My Experience With PPD: When Intrusive Thoughts Become Harmful Thoughts

(Prepare yourselves.  It’s a long one.)

Several months ago, in the midst of sleep deprivation and Postpartum Depression (PPD), my anger became hard to control. I was angriest around nap time and bedtime, especially when those times didn’t go as planned. This was when I started to have thoughts about cutting.

When Beatrix interrupted Milo’s nap or if I was having a hard time getting both of them to sleep at night, I would become enraged. There were many times that I yelled at Beatrix, letting all my rage out on her. I knew it was misplaced anger, that my daughter was just being a typical three-year-old. I felt extreme guilt about this.

There was a night when Beatrix was pushing my buttons. Milo was in my arms, almost asleep. The lights were off and I was sitting in the rocking chair. Beatrix was in bed, still awake.

“I need another story, Mom.”

She knew it was quiet time. She knew her brother would wake up if she was talking. I asked her several times to go to sleep, but she threw her covers off, then started pounding her feet on the wall, climbing them up inch by inch. Milo’s eyes flew open and he sat up, staring at his sister, then began to bounce in my lap.

“Beatrix! Stop!”

“No, Mommy, I’m not tired.”

“Beatrix!” I hissed. “Stop talking!”

“But Mommy…”

“No!” I screamed. “Lay down and go to sleep!”

“But my brother wants to play.”

“No he does not!” I glared at my daughter. “He only wants to play because you are keeping him awake! Now go to sleep!”

She was quiet and laid back down. Milo was still fighting sleep, so I wrapped his blanket around his arms to hold him still. My body tensed, I clenched my jaw and I closed my eyes.

I should never have become a mother.

I wanted to escape. I wanted a release. I began to envision cutting myself.

I’ll use a box cutter that Stewart uses for work. I don’t want to infect myself, so…let’s see…I’ll hold the blade over a candle flame for a bit, then douse it in alcohol. I’ll cut my arm. No, maybe my inner thigh. Easier to hide. Will it hurt?

I didn’t think it would hurt. I imagined it would feel good. I was enraged and wanted to bleed it out. I’d had intrusive thoughts before this – thoughts that I knew were not mine, thoughts that scared me. This was different than the others.

This thought didn’t scare me.

O.K. There’s going to be blood. What will I use to stop the bleeding? We don’t have any big bandages. I’ll have to use a towel. How big will the cuts be? Will I need to put Band-Aids on after? No, they’ll be too small. What do people use to cover it up when the cuts are still fresh? How long will the bleeding last? I’ll have a huge mess to clean up. Stewart will be home soon. I don’t think I have enough time to do this.

Wait. Wait. What am I thinking?

I was overwhelmed by the thoughts. The original thought of releasing all my anger and tension now began to stress me even more. I’d have to think about how to hide it from Stewart. I would need to clean up the bathroom sink, then I’d have to dirty up a towel and try to wash the blood out. Good God, I had piles of laundry already; I didn’t need more!

I opened my eyes and looked at Beatrix. Her eyes were closed and I could see her belly move up and down with deep, even breaths. She’s asleep. I rocked and shushed Milo until he gave up his squirming and gave into sleep. I laid him in the crib, went downstairs and called Stewart.

“When are you coming home?” There was a lump in my throat, but I wasn’t crying yet.

“The usual. Around ten o’clock or so. Why?”

“It’s been a bad night.” My voice cracked and the tears came. “Sorry. I know I shouldn’t call you at work and cry, but I just need you to come home as soon as you can.”

“Everything okay?”

“No. I’m not okay.” I took a deep breath. “But…yeah, everything’s okay. The kids are sleeping. It’s just been rough tonight. I’ve had some bad thoughts.”

Later that week, I told my Postpartum Depression Support Group about the anger, the rage, and the cutting fantasies. It wasn’t the first time I had thought about cutting since being diagnosed with Postpartum Depression. It had crossed my mind two or three times during those days after my panic attack, always after I got angry, but I had never envisioned it in such detail.

There was another mom there who had been a cutter. Other women shared their stories of feeling extreme anger. I wasn’t alone. We discussed the fact that anger is a symptom of Postpartum Depression.

They reminded me that I wasn’t a monster. PPD was the monster I was battling.

I should have gone to my doctor the very first time I had thoughts about cutting. I should have been seeing a therapist, but I hadn’t found a new one yet. I should have had a plan in place if I had those thoughts again. But I didn’t. I didn’t think I would act on the thoughts, so I didn’t do anything about it. That was a big mistake.

