Recovery from Intrusive Thoughts

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girl-925548_640After my recent pieces about intrusive thoughts here at Postpartum Progress (which you can find here and hereplease use caution in clicking over as these are both potentially triggering posts), I have received a number of emails from several women. While these are of course, private in nature, what I want to share about them is the theme echoing in all of them – when will I get better? Does this go away? What does recovery mean for us? While these exact words may not have been used, the questions still hang in the ether of the Internet, guarded by hearts fearful of the answer, whispered by the souls of women afloat in their worlds. We feel alone, lost, and as if we cannot discuss this with anyone else. But once we find someone who has been where we are, we are ripped open and everything comes spilling out as we seek answers and hope.

These questions about thoughts going away, recovery, and getting better are ones I struggle with mightily because there is no definitive answer for any of us to any of the questions which crop up as we move through Perinatal Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I am a very logic-minded person and I prefer things to be cut and dry. When they are not, I find myself frustrated and confused, hence, my attitude toward these questions. I do my best to answer them but I still find myself reaching to find the right words in order to strike a balance between hope and truth. It is a very, very fine line.

In the most basic sense, the following two sentences strike the simplest answers:

Yes. The thoughts fade.

No, they don’t ever completely go away.

But a longer response is below:

The thoughts fade into the background as you heal and grow stronger. What stays, and what is difficult for those of us who have OCD to differentiate, are typical parental fears – the nagging fear something might happen to your child when you’re not watching. THAT stays forever. It’s not intrusive, it’s a normal heightened awareness which comes with parenting. When you have survived Perinatal Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, however, it is a never-ending battle to keep these normal heightened awareness type thoughts from spiraling into intrusive thoughts. We constantly battle to keep them from growing into giant monsters, renewing the fight every single day.

So then, what does recovery from an episode of Perinatal Obsessive Compulsive Disorders look like? Here’s my take:

Recovery, for me, is a constant involvement in awareness of my feelings, reactions, and coping methods in regard to the ever changing world around me. It’s ensuring that in addition to my daily requirements, I’m taking care of myself as well.

Recovery is not a discharge notice from a hospital, nor is it the last pill swallowed at the end of a prescription. It’s not the final therapist visit nor is it uttering the words, “I’m okay.”

This is how the dictionary defines recovery:

Recovery Definition

What is recovery in the living world?

Recovery is life.

It’s ebbing and flowing with a tenacity learned in the depths of hell, a grip on enjoying all the little things and a determination to not go back to the dark depths. It’s knowing that even if I do go back, I have a road map tucked safely away which will lead me back out again. (see also: Netflix & chocolate)

Recovery is self-care, self-compassion, and self-respect.

It is knowing it is okay to not be okay. Recovery is navigating the ups and the downs. It’s getting to know yourself SO well that you recognize the difference between yourself and depression/mental illness. Recovery is knowing exactly how to soothe the ugly beast  when it rouses – how to rock it back to a deep slumber. It is about arming yourself with a cadre of weapons guaranteed to slay the succubus.

Recovery is acceptance.

It’s being okay with the tough days and providing a soft (guilt-free) place to land when they happen. It’s having a support system in place for the bleak days, one that will also be there for the good days. It’s understanding that sometimes, you are gonna feel angry about your mental health and that’s okay. It’s learning the range of healthy and unhealthy emotions. It’s knowing when you have hit your wall and need to lean on others for support.

Recovery is being imperfectly perfectly you.

According to Alexander Pope, “To err is human.” Perfection is a fallacy. Control, an illusion. They are impossibilities we set up in our minds, standards most of us will not reach. Do the best you can with what you have. There’s a special kind of joy (and peace) to be found when you let go of any expectations you, life, or anyone else may have forced upon you. When you are truly yourself, you shine. Be your own patronus.

Recovery is personal.

