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What do you do when your friend is in a toxic relationship? Can you spot it? But what about you? Do you know when you’re in a toxic relationship? Most people want to be in healthy and satisfying partnerships, but sometimes we settle for less just so we can feel wanted, appreciated, or loved.

We ignore the red flags an individual reveals and we pretend like we don’t notice their toxic traits. We might straight up just not see them because, let’s be real: love has the ability to make us blind to all of the negative qualities a person might possess.

When you’re in a healthy relationship, there is healthy communication.

You are energized by being together. You feel comfortable around one another. There is trust. You all have a clear understanding of the expectations and boundaries you have set in place, so you feel secure. Most of all, they build you up and you feel respected.

In a toxic relationship, you don’t feel some or any of those things.

You constantly worry if you’re being lied to, feel distraught and tired just being with this other person, and feel drained when you are together. It breaks you down and contaminates your self-esteem, and makes you second guess your worth at times. There is constant tension and you feel like you have to walk on eggshells. Happiness doesn’t always come naturally, all the time, but it doesn’t come often when you are with one another.

A toxic relationship not only puts a strain on your relationship, but it also puts a strain on the other relationships you have in your life – friends, family, even co-workers wonder if you are ok. If you still aren’t sure about the “toxicity status” of your relationship, let me give you some clear examples.

Maybe this will help you out a little bit…

  1. You stop communicating your needs because there is no point. We all have needs when it comes to a relationship. If you feel uncomfortable expressing yours, or you simply just don’t see the point of it because you know they will be ignored, then that is a big red flag. Healthy people should always be able to ask for what they need.
  2. It’s a one-sided relationship. If you are the only one showing effort and affection then cut it. Endearment and work are supposed to come from both parties. Also, both people should feel empowered in a relationship – not just one.
  3. There is never any compromise. It is normal to argue and disagree. In a toxic relationship, you will argue and disagree, but you either always lose or disagreements NEVER get settled. (Then you can look forward to a big explosion soon. All of those unspoken feelings and expectations will express themselves one day, but it won’t be very pretty.)
  4. Physical or Verbal Abuse. No one, and I mean, NO ONE should ever make you feel inferior by physically intimidating you or screaming and yelling at you. If someone needs to do those things to you to get their point across, then that is not the person for you! (Or anyone for that matter.)
  5. There’s no such thing as privacy. If your partner is constantly asking for your passwords, asking you where you’re going, and is always asking who you are texting & talking to, then get away, fast! Being in a relationship should not mean that you lose your right to privacy. Trust is important for a reason.
  6. They continually lie to you. It’s really hard to regain trust once you have lost it, but how can you trust someone who always lies to you? Well, if you have to ask yourself that question, maybe that’s not the person you should trust.

Now I need to be clear…

You are not a weak individual if you find yourself in a toxic relationship. It happens to the best of us, and it can be a real learning experience. You may not have known what you were in for with someone at first. It happens.

Sometimes people don’t show us their true colors for months, then some external factors reveal who they really are. Sometimes conflict in the relationship reveals the real “them.”

Whether it started out toxic or it became toxic, it is just important to recognize toxicity when it begins so you can take care of yourself. Some relationships are worth fighting for, but others are best left exactly where we found them. Love and respect yourself enough so you don’t have to go through toxicity a minute longer than needed. You don’t deserve the stress or heartache.

Looking for more relationship resources? Click here!

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Forgive and forget,” right? That’s what they say. But what happens when you can’t forget and you certainly aren’t ready to forgive? Have you ever felt like something was wrong with you because forgiveness didn’t come quickly, easily, or at all?

You are definitely not alone and there is certainly nothing wrong with you.

These struggles are common and normal. What we don’t want is for unforgiveness to turn into bitterness, resentment, or worse. (Which can happen so easily, so quickly.)

When it comes to marriage and forgiving our spouse, we often unconsciously resort to some cold, hard math. We add and multiply and divide these factors of what our spouse did and see how the equation works out.

