One year in my annual review, my boss wrote, “Ruth uses her intuition to perform her job well. I encourage her to continue to listen very carefully to the voice deep inside and to sit quietly as she determines whether her indigestion is nerves or something that isn’t right.” The voice inside me has guided me for a very long time. Sometimes it comes softly saying something isn’t right and other times it screams for me to flee. My inner voice… my intuition.
To be fair, my inner voice sometimes has led me astray. Fear commandeers my inner voice to tell me I’m not good enough or am unworthy. In these cases, I recognize the fear and work to change the story… take my inner voice back. I remember doing this as early as fourth grade while playing summer softball, learning about PosMA and visualization. PosMA is short for positive mental attitude and in short, is turning off the negative thoughts that are keeping you from doing something and turning them to positive in order to help you accomplish your goal. Visualization would accompany the exercise so I could see myself achieving things too. I’ve always been good at turning the soundtrack in my head to something that is constructive.
When postpartum depression hit me, the thoughts started innocently, perhaps thing that other mothers have thought. “My family doesn’t really need me. Someone else would be a better mother to my children. I don’t deserve to be here.” They became insidious. Nothing I tried made them stop except sleeping, but the moment I woke up they were back. As someone who had managed her thoughts well and deeply trusted her intuition, I began to wonder if my inner voice was indeed right. It didn’t sound like my inner voice usually did and its tone had never been this defiantly harsh. I came to learn that it wasn’t my inner voice at all, these were intrusive thoughts. They partied in my head like neighbor kids throwing a kegger while your one-year old is struggling to sleep. They quickly owned me.
Thankfully, my intuition didn’t fail me. In a whisper it told me something wasn’t right and I should ask for help. I don’t remember how the conversation went, but my best friend from work called about scheduling my year-end review with my boss. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. She most certainly wasn’t prepared to hear me say, “I don’t think I can do that. I keep having these thoughts telling me I’m a horrible person and I’m worried that our boss will confirm that.” Without missing a beat she made a deal with me, I would call my doctor to make an appointment to talk about these thoughts and she would cancel my review. And thus began my road to recovery.
Intuition is knowing something without having evidence. She used hers. I used mine.
This became a long story to get to the next item on Kate Kripke’s list about things thriving mothers do.
#4 – She understands the difference between habit and instinct or intuition and she gives herself the time and space to listen. Carefully.
As the power point slide flashed up on the big screen, I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I knew about my own intuition. My intuition has been shaken by my experience with intrusive thoughts, because I never thought my mind could play such tricks on me. Not every mother with a PMAD has intrusive thoughts, but this applies to all moms.
A habit is a learned behavior. Something that we practice over and over again until it becomes part of us. As new mothers we have habits. Some are good, like peacefully starting our day with a cup of coffee or tea. Some are less healthy, like having to check on our baby while she sleeps over and over and over again.
Habits can quickly become confused with instincts, which are natural ways to act that aren’t learned. Our instincts protect us from danger. Instincts are at the heart of fight or flight. I know for me it is habit, not instinct that makes me head to the nearest quiet place in a big group setting. My nerves get the best of me. Instinct can do the same thing at times, but I have to be quiet and listen to myself to know which one it is. In the same way, checking on your sleeping baby can be an instinct if you haven’t heard her in hours, but it can also become a habit when one does it every twenty minutes.
Motherhood is a new and different experience than anything we have experienced before. Therefore, we need to slow down, get quiet, and listen for your intuition to tell you what is best. We all do this in different ways. Hopefully your self-care allows you to find quiet and listen. It could be while you are running, making art, knitting, practicing yoga, or whatever fills you up. Trust your intuition.
This is the fourth post in a series inspired by one of my favorite sessions of the Warrior Mom Conference (#WarriorMomCon). Kate Kripke presented on Thriving After PMAD (Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders) where she asked all of us, “What does a thriving mother do?” Her list of ten blew me away and they aren’t just for moms with PMADs… they are for everybody!