As part of my recovery from PPD, I learned through lots of expensive therapy that I also experienced what’s called postpartum rage. What could be a simple annoyance to a regular person could send me flying off the handle. My rage manifested itself in yelling, lots and lots of yelling. Occasionally there were slammed doors and a desire to hit walls-nearly all of it was directed toward my husband, but upon my return to work (pre-diagnosis) I reacted poorly to stressors and would find myself crying in my office, angry that I hadn’t been able to contain my frustrations or explain myself without becoming a blubbering idiot. My emotions during that time cost me a lot of professional respect that I’m still trying to gain back.
The birth of my twin girls brought a whole new set of stressors, but I didn’t experience the PPD/A to the extent I did with my son because I was prepared and so was my doctor.
Now that my son is older and he can read and understand my tone and body language, I have to work extra hard to contain my urges to express my gigantic frustrated feelings with loud words, slammed cabinet doors, or throwing a toy outside on the porch, aka “toy time out” when he accidentally-on-purpose tries to hit his sisters or nearly breaks the TV with said toy seven times. He’s my mini-me: a big-hearted fixer who wants to make and keep everyone happy, but he has just enough mischief behind those big blue eyes and smart-alec in his mouth to push every single one of my buttons. We butt heads a lot because we are so alike. Lately, I’m finding that he’s picking up on my yelling and it breaks my heart that he’s learned that from me. As a result, I’m trying to be extra aware of my triggers and follow through. Sometimes I walk away, but walking away isn’t always possible with the ten-month-old mobile twins in the mix. Sometimes I try to distract or deflect our attention from the stressor, even if that means TV, candy, or something I might find more annoying or would normally deny. Going outside always seems to help us both. Still, there are plenty of times when I lose my composure and I yell. When that happens, I try my best to walk away for just a minute to pull myself together, and then I explain my “big feelings” and talk about why I yelled. I also apologize and remind him that I always, always love him, even if I get mad or frustrated. We attempt special one-on-one time when we can, and I do my best to use positive reinforcement.
I need time-outs from more than just my son. The other night my husband tried to express his frustration with my addiction to screen time. I understood his underlying point, but his delivery frustrated me and I worked myself into anger (this happens a lot with us-he’s a man of few words and I expect lengthy discussions and explanations.) As I lay in bed trying to go to sleep, I felt the heat burning a hole in my tongue, and in order to resist saying things that were unnecessary and downright mean, I put myself in time out by exiting the room and laying on the couch in the dark. Twenty minutes later, he found me asleep and when I awoke, apologetic. He didn’t deserve my outburst.
I try to think of myself as s toddler when I’m frustrated. What are the roots of my rage? It’s usually the big three: fatigue, hunger, or feeling like I’m tapped out. If I can stop myself just before the yelling starts, or even in the midst of it, I address these things first. Snacks, snuggles with my three kiddos, sneaking off to take a rare Saturday afternoon nap, and trying to use my words to explain why I acted out and ask what we can do together to fix it all help. Communication is key with my husband. Venting to friends and patient coworkers helps me survive when I’m at the office.
I’m far from being the perfect parent, but I know that I still fall into the realm of normal. My son is not old enough to understand this, but I remember my mom saying “I love you, I will always love you, but I do not like you very much right now.” We all have those moments. All of us—and that’s okay.
Some of us just have to work a little bit harder to make sure they’re fewer and farther between.