You're As Strong as Your Very Next Thought
… not the crazy one that just left. You know what I’m talking about: sitting in a pew listening to an unmarried, financially secure man with no children preach about the evils of money, tardiness, sex, and teen angst. That’s when some of the crazy thoughts pop into my mind. One Sunday, I imagined shooting myself in the head.
The image was Daffy Duck cartoon-clear down to the stained glass reflecting on the gun's barrel. It played out like the gruesome cartoons I watched in the 60's and 70's.
Would I act on it? No.
In fact, my next intrusive thought was about the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich I was going to make as soon as I got home. My mouth watered and when the sermon ended with a joyous “Amen”, I was drawn back to my pew, back to the here-and-now.
I don’t freak about the bizarre thoughts flitting around in my mind anymore. I use to and that’s when I got into serious trouble. I've learned not to let the thoughts get in the way of my living and loving. If you’re ashamed, obsessed, or motivated to act on the intrusive thoughts, talk to your family physician. That's where I first found help to get them under control.
Until you make that call, here are a few links to help you figure out what's going on:
Still with me? Great! Here's what I've learned about intrusive thoughts:
That’s right! People who tell you they’ve never thought about dropping a baby, pushing someone onto tracks, killing a spouse (one of my doozies), driving a car off a cliff, or any other Stephen King plot lines are lying.
Yep. Tell them to get off their high horse and let you in on their worse crazy thought. Share yours first – and then laugh. They’ll either run away from you in fear, or laugh and then share their story.
Intrusive thoughts take flight in our creative, multi-tasking, emotional brains. They’re the stuff of great novels and horror movies! Creative geniuses know how to channel their thoughts and ride them all the way to the bank. I would love to have one hour in Stephen King’s mind. I wish I could've sat close enough to Alfred Hitchcock to hear his train of thought!
Intrusive Thoughts: Normal or Not? by Stacey Colino gives an explanation on what intrusive thoughts look like and what to do if they escalate. One of my favorite quotes in her article is from Erica McCurdy:
"We all have these crazy, fleeting thoughts, and they only become a problem when we feel motivated to act on them."
Ladies Take Note: Perinatal and Postpartum Hormones have a Dark Side
Though increased hormones are needed to create, nurture, and feed your baby, they may also increase anxiety... and the anxious mind is ripe for intrusive thoughts. Postpartum depression has been all over the media in recent years but perinatal/postpartum anxiety is often overlooked. One probable reason is that the anxious tend to hide their troubles. They fear being judged, even by their doctors, so they suffer silently.
Johanna Kaplan Ph.D and Renee Deboard Lucas Ph.D from the Center for Anxiety and Behavior Change presented on Postpartum Anxiety at the 2016 Anxiety Conference. Studies show up to 39% of pregnant women and 16% postpartum women are diagnosed with anxiety. They note that numbers are probably higher, but anxious pregnant and new mothers aren’t just afraid of being judged, they’re afraid a doctor will prescribe medicine. They fear medication and therefore don’t speak up.
There is an alternative. Ask your doctor for cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Doctors Kaplan and Deboar-Lucas are quick to point out that CBT is the Gold Standard of care to help new moms feel confident and relaxed.
Your first step in self-care is that easy.
Why Should You Tell Your Doctor?
We all deserve a rich life without crippling fear and self-doubt. Speak up if you have any questions because intrusive thoughts have a negative impact on your life if:
racing thoughts keep you up at night. Either they won’t let you fall asleep or they wake you in middle of the night and won’t let you fall back to sleep. It’s unhealthy to get less than 6 hours of sleep.
they keep you from relaxing. You feel like a caged animal and have to be constantly moving, cleaning, and organizing. This hyper-vigilance is exhausting: Did I lay the baby on her back? Did I pack enough diapers? Is that siren because my husband was in a car accident? Is the oven still on? Hyper-vigilance keeps you from enjoying your family, a good book, a movie, or a night out with your husband. It’s unhealthy to have your mind on high alert all day long.
they grow into horrifying possibilities that you obsess over. We all have roaming thoughts but they should not intensify to the point you can't stop thinking about them. It’s unhealthy to obsess over intrusive thoughts.
they make you doubt your instincts and motivations. Are you actually afraid to be alone with your children, your company’s pay roll account, or an elderly family member or friend? Do you fear hurting them or stealing from them? It’s unhealthy to question your self-control.
they make you physically sick. Do you have dizziness, aches and pains, or full-blown panic attacks? Physical ailments are an indication that something is either physically or mentally wrong… both of which need a doctor’s care.
you’re embarrassed to talk about what you’re thinking so you lie. Anxiety keeps people from speaking up. They’re embarrassed and don’t want anyone to know what they’re thinking even though intrusive thoughts are part of the human mind. It’s unhealthy not to be honest with your doctor.
you feel motivated to act on them. Anything destructive or harmful is wrong. If you're at this point you need help. Be courageous and make the call to tell someone.