We cannot compare our journey to that of others. There are similarities, sure, but we each carry our own luggage and travel our own road. Our stories are as vastly different as we are from one another. Knowing someone else who has traveled a similar road helps. But it is absolutely important to remember that just because someone was at point X by a certain point on their Y timeline does not mean you will also be at point X at the same time. There are SO many variables to every story. It is impossible to compare so stop doing just that.

Recovery is…..

Your turn. What is recovery to you? Share below.


{photo credit: Girl, Sunset, Ocean, Waves via pixabay}

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grapes-690230_640Today, I did something for myself. I went to a salon and had my hair done. Not just a simple trim, wash, and go. Nope. I had a full hair color session complete with highlights. It was a huge deal for me to walk into somewhere completely new, trust someone I never met before with my hair, and not feel an ounce of anxiety over any of it.

As I sat down in the salon and waited for the stylist, Fight Song by Rachel Platten came on over the radio. I shared, in the conference Alumni group, that it was a sign I was precisely where I needed to be at that moment. I sighed, sank into the chair, and let my mind wander away until it was time for me to move over into the chair. Once I was seated in front of the mirror and saw my reflection, a funny thing happened. It was the first time, while at a salon, that I didn’t hate my reflection. I finally, finally looked like ME.

Back when I was experiencing Postpartum OCD, there is no way I would have done something like I did today. Nope. For me, back then, pushing my boundaries was as big as managing a trip to the grocery store with an infant strapped to my chest or sometimes, just making it through the day without a panic or rage attack. My world was so small then. So dark. So scary. So…hopeless.

But now?

It’s bright.

It’s filled with self-care.

It’s filled with warm people who know where I have been because they have been there as well. They get me.

It’s a lovely place to be, to be honest.

For that, I am grateful. But not in the way you would think.

In college, one of my favourite professors would often babble on about how one had to taste the sour grapes life offered in order to fully appreciate the sweet ones.

Postpartum OCD (and friends depression, PTSD, and antenatal depression) was my big ole’ bunch of stinking sour grapes.

This life now? The happy full one filled with amazing strong women, genuine happiness, personal strength, and boundaries larger than I ever thought I would see? My sweet, sweet, sweet grape.

If you’re in the midst of a bunch of sour grapes right now? Know that your sweet grapes are waiting for you. They are.

{photo credit: pixabay Grapes, bunch, fruit, person holding}

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Guest Post: Doing It All Again

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I had the pleasure of meeting Graeme in Boston at the first ever Warrior Mom™ Conference this past July. She’s simply fabulous and her hugs are amazing. She’s also wholly dedicated to mamas with Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. I’m glad she’s sharing this post today. I can almost picture her exhaling in her oasis. Read on…maybe you’ll be able to picture it too.

veranda-349696_640At the back of our little house is a screened in porch. We’ve never really used it. It’s where our family and friends who smoke go to smoke. It’s where we keep the grill that cannot sit outside even though it has a cover on it. It’s where most of my gardening projects go to die.

Or it was.

A while ago I found an online coupon for pressure washing and when the gentleman came to wash the house I shamelessly used my super pregnant belly to get him to clean out the porch as well.

Then I bought paint. And hanging plants. And an Adirondack chair and a rocking chair. And a rug. Eventually there will be a fan, a space heater, and some art out there as well. I’m doing all of this because I’m pregnant and I’ve been here before.

When my son was born I couldn’t leave the house without having panic attacks for a few months.  I wasn’t anxious or scared about any particular thing. There was no specific fear I could counter – I just could not leave the house and I definitely could not leave the house alone.  He loved being outside though. Just opening the door and standing on the front step could calm him.  It made me feel like crawling out of my skin.

My postpartum depression was filled with rage and angst. There was no place in the house that felt like it was mine. There was no place that I fit.  I was itchy and uncomfortable and hyper-sensitized all the time.  I couldn’t sleep if there was clutter, or too many people, or things out of place. So I didn’t sleep. Then the four- month sleep regression hit and NONE of us could sleep and things got really bad really quick.