The following week was very hard. It was just before Christmas and Stewart was working six days a week. I was exhausted, trying to get presents wrapped and plans made. The Tuesday before Christmas I was planning on attending my PPD Support Group in the evening. I would drive 40 minutes to my parents to drop off the kids, then another 45 minutes to Group.

That afternoon, I hoped I could get a nap for myself as soon as I put Milo down for his. My normal routine is to give Beatrix an activity or let her watch a show while I put Milo to sleep, but on this day she was busy playing and I took Milo upstairs to sit with him till he fell asleep.

“Mom, I’m done playing!” Beatrix yelled up the stairs only a few minutes later. “Come downstairs.”

I ignored her, hoping she would find something else to do.

No such luck. She stomped up the stairs.

“Beatrix!” I whispered. “Go back downstairs!”

“But Mom, I’m done playing.” She did not return the whisper. “I need to see you!”

I snapped. “Don’t you know your brother can’t sleep when you’re yelling up the stairs?!”

I stood up and walked out of the room, carrying Milo in one arm. I grabbed Beatrix with the other and headed down the stairs. I lifted her right off her feet for the first couple steps. That’s when she started crying.

My emotional skin had been peeled back, exposing raw nerves. I didn’t like how I was acting. I knew I wasn’t treating my daughter the way I should. Anger and guilt mixed to form a nasty combination.

I brought the kids into the play room and turned some children’s music on.

“Mommy needs a timeout right now. I’m closing the door and I’ll sit on the steps for a while.”

I went to the stairs, knelt on them with my head resting on my arms and began to cry. Soon I was sobbing.

“Goddammit!” I wailed.  “Why can’t I do this? Why can’t I be a good mother?” I hoped the kids couldn’t hear me over their music.

If ever I wanted to escape from my own body, this would have been the time. I felt so stuck. I felt like the worst mother ever. How can I be so angry toward my own children?

My thoughts turned once again to cutting.

“Just do it!” I cried. “Just fucking do it already!” I wanted that release like nothing else. I knew it would make me feel so much better.

I went to the kitchen and dug around in the basket of junk on our counter and found a box cutter. I slid the edge out from its case, then went to the bathroom. I ran the hot water till it was steaming, then put the razor under it. Next, I got some alcohol, soaked a cotton ball with it, then rubbed it on the razor.

I looked at myself in the mirror. My eyes were red, my face was red. I looked down, and decided the inside of my forearm would be the best place.

The first pass didn’t even break the skin.

I held the razor and stared at it for a moment, in a kind of fog. I tried again. It cut the skin this time, but not much. I could see a faint red line, but not a lot of blood.

“Goddammit!” I chucked the razor into the bathroom garbage. “I can’t even do this right!” I opened the door and paced around the living room. I grabbed the kids’ clothes from laundry baskets, threw them in a bag. I needed to get out of my house, needed Milo to sleep, which I knew he would if we were driving. I would drive to my parents, just a little earlier than planned.

Beatrix came out of the playroom. “Mom, you’re not done with timeout.”

I didn’t respond. I just flew around the living room, looking for diapers and wipes.

“Mom, go back in timeout!”

“Stop talking! Just stop talking!” I froze and stared at her for a moment.

It was then I remembered who I was and what I was doing.

I need to call somebody.

I first called one of the girls from PPD group. I had an old list of phone numbers, so most of the names were unknown to me. I found one I knew, dialed, got her voicemail.

I called Stewart at work.

“You know that thing that I’ve been thinking about doing?”

“Yeah…?” Stewart questioned.

“I just tried.” I was unable to hold it together and cried into the phone.

“Do you want me to come home?” he asked.

I wanted to say yes.

“No. I’ll be fine. I’ll call someone. And then I’m bringing the kids to my mom’s and going to group.”

We stayed on the phone for a few more minutes. I reassured him I was fine. The anger had passed. I was crying and upset, but the rage I had felt was gone. I didn’t want to cut anymore.

I called my mom and told her what happened. “I’ll leave as soon as I can to get the kids out there, Mom.”

“No,” she replied. “I’m calling Dad on my cell phone. He’ll pick the kids up. Then you can have a break.” She didn’t freak out. She knew I wasn’t going to hurt my children or kill myself. She knew all I needed was to be alone. Once I was away from my kids, I could regain my sanity. She understood this.

Forty minutes later, my dad walked in. “You need a hug,” he said, as he put his arm around me. Then he changed the subject.

Thank you, Dad. Thank you for not saying I’m crazy. Thank you for not asking me why.

I called Stewart again, then rested on the couch. I drove to my support group, stopping at a drive-thru for dinner and ordering a chocolate shake with it.

At group we were asked to say our names and a short introduction, so that there would be time after introductions for people to talk and ask questions. I told the facilitator I really needed to talk. While others introduced themselves, I kicked my feet and tapped my fingers. I ate some cookies that were passed around, and then I ate some more.

