Mental health is always important. It becomes pivotal when we are trying to conceive. The infertility treatment process can be physically and financially draining, most people accept this as a fact of the process. I wish we talked more about the mental and emotional drain of infertility and infertility treatments. It can affect how we view ourselves, our partners, and the world, if we are not careful. Wouldn’t it be a shame, if after the journey, we weren’t mentally fit to be parents?
I want to figure out how to be better to myself and how to be the best person I can be for the little child I know I will get to hold one day. Prior to starting the journey, I suffered from anxiety. Pour fertility issues on top of that and it was a recipe for disaster. I have no shame in admitting that after my miscarriage, I sought out a mental health care professional to help me cope and navigate the flood of emotions that had sent me reeling.
When I first started my journey to conceive following my miscarriage, I read a lot of books. One of them encouraged readers to think positive thoughts and not to ruminate over negative thoughts. I remember reading it and taking a pause. Ruminate reminds me of my days in the countryside of Fresno, California. It’s what cows do, right? They chew and chew and chew.
The word "ruminate" derives from the Latin for chewing cud, a less than gentile process in which cattle grind up, swallow, then regurgitate and re-chew their feed.
How was I doing that with my mind?
I’ve recently joined a support class that focuses on the mind/body connection. The class is created and led by Helen Adrienne, author of the book “On Fertile Ground.” I started reading the book after my first class and there was another reminder to not ruminate. The lesson keeps repeating, until I learn them, right?
During my fertility journey, I have tended to ruminate. As I think about it further, in life in general, I’m a ruminator. It comes from my childhood. “Almost isn’t good enough or almost doesn’t count” were consistent themes in my childhood. In order to avoid making future mistakes, I would study my prior mistakes and try and figure out how to avoid them going forward. Not so bad, right? Well it turns out what was going around and around in my mind, was impacting my body.
It turns out that the brain takes over and helps us automatically group thoughts and experiences together. We remember things that are related to each other in neural networks. When we enter a “I did this wrong or woe is me” network, the brain lights up connections to other times we felt that way. When we compound that with the inability to flexibly generate solutions, it makes it harder to switch perspectives. Then we are caught in that vicious cycle, hence the ruminating. Once we start, it is hard to stop. Our brain is triggering the next memory that keeps us in that funk.
Ok, so that is how I got here. How do I get out of it? Is it simply replacing bad thoughts with positive thoughts? I have lived enough to tell you emphatically, “NO”! I do a lot of positive thinking, but I still ruminate on what I did wrong. How do I get out of the negative neural networks? The first step is awareness. If I find myself slipping into a negative thought, I need to make a consciousness choice to change my thinking. It may take a bit of practice at first, but eventually I will strengthen the positive neural networks.
The other thing is to have a plan! I love a good plan. But I sometimes over do it. I need to tackle one problem at a time with planning. Another setback of ruminating is that it can prevent me from solving the problem or from moving on if I don’t have an immediate solution. In other words, I’m making a bad situation worse, by ruminating and not stopping the cycle.
In my mind/body awareness class I’ve learned to “tune in” to my body to see how I feel. Then close my eyes and imagine myself at my favorite place in nature. This is usually Malibu beach for me, either there or on a mountaintop. I tell myself positive things and take deep breaths. After doing this for several minutes, I do a check in with myself and see how I feel. Every time I do this, I am more relaxed than when I started. The tension is gone from my neck and shoulder and I just feel happier. Helen calls this self-hypnosis, which taps into the conscious and subconscious mind. It’s feels amazing. The more I do it, the easier it becomes.
The plan is to do more relaxation and tune-in exercises. I plan to add music to it, so that whenever I hear a specific song, it helps me relax faster because it brings me back to the memory of being relaxed during that song.
Currently I am at the stage of interrupting my negative thoughts. The goal is to get a place where I am focused on the positive thoughts and developing a plan for any issues that pop-up along the way. I am hopeful. It feels good to be hopeful.
Do you find yourself ruminating during your trying to conceive journey?