What if? Two words that often stalk those of us who worry or deal with anxiety. When I was in the thick of postpartum depression and anxiety, I filled my journal pages with worry after worry, all beginning with “what if” and “I fear.” Months later and in a better mental state, I looked at what I had written in my journal, revised it a bit and turned it into a poem, trying to capture the anxiety and despair I had felt when I had ppd. I recently came across this poem which was folded on a loose leaf paper and stuffed in the back of a drawer. ( I love a little rhyme – even if the topic isn’t cheery.)
What if the baby cries forever?
What if I can’t pull myself together?
What if I never again sleep?
What if the scary thoughts begin to creep?
What if I’m losing my mind?
What if I can’t ever again be kind?
What if I’m nursing all wrong?
What if the latch isn’t strong?
What if I’m a bad mother?
What if my son wants another?
What if people see me cry?
What if sadness makes me die?
What if I go into the woods and hide?
What if my fears are still there, right by my side?
What if I am broken beyond repair?
What if the world just doesn’t care?
What if I have the worst case of PPD?
What if no one is capable of treating me?
What if I never sing a song?
What if my body doesn’t grow strong?
What if I lose my love for dance?
What if I never give pleasure another chance?
What if the what ifs never leave?
Trust that they will. Just believe.
It’s interesting that I just happened to come across this poem with its hopeful ending the other day. The what ifs and the inner critic have recently taken up more space in my mind than I would like them to and I’ve had to pay attention to this. One of my worries has been related to my memoir. It actually makes sense that I would have a lot of thoughts on this topic. After all, I did devote hours and hours of my time to this project and publishing a book is a big deal. On top of this, the subject matter is highly personal and revealing. Who wouldn’t feel some trepidation? Nonetheless, in the back of my mind, the what ifs lurk. What if my story scares women? What if women don’t ask for help after reading about my experience? What if my story is too triggering for women? What if my story offends others? What if no one buys it? What if the reviews are awful? What if I can’t handle the negative reviews and am overcome by anxiety and depression? What if people judge me? What if I am ridiculed?
Lauren Hale, founder of My Postpartum Voice and #ppdchat on Twitter, recently brought up a topic about flipping negative experiences into positive experiences. It takes a little work and persistence, but it is possible to do this. I have had to make a conscious effort to quiet the inner critic and stop negative self-talk. To exercise this skill, I wrote a new what if poem. Here it is:
What if my story helps someone?
What if it reaches someone who has no one?
What if my story inspires another mother?
What if she shares it with another?
What if the story makes others more aware?
What if it leads to improvement in maternal mental health care?
What if it helps someone feel less alone?
What if it makes people laugh, not groan?
What if I receive favorable reviews?
What if I’m in the local news?
What if Oprah…
I will stop before I get carried away, but the power of the positive spin around is quite strong. For today instead of wondering what could go wrong, I ask myself, what could go right?