Then we keep the totals in our Relationship Ledger.

  1. Is it their “first offense” or have they been doing this for years?
  2. How serious is what they have done? Lied to you or like, left clothes on the floor?
  3. How hurt are you over what they did? Disappointed to brokenhearted?
  4. Did they apologize and ask for your forgiveness? Did they seem sincere?

The Hurt Spouse then takes all of the above information into account and “calculates” how mad they will be, for how long, if retribution is in order, and finally, if and when they will forgive the Offending Spouse. This is Cold Forgiveness Calculus.

We do this math almost instantly in our minds subconsciously. We do this math with our kids, friends, co-workers – everyone really. It can be extremely difficult to get the numbers to ever add up to forgiveness.

Forgiveness is one of those things that we desperately want for ourselves, but we are often absolutely stingy when it comes to giving it out to others. 

I get it. All the “calculations” are a function of self-preservation. We don’t want to keep getting hurt. We certainly don’t want to be taken advantage of by our spouse. Honestly, we don’t want to feel stupid because the same dysfunctional stuff keeps happening to us, so we keep that Relationship Ledger handy and it dictates how vulnerable we will be. (What is forgiveness if it isn’t being vulnerable?)

Could there be another way? What if we dropped the Cold Forgiveness Calculus that constantly keeps our spouse in the red? If we saw forgiveness as part of the self-sacrificial love that we pledged to our spouse? What if we forgave them the way that we hope they will forgive us when we need it?

Does all this sound crazy? Too exposed? Risky? Naive? I hear you. I feel it too.

Let me make it simple: The math will never add up. There will always be a remainder. This is how we love and forgive our spouse- we forgive the remainder.

Some practical things to think about…

  • You should forgive when it is real and you mean it. Take as long as it takes to be sincere. (It is ok and healthy to tell your spouse, “I am having a hard time forgiving you for _____. I am working on it. I’m trying to get there.”)
  • You might need to practice on yourself. If you can’t forgive yourself, let go, and move on. Forgiving others will always be a struggle for you.
  • Forgiving DOES NOT mean forgetting. If it did, we would set ourselves up to continually be hurt and even abused. “Forgetting” means NOT bringing up a past, dealt with, healed-over situation and using it as a weapon against our spouse.
  • You don’t have to wait to be asked for forgiveness to forgive your spouse.

Forgiving your spouse is also FOR YOU so that you remain healthy and don’t become bitter and resentful. (Treating them as forgiven might be the thing that causes them to realize how they hurt you. Even if it doesn’t – forgive anyway so YOU can move forward!)

  • Forgiveness can be a way that we take back control of our life from a spouse’s failings, from a past hurt, an unresolved issue, or even an ongoing situation. What we won’t forgive controls us.
  • Forgiveness DOES NOT mean that we don’t work with our spouse to understand what went wrong and work together to avoid it happening in the future.
  • Forgiveness is made tangible by the relationship being restored and going back to normal as if your spouse had never messed up in the first place. But…
  • Forgiveness DOES NOT mean all consequences are automatically erased. If your spouse betrayed your trust, you might truly forgive them, but there will still be things they need to do to rebuild trust over time. This DOES NOT mean they are not forgiven.

Forgiveness takes us to the very core of what it means to love someone. It isn’t easy. Do we sacrifice ourselves or do we protect ourselves? That’s a hard question that we live out day by day in our marriage. I do know that there is no formula or equation and that Love realizes the ledger will never be balanced, but forgives anyway.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Looking for more marriage resources? Click here!

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“I have a dilemma.” An old co-worker mused as we headed back to the office after a quick lunch date, reconnecting after I had recently changed jobs.

“Oh yeah? What’s that?” I asked, but the tone of his voice already raised a red flag in the form of my quickening pulse and intuition that his answer was going to change everything.

“Yeah… You.”