I Told My Doctor I Was Thinking of Hurting My Daughter (and he didn’t yell at me, prescribe medicine, take my baby away, or lock me up)
When my son was two years old and my daughter was just three months, I had the thought of throwing her against the wall to get her to stop crying. It was so vivid I stopped pacing in the living room and sat down on the couch to catch my breath.
She screamed louder and my son climbed on top of her to give me a hug. I was frustrated that they were needy and vulnerable. Afraid I’d end up hurting them, I decided to call the pediatrician.
I put my daughter in the coach by the front door and walked into the kitchen to make the call. I made myself stay in the kitchen even though she screamed in her coach. I didn’t dare go near her and made the call.
When he identified himself as Dr Pat, I sobbed, “Thank God!
She won’t stop crying – it’s been hours and I’m afraid I’m going to throw her against the wall to make her stop. Oh my God, is something wrong with me?”
The Voice of Reason
“Gerri, I hear her but she sounds far away. Is she in another room, in her crib?” Just hearing his voice helped me calm down.
“Yes. In a coach. I’m afraid to go near her.”
“Ok. That’s fine. As long as she’s safe she can cry. I need to ask you a few questions. OK? Can you do that? Can you stay calm for a little bit so I can help you?”
He asked questions about her bowel movements, when she ate, wet diapers, fevers, rashes, sores, and if her eyes were wet.
After he had all the information he said, “I’m going to tell you, Gerri, we like when moms call. You’re doing the right thing by reaching out for help. We can’t help moms unless they call.”
I told him I didn't believe other moms thought of doing horrible things to their babies.
“More than you realize. Everybody has odd passing thoughts. Husbands and doctors, too.”
Instead of belittling me, he told me there’s no need to be ashamed of my thoughts.
“Is your husband coming home any time soon?”
“No, he’s studying and I can’t get a hold of him.”
“How about a neighbor? Is there someone you can take your daughter to while you spend some time with your two year old? Maybe for an hour while you give him a bath and read him a story?”
She was still screaming and the noise bounced around in my head. I realized getting her out of the house for a bit would help, “Yeah, I’ll call around.”
“Good! Tell them she’ll probably just cry but not to worry about it. Tell them to just hold her and rock her. Hopefully she’ll fall asleep by the time you go back to pick her up.”
He then gave me a follow up plan to call him if she didn’t stop after I got her back home.
Have A Plan
Dr. Pat gave me a plan and all I needed to do was follow it. A solid plan is always a good idea because it offers direction. I couldn’t think of the plan on my own because I was so tired and frustrated. I needed someone to help me think it through.
My daughter was still screaming an hour later when I picked her up from the neighbor, but I felt in control. With wide eyes my neighbor handed her back, “Oh my God, Gerri, she never stopped. She just screamed and screamed. What are you going to do?”
I could barely hear her over my daughter’s cries, “if I can’t get her to stop, I’ll call the doctor again.”
I held the baby close and felt her frustration. Her arms and legs were stiff as she screamed, her cries inconsolable. I took her home and instead of throwing her, I swaddled her like a newborn, held her cheek close to my lips, and whispered over and over, “It’s ok, mommy’s here, I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Within twenty minutes she was asleep. I watched her take a heavy sigh into deeper sleep and then saw a twitch in the corner of her mouth - a smile.
We’re not judged for our thoughts. Judges don’t condemn us for thinking about something destructive or evil. I don’t think God, The Universe, Karma, or whatever Higher Force reads your inner most thoughts takes them seriously either. If they did, humanity would have been wiped out generations ago.
So, acknowledge the thought and move on. Moving from the bizarre to the mundane makes you normal. And if you're lucky enough to harness them into a novel or screen play before you let them go - you'll become rich and famous.
We’re judged for our actions. So If you’re motivated to act on harmful intrusive thoughts or if they’re interfering with your everyday life, call for help. Be strong, brave, and humble enough to ask for help.
Otherwise, acknowledge them and then move onto something happy, funny, or delicious - like your next bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich.