Seeing the Role of Habit in Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety
I know that I’ve already talked about how I don’t feel that the classification of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety as diseases is helpful. You can read more about that here. Today, I want to introduce the idea of habit into the conversation. Our incredible brains were beautifully designed to form habits in order to make our lives efficient and easier and to keep us safe. However, as we know, habits can also cause a lot of pain and suffering when we begin to act on unhealthy behaviors in order to escape discomfort. These sorts of habits usually get classified as addictions.
So I want to introduce an idea to you. Your depression, your anxiety, your intrusive thoughts, your OCD tendencies - they are evidence of the presence of an addictive habit. This addictive habit may or may not involve a substance that we typically associate with addictions, but it definitely involves the tendency of attaching to negative and fearful thoughts and feelings that arise within you instead of letting them pass through you and float away.
“Why on earth would I do this? Why would I want to hold onto things that make me feel miserable?” Those are probably the next thoughts coming into your head. I’ll tell you why. There are actually two reasons that I see. First, as I discussed last week, most of us don’t know who we really are. I’ll talk more about that in a minute. The second is that our little minds (our egos) like to tell stories about who we are that rely on the false need to fix and protect ourselves because they make the small mind feel important and alive.
I want to explain this in more detail by painting the same scenario for you from two different perspectives. The first scenario is someone who, like most of us, doesn’t know who they really are. This person (let’s call her Karen) one day wakes up and finds her mind bombarded with all sorts of emotions and feelings that feel disturbing. There might be a feeling of, “I can’t get out of bed.” There might be a thought of, “I really don’t like my child, and I don’t want to be a mom anymore.” Or another popular one, “I’m surely going to lose my mind and die because I haven’t slept in 3 days.” These thoughts and feelings don’t fit with who Karen wants to be, and she feels threatened by them. Her mind starts racing with more thinking, “What’s wrong with me? Is this depression? I’ve got to do something to change this!” You see, Karen feels threatened because she doesn’t know who she really is. What’s more, her little egoic mind gets all fired up and excited because now she is a loner heroine with a problem to solve. It’s up to her to save herself before time runs out!
Now, let’s look at that scenario from the perspective of someone who knows who they are. Karen wakes up with the same thoughts and feelings. But she knows that at her core, she is an extension of the source of love that created the Universe. She knows that part of her human experience is passing thought and feeling, but she also knows that her birthright is peace and that any thoughts and feelings that cause distress are simply stories that will pass in their own time. Her thoughts might start racing and she might even feel really uncomfortable sensations in her body, but she knows it’s just her little egoic mind talking and/or a bit of intense energy passing through and so she doesn’t get involved. She just lets her mind talk and gets out of bed and starts her day. The thoughts and feelings eventually pass and her mind gets interested in something else.
Our little egoic minds love the drama. They love the story that we’re on our own and it’s up to us to save the day. And you know what, I’m pretty confident that our little minds will always tell that story. But the good news is that we don’t have to believe it. The truth is that we are safe; we are whole; we are well. There is a source of strength and love in us that is stronger than any obstacle, and what’s more, that source is in love with us and for us.
I’m going to try to sum all of this up in a nutshell. The presence of postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, or postpartum psychosis is evidence of a habit that the brain formed over time. The habit is this: When the person feels uncomfortable feelings or has thoughts they do not like, he or she tries to get rid of the discomfort by thinking about the thought or feeling more. That’s it.
So try this on today. Don’t try to figure it out or think about it too much. Just try it on for size and see if anything comes to the light.