And there it was. The unspoken attraction, the endless flirtations, the lighthearted jokes were suddenly in question. Was he serious? But he was married. And I was married–HAPPILY married, in fact. So I told myself, “No… we’re just friends. He’s just sad we don’t work together anymore.”

But then the emails got more suggestive and the text messages ramped up. We’d send each other smiling selfies at work with accompanying messages about how we missed each other. We started exchanging songs with lyrics that implied more intimate feelings were evolving in our friendship.

I didn’t know how to handle what was unfolding.

I loved my husband with all my heart, but I didn’t want to lose the friendship (or, if I’m honest, the attention/validation) of this other person. So I eased my guilt by convincing myself that it didn’t really mean anything. We were still just joking, not being serious.

However, with each passing day, the anticipation of another text from him grew and grew. My heart skipped a beat when his name appeared in my inbox. I started having vivid dreams about being physical with him. Consequently, I became more irritated at my husband. It made me anxious when he was near my phone, afraid he would see or read something that he’d question.

The guilt of secrecy weighed on my chest.

So I feverishly googled “Emotional Affairs” to see if that’s what this was… even though we didn’t really share intimate details about our lives. In fact, we didn’t confide in one another at all or even lean on each other for emotional support. But we connected on some unspoken level. And it was having a serious impact on my daily life – I could think of nothing else.

That’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks. The way I was acting was so disrespectful to my husband and our marriage. How I was acting was telling people something completely different than the truth. It was saying I was unhappy and unfulfilled in my marriage, that I didn’t really love my husband. When I realized that my actions were painting a false reality of my marriage, I knew something had to be done. Even though I hadn’t physically cheated, all the texts and emails were harmful and inappropriate, just the same.

So I took steps to set things right:

  • I admitted it. Shame can only exist in secret. When I was able to voice what was really going on, all the complexities of why I allowed it to go as far as it did and how I had realized the line had been crossed, the shame that surrounded the entire situation dissipated.
  • I stopped it. I wrote my ex-coworker a lengthy email telling him our friendship crossed a line and that I felt it seemed unfair to ourselves and our spouses to continue it. Then I let him know that I had told my husband and encouraged him to tell his wife and take time refocusing on his marriage too.
  • I set personal boundaries: Hindsight is 20/20, so I was able to look at my mistakes and create a guide for boundaries in future opposite-sex friendships. Such as, I will never write another man something that I wouldn’t want my husband to read.
  • I reinvested in my marriage. Obviously no marriage achieves perfection–there’s always work to be done. With my energy and attention refocused on my husband, we grew stronger, together.

Was any of this easy? Not at all. Was it necessary? Absolutely.

Looking back, yes, I was having an emotional affair. (Although at the time, my misconception about what constituted as an emotional affair made me deny it wholeheartedly. A line crossed, sure. But an AFFAIR. No way. The label was too strong, it had too many horrible implications.) Ending it before it went any further was emotionally exhausting. I felt everything from embarrassment and anger to guilt and shame to relief and hopefulness. And honestly, it took longer than I expected to let that relationship go completely. But I don’t regret it at all. Ultimately, I came out stronger, wiser and more in love with my husband than ever before. 

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Maybe you just aren’t feeling thankful this year. Maybe you haven’t felt thankful for a long, long time. Let’s face it, in a lot of ways, we live in some dark times. I’m with you. There is a reason that suicides go up during the holidays. There is a reason that this is the season for infidelity and divorce. So, what do you do if, honestly, you just don’t feel very thankful on Thanksgiving?

Don’t beat yourself up for not “feeling it” this year.

It won’t help. You already know that you don’t live in a Third World country without clean drinking water and basic infrastructure. I’m not hitting you with all that stuff. Things can be hard no matter what tax bracket you’re in. Sometimes being more affluent makes it harder to be thankful. Mo’ money, mo’ problems. You don’t have to feel bad for feeling bad. You don’t have to feel bad for not feeling thankful, either.

