There was just so much fear and anxiety. I would be anxious about putting the children to bed: ”What if they suffocate in their sleep? Or what if I don’t hear them cry because the sound machine is too loud?” And then I wouldn’t get sleep and I’d be anxious about not sleeping. This was a common fear amongst other mothers that I would talk to. We were all concerned for our children’s well-being and highly aware of the worst-case possibilities. Moms would lose sleep watching their children over the monitor or wake at every sound the baby made because the child was sleeping in the same room. And this is just one of the hundreds of anxious musings of a mom. Then I would have panic attacks more common at night or while I was sleeping. I would literally dream that my baby was crying and I’d wake up to a silent household. But I’d be so afraid to fall back asleep because those feelings and reactions to even my subconscious mind were intensely real. Does this sound familiar at all? 2 Timothy 1:7 promises that
“God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” But how does that translate to a mom struggling through Postpartum depression with panic attacks?
The fear that rises to the surface can be faced and conquered. A large part of the equation was finding the appropriate help and support network. Another key element, which I will expound upon in future posts, was training the mind to be set on Christ.
For the first time in my life, I took notice of the verse “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (emphasis mine). I had always focused on the heart and strength parts, you know, the emotional parts. If I had feelings of being grateful, or I cried during worship, or if a sermon moved me in some way, I believed that I was covering all four of these attributes. But a home-run is not complete without all four bases; second base cannot be skipped over or otherwise the home-run doesn’t count! Weakness in one area, means that the other areas are affected.
The weakness of my mind during PPD affected my heart and my soul and my strength. Physically, I was so exhausted and high-strung that normal, basic human needs were hard to come by. My worry over my children burdened my heart and being in a scary, dark mental place made me question many things about my soul. I learned through cognitive behavioral therapy that one’s thoughts can control a person’s physical state and vice versa. With God’s grace, I could overcome this! While under the care of a medical professional and counselor, I started to train my mind and equip myself with tools to combat the battle going on in my brain. Think of a professional athlete’s regime.
1 Corinthians 9:24 -25 says “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”
Athletes sacrifice certain privileges and delights, cut out unnecessary time-wasters, sharpen their skills, increase their difficulty level. This is what it will look like to train the mind to love God and let his promises bring peace to the soul, a wreath truly imperishable.
Besides caring for my children, my main goal was to get my thoughts under control and Christ-centered. That meant cutting out things that I used to take up my time and devoting every second I could to dwell on that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. That meant practicing how I was going to react when the anxiety surged, rehearsing what I would tell myself if my thoughts started to derail, and working through mental exercises to suss out what I was actually struggling with.