Personally, I think it is really important to try and gain understanding of the underlying triggers of my mental health. Counselling and active listening support is geared towards searching experiences and triggers to try and tackle the root of what makes an individual react to stimulus the way they do. I’m not necessarily expecting to find any answers to ‘why’ certain things make me feel a certain way or experience flashbacks like those I described yesterday and often the trigger itself can be pretty illusive. For me it is about being proactive with my recovery and using these negative episodes towards positively exploring and improving my mental wellbeing.
I have shared several of my coping strategies with you before, especially relating to work and anxiety, and the importance of reflection to help you become aware of how certain stimuli make you feel so that you can understand and prepare for encountering that trigger. Recovery is hard, but finding the strength to keep on pushing and stretching the boundaries your mental illness is trying to inflict and delving into these painful and emotional episodes and experiences is a great step in regaining control when it feels that your mind is invading and imposing itself on your daily life.
Reflections from Yesterday
My latest post stemmed from a reoccurrence of physical and emotional reactions resulting from past trauma. Time had lapsed considerably since I last experienced these particular responses and it came as a surprise, which surprised me more because though I have never expected to not be conscious of this trauma, I had thought that it had stopped encroaching on my marriage and daily life.
Why with the time that has elapsed and with the slow yet steady progress in my recovery am I suddenly back to flashbacks, recoiling and responding as if I were still in that negative situation?
As I said above, the triggers are often illusive, which makes delving into them rather difficult. What I have surmised at this stage it is most likely connected to the pregnancy. It is after all a particularly significant change; physical, emotional and mental.
I hope that unpacking pregnancy as I explore my personal trigger (for this particular instance at least) will help demonstrate how you can gain understanding, and hopefully begin to feel in control, of your triggers.
1.Hormones: Menstration, Pregnancy and Otherwise
Mentally during pregnancy there are a whole host of hormones flying around which in turn generate a lot of intense and varied emotions. Beyond pregnancy it is very common to have hormones impact upon mental health. For women especially (although men experience fluctuations of hormones as well) mental health can be strongly affected by their menstrual cycle. Certain contraceptive methods have been frequently discussed in relation to menstruation and mental health, but I have not researched this enough to feel confident to comment on this area yet. My own personal experiences would however lean in favour of this and I would love to hear your thoughts and stories.
Regarding my personal experience, intimacy plays a big part. Mental illness to one side, it has been a significant part of my recovery from that trauma to be confidently intimate with my husband. If I can react so strongly to the man who I married, the first I had encountered to put my needs above his, and who I trust most in the world… it’s not surprising that intimacy can be such a strong trigger.
Again let’s look at this from within and without the context of pregnancy.
For me, pregnancy is the current trigger for recent expressions of trauma and intimacy is a factor in this. I am fortunate not to have a partner who bemoans the decline and physical barriers to intercourse. In fact as someone who experienced coercion and assault for this reason in the past, I don’t even want to contemplate the impact that situation would have on my mental health.
Of course, there are many ways to be intimate during pregnancy that do not involve sex. In fact, intimacy doesn’t need to be physical at all although it is snuggling, cuddling, kissing and so forth that we associate with the term most. These physical displays of intimacy can also be affected by pregnancy as there are many scenarios when being touched and having contact can be uncomfortable.
Insomnia, vivid dreams, restricted sleeping positions reduce snuggling and by extension not being able to sit comfortably on the sofa, let alone cuddle up watching a film. Then there’s the hot flushes and hot summer days (like this one!), finding your own skin oppressive without the addition of the loving hands of your partner.
Then there’s other people’s hands. I don’t get it… I had people touching my stomach before I even had a bump (not that having a developing human inside you warrants any uninvited anything at anytime).
Short story, someone tried to touch my bump recently, missed and hit my breast instead…
People touching you without cause or consent is not just a pregnancy problem. There are many individuals who are very tactile and there are many who are not and we all need to do better at being aware of other people’s boundaries and respecting them.
Touching of bumps, accidental breast taps and being hugged when you don’t like hugs are just examples that can be swapped for any of an entire plethora of interactions. The topic of consent could provide content for entire blog sites, here I’m going to frame it in the context of control.
I find that control is one of my biggest triggers, in fact it can usually be found a few layers beneath the surface of triggering situations and events that I identify.
Feeling in control is a driver for lots of behaviours, and is particularly relevant to mental illness, especially anxiety. I certainly find that my anxiety is fed by scenarios that I cannot plan for, surprise or sudden events or feeling overwhelmed by the amount of potential outcomes, variables and so on.
In the course of writing this post I have concluded that the factor of control is the trigger for my present experience. At the beginning I mentioned an awareness that the pregnancy was likely influencing my flashbacks. But pregnancy is a very broad subject and whilst for some the physiology of being pregnant can be a trigger for various reasons, I knew for me that it wasn’t the pregnancy itself that was triggering the flashbacks but something associated with it.
Behavioural responses to the flashbacks (and by extension the trigger) began about two weeks ago. So for five months of gestation this pregnancy was not impacting my mental wellbeing.
Over the past couple of weeks I have moved from researching pregnancy, nutrition, exercises and so forth, to focusing on birth. For the first time I am contemplating what my version of a birth plan is and what that entails and looking in depth at the dynamics of delivery.
That’s the key phrase right there: dynamics of delivery. That is not the biology of giving birth, but the interactions and interventions that the majority of birthing women contend with.
Most of these belong (and will feature) in another post, but there is an aspect I want to end with. Whilst there are a lot of women who are content with their birthing experience there are a growing number who are not and from where I am looking, it seems in many instances to boil down to consent and, thereby, control.
As a first time mum labour is a completely unknown entity, and even for women expecting their second, third or fourteen child, the labour and birth experience come with no guarantees. Every woman, pregnancy and birth is unique which is what makes it beautiful and daunting at the same time, with potential to impact (positively or negatively) upon mental wellbeing.
There are certain interventions in a medicated delivery that are now so routine they have become automatic, challenging notions of choice, consent and control.
Just as I am aware that I have an increased likelihood of postpartum depression because of my mental health history, I am aware that physical examinations may pose as a trigger for me because of past trauma.
I intend to explore both of these aspects more fully over the final months of this pregnancy in preparation for myself and as part of an investigation into mental health during pregnancy.