Worst Case Scenario Thoughts

[Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from a therapist and mom who experienced intrusive thoughts, which she likes to call worst case scenario thoughts. It’s really a great way of explaining what intrusive thoughts look and feel like! -Jenna]

Worst Case Scenario Thoughts

Its 3:44. My husband called at 3:06 to tell me he was walking home from the office. I asked him to pick up some bananas. It’s only a ten minute walk and the grocery store is right outside of our apartment building. I feel my breathing start to quicken and before I know it I see it in my head. The worst case scenario. He was hit by a car while he crossed the street. The grocery store was robbed by a guy with a gun. I push it away and tell myself I won’t call him until 4:00, and that is when I will start to allow myself to panic. At 3:56 he walks in the door explaining he got a work call and wanted to finish it before coming in the door.

These are what I like to call my worst case scenario thoughts. As a person who has struggled with anxiety for most of my life, they’ve always seemed to linger in the recesses of my mind. For years if I received a call from my parents after nine o’clock at night, I was convinced that something terrible had happened to them. I had to take a deep breath before I answer the phone and hurriedly say, “What’s wrong?”

These thoughts aren’t always about safety but can be worst case scenarios in other ways. A ‘C’ on a paper in graduate school launched me into a panic attack because I was convinced it would lead to me flunking out somehow. A small part of me is motivated by these thoughts. Sometimes I feel as if as long as I imagine the worst case scenario I somehow have control over it from happening. They are automatic and although I feel that I can gently push them away and find a positive distraction I am still fighting the shame I feel about having them in the first place.

After becoming a mother they started happening more frequently and the toll they took on me became heavier. Many times they were surrounding my son’s safety, health, and whether or not I would make a mistake that would somehow cause him harm. At times they caused a deeper fear that seemed almost paralyzing to me.

I would describe these intrusive thoughts in detail but I have learned that when you do those that are exposed to them may adopt them as well. Intrusive thoughts can almost be contagious. If you suffer from them and hear other examples it starts to play out in your mind. Our thought catalogues of worst case scenarios must stay as small as possible. But even as I have worked on them and started to find positive ways of coping with them with distraction, deep breathing, and rational thinking these worst case scenario thoughts sometimes affect the way I see myself as a mother. I don’t want to be the mother that holds her son back because she imagines the worst case scenario in every situation. But sometimes I am that mother.

Even as a therapist who is passionate about fighting the stigma placed on mental health issues, these are thoughts I never wanted others to know I had. I really believed for a long time that I was the only one that experienced them. And I judged myself over and over for having them. Who thinks these kinds of horrible things? What kind of mother could possibly visualize horrific things happening to her child? I feel selfish for having them because I still have the luxury of only experiencing them in my mind. Others have not been so lucky and have experienced these worst case scenarios in real life. Why can’t I count myself as lucky and just enjoy that things are okay in the moment?

As I’ve come to understand anxiety from a personal perspective and from a therapist’s point of view, I have realized I am not unique in experiencing these types of thoughts. There are many others out there that feel invaded by these thoughts and have even more difficulties than me in bouncing back from them. When I lead support groups or read other moms’ struggles with anxiety, I know I am not alone. We are not alone. None of us are truly alone in this experience. If we normalize that we all have these dark thoughts then we are fighting the stigma and shame and allowing ourselves to start letting them go.

So I remind myself that I am not my thoughts. I may have dark thoughts, judgmental thoughts, irrational thoughts, ridiculously bizarre ones but they are just thoughts. I never judge my clients, my family, or friends for the thoughts they share with me. I find them to be brave for being vulnerable enough to say them out loud. So I deserve the same acceptance and compassion. These thoughts do not represent me. I am so much more. I am the supportive words I give to friends, the acts of love I show my family, and the values I try to live by every day. I am the getting out of bed despite the thoughts that want to tell me not to, the taking a deep breath before telling my son ‘no’ for the 33rd time despite the thoughts that tell me to scream at him, and the waiting til 4:00 before I start to call the police to report my husband missing.

