“The end product of child raising is not the child but the parent.” – Frank Pittman Psychiatrist
Samantha called from 3000 miles away…
She heard I could help so Samantha called from 3000 miles away to ask me how to deal with a panic attack while flying at 30,000 feet while her ten month old son slept in the seat beside her.
I discovered Samantha was a thirty-five year old first time mother who lived in Vancouver, on Canada’s west coast, with her spouse and child. She was originally from the United States and travelled there regularly to visit her parents. She had been experiencing panic attacks for several months, but never on a plane before. At the same time she talked about periods of deep depression since she her pregnancy began and continuing into the present since her child’s birth. Samantha was presenting several of the typical symptoms of Postpartum Depression (PPD).
Tell me about the rest of your life…
I asked her to tell me about the rest of her life. She indicated she has been on her maternity leave for over a year now. She was a professional nutritionist and worked in a wellness clinic. Then she added she felt she should know better than to be having panic attacks since she worked in the health field with pregnant women quite regularly.
She went on to say she had a devoted partner and a beautiful and healthy little boy. Both sets of grandparents were very excited about their first grandchild and very supportive of her, calling regularly and visiting whenever they were invited.
The biggest challenge…
So I asked her, “Samantha, what is the biggest challenge right now in your life?”
She replied, “Ken, that’s the thing…I don’t see any. I have a healthy baby and a supportive partner and family. I am exercising regularly and getting to rest whenever I need. I care for our beautiful baby and take it easy the rest of the time. I’ve got the perfect life…why would I go around panicking…and in a public place…and on an airplane? What is wrong with me?”
“Each suburban wife struggles with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night- she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question– ‘Is this all?”
– Betty Friedan, Author
Clearly she was embarrassed, frustrated and angry at herself. I explored further by saying, “And how was your pregnancy?”
“It was OK…but I had some complications and confined to bed-rest for the last three months. But Ken, Darren, my husband, was so sweet and took great care of me the whole time right up to Elliott’s delivery.”
Trying to act and think positively…
“Samantha, it sounds like you try to act and think positively about yourself and your life…is that true?”
“Well of course…I am a known optimist among both family and friends…it is the only way to be…isn’t it?” She replied, at first with confidence and followed quickly by a voice tone drop into indecisiveness.
“Samantha you have told me about your healthy baby, loving spouse, support family and excellent recovery from a challenging pregnancy…all the good stuff about your current life. I am wondering about the bad stuff that has been going on which you have been trying to ignore…tell me about that!” I said.
“No matter how calmly you try to referee, parenting will eventually produce bizarre behavior, and I’m not talking about the kids. Their behavior is always normal.” – Bill Cosby, Comedian
I don’t feel its appropriate to talk about that stuff…
“Ken, I don’t feel its appropriate to talk about that stuff because I have been so lucky.” she replied.
“Samantha, when you only acknowledge the good parts of your life you dishonor the parts which are challenging you. You need to honor both because they both help you to learn and grow as a person, as a mother and as a spouse.
She looked at me with confusion written all over her face. I continued, “When you respect both you optimize your evolution. When you only acknowledge one side, either the positive or the negative, you automatically attract the other to remind you of your inherent need to respect both sides of your life.”
“So tell me the downside, the bad side, the depressing side, the nightmare of your life situation at this moment! What about your fatigue, your loneliness, the dirty diapers, the worry…what about them?” I pushed her here to see if she was ready to breakthrough her one sided perception.
“We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.” – Henry Cloud, Psychologist
Samantha’s face went through a few contortions and distortions before coming to rest in a look of insightful awareness. Then she asked, “You want the truth Ken? I have never told anyone this! OK…here goes!”
Then she went on, “Elliott requires constant attention when he is awake; Darren scrutinizes everything I do for Elliott; our parents smother us with their constant calling; I miss talking to adults; I miss my work; I miss my friends and colleagues; and I keep thinking I have to do this for the next twenty years…Ken, it honestly scares the hell out of me!”
“Samantha, notice how it feels a little less negative just because you said it out loud to someone else!”
She responded, “Yes, it kind of does…it’s like saying it makes it real!”
It legitimizes your feelings and your right to feel…
“That is exactly it Samantha, it legitimizes your feelings and your right to feel whatever you need. When you feelings are respected you and your identity are acknowledged at the same time…and that feels better…to be respect for your right to feel whatever you choose.”
