Cognitive Behavioral Therapy & Motherhood

DenaOctober 31, 2013

From ages fifteen to twenty-one, I suffered from severe depression and anxiety. Over the course of that time, I visited with countless doctors and therapists. I was prescribed different medications and sat through fruitless therapy sessions. After years without much change, one day, I found a new therapist who specialized in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). After our very first session, my life would be forever changed. Over the next six months, CBT would give me the tools that I needed to overcome my depression and anxiety, lose sixty pounds, and change my life forever.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is really just a fancy way of saying: therapy that changes the way one thinks. As it turns out, many people (maybe even most people), in modern society, tend to think “wrongly.” By wrongly, I mean that most of our thoughts tend to be negative and irrational. Here is an example of a common negative, irrational thought that a person might have: “I’m just so stressed out and busy and miserable. I am never going to be happy.” This thought is obviously negative and it’s also irrational, because the likelihood that any person will never be happy again is pretty slim. Having this thought may not seem like such a big deal, but these thoughts tend to snowball. “I’m miserable. I gained five pounds? I am an unattractive cow. I have no friends. I am not successful. My life is a joke.” We have one and then another and another until we are consumed by them and that’s when depression and anxiety slip in. We all move in the direction of our most dominant thoughts, so when our thoughts are negative and irrational, that is exactly where our lives go.

The wonderful thing about CBT is that it teaches you to reverse this process. Through CBT, I learned to take all of my negative, irrational thoughts and turn them into positive, rational ones. What an incredible tool. Within six months, the way that I was thinking had changed and my life began to transform. My depression and anxiety subsided. I became healthier — mentally and physically. I stopped comfort eating. I was more active. Over the course of the next few years I would get healthier and happier. Eventually I lost sixty pounds. For the first time in my life, I was a happy, positive person. It was amazing.

I write in much more detail about my journey and my experience with CBT in my book, The Journey from Darkness to Light, but I’m not really here to talk about that today. Instead I want to talk about how all of this relates to motherhood. Well… I thought I had been through a lot in my life already, but as a new mama, I’m beginning to realize that I ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Motherhood has been the most challenging endeavor of my life. Some days, it makes overcoming depression look like a walk in the park. But the good news is that many of the principles that I learned through CBT make it all easier to get through the hard times.

One of the most important lessons that I have learned on my journey is that I must be able to see the forest through the trees. In other words, no matter what is going on or how difficult it seems, I know that I must step back and look at the bigger picture. As it is for most, my first couple of months as a new mama were so challenging. Breastfeeding was painful. Sleep was nonexistent. And at the same time I was healing from a natural birth and severe tearing. There were days when I started to slip into negativity and irrationality. In pain and exhausted, there were dark hours when I thought, “I can’t go on.” But lucky for me, I had the tools to change those thoughts around, to put things in perspective, and to see the forest. I reminded myself that all of the discomfort was temporary, that one day I would sleep again, one day my body would heal, and that most importantly — despite all of it — I had the most beautiful little baby boy that would brighten my world forever.

I still have hard days. Motherhood challenges me constantly. I am often exhausted (like all mamas!) but I am also constantly counting my blessings. If there is one piece of advice that I could give to every mother (every parent!) it’s that we must always remember to see the forest through the trees, to focus on the bigger picture, and to remember that if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

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