You are not alone. You are not crazy. You are not your thoughts.

Rachel Bowers is a mom, social worker, maternal mental health advocate, and writer. She blogs on emotional wellness at Full Motherhood. She is also the co-founder of a free online mentoring program for moms focused on personal development called Mentoring 4 Moms. She currently lives in Melbourne, Australia with her partner and 2 year old son.

Learning to Swim: Life After Postpartum Depression

[Editor’s Note: Today’s Guest Post comes from Julia Karas Parker. She wanted to share her story because sometimes she felt discouraged that it took her “so long” to get better. We share her story so other moms who are struggling for what seems like “too long” might feel less alone. But remember: No two moms have the same recovery from postpartum depression timeline nor will they look alike. -Jenna]

Learning to Swim: Life After Postpartum Depression

The three weeks following my son’s birth, I secretly wondered if I was manic. Never a morning person, I found myself rising to get my step kids ready while I would prepare elaborate breakfasts for my husband. My home was so clean, and I was already only ten pounds from my pre­baby weight! I was convinced I was ready to have another baby as soon as medically permitted. I had really found my niche!

Then that Percocet from the c­-section wore off. Then I started sleeping a lot. Then I started eating less. Then I started having intrusive thoughts. Then I started to have anxiety about everything. Then I stopped remembering a lot of things. I can only assume that’s because the pain is too much to remember.

I stared blankly at my psychiatrist when she handed me the flyer for a Post­partum Mood Disorder seminar. She’d been treating me for two years for OCD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Why was she talking about anything other than what we’d always talked about? I gave her a weak smile, left, and promptly threw the paper in the trash before I even walked through my front door. [Read also: Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression & Anxiety.]

I wish I had been listening.

The months thereafter are a blur, mostly black spaces of time. I remember my sweet baby boy curled up next to me, sleeping for hours and hours. I joined him in his sleep, until noon, when my husband came home for lunch. Then we moved to the couch for an hour before returning to our slumber for a few hours. Most nights I was in bed by seven o’clock.

When I returned to work, it became impossible to avoid the reality: I was not okay and I was not myself. I drove my commute gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles, certain that I was seconds away from sliding into a ditch. Some days, though, it was more of a fantasy. Throughout the day, I’d close my office door to make desperate calls to my psychiatrist, begging her to give me whatever pill I needed to be myself again.

By the time May rolled around, I was taking a dose of meds 10 times higher than what I was on prior to my pregnancy. I had plans though, lots of plans, and none of them involved a future.

My first Mother’s Day was spent in the psych ward at a local hospital. My first night there, I was so sure that this was a mistake. I was so sure it was obvious to everyone. Turns out convincing people you aren’t losing it when you’ve been losing it for five months is harder than I thought. I couldn’t get a hold of my husband to explain that he needed to get me out, because he was on his way home from getting me in there. So I called my Mom who lives 13 hours away. I was shocked when she told me they wouldn’t be helping me to get out, and this was where I needed to be. I felt angry at her betrayal. I called my husband who echoed her sentiments. I tried to make them understand how badly they were hurting me, but it didn’t matter. I returned to my room where my roommate drew pictures of Jesus.

I’d sleep and sleep until I realized the only way out was to not sleep. So I journaled and smiled at the nurses and went to music therapy and exercise therapy and group therapy and nodded my head while everyone talked.

I was later discharged and tried to go back to work. My doctor immediately requested I be home for a week, to be tried on anti­psychotics. My employer fired me the next day. That’s when I learned no matter how many awards you’ve won or lives you’ve changed, business is business, even if you’re in the business of helping others. That was the final blow to my sense of self.

I’d been on nearly every medication possible to treat what I now considered a non­responsive major depression. My therapist told me she could no longer help me. I went to a PPD support group, but I was the only one there. I was dragged forward through each day by my husband. My psychiatrist suggested Electroconvulsive therapy. I told her inducing seizures was a last resort for me. She said it was a last resort for her too. [Read Also: Can Untreated Mild Depression Lead to Chronic Depression?]

