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Me, Myself and My Intrusive Thoughts

***Trigger Warning***

 

Before becoming a mother, I was a clinical social worker. Despite my training in the mental health field, my knowledge of perinatal mental health was based on simply knowing that a handful of new moms developed Postpartum Depression. It was something that occasionally came up when gathering background information at the start of treatment, but that was it. Not much understanding. Not much knowledge. Not much training. That. Was. It.

And so that social worker became a mom as I welcomed a beautiful baby into the world. I cried tears of joy (and relief) when I first heard her cry. My heart swelled with love as I held her for the first time. She was so small and fragile. She was mine to love and protect.

intrusive thoughts

Knowing that this helpless child’s well-being lies in your hands can feel slightly overwhelming (photo credit: pixabay)

I’m not quiet sure when those first images came to me. It may have been in the kitchen walking by the knives. It may have been at the top of the stairs. It may have been when I was pushing her in the stroller as a car flew by. I’m not quite sure when I experienced that very first horrifying image, but I soon realized that these vivid images of me doing these horrible, unthinkable things to my child were here to stay.

If you have never experienced thoughts such as these, you are probably reading this going, “What? This mother sounds crazy!” Well let me tell you, it felt that way. These images freaked me out. I had no control over them. They just came. Every. Single. Day. It was like a horror scene on repeat and I was the bad guy. I was the killer.

These unthinkable thoughts had me question my sanity. They had me question myself as a mother. They had me question myself as a human being. I loved my baby more than anything. I cried looking at her because I loved her so much. So why was I having these disturbing images in my head? What kind of person thinks these horrible things, and towards her own child none the less? And the most difficult and shameful question: If I’m having these thoughts does that mean I will act on them?

intrusive thoughts

Thoughts are often triggered by particular objects or activities. To you this may just look like some stairs, but to me it was a trigger for horrible images in my head. (photo credit: pixabay)

The therapist in me tried to figure it out. I remember trying to assess my own mental status. My clinical expertise told me that typically if a person was having thoughts of hurting someone or themselves they 1) may be contemplating doing it, 2) could be unstable and unsafe 3) may be having hallucinations. I went through each of these options. None of them were me. I told no one. It was just me, myself and my intrusive thoughts. It was my dirty little secret.

As my daughter grew the thoughts subsided. They became less and less and then mostly disappeared. Still, I kept the thoughts to myself. I couldn’t bring myself to say what happened in my head out loud. I was ashamed and I didn’t want people to think I would harm my child.

When I had my son the thoughts came back. The same exact thoughts. This time I felt less scared by them. I knew in time they would fade and that we had gotten through it. So just as before, when the thoughts came I let them go. I kept doing what I needed to do. Sometimes I would kiss my baby’s head. I’m not exactly sure why, but on some level it made me feel better. In moments of seeing horrible images I needed love. I needed them to know they were loved. I needed them to know they were safe despite my thoughts. Because I loved them and because I was not my thoughts.

I remember the day I broke my silence. My son was four months old. I had just had a thought I typically had while in the kitchen with him. I took a deep breath and asked my husband:

“Do you ever have random thoughts of you hurting someone? Not that you want to do it or anything, but just really random thoughts of you doing something to someone?”

He thought for a second and replied, “No. But sometimes when I’m in the city and waiting to cross the street, I worry about someone pushing me into the street. So I guess that’s more about someone doing something to me”.

Another deep breath. I looked down. I couldn’t look him in the eye.

“Sometimes I have thoughts,” (pause) “Thoughts of me hurting the baby. Like images and I don’t know why. (I look at my husband) They are bad, like really bad. It sounds horrible and crazy and I don’t know why I’m having them.”

I’m not sure what his response was, I just know that he didn’t question my ability to parent or worry about our children’s safety. His nonchalant reaction gave me the courage I needed to pull out my phone and look for answers. Before that moment, I couldn’t do it. Because typing it in would be admitting it.

Standing in that kitchen I was given an answer. Those horrible images in my head were called “intrusive thoughts” or “obsessions”— upsetting and persistent thoughts or mental images related to the baby. Thoughts that were part of Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). As I read article after article my body pumped with adrenaline. What I had was a thing and it was something that up to 9% of new mothers experienced. I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders because I wasn’t the only one. I felt relieved. I felt empowered. It was right then and there that I decided to become trained in treating perinatal mental health issues.

intrusive thoughts

You are not alone. You are not to blame. You don’t have to suffer in silence.

Sharing my story is both liberating and terrifying. But it must be told. Because I am the 1 in 7. I am a mom who experienced the most common complication of child birth: a mental health disorder. Just me, myself and my intrusive thoughts? Oh, no more! My dirty little secret is out. I share to bring awareness. I share to break the stigma. I share so other professionals can learn about this very common, but not talked about, mental health crisis. So, I share for the mother who is suffering in silence. I share for the 1 in 7.

If you would like more resources or information on Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (such as Depression, Anxiety, OCD, Bipolar, and Psychosis) please visit: Postpartum Support International.

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12 Responses to Me, Myself and My Intrusive Thoughts

  1. Alison March 6, 2017 at 6:56 AM #

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing! I never had it to the extent that you spoke of, but I definitely experienced this to some extent with all three of my children and wondered why I thought such awful things (especially around stairs). I never felt like it was a desire to do something bad to my kids, just was mental images about it happening, just like you described. It’s so interesting that it’s an actual issue and not just something going on in my head like I thought it was! So I’m so glad I read this today!