Now it is a little over two years later. I’m much better.  My little family is much better.  My son kisses my belly every day before I leave him at daycare and says, “Bye Bebe! Bye Mama!” There is no fear in Adam’s eyes when he comes home from work. When my daughter isn’t trying to score a goal on my ribs, I can actually sleep.

I’d like to keep it that way.  I’ve been back on my medication for about two months now.  I reach out to other mamas who are heading into ‘round two’. My bookshelf is full of recommendations from my friends and doctors. I’ll start seeing a therapist next month to get even more ready.  My diet and exercise are much better and I have a plan mapped out of what to do and who to call if I start to spiral after this baby arrives.

Soon, very soon, I will also have an oasis. I will have a way to be outside without having to be outside. I will have a place that is mine, a place where I fit and where I can feel safe and calm.  In my daydreams I can feed my daughter there while my son plays around us.  If the nightmares come instead, I will have a haven, an oasis.  It is one of many reasons that I can face the fears with strength and hope.

My story didn’t end with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. We’re still in the early chapters yet.


20150711_181851-1Graeme Seabrook is a mother of one, soon to be mother of two, blogger, businesswoman, nail polish fanatic, and survivor of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. You can find her at her blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter as Honestly Mama G.



{photo source: pixabay}

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Intrusive Thoughts: A Conversation

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emergency-stop-buttonYesterday, I wrote “Let’s Talk About Intrusive Thoughts.” Today? I’ve intertwined stories from moms (including myself) who have all experienced intrusive thoughts in one form or another during their postpartum experience. For one mom, she didn’t experience them until her son was two and she was off medication, something that made the experience even more difficult.

Again, as with yesterday’s post, if you are in a fragile state, please skip reading, particularly if you find that you are easily influenced by reading the experiences of others. We don’t hold anything back.

I also want to remind our readers that every mother’s experience and subsequent reaction/seeking of help is different; molded to her own life and journey. These mothers did the best they could with what they had available to them at the time – the important thing, though, is that each one of them fought like hell the best way they could to get free of these horrible thoughts holding them captive.

Today’s video is a fun one. Tiny Hamsters Tiny Date. Hamsters. On a DATE. AWWWWW.





coffee-791201_640Picture it, 2015, a small coffee shop on Main Street. A group of women sitting, sipping various hot beverages, chatting among themselves. No one thinks anything of it, until they get close enough to hear their conversation.

“I wanted to smother my daughters on the day my brain nearly broke. The thought played over and over in my head. Before THE day, I had obsessive thoughts about knives. I couldn’t use them. I cleaned obsessively. Scrubbed my hands. I exclusively pumped for my second daughter, which only fed my cleaning obsession. The stress. The meds. They broke me. I just couldn’t do it anymore. Before the thought grew feet, I curled up in the fetal position in bed, afraid that if I got up, I wouldn’t be able to control my actions. I still remember the way the wind rustled through the giant oak outside the window and the squirrels scurrying along the massive limbs. I had never been so scared in my entire life.” Even though she shared her experience this often, her voice still broke as the memories washed over her.

“I wanted to drive my car into oncoming traffic while my kids were in the car. And don’t get me started about the panic attacks I would have while driving,” one of them said.

The rest nodded slowly, their faces somber yet understanding.

“I wanted to drive off overpasses or bridges. I would think, what if I just let go of the steering wheel? I also thought about not waking up in the morning. Something I later found out was what they call passive suicidal idealizations. I didn’t really want to hurt or kill myself, I just didn’t want to wake up. Oh, and while pregnant with my second? I wanted to throw myself down the stairs.”

As the women nodded, one of them clenched her cup a little tighter, then started to speak, softly.

