A lesson on living with the dark side of your psyche
I am a bubbly and optimistic person. Most days, I feel very hopeful and am able to take control of my thoughts.
Except when I love too hard.
Shortly after my daughter was born, I was diagnosed with postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder. PPOCD manifests differently in the postpartum phase than regular OCD.
PPOCD is marked by intrusive, doom-filled thoughts of something bad happening to you or your baby.
I would picture very vivid scenarios of death, funerals, and injury. These thoughts were clear and very horror movie-like. It really impacted my experience as a first-time mother.
Thankfully, I no longer have these thoughts constantly. A combination of meds and therapy helped me get through this and my PPOCD is currently in remission.
When I look back, I’m not shocked that I developed this debilitating illness. My whole life, whenever I would be thinking about how much I love someone: A flash would happen in my brain and I would think about life without them.
Sometimes, I get very upset when our family is all together. For some reason, during a happy occasion, my mind goes to a very dark place. I fear losing my parents the most.
“These happy moments won’t last forever. Someday, we will be reminiscing about them, and they won’t be here”.
Living without my parents is something I dread. I can’t wrap my head around them not being here, navigating life with me.
From my phone calls with each of them daily to the love they always show to me, my husband, and our daughters: I am completely emotionally dependent on them.
To anyone who has lost their parents: you are the strongest person I have ever known, even if I have never met you.
Living With The Consequences of War
I don’t know why I’m like this. I work through a lot of this stuff in therapy but I don’t have a clear understanding of why I worry so much about the deaths of the people I love.
Maybe it’s because both of the serious relationships I’ve had in my life have been with men who, at some point, went to war in Afghanistan.
One of my exes would call me from Afghanistan and I could hear the spattering of shells in the background. One time, I even heard a boom and then he suddenly hung up. I didn’t hear from him for days after that incident.
Another time, one of his coworkers burst into my home and notified me that four guys in their unit had died in Kabul. We sat and waited for hours for confirmation that he wasn’t one of the soldiers who was killed by an IED.
Our close friend and roommate almost died in that incident and I was the one who had to tell his girlfriend since she was not next of kin. He was hospitalized in Germany for months. He returned home, rehabilitated his many injuries, and then went on another tour to Kandahar years later. He was a strong dude.
That tumultuous time in my life marked the beginning of my severe anxiety. Sadly, I’m used to being on edge and expecting death.
My therapist has worked with me to come up with some ways to curb my worries. If you feel like I do sometimes, I can help you decompress with a technique I learned during treatment.
I’m still working through my “death anxiety”, and it’s something I actively have to confront every day but challenging my thoughts has been quite effective.
Challenging Your Negative Thoughts
This technique works on so many levels. It is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy. I treat it as if I am consoling a friend because that’s what works the best for me.
You basically challenge each thought that arises with logical statements until you realize how unrealistic these overpowering feelings are.
Scenario: My husband goes to the gas station and I sit on the couch, looking at the door, worrying he won’t come home alive.
Me: “What if he gets into an accident”
An effective way to challenge this thought: “Ryan drives huge military vehicles for a living, he is a very good driver and has avoided multiple accidents in the past. He will be fine!”
Me: “He’s taking a long time to get home, something happened”.
An effective way to challenge this thought: “That store is always busy and with COVID, things are moving slowly right now. He is probably late getting home because he’s waiting in line behind that old day who has 20 lottery tickets for the cashier to check”.
If you can throw in some humor while challenging your thoughts, it helps immensely.
Immediately after you challenge your first two thoughts, go do something you enjoy. Like watching your favorite show, or having a hot bath.
The key is to satisfy the nagging feeling inside of you without getting caught up in the anxiety associated with these negative thoughts.
Deal, don’t dwell.
You can use this technique to handle everyday situations that cause you distress.
Let’s try this again but with an everyday life occurrence: Something in your home breaks.
Scenario: Last week the water supply in our drilled well became very low, resulting in us having to limit our water use.
Me: “We are going to run out of water”
An effective way to challenge this thought: “We haven’t had rain in a long time but it’s supposed to rain tomorrow. If we only use the water when we need it until we get our big rainfall tomorrow, we will have a replenished well.”
Me: “I knew we should’ve bought the other house that was on city water”
An effective way to challenge this thought: “We don’t want to live in the city. We loved this house and Willow has a nice play area that the other house didn’t have”.
Me (angry): “How are we supposed to limit our water use?” “This is ridiculous!”
An effective way to challenge this thought: “We have to be more cognizant of how we use our resources. Someday, this will be a funny story to tell our grandchildren and a lesson in conservation. This type of struggle builds character!”
I am the type of person who usually stresses out and gets very worked up when things break. This is not a made-up scenario, we are experiencing this right now and I am fine.
I have been challenging my negative thoughts: As a result, I am not allowing myself to get to a boiling point of stress. Not only because I am challenging my thoughts but because I only allow myself to entertain these thoughts twice. Then I distract myself.
Try it, it works wonderfully.
I would like to tell you that life is short and to enjoy every minute you have with your loved ones and to stop worrying.
This approach is as effective as baptizing a cat when you’re dealing with negative thoughts and the inevitable anxiety that comes along with them.
This is something I’ll probably have to deal with for the rest of my life but challenging your thoughts becomes second nature after a while.
Challenging my thoughts has helped me deal with these anxieties and it also helps me deal with the everyday pressure and blips life brings.
Amy Sarah is a freelance writer who hails from a small city in Canada. She enjoys interacting with fellow writers, dreaming of ideas for her next article, and researching a myriad of topics.