Two and a half years later, I thought I saw myself in the mirror. Well, myself plus 100 pounds (thanks medications). All the things I couldn’t do before, I found myself doing. My doctor was so happy when she saw me, she told me it was the first time in three years that I looked better. That made me happy but it also made me sad. I still have tremors from medications I no longer take. Those long lists of side effects you hear in commercials, they seem worth it, if it means you can live your life again.

And for awhile I felt pretty good. Then a doctor prescribed me a steroid when I strained my back, which has happened almost yearly since I was 14. Less than a week after the last dose, I started having suicidal thoughts. I felt foolish for ever believing I’d be okay. A favorite Amy Hempel quote looped in my head:

“What you forget, living here, is that just because you have stopped sinking doesn’t mean you’re not still underwater.”

And I was sure that it was time to give up.

Evidently this steroid decreased the efficiency of my anti­depressants. It took a few weeks to see if I could get back to my baseline. My new baseline, that is. Because I am not the same me.

Here’s what I found journaled during that time:

Now I don’t get manicures because the nail techs comment on my shaking hands.

Now I take medicine to keep me awake, then I take medication to calm me down.

Now I stay in because I believe I have nothing worth sharing with anyone. I am replaceable.

Now I wonder if my son’s early developmental delays were caused by having a mother like me.

What dawned on me today is that when working as intended, the pills make me able to live with myself.

Without the pills, I am up to no good. Without the pills, I am irritable, I am angry, I am hopeless, I am lazy, I am empty. I am disordered eating, I am ruminating, I am obsessing and I am sleeping, a lot. But that is who I am. That is me, when left to my own devices. And maybe I try so hard to be good and to do good because at the end of the day, without the help of my blue pills, my green pills, my orange pills, my white pills and my red pills, I am none of the things that I want to be.

My whole life I spent planning, learning too late that I shouldn’t fool myself into thinking I can plan anything. But I always knew, I’d have my second baby when my first was three. I always knew, I would have my hands full staying home with little ones until kindergarten. I never thought, I would be able to carry a baby while I actually could probably never carry another baby.

I always knew and I never thought and those are my problems.

Shortly after that incident, I decided my good days on medicine were not much different from my bad days. Against all conventional medical advice, I titrated myself off all the pills I had been on for months. I told my parents and my husband, in case I had a decline. But a strange thing happened. I didn’t get worse. Many days, I felt better because I didn’t have all the side effects of all the medications I had been taking.

Eventually, I met with a naturopathic doctor and found great success. And with the exception of the week before my period, I think I’m doing pretty well. But over four years after my son’s birth, I am still undergoing testing and treatment for my hormones. [Read Also: The Best Alternative Treatment Options for Postpartum Depression]

Some may think it’s strange to still consider yourself suffering from a postpartum mood disorder when your son is in preschool. All I know is that I have not been the same since I had him, and only recently have I been picking up the pieces of the shell of the person I used to be.

And I will never be the same, because my body created life. Because now I am a mother. Because I spent years treading water, or clinging to my husband and mother to keep me afloat. Because I went through the life-changing experience of postpartum depression. There is no timeline for how long it takes to heal. [Read Also: Six Things That Can Affect How Quickly You’ll Recover from Postpartum Depression]

So now I take it day by day. I am thankful for those who stood by me and supported me. I still get scared when I have a bad day, that the bad day will turn into a bad week, then a bad month, and that I will descend back into the depression that for years held me so tightly. I still have days where I think I am foolish to ever think I could beat this. But most days I am just thankful that even when I thought I was drowning, even when I thought I had tried it all, I kept my head above water long enough to learn to swim.

~Julia Karas Parker

Bunmi Laditan on Postpartum Depression and Overcompensating

Bunmi Laditan on Postpartum Depression and Overcompensating -postpartumprogress.com

Award winning author and speaker Bunmi Laditan shared her experiences with postpartum depression and overcompensating on Facebook this week. It struck a chord with many moms.