“I…I…..I bounced back and forth between harm and sexual. Mostly knives and pillows were the focus of the harm ones. But really anything I saw turned into a weapon in my mind that could hurt my son. Then, an incident happened at our church where a mother and her husband were assaulting her daughter. My mind latched right on to it as if it were the edge of a cliff and if I let go, I’d fall. I thought she was “normal”…and I thought I was “normal.” If she could do it, then what was to stop me from doing it? This thought swallowed me whole, it was always there, clinging to me: did I wipe too much…was I looking at “it” …. did I want to do something? Mostly with my child but during the worst of it, even when we were in public…which I started to avoid because I was convinced something in my mind flipped and I WAS my thoughts. It was around his first birthday when the other ones popped up. The news or shows I watched determined my obsessive thoughts for the day. During the worst of it, I would say if I had one every 30 was a GREAT day as they were always one after another. …no breaks.”

The others in the group again nodded in solidarity. There wasn’t much they hadn’t heard by this point.

“I didn’t realize I had a problem when my son was an infant. I just couldn’t stop picturing the real dangerous chemicals that do actually “off gas.” At some point, I crossed from knowing that this was an environmental hazard to picturing or imagining the chemicals on our skin, in our hair, in the air we were breathing. They eventually had colors. Each type had a different color. The worst was plastic being heated…” her voice trailed off. This realization has been tough for her.

“I had visions of stabbing my precious new baby over and over.  I couldn’t stop them.  I couldn’t conjure up a happy thought.  I couldn’t distract myself.  I couldn’t relax.  I sure as hell couldn’t zone out watching the Food Channel with knives being brandished left and right.  It was like being stuck in rough surf close to the beach where you just can’t seem to make headway on land before the next wave crashes over you.  I was in a black hole of terror that started a few days after my beloved son was born.  My soul draining each moment as the horror show played over and over in my head.  What kind of a mother would ever think such a thing?”

Finally, the last woman in the group spoke, “My story doesn’t start when my son was an infant. Two years later, and off medication, my anxiety came back, fiercely. I was a very angry person. Was off for three months. Never felt quite like myself. Then we went on vacation. I don’t know if it was the stress of the trip or my brain just not being well, but my anxiety came back just as it was when the baby was born. But worse…I thought I had moved past it all. I was very angry. Couldn’t look at my child. I even had a fleeting intrusive thought of pushing him in front of a moving car while we went for an evening walk. And whenever my son wanted to wrestle around, as boys do, I had urges to actually cause him harm. Thoughts would pop up of pushing him down or being really rough with him.”

Customers in the coffee shop came and went, catching fragments of the conversation as they did so, each of them slightly perplexed at the depth and magnitude of the topic contrasted with the seemingly nonchalant way these women were discussing these dark thoughts in public. But not one of them stopped to comment or join in. There were a few raised eyebrows and strange looks as the snippets delved into their space, but nothing beyond that.

The women continued, sipping coffee and tea as the sun peered through the window of the quiet coffee shop, discussing how they each managed to move past these thoughts intruding on their lives.

“I ended up in the ER, then in a psychiatric ward. My med was changed. I began practicing self-care. I threw myself into advocacy and growing my own support group. I needed to know that my crazy wasn’t going to be permanent, that others had survived. Eventually, I ended up on meds and in therapy. I’m still on meds, for OCD & anxiety, and I am okay with that. I remember hating the pills. But now? They’re part of me and just the way things are. I’m a much stronger woman and mother because of what I have been through. And my self-care skills rock.”

“I would shake my head to banish these thoughts of driving into oncoming traffic from my mind. Eventually, I realized I am not my thoughts. They didn’t hold any power over me. I listened to music, books on tape, called friends and family, used deep breathing techniques from yoga. I pictured these horrible thoughts as bubbles just floating away. The thoughts still crop up from time to time when I am sleep deprived or very stressed. Medication and therapy were key to helping me develop the tools I needed. I needed to change that negative loop in my head and realize that my thoughts were just thoughts.“ She sipped her coffee, legs crossed as she glanced around the cozy shop.

“Medication helped immensely. Therapy helped me find strategies to cope with and shut down the thoughts. When my anxiety is high these days, I still struggle with Intrusive rage-filled thoughts. But I am better armed to recognize them and cope,” she said, firmly.

