with Psychosis believe the thoughts they are experiencing, no matter how delusional, are real and rational. They are driven to follow through with them, while moms with OCD fight against them and do everything to make them go away. Am I saying moms with Psychosis WANT to follow through with their delusions? No. I’m saying that because of the nature of the disorder, they are unable to fight back without help.

From the Postpartum Support International Website:

It is also important to know that many survivors of postpartum psychosis never had delusions containing violent commands. Delusions take many forms, and not all of them are destructive. Most women who experience postpartum psychosis do not harm themselves or anyone else. However, there is always the risk of danger because psychosis includes delusional thinking and irrational judgment, and this is why women with this illness must be treated and carefully monitored by a trained healthcare professional.

So what should you do if you or a mother you know and love shows signs and symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis?

She should immediately be seen by a physician. She should not be left by herself, or alone with her infant at any time. It is possible she may need to be hospitalized for a short (or longer) time until she begins to respond to any prescription medications to balance her psychosis. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world and mothers often fall through the cracks. Compliance with medications outside of the hospital setting (which is the alleged case in Cincinnati), is something no one can monitor. What we can do, however, is continue to educate the population at large about the signs and symptoms, encourage them to not leave the mother alone, and encourage compliance with any treatments set forth by a medical professional.

Healing from a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder is not a solo journey, nor is it an easy journey. We need a village to wrap their arms around us as we learn how to walk again. Be a part of that village. Please.

Here are some resources to get you started:

Signs & Symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis

Suicide Hotlines

Know that above all, you are not alone and you will get through this.

 

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New Study: Postpartum OCD and New Mamas

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washing my handsThe thoughts marched onto the battlefield when my daughter was less than a week old. They closed ranks around my brain and held on voraciously until they squeezed every bit of sanity out of me. Their arrows whizzed by, carrying horrid thoughts which would disappear as soon as the arrow sunk in – then the compulsions began. I washed my hands. I cleaned. I twitched. I watched movies. I read. ANYTHING, anything to make the whispers of danger stop.

I struggled mightily with Postpartum OCD during my first and second postpartum periods. With my second, my OCD was coupled with the trauma of being a NICU mama. All the pumping fed my compulsions, and quite frankly, may have provided some source of solace for me now that I look back.

Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or postpartum OCD, is an ugly stop on the spectrum of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. It catches moms off-guard. We often wonder if the thoughts we have are normal – is this part of normal motherhood worry? When should we consider the possibility of having crossed the border into seeking help?

A new study out of Northwestern states that new moms are “FIVE TIMES more likely than their peers to experience OCD up to six months after their child is born.” Normal population rates of OCD sit at three percent. Among new moms? Eleven percent.

Dr. Dana Gossett had this to say regarding how to tell when mom needs to seek help:

“It may be that certain kinds of obsessions and compulsions are adaptive and appropriate for a new parent, for example those about cleanliness and hygiene,” Gossett said in a press release. “But when it interferes with normal day-to-day functioning and appropriate care for the baby and parent, it becomes maladaptive and pathologic.”

It’s encouraging to see researchers exploring additional stops on the spectrum. Postpartum Depression has been a catch phrase for so long that all too often, moms think that if they’re not sad or weepy, they aren’t experiencing a mood disorder after the birth of a child. Research like this, however, goes to show that a new mom doesn’t have to be sad to experience a mood disorder. Signs and symptoms of postpartum OCD, according to Postpartum Progress include, but are not limited to the following experiences:

  • You feel like you have to be doing something at all times. Cleaning bottles. Cleaning baby clothes. Cleaning the house. Doing work. Entertaining the baby. Checking on the baby.
  • You may be having disturbing thoughts.  Thoughts that you’ve never had before.  Scary thoughts that make you wonder whether you aren’t the person you thought you were.  They fly into your head unwanted and you know they aren’t right, that this isn’t the real you, but they terrify you and they won’t go away.  These thoughts may start with the words “What if …”
  • You are afraid to be alone with your baby because of scary thoughts or worries.  You are also afraid of things in your house that could potentially cause harm, like kitchen knives or stairs, and you avoid them like the plague.
  • You may feel the need to check things constantly. Did I lock the door?  Did I lock the car? Did I turn off the oven? Is the baby breathing?
  • You can’t sleep when the baby sleeps.

It is important to note that OCD symptoms may also appear during pregnancy. Note that symptoms would differentiate from that of nesting – if it interferes with day-to-day functioning, always see a professional.

The most important aspect of the symptom list above, for me, is this one:

“Moms with postpartum OCD know that their thoughts are bizarre and are very unlikely to ever act on them.”

When I had thoughts, I remember the immediate repulsion which followed them. I didn’t seek a higher level of help after my second daughter (once I was on meds) until these thoughts began to make sense and I started to rationalize them. OCD is frightening. But there is always help and you are absolutely not a bad mother if you have intrusive thoughts flitting through your brain.

One of the other interesting things which came out of this study was that of the 11 percent of moms who experienced OCD, 70 percent of them also experienced a form of depression, leading researchers to the following:

“There is some debate as to whether postpartum depression is simply a major depressive episode that happens after birth or its own disease with its own features,” Miller said. “Our study supports the idea that it may be its own disease with more of the anxiety and obsessive-compulsive symptoms than would be typical for a major depressive episode.”

In my experience, I also was depressed. But it was exactly as they posit in the second sentence – it was a depression heavily laden with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. My experience was not solely depression, despite what the psychiatrist seemed bent on telling me.

Bottom line? If YOU think something is off with you, seek help. Know the signs and symptoms, know yourself, and if you’re not quite you and haven’t been for awhile, talk to a professional. You’re not alone.

photo credit: “OCD-Washing My Hands” by mstinas on flickr.
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