It might be time to take a hard look at your Thanksgiving Game Plan.

Does it involve a lot of family and travel? Tons of cooking or hosting? Seeing people that might be family, but are difficult to be around? Traditions that come with all kinds of expectations?

This might be the year to start some new Thanksgiving traditions. This might be the year that parents, in-laws, and extended family are all informed that your family will be doing something different this Thanksgiving. (Translation: We won’t be piling kids into a car, fighting traffic for hours, and showing up stressed out with a casserole.)  

Try this: This year, we are taking advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday to stay at home and rest and focus on our family. We wish all of you a wonderful, Happy Thanksgiving!

There is nothing wrong with that! Your family should get it. Hey, they might be relieved.

Be honest.

Is what you’re referring to as “not feeling thankful” really masking a deeper issue? Is it more accurate to say that you are “unhappy?” Maybe even depressed? Anxious? Lonely? Angry? Bitter? Think of your feelings as an iceberg. Not feeling thankful might be what is showing above the surface, but the deeper issues that need to be dealt with are below the surface.

Sometimes we slap a bandaid on a superficial issue, put on our brave face, go through the motions, and never address what’s really wrong. (We might even be able to fool those close to us for a while.) This isn’t a long-term solution. What we think we are hiding below the surface eventually will “bubble up” in ways that hurt us and even cause pain to those we care about. It’s probably already happening…

Take care of yourself. Hear that? Go get the help you need. This might be the Thanksgiving that you will always be thankful for because you took your mental and emotional health seriously and made self-care a priority in your life.

Okay, you aren’t feeling thankful this Thanksgiving. Often, we look at thankfulness as a feeling and it totally can be something you feel. But sometimes thankfulness is a practice or a discipline or a habit. Thankfulness can be something we do or something we cultivate, not just something we feel. (We get into this habit of letting our feelings drive our actions– I mean we’ve all tried to explain our choices by saying, “Because I felt like it,” right?)

Catch this last thing. This is really cool and it isn’t some Yoda or Mr. Miyagi stuff, but sometimes the actions come first and then the feelings follow. Read that again.

Cultivate thankfulness even though you don’t feel it. Yet.

1. Sit down and list everything you are (or should be) thankful for. Think of different areas of your life, include all the big and all the little things. Start really basic: “I’m alive.”

2. Write a “thank you” card to someone who impacted your life and explain how they influenced you. Try to avoid electronic communication if at all possible. A handwritten note gives you more time to ponder as you write and will mean so much to whoever receives it. Write a few cards if you can. They still make stamps, right?

3. Find a way to make someone else happy this Thanksgiving. It doesn’t have to be big or showy. Often, the smaller the act of kindness, the better. It can be totally anonymous.

Listen, this might sound heartless, but you don’t feel thankful on Thanksgiving this year. So what? How can you make someone else thankful? Make it your mission. Get creative. Get a little crazy. What is a need someone has that you can meet?

Hold on, hold on. Wait a second!  What is that you’re feeling? Thankful…

Looking for relationship resources? Click here!

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Will Counseling Work For Me? Will beekeeping? Homeopathic remedies? Fixing your own transmission? Doing the same thing over and over again work for you? I dunno.

You are unique. Going to a professional counselor might not work for you, but there are some very compelling reasons to give it a try. The better question might be, “Will you work at counseling?

Why Don’t We Go?

Some people feel like going to counseling is like waving a “white flag” on their life and represents quitting. “I should be able to handle this! It is, after all, my life! Why do I need someone else poking around in it?

Going to counseling is not “giving up.“ Far from it, it can be an incredibly courageous step and can help you regain control of your life. But it does involve surrender.

You are surrendering the idea that you have all the answers. (And surrendering the idea that you have all the questions!)

You are “giving up” on the notion that you’ve got this, you are managing this, this is under control, the idea that what you are currently doing is getting you the results you want in your life and relationships. It might be time to “give up.”

