A Therapist’s Story (Part IV): How I Turned My Pain into my Counseling Practice
by Thai-An Truong
for the PSI Blog
January 16, 2018
In my last blog, I talked about the steps I took that brought me out of the darkness and towards recovery. Below I will talk about the last steps in my recovery process and how I turned my struggles into a way to help others.
4) I channeled my energy toward problem-solving.
I attended a Le Leche League meeting for breastfeeding support with the encouragement of my husband. These meetings are awesome and completely free. The lactation consultants were super supportive and encouraged me to get my daughter rechecked for a tongue tie through a specialist. They were seeing all the signs, which was validating and a relief. It directed me toward some solutions for our breastfeeding struggles. I never even heard of a tongue tie before all of this.
We took my daughter to see Dr. Bailey Schnebel Coleman to get assessed for a tongue tie. She’s a dentist and an expert in this area. She diagnosed my daughter with a significant tongue and lip tie, which would affect her ability to breastfeed properly. Dr. Coleman’s kindness was my therapy. I, of course, cried again and was beating myself up for not letting my daughter get the surgery earlier when she was diagnosed with a “slight tie” at birth. I think I cried more during these few months than I had in my entire life, probably even outdoing infancy.
Dr. Coleman told me that I am just a mother who wanted to prevent my daughter from going through the pain of surgery, if I could. She emphasized that we as mothers deserve to be more kind to ourselves because we are just doing our best, and moms get blamed a lot. I hope you hear these words for yourself, too. It allowed me to stop blaming myself and helped me to challenge the lies my depression was telling me. We did the procedure and it was one of the factors that improved our breastfeeding relationship.
After the surgery, I was told it was important to “retrain the baby” on the “right way” to breastfeed, so I hired a lactation consultant to come to my house. She ended up telling me I was teaching my baby bad habits. Wow, that was really helpful. (In case you missed it—that was sarcasm.) What was actually helpful, though, was seeing my baby being weighed before AND after a brief 5-minute feeding, and she gained 4 oz. This was the exact experiment I needed to see to help me shed the lie that she wasn’t getting enough to eat. At fourteen months—despite those “bad habits”—the nursing was going strong. This may not be the experiment that you need to shed the lies of your depression and anxiety, but you can find some other way to test your negative thoughts and beliefs and start to shift your mindset and mood.
5) The power of movement, recreation and a little fresh air.
I finally completely healed physically at about 8 weeks in. It was a slow recovery for me. I’m 4’11,” which almost gains me access into the little people club, so that 7 pounder left some marks on her way into the world. I also learned that depression magnifies our sense of physical pain. If pain is 3/10, it can feel like 8/10 when we’re depressed. Since I could freely move again without fear of slowing down my physical recovery, I forced myself to go for walks or worked in my garden every day when my dad was over or when my husband got home from work. The fresh air and sunlight was healing.
I was far from energized and motivated most of the time, so I definitely had to listen to that “motivation follows action” wisdom and push myself into movement. It was always a drag initially, but I often felt a little better afterwards. I also cursed the negative thoughts from the depression and anxiety, and made a point to replace them with more helpful words that told me that I can do it, I will overcome this, etc., even if I didn’t completely believe it at the time. It sounds corny, but I felt empowered by it as I pulled out the weeds or power-walked.
6) I faced my fears.
Around this time, my dad was still coming by every day to help me out with the baby. I was scared, but I asked him to let me take care of her by myself. I think my parents felt like they had to babysit me too, and for good reason. I knew I had to face my fear of failing as a mom. I was amazed when I was able to soothe her by myself at about 8 or 9 weeks in. I began to feel more confident about this motherhood thing. It shifted my thought from “I can’t do this” to “maybe I can.” I learned this formula from anxiety expert Dr. Aziz: Fear + Act of Courage = Confidence. Face your fears; the anxiety will surely increase initially, but will eventually burn itself out and lose its power over you.
Lastly, going back to work helped a ton. It shed anxiety’s lie that I wouldn’t be able to do my job well anymore, wouldn’t be able to pump enough milk, would never be able to juggle dinner and everything else, etc. Seeing the possibilities turned “maybe I can” to “I’m doing it!” I was grateful for my 13 weeks of maternity leave. Unfortunately, not a lot of moms get this opportunity, and I hope that changes. I was sure I would have lost my job if I went back to work in the middle of it all. By the time I returned to work, breastfeeding was going smoothly, and I was enjoying our moments of connection. The depression lifted quite a bit by this time as well. After about 5-6 months, the anxiety also went back to hell where it belonged.
October 23rd, 2016. I vividly remember getting ready to go to lunch for my 31st birthday in this picture and how happy I felt to be able to enjoy my little girl and celebrate with my family. She was 7 months by then, and I won’t forget how elated I was to be back to myself again.
I won the battle, and recovery feels VICTORIOUS!
My struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety is nothing but a distant memory. A scary memory, yes, like a vivid nightmare you won’t ever forget, but nonetheless, a memory.
In order to shed the powerful lies of depression and anxiety and get to that gut-level change, we often need an outside perspective and some powerful tools. We’re not meant to suffer in this alone. As hard as it is, fight the pessimism, force yourself to take action, and the motivation will follow. Put in the hard work and it will pay off. It is scary and takes some courage, but you will reap the benefits of your efforts when you don’t give up on yourself. The sooner you get the right help and support for you, the more quickly you will recover.
One of my life’s missions is to help shed the stigma around mental illness and normalize it as just crap all people go through at some point in their lives to some degree. I hope my story moves this mission forward to some extent. I hope to also shed the stigma around asking for help, because getting the help you need can save your life.
Lasting Change Therapy, LLC
After fully recovering, I was inspired to turn my pain into a source of hope and healing for others going through postpartum depression and anxiety. I know raising a new human life is hard enough as it is. Add battling depression and anxiety on top of that, and it feels pretty darn near impossible. I’ve dedicated myself to finding the best treatments for depression and anxiety for new moms and dads because of my struggle. Beyond the usual empathic support and compassionate listening, I want to help people go beyond talking to fully recovering and having lasting change in their lives, hence the birth of Lasting Change Therapy, LLC, my second child. I am so grateful to be able to be a part of other parents’ recovery every day
Thai-An Truong, LPC, LADC is a therapist and mother who is passionate about helping pregnant and postpartum parents overcome depression and anxiety so they can get to feeling like themselves again and enjoy life with their baby. After overcoming from her own battle with postpartum depression and anxiety, she opened Lasting Change Therapy, LLC in South Oklahoma City to help others in their journey into parenthood. She lives in Oklahoma City with her husband and daughter. She loves life with her family and hopes to help other moms and dads toward recovery and loving life, too. Visit her website: www.lastingchangetherapy.com
Previous posts in the series by Thai-An Truong