You can read it for yourself. It’s beautiful.

When we posted Bunmi’s important piece on our Facebook page, we asked our Warrior Moms if they ever felt a connection between postpartum depression and overcompensating for their child for those days, weeks, or a year of postpartum depression. Our post got 110 likes or loves, so we know it resonated with a number of mamas.

Three also spoke up to share their stories.

Amanda Staples Davis said, “I read this yesterday and it rang so true with me. For years I felt I had to go over and above what a ‘normal’ mum would do to compensate for they way I felt and not bonding with my son. He is now 7 and we have two younger children (6 and 4), I have only just started stopping myself from free-falling into an abyss of doing more unthanked tasks and mainly as he now expects me to jump at his every command. I feel terrible in saying that we still don’t have that special bond but am glad to say that we do have some kind of bond now. He suffers with slight anxiety and I suffer with the guilt of creating that. Moving on from PPD is tough, you don’t just wake up and feel better, you learn new ways of coping with the challenges until you like yourself, life and family again 💗💕”

Deva Millward said, ” I overcompensated for so long that now that I’m healthy and just being “normal,” I have to reassure myself that I’m not failing- Again. Still. But in a different way from when I was suffering from PPD/A. Great post. These days I just try to live in my strengths and let the rest go!”

Nadia Vellucci said, “Wow, this was such a good read for me. I too, struggle with the feelings of maybe not showing my sons enough love or happiness or fun… Etc for my 1 yr old, as I was in the depths of PPD/PPA I was stressing over his 1st birthday. I wanted it to be as wonderful as his older brother’s was. I was sad that I didn’t have the strength mentally to bake his special cake, to have all the appetizers, decorations, etc. It was different for #2; I was ill. I started feeling better a little bit before his 1st bday (thanks to a cocktail of meds ). I was able to do some special things… and forgive myself for the things I couldn’t handle. It was a beautiful day and I cherish it.”

Those of us who have experienced postpartum mood and anxiety disorders have been there in one form or another, I think. For me, my perfectionist personality went into overdrive after the birth of our first son which lead to a lengthy battle with postpartum depression and anxiety. Even after I “got better,” which is to say that I could function and was finally enjoying being a mother while still living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), I struggled with helicopter parenting and wanting to make sure nothing bad ever happened to him. That’s not sustainable, as I eventually learned.

When our youngest son was born, I figured since I knew about postpartum depression and anxiety, I wouldn’t get it. Like I had some kind of immunity or something. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Because I desperately didn’t want to be feeling the way I was, I overcompensated. No one outside the walls of our home knew I was struggling as badly as I was because I looked like Super Mom. I made homemade bubbles for my two year old. I fed the baby organic foods at six months old. They looked adorable all the time, and I even bothered to put on makeup and dress nicely when we went out. Inside my head though, I regularly struggled with thoughts of harming myself.

It all came to a crashing halt when my brain started to run away with intrusive thoughts. I finally decided that pushing myself that hard to make my sons’ lives “perfect” despite my depression and anxiety wasn’t going to do us any good in the long run. I went back to therapy and got things situated.

I still struggle with wanting to overcompensate for lost days, weeks, and months. They’re ten and eight now, so I’ve improved in lots of ways. I don’t helicopter as much as I used to, though it takes a lot of positive self-talk for me to stay on a bench at the playground and let them do their own things. I didn’t blame myself when my oldest got injured at one of his friend’s houses. I don’t buy lavish birthday presents or just because gifts. I’ve started affording myself the grace I want extended to me on the days I don’t do my “best” as a mom. I’ve learned to apologize when I break down, but more importantly, I’ve learned to accept their forgiveness when they offer it.

I’ve let go of the guilt of postpartum depression and anxiety, or most of it. It’s taken awhile, and continuous therapy for both those issues and others in my life, but I know how to deal with it when it pops up, too.

