After Intrusive Thoughts: My Journey with Postparteum Depression Q & A
This statistic shatters me. We have to change this! We have to speak out.
I never in a million years could have imagined the amount of women who not only read my postpartum experience but also personally reached out to me through direct messages, emails, texts and comments.
I really want to respond to each of you. You deserve to hear that I see you. I hear you. In the meantime, here are some common questions that I have been asked since that post.
1). Did you ever receive an official diagnosis or take medication?
I never saw a psychiatrist or primary care doctor; therefore, I did not receive an official diagnosis nor did I take any medication (I probably should have!) My counselor and I talked about the possibility of it being postpartum OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). However, I never showed any signs of having outward compulsions or rituals that accompanied the thoughts (such as touching the door 10 times). One beautiful mother commented that it sounded like I experienced a form of OCD called "Pure O", which is when you have anxiety once the thought appears so you do things internally like praying, trying to push it away, or avoiding a situation that may trigger the thoughts from happening.
2). How long did the thoughts last? Do you still get them?
After my maternity leave ended is when the intrusive thoughts ramped up to no avail. While I can’t put a time limit on them because it all seems like a blur, I would guess they occurred every day, sometimes for hours on end for a few months. They still come up for me at really odd moments. I can be playing with my daughter or be completely alone and an intrusive, unwanted thoughts will pop up. Thankfully, they rarely occur (maybe once every other week or so). Now when they happen, I am able to experience them and let them go without being scared or worried that they will “loop” or get stuck in my head. I also no longer experience a visceral effect when they happen (such as heart palpitations or feeling sick to my stomach).
3). How did you find a therapist?
I was lucky enough that my employer offers the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which is an organization that provides a plethora of supports to government employees for free. I was able to get five free counseling sessions by going through them.
Because I work in mental health, I knew how to seek the type of therapist that I would be comfortable going to. I knew I wanted a female and someone who specialized in pre and postpartum care.
If you need help finding a good psychologist and don’t know where to start, skim this article by American Psychology Association. It provides you with tips on what questions to ask a psychologist to make sure they are a good fit.
4). Were you scared your baby was going to be taken away?
Yes, I was terrified in the beginning. I thought they were going to lock me up and throw away the key if I told people what I was thinking about. But I am now realizing how common this issue really is. I truly believe that you are not your thoughts. It’s not like anyone of us who experiences this hell asked for it. It’s one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me. But it wasn’t my fault and it’s not yours either.
5). Did you have a traumatic birthing experience or anything else occur in your life that may have triggered the thoughts from starting?
No. I was in labor for 23 hours. Winter was sunny-side up and we ended up having to use a vacuum to get her out. That part was scary, but I wouldn’t call it traumatic. If you're interested, you can read my birth story here. In regards to my personal state of mind at the time, I felt really calm before she came so the fact that these thoughts came with a vengeance really caught me off guard.
6.). How did you tell your husband what you were experiencing? How did he react?
I can’t really remember what he said, but I know that I approached it something like this:
“I don’t need you to understand or try to fix this, but I need you to listen to me, hold me and tell me that I am not a monster no matter how scared you might feel when I tell you this…” Like I said in my PPD post, he too didn’t know that this was a possibility and did his own research on the topic. He definitely didn’t understand (how could he because even I didn’t understand), but he fought like hell for me even though it took a toll on him and our marriage.
7). Were you scared that talking about or writing about your experience would trigger the thoughts again? Has it?
I was VERY nervous to write and post my experience. But when I finally sat down to write my story it only took me 20 minutes. It’s like it wrote itself. It poured out of me. I cried a lot while writing it but afterwards I felt so relieved because I was finally facing my fear. Seeing my experience like that stare back at me was liberating. It was like it was the last thing that I needed to do to release this part of my life.
The night that I posted it, I didn’t eat dinner. I was shaking. I couldn’t believe that I had sent that out into the cyber world for actual people to read. I was and still am overwhelmed with how much love and support it received. Because of you all, it was re-shared and seen 1,000s and 1,000s of times. It was one of the most healing things I could have possibly done. Your comments, your emails, your acts of kindness truly healed me. I am forever grateful. And I am so happy to say that NO, it didn’t trigger a damn one!
8.). Do you have people in your life who don’t understand what you have been through?
Absolutely. I have some people in my life that have no clue how to relate to me or know what to say. It’s changed a lot of my relationships because I became very reclusive during this period of my life. On the flip side, I also had friends cry with me, hold my hand and tell me that they didn’t believe that I was going crazy. It was those conversations that served as a stepping stone and gave me the faith and strength that I could tell more people about how I was feeling.
9). What has helped you?
Gosh, this is such a tough one to answer because I am not entirely sure if it was one thing or if I am totally cured. For me it was mostly time. I am lucky to have summers off so once summer hit, all that stress from work was gone and I wasn’t as sleep deprived. Although the thoughts subsided, the anger, the sheer rage lingered for much longer. That’s when I knew I needed help and started seeing someone in November after I was done nursing. Counseling helped, talking about it helped and having a very strong mindfulness practice was critical to my healing.
10). You talk about mindfulness a lot. How can I get training in this practice?
If a class is not available to you, don’t worry. There are so many websites and apps that are great in teaching this practice. I listed a few I use below:
Smart Phone Apps:
11). What advice have others given you since posting?
The knowledge in the online community has blown me away! Oh my goodness you all have taught me so much! I listed a few tips and tricks, resources and things to ponder below:
- Book Recommendation:
- A mom said this book titled "Dropping Baby and Other Scary Thoughts" saved her life. I looked it up and the price point really discouraged me, but I figured if a few moms collectively went in on it together and shared it, it wouldn’t be too bad.
- Get Involved in Organizations/Events:
- Climb Out Of Darkness is the world's largest event raising awareness of maternal mental illnesses. I intend to participate this year and climb in Colorado this summer. Who wants to climb with me?
- AMAZING Website Recommendation:
- Intrusivethoughts.org: This organization recently reached out to me and I am so glad they found me. It's a really wonderful resource. I plan to partner with them in the future.
- I have heard from other mothers (but not researched yet) that essential oils, placenta encapsulation or placenta smoothies can help with curbing the hormonal imbalance that occurs during postpartum. I am very intrigued and plan to do some more research on the topics.
12). Are you scared to have another baby?
Yes. I am. I think that’s all I can share about it right now. I will write more about it when I have collected my thoughts.·
13). Any other advice you would give to those experiencing similar things?
TELL SOMEONE. WRITE IT DOWN ON A PIECE OF PAPER AND BURN IT AND THEN TELL SOMEONE. SEEK COUNSELING SUPPORT. CALL A HOTLINE. TELL YOURSELF THAT IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. SPEAK OUT!
I really wish I would have said something the first time it happened. I know that if I had, I wouldn’t have had to suffer in silence for months. Please, please, please share. You are not your thoughts and you are not alone!
Lastly, did anyone catch Chrissy Teigen sharing her postpartum depression story?
I feel a movement coming on!
Photography by Brittany Renee'