Some people won’t go because they are embarrassed or they think there is a stigma attached to seeing a counselor or therapist. Some think that they will be paying someone to just listen to them, and hey, they have friends that will do that for free.

This is tragic because more and more people are going to counseling or have gone at some point and benefited from it.

According to one recent study, 4 in 10 American adults (42%) have seen a counselor at some point in their lives. Another 36% reported that they are open to going. (The numbers are about the same for men and women.)

You are probably surrounded by people who have talked to a mental health professional at some point. They are people you admire, people you think “have it together.” Yup, they have probably seen a counselor or therapist. You just didn’t know because they didn’t have a sign over their head that read, “I Am Seeing  A Counselor.” Don’t worry. You won’t have a sign over your head either.

Quick Question: Would you be “embarrassed” to take your car in to be seen by a mechanic? If you were diabetic, would you be “embarrassed” to go to a doctor for insulin? Nope. Not at all.

When it comes to mental and emotional health, when it comes to relating to ourselves or to others, the least “embarrassing” thing we can do is see the pros.

[Word to the Fellas: Sometimes going to counseling or seeing a therapist is a bigger step for us. Some of it is just male ego, but some of it is very legitimate. 

Generally, guys don’t bond by expressing themselves to strangers. They have to have a bond in place before they can express themselves, so it can be extra difficult to find the right counselor and take time to build that bond.

Generally, guys don’t process thoughts and emotions by talking them out as easily as women do. That’s just not how we are wired. Don’t let these things keep you from counseling. I’ve connected with great counselors who not only gave great advice and had awesome insights, but they turned me on to movies, music, and books that applied to my situation and that’s what we talked about at my next visit. Very cool.

Ladies, your man struggling a bit with counseling does not mean he isn’t invested in the relationship. Be patient. We’re different.]

Why Give It A Try?

Blindspots.

Sometimes we have blind spots and are just not in a position to see ourselves or a situation clearly. An outside, objective perspective is just what we need to shed some light on certain areas of our lives and relationships.

Pattern Recognition.

Even though our lives and our relationships are unique, a counselor may recognize patterns we don’t see, patterns that keep us from being our best selves or having healthy relationships.

Maintenance.

Car maintenance always costs less than repair. When it’s our lives, the costs can be devastating. Counseling can be looked at as a check-up or letting a mechanic “pop the hood” and make sure everything sounds good and is running smoothly so we don’t wreck down the road and hurt ourselves and others. You don’t have to have “problems” to see a counselor; you can go to avoid them.

Professionals.

Things like addiction, anger, depression, anxiety, relational problems, issues that “run in the family,” traits that were inherited or go back to our childhood are often just flat out bigger than us and require a professional trained to help us handle them. Get that help!

Decisions.

Sometimes we are on the cusp of making very big life decisions or changes and it is totally helpful and healthy to talk to someone about it first. They might just give you the clarity and confidence you need.

Mediation.

Whether it is a spouse, partner, teenager, or the entire family, sometimes it really helps to have a mediator, or go-between, to handle difficult conversations or situations. The counselor can keep things from escalating, ask the right questions, maybe even say the things that are too hard for you to say. Their office just might be a “safe” place to talk things out.

Listen, I’ve gone to individual counseling and marriage counseling during different seasons of my life. Two of my children went to counseling as teens.

It took some phone calls, even some trial and error to make the right connection, but the benefits were enormous and I have no regrets. Counseling, for me at least, was way better than beekeeping.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Looking for relationship resources? Click here!

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Being a parent makes life better. Let me tell you why.

I’m currently writing this while sitting at a coffee shop on a rainy afternoon, and there is a table of three very chatty, obnoxious, silly, giggly 12-year-old girls directly hovering over cinnamon rolls and muffins directly in my line of sight. 

One of them – the slender redhead with clear blue eyes – is my oldest daughter. The other two, her friends, will be coming over later for a sleepover that I’m sure will be much of the same behavior. 