For those who are maybe just out of the woods of postpartum depression or even a few years removed, I can tell you that it does get better, that you do settle into your parenthood, that you do find a way to forgive yourself. You are already an amazing mother, and you will continue to be as you heal. When you finally believe that, you will be able to see things in a different light. Until then, we’re here for and with you, Warrior Moms.

Fighting in the Dark: My Battle with Postpartum Anxiety

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post on postpartum anxiety comes from a Climb Leader who said, when she sent it to me, that sharing her story is the only way to begin fighting stigma in earnest. We 100% agree. When we share our stories, we help others and break down the walls of stigma. Every single time. So thank you, Sarah Michals. We appreciate your bravery. You are a true Warrior Mom! -Jenna]

Fighting in the Dark: My Battle with Postpartum Anxiety -postpartumprogress.com

“Motherhood is hard. You’ll get used to it.” These were my doctor’s words when I went to her for help. I had told her that my daughter was thirteen months old, newly night-weaned, and finally sleeping through the night. I had told her that I had a loving, supportive husband. And I had told her that I hadn’t slept in days. And, yes, I had agreed. Motherhood is hard.

So there it was, I thought. The reason that I was sleeping no more than twelve hours a week was due to my inability to cope, to become the mom that I had always wanted to be. When the panic attacks started—while watching a particularly dull episode of Mad Men or reading an article about Britney Spears’s new body—I figured that it must have been from the stress of being a working mom and, again, from my failure to adjust. It had to have been my failure when, with the slightest trigger, I would fly into a rage at my ineptitude to the point where I would punch myself in the head until the flooding stopped. The beginning of my daughter’s second year had become my own personal Fight Club and, according to my doctor, I should have gotten used to it.

For me, as a first-time mom, I didn’t know enough to question her. The only models of motherhood I had ever seen were well-adjusted, functioning women. When I talked to these women, they would say, “I know what you mean. I’m tired, too.” I would nod, and then I would go home and cry beside my baby because I was not them. For whatever reason, I could not adapt. All I could do was crack a little bit more every day.

I already knew what it was like to be tired. My daughter never slept for more than three hours at a time for her entire first year, more often than not in forty-five minute intervals, but that had been nothing compared to this. This insomnia, this five hours asleep—72 hours awake—three hour asleep rotation, was breaking me. I taught my classes and watched college students tilt their heads at my paleness as I spoke without hearing myself. I rode the bus across town and missed my stop because the scenery all started to look the same. Time seemed to spin around itself without progress like the ceiling fan I would stare at from the bed that tormented me.

As I stumbled bleary-eyed into my fifteenth month of motherhood and my fourth month of true sleeplessness, I knew that I could no longer fight against myself; it was going to kill me, and allowing that to happen was not an option. Instead, I had to fight for myself.

The Internet can be a dull weapon, but when you’ve exhausted all other resources, at least it gives you something to wield. I Googled until my fingers hurt and, somehow, I discovered something that I hadn’t found in my million previous attempts: Postpartum Anxiety Disorder. I clicked, and so did my sense of what was happening to me. The symptoms of Postpartum Depression had never fit, but with PPA, I checked every single box.

I called my doctor once again, and I knew that she would volunteer nothing, so instead of waiting, I told her what she had to do, and I told her she had to do it immediately. She sighed and consented. That evening I picked up my new prescription, and a week later my panic attacks had disappeared. My self-loathing had dissipated.

And I was sleeping.

This story began in darkness—the darkness of night after lonely night when everyone else was sleeping; the emotional darkness that had filled up the space for love in my heart; the darkness of the silence that surrounds postpartum mental illness; the darkness of my ignorance and blind faith in a medical system that was never designed for me. But I fought to the surface when I finally knew where to strike.

So many moms live in this darkness every single day, and what I can say is that through all of this, my night vision has gotten better, and I can see you. Other women like us can see you. And there will come a day when you can see yourself again. She’s in there still. She’ll be back.

~Sarah Michals