My Experience with PPD: Intrusive Thoughts

(One of my goals with this blog is to explain what my experience has been with Postpartum Depression.  This post is about intrusive thoughts. If you have high anxiety or tend to ruminate or obsess, you may want to stop reading.  Some of the thoughts are frightening and are described in some detail.)

I knew I had Postpartum Depression (PPD) after Milo was born, but I felt like it was manageable. I didn’t think I needed a support group,therapy or medication.  And then, four months postpartum, I had a panic attack and began to have intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are unpleasant and unwanted thoughts and images. They can interfere with one’s ability to continue their normal activities. They are not hallucinations. People who have hallucinations, sometimes experienced with Postpartum Psychosis, tend to feel that their thoughts are rational and may feel the need to act on them. People who have intrusive thoughts do not want to act on them. The thoughts can cause fear, anxiety and guilt. 

My intrusive thoughts were visual, like a video playing in my mind that I couldn’t turn off. The fear in me was visceral, as if someone had their grip on my intestines while at the same time pressing all the air out of my lungs. 

I would lie awake in bed and hear the house creak or hear one of the cats jump off the couch downstairs. I’m afraid of the dark and have some anxiety centered around that, but never to this extent. In a normal state, I could think Oh, that’s the house creaking or That’s just the cat jumping off the couch. That would be enough to calm me down. But not in this state of mind. 

I had visions of a man walking up our stairs. He held a knife. He was quiet, so I wouldn’t be able to hear him. I opened my eyes, willing myself to stay awake so that I could see when he entered my room. When I closed my eyes, I saw him murdering my family.  Gruesome images of the aftermath of his violence flashed before me.  I was afraid to roll over, for fear that I would find Stewart lying next to me, cold and dead.

What do I do? What can I use to defend myself and my family? I thought about grabbing the lamp off my dresser, but it was too far away. I didn’t know if I would be able to scream or if I would be too frightened. I’ve got books by my bed. I could throw those at him. 

The only way to get myself to fall asleep was to imagine a scenario where I would defeat him. I imagined myself screaming. “Stay away from my family! You don’t scare me. Go ahead, kill me, just leave my family alone!” I would hit him, kick him, throw things at him.

It felt so real. 

On some nights I had enough courage to get out of bed and go downstairs. I would turn on every light on my way to the kitchen. I took some Calms Forte, a homeopathic relaxant, and that would help me fall back to sleep. On other nights the fear held me down in bed and I laid there until exhaustion took over and I managed to fall asleep. 

These were intrusive thoughts that stemmed from anxiety, but I had anger-related intrusive thoughts as well. One day, in August or September of last year, Beatrix was acting up. I don’t remember what it was that she was doing, but I do remember how I felt at the time. My nerves were raw, I was exhausted, and I knew I could snap at any moment.

Beatrix sensed I was getting upset, so she laid on the floor and looked up at me, trying to be cute. This only upset and angered me more. 

An image appeared in my mind.  In it I was stepping on her face, kicking and smashing her head. 

I was scared.  Oh my God, what am I thinking?

I stood there and stared. Stewart had just gotten home from work and came up the stairs to where we were.

“Please, just take her downstairs,” I asked, dazed.

I was holding Milo at the time and I sat down with him and nursed him. The dichotomy of nurturing my son after I had just envisioned myself hurting my daughter disturbed me.  I’m a monster.  The tears came and they wouldn’t stop. 

Many people may wonder why I’m sharing such personal information. If I had thoughts that involved harming my children, it’s rational to assume I might act on them. I wondered this myself. The thought of hurting my daughter in such a horrible and violent way scared me more than the thought of someone else hurting her.  I felt an intense amount of guilt.

There is an important reason why I’m sharing this experience.  What I want people to know is that it is normal for new mothers to have intrusive thoughts. Even new mothers who do not have PPD can experience them. The thoughts are scary and can cause anxiety, but that is a good thing.  It means that we don’t want the thoughts to become reality.

I was able to talk to other women from my Postpartum Support Group and they reassured me that I was a good mom. They knew I would never act on such a thought. It was a thought produced by this illness and I did not own it. 

It was at this point I began seeking medical treatment for my Postpartum Depression. I was reluctant to take medication, but I couldn’t sleep and I didn’t feel I could take care of my children. I worried I would not feel like myself anymore if I were taking meds. The first time I took them, I felt like I was giving in. 

I was wrong. I wasn’t giving in; I was getting better. Within weeks, the medication helped me become myself again. My anxiety lessened and the intrusive thoughts went away. 

If I had to do it over again, I would have taken medication as soon as I knew I had PPD. Maybe even while I was still pregnant, since I knew I had PPD with Beatrix. How I wish I would have taken it after Beatrix was born. How many lost moments with her would I have gotten back? 

This is not to say that everyone with PPD should be on medication. However, I do think that anyone with symptoms of Postpartum Depression should seek treatment. It makes recovery so much easier.

If you are experiencing intrusive thoughts, or any other symptom of Postpartum Depression, please seek help.  You can find resources through Postpartum Support International.

And please know this: PPD is an illness, it will get better with time and treatment, and you are not alone. 

 

Once again, this was a difficult post to write.  This is just one part of my PPD journey.  I will be posting again soon with more of my story.  I know many of you who read this blog do not have PPD, but may be able to relate on some level or you may know someone with PPD. I love reading your comments, so please leave a comment with your thoughts. 