After introductions, some other women had questions. I offered advice. I smiled. I waited while more people talked. And then I told them. I stopped smiling and started crying. I felt pathetic, like a teenager looking for attention. I wanted to take it all back.

It was then that Lori, the other mom who used to be a cutter, walked over and looked me in the eye.

“I know how hard it is to tell people about it. It feels like no one else will understand. But I understand, and you can talk to me whenever you want.”

I breathed a sigh of relief.

“I thought it would feel good,” I replied. “What’s wrong with me?”

Ruth spoke up from across the room. “It does feel good,” she said. “I used to be a cutter too, and it does feel good.”

I love these women. They are not afraid to be honest about every vulnerable aspect of themselves, in order to help someone else. I love the power of knowing I’m not alone.

We talked. I made a plan to see a therapist the next day and make a doctor’s appointment to increase or change my medication.

The kids were still at my parents, so I spent the night at their house. When I got home the next day after my therapy appointment, Stewart was home from work, waiting in the kitchen.

“Thank God for dull razors, huh?” I joked.

He looked at me and laughed a little, but just stood there, silent.

“You don’t know what to say to me right now, do you?”

“No.”

“Stewart, all I need you to do is acknowledge that this is real and that it’s not good.”

“I know it’s real. I know it’s serious.”

Thank God for this man. There are so many husbands who don’t understand, who just want to say ‘Get over it.’ Stewart is not one of them.

He hugged me and we continued to talk. I told him about my appointment with the therapist and told him that I would be going to the doctor to see what could be changed with my medication.

I slept hard that night, exhausted, the adrenalin now gone from my body. The following week I went to the doctor and was prescribed a larger dose of medication. With help from my therapist, I learned to recognize when I was getting angry so that I could stop myself before I had any thoughts of cutting. I knew that I had to prepare myself for nap time and bed time, that these were the times I was most likely to get angry.

It was only a few weeks after my change in medication that I started feeling better. I still wasn’t getting the sleep I needed, but I felt less tired and more in control of my emotions. I began to enjoy my time with my children more. I began to accept Postpartum Depression as a mental illness. I knew this before, but I still held to a belief that I could somehow control it. No one expects the schizophrenic to just think their way out of their disease. It is the same with PPD – if you could snap out of it, you would.  It is an illness, and it should be treated that way.

It was at this time I started blogging. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to write about this experience, but I knew I would be doing a disservice to myself, and to others with PPD, if I didn’t. Many people don’t understand PPD, even those who have it. This is one reason why I write about it.

I know there are other women battling Postpartum Depression who need to know they are not alone. I want them to know this: Postpartum Depression is an illness, and it is not one that should be taken lightly. Please know that with time and treatment it does get better. I am living proof of that.

  

If you are having thoughts about harming yourself, especially if they DON’T scare you like an intrusive thought would, please seek help right away.  Call your doctor or therapist.  Call a trusted friend.  If you are thinking about suicide, call 1-800-SUICIDE.You can find a doctor, therapist or support group at Postpartum Support International.

It took me forever to write this.  I’m sorry it’s so long (and so overdue).  Now that I’m feeling better it’s not as hard to talk about it and share this story.  On the other hand, now that I’m feeling better I’m doing more (like painting our kitchen, writing fiction and taking belly dance classes), so I haven’t been as good about posting.

As always, please feel free to comment.  I love to hear your thoughts.

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18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Amanda
    Sep 08, 2011 @ 11:31:16

    I found your blog looking for help with my own intrusive thoughts. The most F’d up thing is when I read about your thoughts about cutting, I thought “yes… yes… cutting does sound like a good idea; it just might feel good..” Even more Fd up (or possibly ironic) is when I read the reader comments and realize we share the same name.

    You are a beautiful writer and this Amanda thanks you so much for sharing your story. As a new mother feeling overwhelmed, guilty, angry, and lost helps me feel much less alone and much less crazy. I have my first appointment with a therapist today and can’t wait to be the loving mother and person I know I really am. Thank you.

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    • lorixmom
      Sep 08, 2011 @ 22:56:55

      Amanda…I had a hard time writing about this, even more so because I didn’t want anyone reading it to think that cutting is a good idea. But those of us who have had those feelings understand what it means to want to cut, and I do feel that it’s something that needs to be talked about. I am thankful I got help and had my doctor increase my medication. I only wish I had done so earlier.

      I’m so happy that you are reaching out and getting help too. I hope you therapist appointment goes well. There are so many options out there to help you on your journey – therapists, psychiatrists, support groups, phone hotlines, and many others. I wish you success as you find your way back to “you.” You are not alone, this is not your fault, and you will get better!

