Trigger Warning: suicidal thoughts
The thoughts started after my oldest was born and I was horrified. Out of nowhere, like a flashbulb popping in my brain. An uninvited guest in my consciousness. That time I was able to bury them, push them way down. Pretend I was ok, just a little postpartum anxiety, it’s so common.
But I had a secret.
For some reason, my second delivery didn’t bring the unwanted guest, but after my third, they came back with a fiery vengeance. I believe the pandemic and subsequent lockdown made it worse. I attempted my old stand by of pushing them away but this time it wouldn’t work. It began to get harder and harder to control, and the stress from trying to manage them and parent became too much. I’d be minding my own business, carrying my sweet newborn up the stairs and:
“I could drop her. Just let go. I wonder if she would bleed?”
The terrifying thoughts were often accompanied by disturbing images I’m still not comfortable discussing. I’d have to run up the rest of the way to the safety of the nursery where I’d sit rocking her and wonder; what’s wrong with me? I would never hurt my children! Why am I thinking about this? I would never do that! Sometimes while driving down the road it would happen:
“What if I just…drove off the road into that cement wall? Would we all die or just me?”
Again the horror and shame. My kids are my life, and I love my life. Why would I dive off a bridge? I was struggling every day but terrified to tell anyone. The load of carrying the thoughts and the accompanying guilt was making it hard to function as the mom of three I had always imagined I’d be. I was suffocated in daily life but the idea of asking for help made my world close in on me. I was afraid someone would call CPS or commit me. Just a simple act of putting away the dishes and:
“What would it feel like to cut myself? Would this knife work for that?”
I would frantically look around hoping there was no one around to read my thoughts or ask what I was thinking about. I just couldn’t figure it out. I wasn’t depressed, I didn’t want to hurt myself! I had things to look forward to, stuff to do.
Finally, some late-night research led me to my answer; intrusive thoughts. Commonly linked with OCD, anxiety, depression, and postpartum, intrusive thoughts are just that: unwanted thoughts, visualizations, or urges that tend to be violent or inappropriate in nature. But attempting to push the thoughts away just feeds the cycle and increases anxiety. The thoughts can be in a wide variety of themes but are linked with a commonality: the sufferer knows they would never act on them. Unfortunately, this makes them all the more disturbing, which in turn causes them to recur more and more frequently.
When I really thought about it I realized that I had dealt with a similar problem all my adult life. As a highly sensitive person (HSP) a single upsetting or violent image from a movie preview or clip featuring emotional subject matter would instantly become branded on my brain and would pop up unwanted when I tried to sleep. A past traumatic event in my own life would repeat on a loop while I tried to focus during a meeting. The weight of parenthood and my wholehearted dedication to it snowballed my existing issue. It’s because I care so much about my kids that my anxiety manifests this way. It’s a vulnerable spot in my sensitive and highly distractable brain.
I finally came to a point in my life where my desire to be the best mom I could be outweighed my shame and I called my doctor. He was compassionate and yet unfazed by my confession which really gave me perspective. I have started medication for my postpartum anxiety and intrusive thoughts and while they are not gone, they are less. Just knowing what they are made them so much easier to process. My doctor is still the only one that knows, but I wanted to share my story hoping that someone else will hear it and feel less shame. If your thoughts turn against you as a mom, I see you, I am you. You are still good.