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17 Comments (+add yours?)

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  3. Trackback: Is It Really All My Fault? My Experience with PPMD | Made More Beautiful
  4. Erin
    Nov 07, 2011 @ 16:45:36

    I really appreciated reading this. I worry about writing about my obsessive thoughts on my blog for fear of what others will think reading it. But here I am benefiting from reading yours. I was not diagnosed with PPD but have had issues with obsessive thinking off and on for years and have never really found others who have intrusive thoughts/ruminations to connect with and it is so hard to deal with the guilt. I know in my heart (on a good day)that I love my son and it is ridiculous to believe the fears I have- but it is so helpful to not feel alone. I would love to be able to email or connect with others because none of my girlfriends have dealt with this, or at least will admit it….

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    • Jennifer
      Jan 08, 2012 @ 22:10:46

      Thank you so much ladies for these posts. I had my son 5 years ago and began to experience obtrusive thoughts on and off since then. Sometimes they dont happen for months then they hit me like a ton of bricks for weeks and thats when I just want to die. Id rather die then have these thoughts. That is until I met my therapist. She helps me through them imensley. I just found out today that I am pregnent with my second child and this is totally unplanned. I have always wanted another but was too scared because I dont want the thoughts to come back. I lie to people all the time and tell them I dont want more kids because of every other reason. But now Im pregnent and soooooo very scared that these thoughts will take over, and worse that I’ll resent my new baby because of the pain they caused me. Has anyone ever gone through this??? I want to be excited but my fear just takes over. I dont want to feel like a monster.

      @ Erin, If youd like to talk I would love to!

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      • lorixmom
        Jan 09, 2012 @ 10:48:01

        But now Im pregnent and soooooo very scared that these thoughts will take over, and worse that I’ll resent my new baby because of the pain they caused me. Has anyone ever gone through this???

        Yes, yes, yes. Many women who had PPD with their first child are afraid they’ll feel resentful or angry when they have another child. Sometimes they do end up feeling that way, but I can tell you, it passes. Allow yourself to feel what you are feeling without guilt. It is okay to be excited about a new baby and scared or angry at the same time. Just know that you are more prepared this time. You and your therapist can make a plan to help you through this pregnancy and during the postpartum months. You have tools and resources now that you didn’t before.

        It’s easy to place blame on the baby or yourself, but try to remember the blame lies with this illness – PPD is something we have, not something we are. Blame PPD – and fight it just like you would fight any other illness – with treatment, support, and time.

        Congratulations on your pregnancy – you are, and will be, a fantastic mother.

        Like

    • lorixmom
      Jan 09, 2012 @ 10:35:01

      Erin, I’m so sorry I didn’t see this comment earlier. Please know that you are not alone – about 20% of mothers have some sort of perinatal mood disorder. Have you found a support group or therapist yet? If not, check out Postpartum Support International. You can also contact me if you need to talk. Please know that there are others on this journey with you, and it will get better with time and treatment.

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  5. Trackback: Thoughts on PPD : Strong Start Day | Made More Beautiful
  6. Alli
    Jul 05, 2011 @ 11:40:29

    I am sitting at my computer with my mouth to the floor! I just finished reading your blog and I swear I could have written it myself. I honestly thought something horrible was wrong with me for having these thoughts that just won’t go away. They are with me day and night. I can’t even begin to thank you for sharing your story.

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    • lorixmom
      Jul 05, 2011 @ 12:55:02

      I’m so glad this post helps you. Have you found a support group yet? You can find one at Postpartum Support International. There are a lot of resources on that website. Just having people to talk to that are going through the same thing can be so helpful. You are not alone!

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    • MamaRobinJ
      Jul 05, 2011 @ 13:32:35

      Alli, are you on Twitter or Facebook? There’s a really supportive (online) PPD group there and you’ll find you are really not alone in this experience. Let me know if you’d like more information – it’s been a lifesaver for many of us.

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  8. MamaRobinJ
    Mar 26, 2011 @ 22:15:42

    Wow. I have had those same thoughts and I never actually thought of them as intrusive thoughts. On many occasions I lay in bed, frozen at the thought of someone coming up the stairs. It’s happened more times than I can count. The more I hear about other people’s experiences with PPD the more I understand my own.

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    • lorixmom
      Apr 22, 2011 @ 22:18:56

      I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to your comment. I’m glad this post helped you understand your own experience. It makes me feel good that other women are benefitting from me sharing my own story.

      Like

      Reply

  9. Kara
    Mar 05, 2011 @ 14:40:39

    Thank you for sharing your personal thoughts and experiences. I LOVE to read your posts and it is so comforting to know that I’m not alone and doing the right thing for me and my family in seeking treatment. I feel so much less lonely when I read your posts. You are a wonderful writer and when I read your posts I feel like you have sunken into my brain and experiences and know my thoughts and past! Thank you 🙂

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  10. Erica
    Mar 05, 2011 @ 09:07:38

    Thank you for sharing your very personal experience. I feel lik I am behind you in the timeline of recovery but headed in the right direction thanks to you and the others in the group. I know you write to help yourself but know you are helping others like myself also.

    Like

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  11. Kathy
    Mar 04, 2011 @ 23:43:09

    Thanks so much for writing about this – it really helps me to understand and hopefully help someone. I know these thoughts are hard to share, but believe me you are helping someone get the courage to start on their journey to getting better. You have so much courage and are such an inspiration!!! Big hugs to you!!

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