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  2. Nicole
    Jun 05, 2011 @ 11:43:04

    You are so much like me! It’s naptime and bedtime that drive me crazy. Even when it was just my 3 year old, I would find that I would get violently angry (not toward him, but throwing things and yelling) when he would not nap when I expected him to. He’s such a good boy too. He would usually nap without protest and go right to sleep after I yelled at him….like he would shut down just to do as I asked. People think I’m a good mother because he sleeps so well and I think I’m the worst mother because I know why he does… Now that I have two, I can’t even hide it from my husband anymore. I know I need to seek treatment but I don’t want to. My mother is bipolar and I can’t even stand her. I’m afraid of becoming just like her if I admit that I have a mental illness so I avoid the treatment and tell the lies to keep people away. I have no support system from my side of the family. My in-laws help me with the kids but I could never tell them what I’m feeling because they would never understand. Thanks for writing this. I feel less alone.

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    • lorixmom
      Jun 07, 2011 @ 13:09:49

      Nicole – thank you for your honest comments. Some people do not understand, but that is why it’s so great to find a support group or therapist. They will not judge you, and you can get the help you need. Katherine at Postpartum Progress sends a “Daily Hope” email every day and this was today’s:

      “‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.

      ‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.'” ~ Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

      I just happened upon this quote today and Alice’s line really hit me. I didn’t want to go among the “mad people” either, meaning I didn’t want to accept that I had a mental illness diagnosis when I had postpartum OCD. It was shocking to me, at first. If I think about why, I guess it’s because I thought those people were different from me. Not as good, maybe? Not smart or capable? I don’t know.

      I know better now, of course. In a way Cat is right, because every single person has the potential to suffer, whether it’s a lifelong diagnosis or a temporary depression or anxiety. I just don’t think of there being “mad people” and “sane people” anymore. We’re all just people, and we all need emotional support at some point in our lives.

      — Katherine

      I know that you’re afraid of becoming just like your mother, but you are YOU and no one else, and you deserve to feel better. You can find a support group here: http://www.postpartum.net/Get-Help/Support-Resources-Map-Area-Coordinators.aspx

      Please remember – You are not alone, this is not your fault, and you will get better with treatment and time. Please contact me if you need someone to chat with.

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  3. Katherine @ Postpartum Progress
    Apr 13, 2011 @ 10:09:19

    Thank you for courageously sharing your story. When you expose shame to the light, you weaken it. Knowing that others have had the same experience, and gotten through it, makes such a difference. I’m sure your story will help others.
    – Katherine

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  4. Ava
    Apr 10, 2011 @ 20:47:42

    You are so brave for being so open about cutting. I’m sure you are helping other women deal with their scary urges and come to terms with them. ❤

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  5. Michelle
    Apr 07, 2011 @ 23:14:11

    Amanda – Your courage is inspiring. Like many others who’ve posted a comment, you brought tears to my eyes. This blog is such a wonderful thing! You are doing a huge service to other women with PPD. You’re also doing a huge service to friends and family members of women with PPD, helping them to understand so that they can be more supportive. Brightest of Blessings to you!

    Like

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  6. kathy
    Apr 07, 2011 @ 21:53:01

    Amanda,
    Your courage is boundless – your writing is so vivid!!
    I remember the night that you told us and i think about that group session frequently! I know it was a turning point for you and I remember where you were sitting and who else shared that night. i was moved that night and continue to be impacted by you and the strong and brave women in our group!
    Thank you for doing this blog – i know that it has helped you, but i don’t think you know how many girls you have touched now and will touch in the future!
    Beatrix and Milo are lucky children – you are an awesome mom !
    Love and hugs, Kathy

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  7. Nancy
    Apr 07, 2011 @ 08:21:34

    Amanda,
    Your story brought many tears to my eyes this morning. I am glad we were there to help you, but only wish we could have been there at the time to hug, comfort, and listen. I know this must have been very difficult to write, but I am glad you did. Think of all the new mothers you are helping through your blogging. I am proud to know you. Nancy

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  8. Norma
    Apr 06, 2011 @ 22:06:21

    Amanda– It is real. We have had new mothers up here on the unit with PPD. Sorry you had to go through all of this. If I had known, I would have tried to help you. You are a great mom and wife. Glad to have you in the family.

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  9. Judy Hirdes
    Apr 06, 2011 @ 21:11:43

    Amanda, I now have tears in my eyes and could hardly read the end of your post. I feel so sad that you’ve had to go through all of this. But also glad that you are willing to share to help others. You are a GOOD mom.
    Love you.
    Aunt Judy

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