In today’s culture, we tend to take our thoughts very seriously. People get very fired up about their thoughts – what parenting method we think is best, what baby food introduction style we think is best, what political thought camp we think is right. We take all of this very seriously, and we even like to believe that we come up with our thoughts and beliefs, especially the ones that sound really intelligent or really nice.
In reality the vast majority of thought just comes and passes through us. Consider this for a moment: Do you really choose your thoughts (even the ones that you spend lots of time on and feel really passionate about)? No. Thoughts just come, and we really don’t know where they come from. Well they come from a variety of sources – from your family history, from the tv episode you watched last night, from something random that your grandma told you when you were a child, and possibly even from things that have happened in the world or to your ancestors that you know nothing about. But it's nearly impossible to identify the exact source or to explain the timing.
The thing is, part of being human is having different thoughts and feelings pass through us. Some seem really nice and even very intelligent while others might appear ridiculous or even disgusting. Feelings also go hand in hand with this thought process. Sometimes a feeling passes through us and our mind starts racing to explain why we’re feeling that feeling. Other times a thought seemingly comes from nowhere and the body reacts with a flood of chemicals and intense feeling.
You might be thinking, “Well that’s all fine and good, but what does that have to do with my postpartum mood issues? Well, the problem occurs when you identify with thoughts and feelings as your own or even more inaccurately, as you.
Let me paint a scenario for you. You’re a new Mom, you feel exhausted and you can’t figure out why your baby is crying. The thought passes through your mind, “Surely my baby is crying because I’m a terrible mother. I can’t do this.” Or maybe you are standing in the kitchen and a kitchen knife is lying next to you on the table, and the thought occurs to you, “What if I hurt my baby with that knife?” I guarantee that the vast majority of moms have had thoughts like these. The difference between a mom who hasn’t been told they have a mood disorder is that they notice these thoughts, dismiss them as silly garbage, and move on with life. They know that the thoughts don’t mean anything about them. On the other hand, our poor mom with the label of “postpartum whatever” experiences these thoughts and feelings, grabs onto them and freezes in her tracks. “Well, I really do feel miserable and exhausted, maybe I’m depressed and I really don’t want to go on anymore? What if I might even commit suicide? And why would I ever think about hurting my baby? There must be something wrong with me! Look, now my face is tingling and I feel panicky. There must really be something wrong with me!”
Do you see the difference? These moms are both exhausted and feeling burnt out and having the same thoughts. But one mom knows not to take the thoughts and feelings seriously. The other doesn’t and lands in a confusing mental tailspin as a result. You see, thoughts were never intended to be thought about. In other words, thinking about your thinking never leads anywhere good. Thoughts are random or habitual outputs from a very sticky machine - HORRIBLE material for analysis. In and of themselves, they are meaningless.
What’s the good news? Thoughts and feelings come and go in the blink of an eye if you just let them. Even if you’ve been focusing on and anxiously monitoring your thoughts for years, it’s still true. So the moral of this story is that you are not your thoughts. What might that change for you?