As I peer over toward them from time to time (trying to remain undetected), I can’t help but think quickly through a play-by-play of my daughter’s life, starting with our first introduction to her in the hospital: sleeping in my arms, the tiniest, most vulnerable thing. And I remember thinking,Does life get any better than this?

Fast forward not too many weeks: middle of the night, trying my best to change a diaper in less-than-optimal lighting, taking on a less-than-optimal aroma as she fights through her cries and tears because all she really wants to do is go back to sleep. And I remember thinking, Doesn’t life get better than this?” 

Then there’s the memory of coming alongside her as she served a Thanksgiving dinner to the visitors of our community’s homeless shelter: watching her smile and bright blue eyes brighten the day for some folks who desperately need a bright day. And I thought, Man, life just doesn’t get any better than this.” 

Of course, growing up is hard and learning lessons can be even harder.

Like the time I caught her in a lie about what she was looking at on her cell phone: That was a tough discussion, and my heart and my brain were at odds with what exactly to do. Tough love won out in the end and she was grounded from her phone for a time as well as from attending the big school rivalry football game the next night. She went to bed distraught and in tears; I went to bed with my own tears, thinking, Surely life is going to get better than this.” 

And back to today: I look on that blue-eyed redhead as she talks and laughs with her friends (still trying not to be detected), seeing the joy on her face, and I think, Wow – I don’t think life can get better than this.” 

A friend of a friend of mine was once asked what parenthood was like for him, and I think his response is the best description I’ve ever heard: “It’s just… more. It’s more ups, more downs. It’s more joys, more tears. More money spent, more stuff on the floor, more to plan for birthdays and holidays and weekends and vacations. It’s more laughter, more struggles, more trying to just figure things out, more seeing great things happen despite us. More pride as a parent, more hard lessons learned, more hope for the future. 

If you are a parent and you’re in one of these (or other) phases of “more,” know that you’re not alone. All us parents are in the “more,” but one thing is for certain – when life as a parent doesn’t seem like it could be much better, days are still to come when life just can’t get any better. 

Take notice of the times when you see your kids showing signs of growth. This is hard for a parent sometimes because a part of us doesn’t want to see our kids grow up. You have to intentionally experience joy when we see the little milestones of maturity – like when they’re enjoying time with friends at a coffee shop over cinnamon rolls. It means they’re one more step closer to being the adults we are working so hard for them to become. 

Life is good in the “more” – even when more is a lot more than we thought it would be. As a matter of fact, it can’t get any better – until maybe tomorrow. 

Looking for more parenting resources? Click here!

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We sat next to each other on the hotel bed, the awkward silence between us laden with guilt, fear, confusion and trepidation. Something had transpired on the drive to our weekend getaway with my husband’s family, who had come into town for our youngest daughter’s dedication. A celebration, a joyous occasion, marked by a colicky 4-month-old, a whiny three-nager, the stress of planning an event, having in-laws in town and my recent diagnosis of Postpartum Depression. My husband was trying to support me through postpartum depression.

I experienced a wave of rage like never before on the car ride to Gatlinburg. After an incredibly stressful morning (in which we had the baby’s dedication, a big celebratory lunch right after, and then packed up and left for the trip that afternoon), I became extremely irritable and snappy with the kids and my husband. The kids cried. And my husband immediately shut down and started stonewalling. I became so overwhelmed and upset by our tension-filled car ride that I couldn’t handle it anymore. Rage took over me and I started screaming and hitting the dashboard uncontrollably. I was dry heaving and sobbing and screaming bloody murder. It scared my children, it scared my husband. It scared me.

And my poor husband had no idea what to do… so he just kept driving.

Eventually, I calmed down. He placed his hand on my thigh and a rush of relief spread through my body, accompanied by extreme guilt, shame, and so much regret. When we arrived at our hotel, we were able to sneak a few minutes to ourselves without the kids. But where do you even begin to talk about what just happened with something like that…?