Are you saying I have a right to feel anything I want, Ken?” she asked quickly.
“Indeed you are Samantha! Expressing feelings is like expressing our opinion, it is our right. However, if we, or someone else, acts on their feelings, this is different since it can impact the rights of others in some way. So, for example, expressing your frustration with Darren’s scrutiny is your right but calling him names is different. Do you understand?” I asked her.
Yes…so, it is OK to say to Darren, ‘When I see you watching me I feel scrutinized!’ But it is not OK to say to him, ‘Back off Darren, you jerk…I don’t need you watching my every move!’…Is that the idea?”
“Excellent example Samantha!” I responded, “So in the first example you are stating your feelings based on your values while in the second you are disrespecting him and assuming he is intentionally trying to annoy you…which is insulting to his values.”
“One vital reason we have children is to learn to love parts of ourselves we have rejected…like noticing our grouchiness helps our child learn independence.” – King Ayles, Author
It enables you to keep your sense of self…
I added, “When you have effective ways to express the down sides of being a mother, a spouse, a daughter or a daughter in law, it enables you to keep your sense of self. Keeping you sense of self is critical to feeling balanced and well both mentally and physically…does this make sense Samantha?”
“Yes it does Ken because I know in my heart Darren is working at being a good dad and not trying to bug me and the same with Elliott’s grandparents. I just didn’t know what to do with all my frustration. It kept building up inside and I had no way to deal with it.”
We know we are not being truthful with ourselves or our values…
“It is vital to acknowledge both the pleasure and pain of our life. If we don’t then we know we are not being truthful with ourselves or our values. This generates internal stress. Samantha, panic attacks are one way many people unconsciously display their inner turmoil.”
“So you are suggesting my panic attack was an unconscious stress reaction to the frustration I have been experiencing for months about being a new mother and only talking about the good parts and trying to ignore the bad parts…is that what has been going on Ken?”
“What do you think?” I asked.
“Well it actually makes sense because I have been preoccupied with doing everything right and being the ‘ideal’ mother…and never complaining. And especially because we have such a healthy, beautiful baby after such a difficult pregnancy.”
“Emotions are blind because they only see one side. When you run your life with infatuations and resentments, you dis-empower yourself. You give your power away – not because of what others do, but because of what you do.” – John Demartini, Human Behaviour Specialist
Some homework to do…
“Let’s check it out and see if it’s true. I want to give you some homework to do for this week. I want you to do just two specific things and see if it make a difference in your panic attacks. First, sit down with Darren and share both sides of your perceptions of your life as it is right now. Second, each day do one thing just for you, do something which will show you how you must take care of Samantha before you can take care of Elliott. Let’s see what happens.”
And so Samantha began her journey through her Postpartum depression by learning to honor all parts of her motherhood and her life. She soon learned to appreciate both sides of being a mother and partner. She learned how to include her own needs with her child’s and to regain her sense of herself in several areas of her life she had been neglecting. The panic attacks disappeared very quickly and she was soon back to her life by acknowledging both side of something she perceived could only have a positive side…a dangerous delusion for anyone.
“Nature requires elation to attract depression to keep us balanced and appreciative!” – King Ayles, Author
Next time we will conclude this month’s focus on depression. In the meantime, remember whatever you elate about will attract something depressive to bring you back to balance and gratitude. Look at anything you infatuate and find the other side so you can appreciate its’ real value.
If you have any specific questions about any mental heath issue, feel free to contact me.
POINTS TO PONDER AND REMEMBER are:
- Postpartum depression (PPD) is a common experience for many mothers, and increasingly, fathers as well, with varying rates of 5 to 25%.
- Postpartum depression has a wide variety of symptoms including: sadness, fatigue, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, reduced sex drive, crying episodes, anxiety, panic attacks and irritability.
- Postpartum depression occurs when a parent tries to focus on only the positive side of having a new child.
- Postpartum depression challenges the parent to learn to balance their own needs with their child’s.
- Postpartum depression challenges the parent to honor their own feelings and identity while taking on additional parental responsibilities.
- Postpartum depression helps the parent learn to balance the rest of their life with new responsibilities.
- Postpartum depression enables the parent to be truthful about the duality of parenting, both its pleasure and its pain.