“I constantly asked my husband if he thought I would xyz. I was told that I had to stop confessing so the thoughts would become less important to me. That was SO hard, because I thought if I just “sat” with them in my mind, it meant I was ok with the thoughts. But eventually, I saw that it did work. It was a hard battle to be ok with them NOT bothering me because I was always told crazy people don’t know they’re crazy…the thoughts don’t bother them. When they started to bother me less, I worried!!! I still have them, but now I can brush them off. If I let myself slip and start confessing, it’s like a drug. It stops the anxiety for just a little bit. It feels so good you want to continue! I have to also watch what I read or see on tv because I find myself comparing: if they did that, maybe I would too. I even remember comparing myself to all those mass shooters. I searched for news stories of Andrea Yates, seeking any tiny trait similar between those folks and me. Now, I always try to bring up intrusive thoughts with my moms. Intrusive thoughts are SO not talked about and really should be.”

“My thoughts would get softer, like music, if I could avoid them. I tried to shop my way out of it, too. Organic cloth diapers with wool covers hand made by other moms. Glass and stainless steel. Only one brand of organic formula. Organic foods for me and the baby. New shower curtain, fabric and then a phthalate-free liner. I cleaned with vinegar or baking soda. Washing clothes. I did so much laundry. I knew all the ingredients in my laundry detergent. I could handle even pajamas with flame retardant chemicals if I just washed them enough….which doesn’t actually do much, but it was not as logical a compulsion as it seemed to be. I also sought out other moms who worried about the same things, or did the same things, so that I could talk about cleaning with essential oils or lanolizing wool without sounding “crazy.” I’m just now starting to talk about what all of this really was. It explains so much about my many behaviours.”

“I slowly got better with therapy and medication. The intrusive thoughts ebbed and finally faded.  Only there was still this huge gaping hole in my heart. I swear you could see all the way to infinity and back that hole was so big. I was sure I would never really be happy again or be joyful as mother because this terrible experience haunted me. I put on brave face. I cared for and played with my baby. I worked hard at my job. I prayed, tried to meditate, did yoga, spent time with dear family and friends, and watched chick flicks. I did all my happy things. Only it was still there—that void of fear and sadness over this experience. One day I found a blog full of other mothers’ stories of surviving postpartum mood disorders.  The founder put it out there in a matter-of-fact way about how postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD and psychosis are simply treatable diseases. And she got other women to share their stories on her blog.  Reading these stories let me know I wasn’t alone. It was huge. Apparently, a lot of us moms obsess over just one terrible image. Our brains all go haywire in a similar way!”

Every mother there nodded in agreement, knowing exactly how it felt to be the owner of a brain gone horribly haywire.

“I would have to stop playtime, breathe and regroup my thoughts. Knowing I didn’t WANT to cause him harm, and wouldn’t, but was scared of what might happen if I continued. I’ve come to terms with so much the past six months. The Climb and all my warrior moms have really helped a lot this year. I am a proudly medicated mommy! Things are much better these days. Much better.”

The moms chatted for awhile longer, about more acceptable things, such as childhood milestones, what kind of wines they preferred, and what their weekend plans were for the upcoming holiday. As the conversation navigated in this direction, the reaction of the customers in the coffee shop as they passed by them changed. They smiled, offered suggestions about local events for the upcoming holiday, and one older woman even complimented one of the mothers on her jewelry.

As the mothers stood to leave, each of them grabbing their purses, making sure they had their phones and their keys, they hugged, a little tighter than they would normally, because they had bonded in a way mothers who haven’t been in this type of hell can’t.

They went their separate ways, then, their hearts and minds forever entwined as fierce survivors and warriors.


PS. If today’s post has you feeling fragile, please find me on Twitter @unxpctdblessing or email me at mypostpartumvoice(@) I will be happy to talk with you about whatever it is you’re feeling.


{photo source, pixabay}

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