He told me he had no clue how to handle my PPD symptoms, especially the rage. Should he be caring and understanding and let things slide? Hold me accountable and fight back? Should he ignore me and let me figure things out on my own? There was no easy way to navigate the minefield of my mental health. But talking about it was definitely the first step.  

As we continually communicated about the journey of recovery I was on, we figured out ways he could support me that made managing my PPD much easier.

How my husband helped support me through postpartum depression:

He acknowledged what I was up against. 

Having that validation was everything. He made it clear that he knew I was struggling. He also admitted not really understanding all I was dealing with. But he recognized that it was significant and difficult and that he was there for me no matter what.

He asked what I needed. 

It’s not always easy to voice your needs, so when he could tell I was getting agitated or feeling “off” and he had no earthly idea how to help (because I wasn’t offering up that knowledge), he would ask. “What can I do for you right now? What do you need?”

He reassured me that I was a good mom. 

In the pit of my despair, the resounding lie that I couldn’t shake was that I was a bad mom. No matter what I did or how many times I told myself it wasn’t true, hearing it from my husband made a world of difference. It was like an anesthetic for the constant pain of mommy guilt I had. And the more he said it, the better it felt.

He encouraged me to have “me” time. 

Speaking of mommy guilt, it prevented me from truly feeling okay about taking care of my own needs. So when my husband not only encouraged me to do things for myself but also reassured me that he was proud of me for doing so, it gave me the confidence to believe that taking “me” time was actually a good thing.

He made an extra effort to balance responsibilities. 

After excessively exclaiming, “I can’t do everything!!” my husband realized that in this season he needed to take on extra responsibilities to lighten my (over)load. He told me to write down ALL the things I needed to accomplish that were overwhelming me and then went through that list and took as many tasks off my plate as he could.

He didn’t try to “fix” it. 

I’m sure I was a broken record, saying the same things, experiencing the same negative intrusive thoughts. But regardless of whether he thought I should be over this by now or if he thought he knew exactly how to fix the issue, he always, always, always made time to listen to me. He let me cry on his shoulder, vent about frustrations and troubleshoot coping strategies. He let me feel what I felt, reassured me that he loved me and that it was going to be okay.

It definitely took time to figure out what helped and what didn’t, and to be honest, my husband didn’t always do those things that helped the most. But the more we were open and honest with each other, the easier it was to maneuver the intricacies of PPD together.

***For more resources on Postpartum Mental Health, check out: Postpartum Support International. You can also call the PSI Helpline at: 1-800-944-4773 (#1 En Español or #2 English) or TEXT: 503-894-9453 (English) or 971-420-0294 (Español)***

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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“Why are you crying?!? What do you need?!?” I pleaded with my baby to somehow answer me. But when she didn’t, my anger quickly morphed into full-on rage. I tried to calm her, every way I knew how, but with slightly more force than was necessary. I shushed her, I swaddled her, I held her on her side, I gave her a paci to suck, I swung her… all with a rigid, almost robotic motion. She screamed louder.

postpartum-depression
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“I just checked your diaper!” I yelled. But I figured I’d check it again because we’d been at this “witching hour” for awhile now. I was so beyond angry and overwhelmed that I could have thrown her across the room.

And then it hit me.

This isn’t how you treat a helpless newborn baby. This isn’t normal. A baby’s cries shouldn’t make you so angry, so full of rage. The guilt set in and after I finally got her calmed down, I collapsed into a pit of despair. I melted to the floor, a wave of intense darkness washed over me and the negative intrusive thoughts that followed marinated in my mind before I even understood what I was thinking.

You are a horrible mom. You’re not good enough. You can’t even figure out what your own child needs. You are a failure. I wanted to crawl into bed, escape everything with precious sleep. I wanted to pack my bags, get in my car and never look back. They’d be better off without you. They’d be happier. 