    • Alisa Fulvio
      Alisa Fulvio March 8, 2017 at 11:53 AM #

      I’m so glad you found this article too! It’s nice to know we are not alone. It sounds like you had a mild form of it. I do believe there is a spectrum of symptoms which can vary from mild to severe depending on the person.

  2. Amy March 7, 2017 at 4:47 PM #

    I thank you for sharing. After having my second son, I began having these feelings and thoughts much like you. I didn’t share with anyone, not even my husband. I honestly didn’t recognize at first that I was experiencing a postpartum disorder. I try and tell my family how I was feeling and they all seemed to brush it all off as nothing. So I hid my feelings from everyone. I suffered for over a year until one day I realized that I shouldn’t feel this way. Feeling like I had no control over any of my emotions or thoughts. I’d had enough. So I got help and was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety. Almost immediately I started to feel better and better. So for all those mom’s out there feeling alone and worthless. You are not alone and you are definitely not worthless. Seek help. Don’t suffer as long as I did. Admitting those feeling is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of strength. Hugs to all us mom’s out there! We are all amazing and don’t let anyone tell you you are not!

    • Alisa Fulvio
      Alisa Fulvio March 8, 2017 at 11:50 AM #

      You are so welcome, Amy. There is so much power in education. I too wish I had known sooner. I too wish others had talked about it so that I didn’t feel so alone. Brava to you for speaking out. It is a sign of strength, not weakness. Thanks for sharing, fellow warrior mama!

  3. Jessica Eberhart March 11, 2017 at 1:42 PM #

    Hi Alisa, I identified so much with your story. I had severe OCD and PPD. I am also a licensed clinical social worker. I am 16 months out and surviving and even better than that I feel like I have my life back. Thanks so much for sharing this 💓

  4. SFJ March 14, 2017 at 7:23 PM #

    My God, our stories are so similar- I’m an LCSW myself, working 11 years in the field when I had my daughter in October 2015. I also had only a passing awareness of PPD and had absolutely NO knowledge of PP OCD/anxiety. I even said “well if I get PPD, I will just go on meds and do therapy and it will be okay”, which now I see was SO ignorant on my part (meds didn’t help me). My intrusive thoughts didn’t really start (that I noticed) until 6 months PP, along with crippling anxiety, insomnia and what can only be deemed an identity crisis. Most of my work had been with children and families and here I am, questioning my character every day and thinking I’m actually this danger to everyone around me! The pre-PP OCD me would have found that ludicrous, even laughable…and like you, I was enamored with my daughter the moment she was born. It’s like my fears morphed from how others could be dangerous to her to “wait- what if it’s ME who’s the danger?!” After that, it all went downhill so fast…and it’s still ups and downs. But this experience has made me a better counselor; I plan to attend the Postpartum Support International conference this year and get the certificate in perinatal mental health. My goal is to open my own practice in the next 2-3 years; as much as I despise this condition, I feel like it’s given me a career path where I can find real fulfillment 🙂

    • Alisa Fulvio
      Alisa Fulvio March 21, 2017 at 4:26 PM #

      Yes, I do believe it’s like our subconscious fears come out in the thoughts. I was told by a renowned professional in the field that there is research which shows that when moms have these thoughts the protective part of their brain lights up (is very active). Amazing how the mind works! And that is so amazing you are going to get your certificate from PSI! We need more therapists like you 🙂 Best of luck on your journey!

  5. Barbara March 14, 2017 at 10:25 PM #

    Thank you for sharing your story. I had severe Anxiety and depression during my pregnancy which continued postpartum. I had the same thoughts and worried that I would do something bad like throw my daughter out of the window and stayed away from the knives in the kitchen. I pictured myself in prison for life. Even though I was in therapy, I was too afraid of telling my therapist about this. It wasn’t until years later that I told my psychiatrist who told me that the thoughts were common. At the beginning, I thought that my baby would be taken away from me although I knew I would never harm her even with those horrible thoughts. We need to speak up to help others.

    • Alisa Fulvio
      Alisa Fulvio March 21, 2017 at 4:18 PM #

      Yes, I completely agree, we do need to speak up. So glad your psychiatrist was educated on this!

  6. Noel March 15, 2017 at 9:37 PM #

    I have suffered with postpartum OCD ever since my first daughter was born six years ago! My intrusive thoughts started the minute she was born and I thought I had a serious mental illness. I was fortunate enough to find a nurse practioner who was well aware of what was going on. She put me on Zoloft and advised me to see a psychologist. I also opened up to a family friend about my thoughts and thankfully she was experiencing the same exact thing! I was so thankful for her honesty and that I wasn’t alone in these horrific thoughts. After having my second daughter they came back again but I wasn’t as scared by them as I was with my first daughter. I’m pregnant with my third child and so far so good, praise Jesus but I am well aware of what could happen. I just wanted to thank you so much for sharing your story and for making it your focus to help women who are experiencing this horrible mental disorder. If you have any suggestions on how else to relieve these thoughts I would be so happy to know what has worked for you! Thank you again!!!!

    • Alisa Fulvio
      Alisa Fulvio March 21, 2017 at 4:16 PM #

      So glad to hear that you spoke up and that the NP was educated on this topic! What helped me was to expect the thoughts. I would expect them to come. I feel like this really decreased my anxiety and not “fight” the thoughts. When they came I didn’t judge them. I expected them. Noticed them and moved on which gave them less power.

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