I appreciate this isn’t especially heartening to read at first, but I think it’s important to share my experience, and this seems as good a way as any to get back into the swing of updating my blog regularly. I wrote this article for my local NCT branch newsletter earlier on in the summer. I hope that having it floating about on the internet will help someone, somehow.
As someone who has suffered with depression and anxiety as a teenager (and on and off since), I was expecting some difficulties as I made the transition into motherhood.
However, my experience was nothing like my expectations. In some ways the reality was worse, in some ways, better than I had hoped.
After a happy and relaxed pregnancy, my daughter was born two weeks overdue, and in almost the complete opposite way to my birth plan! However, I was head over heels in love with her, and we bonded immediately, despite a traumatic post-partum haemorrhage the night after she was born, and my feelings of disappointment about being unable to feed her in the way that I had hoped.
We were allowed home after three days and beyond the initial baby blues I was (and am again) an blissed out, if exhausted and often befuddled, new mum.
However, once she got to a few months old, I noticed my mood beginning to dip, and I also became increasingly aware that I was having distressing thoughts coming into my mind of hurting her.
As someone who has been known to check, and triple check the car seat is fitted correctly, and who carried my baby down the stairs in a special way, so as to avoid her being injured if I stumbled, these thoughts were acutely upsetting, and were the complete opposite of my normal, cautious and safety-conscious self.
Because these thoughts were so upsetting, I didn’t mention them to anyone. I felt ashamed and worried that I was becoming a bad person, and I was terrified that my daughter might get taken away from me as I was (in my mind) becoming an unfit mother.
I began to avoid certain things because of the thoughts they’d trigger off – a bizarre example of this is a beautiful decorative pen I ended up throwing away in disgust because every time I used it or looked at it, I would get an image in my mind of hurting my child with the sharp tip, which of course would upset me hugely, often reducing me to tears. I could not understand what was happening to me at all.
It all came to a head one night, when after several thoughts about harming people around me, I began to wonder if I was going criminally insane, and started making plans for who would look after my daughter while I was in a mental hospital. I honestly thought I needed to be locked away to protect others.
Luckily, I had an awareness of mental health and some postnatal conditions like puerperal psychosis, and although this was not what was wrong with me, it meant that the next morning I went down and looked up the APNI (Association for Post Natal Illness) http://apni.org/ and Perinatal Illness UK http://www.pni-uk.com/ websites. Here I learned that what I was experiencing was actually a relatively common aspect of post-natal depression and anxiety, just one that people don’t talk about much. I’m sure you can imagine how relieved I felt that I wasn’t the bad person I had feared I was becoming. I decided there and then to try to talk about my experience with others as much as I could, to try to help others to avoid the anguish that I went through – which is one of the reasons I’m writing this article 🙂
I spoke to my health visitor and GP about my general unhappiness and distressing intrusive thoughts, and was reassured that the websites were right – I wasn’t a danger to anyone, and I would get better with treatment. (My treatment included anti-depressant medication and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy/CBT * – but everyone is different and therefore their treatment will be different.) *for more information see this excellent link http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mentalhealthinformation/therapies/cognitivebehaviouraltherapy.aspx
I carried out further research on the internet and learned that the thoughts I was having were ‘ego-dystonic’ – which means that they are the total opposite of me and the sort of person I am. In fact, they often reflect the things I find most upsetting, or that I fear most. I also learned that they are a symptom of a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly called ‘Pure’ OCD, in which the sufferer has intrusive thoughts but no outward compulsions. I saw an NHS psychologist, and she explained to me that the intrusive thoughts I was having are symptom of inner anxiety and are my brain being hyper-vigilant or over-aware of signs of danger. She was even able to reassure me that people suffering with my kind of symptoms are arguably the least likely to harm their children or others. She also said that they are most common in over-cautious, safety-conscious people who tend to worry a lot – which sounds far more like me than the person I had been fearing I was becoming.
I’m happy to report that now, 2 years down the line, I’m much better and I have been for some time. I see my GP regularly to help make sure my depression is kept under control, and I see a therapist once a month for CBT, to help me to stay positive during life’s ups and downs.
I continue to have a fantastic relationship with my daughter, and despite a recent blip when I started feeling depressed and low (my medication needed tweaking, and I’m fine again now) I really am proud of the person I’ve become. I’m much stronger, more courageous and confident now, and I feel that what I went through has benefited me, though it felt like hell on earth at the time!
If you find yourself having similar thoughts, or feeling low and unhappy, please don’t be afraid of talking to your health visitor or GP, it is far more common than you think, and it is treatable. Please, don’t suffer in silence.
If you are interested in reading more, the following websites are an excellent source of information.
APNI (Association for Post Natal Illness) http://apni.org/
Perinatal Illness UK http://www.pni-uk.com/
General CBT information:http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mentalhealthinformation/therapies/cognitivebehaviouraltherapy.aspx
The Imp of the Mind – by Lee Baer (this is specific to intrusive thoughts like mine and was really reassuring)
Mind over Mood by Greenberg and Padesky (Really thorough CBT workbook)
Cognitive behavioural therapy for dummies by Rob Wilson and Rhena Branch