I was paralyzed. My body so heavy, so weighed down by the enormity of the invisible load of motherhood, by sleep deprivation, by the loss of control, by a state of utter exhaustion, rage, guilt and defeat.

No one really knew what was happening with me. I hid it pretty well. I only let my rage show in the middle of the night when I was up for midnight nursing session and everyone else was sound asleep. My husband thought my increased irritability during the day was a symptom of sleep deprivation, which I’m sure it was… but it was so much more.

I actually never knew rage could be a symptom of Postpartum Depression (PPD). But after having thoughts of legitimately longing to abandon my family, I did a quick google search and discovered, sure enough, it was.

What They Don’t Tell You About PPD

Postpartum Depression isn’t cookie-cutter. It doesn’t always happen right after you have a baby. For me, it presented about a week after my postpartum checkup where, per the norm, they had me take the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale questionnaire. I happily circled answers that made it seem like this parenting thing was a breeze. So I flew right under the radar. Maybe I was in denial, or maybe my symptoms hadn’t reared their ugly heads yet.

PPD also doesn’t always consume your every waking moment. I actually had good days. This threw me off so much. I thought PPD was supposed to consume your life 24/7. What I didn’t know is that it is totally normal to have a good week, then a bad week. Or a good two weeks and a bad weekend. Or a good day and a bad month. Symptoms fluctuate with your circumstances.

But here’s how I knew I needed help:

  • I didn’t feel connected. To my baby, to my spouse, to myself. But especially to my baby. Through the endless days and nights of constantly trying to calm a screaming child, I wasn’t able to just ENJOY her. I felt so disconnected and detached from her. Instead of feeling a bond, I just felt resentment.
  • I was easily irritated and angered. As I mentioned previously, my anger turned into rage as the days passed by. The littlest things would set me off like the sound of my dog’s toenails clip-clip-clipping against the hardwood floor. Or the sound of the dishwasher running while I tried to have a conversation.
  • So many mood swings. One minute I felt fine, and then out of the blue, I’d be drowning in anxiety or flying off the handle with rage or sobbing uncontrollably. It started getting to the point where it interfered with my ability to function.
  • I lost interest in everything. I didn’t want to do anything, with anyone, anywhere. I started feeling like nothing mattered and it would just be better to stay in, where I didn’t have to pretend to care.
  • I wanted to escape. I didn’t want to be a mom anymore. I wanted to drive in a car and never return. I wanted to fall asleep and never wake up. I didn’t want to die, but I wanted to somehow leave my overwhelming life.
  • I thought my own children and husband would be better off without me. This was when I KNEW something was wrong. I could justify all the other symptoms, say they weren’t that bad, that maybe I was just exhausted and it was the sleep deprivation… but thinking your family would be better off without you… That is NOT a normal thought.

Admitting the reality of the severity of my symptoms was embarrassing.

I felt so much shame and regret for all the rage I had. But luckily my husband and family were supportive. I decided it was imperative to seek professional help. However, the thought of seeing a therapist was extremely intimidating. I felt scared that they’d laugh and say, “Hunny, welcome to parenthood. Suck it up!” But, I faced that fear and after attending therapy and starting medication, my world changed. Suddenly all the obstacles that looked like insurmountable mountains, dwindled into hills that were easily scalable. Through therapy, I learned coping strategies to combat the intrusive thoughts and handle my triggers. And eventually I started feeling more like myself.

NOTE:

If you feel like something just isn’t right, know that you are not alone. In fact, 1 in 7 women experience Postpartum Depression. It can affect any woman, regardless of income, age, race, culture or education. And it is NOT your fault. Please, don’t try and face it alone. Reach out to a loved one, join an online support group or schedule an appointment with a medical professional.

***For more resources on Postpartum Mental Health, check out: Postpartum Support International. You can also call the PSI Helpline at: 1-800-944-4773 (#1 En Español or #2 English) or TEXT: 503-894-9453 (English) or 971-420-0294 (Español)***

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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