The truth behind intrusive thoughts – Lara’s Story
Posted by Nicole Highet on 6th March 2022
ABC journalist Lara Hyams experienced postnatal depression and intrusive thoughts after the birth of her first baby. Now, she’s sharing her story as part of COPE’s The Truth campaign.
I will never forget my experience of having a baby. All those “positive” moments I was supposed to experience, never came. The overwhelming sense of joy, the feelings of gratitude and the moments of unbridled connection were nothing but scenes I had seen in some television drama or in a post made on social media. My experiences felt like an abyss of anguish; indescribable pain that consumed my mind nearly every waking moment. Not only was the intensity of sadness and anxiety high, but the duration of these feelings seemed to go on forever too. I couldn’t reassure myself these moments would end, because I wasn’t confident they ever would.
I would lament every day. Outside my window, I could hear the bustle of the outside world – people on the phone talking to friends, stressing about work deadlines, wondering if they would make the next train. I yearned for that stress, anything to take away from my sadness. I would have the most grim thoughts – things that I never imagined I would. These thoughts became constant, overwhelming and awful. They felt so out of character that this unfamiliarity made me even more anxious, and left me in a dark world of fear. My only reprieve was in the early hours of the morning. The darkness and stillness outside, making my internal world feel like it could co-exist.
I would have the most grim thoughts – things that I never imagined I would. These thoughts became constant, overwhelming and awful.
There was no expectation, no one was celebrating success, and no reminder that time was seemingly passing me by. The only thing that kept me going was the online world, but I researched, not surfed.
I would invest hour after hour digging through journals and medical articles trying to find out why this was happening. Why did this happen to me? After reading several papers from Harvard, the British Journal of General Practice and alike, I realised what I experienced wasn’t typical, but it was common. Postnatal depression, postnatal anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder were all clinical names given to my day to day. I read statistic after statistic that showed those with birth trauma, those who had experienced severe stressful life events in the past, those with pre-existing health conditions, those with elevated hormone levels were among the types of people to experience what I was experiencing.
I began to seek help, speak to friends and family and suddenly I began to experience a strange sense of normalisation. There were clearly defined reasons, including physiological, why this was happening to me. Once I began to accept my fate, it was almost as if those thoughts and feelings began to lose their power. The claws of anguish that held me up against the wall began to slowly release its grip.
Once I began to accept my fate, it was almost as if those thoughts and feelings began to lose their power. The claws of anguish that held me up against the wall began to slowly release its grip.
I realised negative thoughts did not mean negative actions and I didn’t have to be triggered by my own mind. I pictured my thoughts, my anguish, and my sadness as some kind of interloper, like a lonely drunk at the bar with nothing better to do. I began to approach all of that negative mental energy with indifference as if almost to say ‘Oh yeah, here we go, you again, close the door on your way out.’ After that, it felt like my suffering didn’t want to be around me any more. Over time, that abyss of anguish that felt like it had infinite form, changed to become a tangible dark tunnel – except this time it had a light at the end of it.
And day after day, I just took a step towards it. Small, measured and calculated steps. Each milestone I reached provided a step closer to that light. And once I got to the end of that tunnel, I realised there was a different world outside. Sometimes that world can seem dark too, but just realise that’s just the cycle of night and after each night is a brand new day.
The facts about intrusive thoughts
Dr Nicole Highet
Intrusive thoughts, otherwise known as “scary thoughts”, are unwanted negative thoughts “what if I burn the baby in the bath?”and images (picturing the baby falling off the bed).
They can pop into our head, interrupting other thoughts or activities and are anxiety-driven. They’re hard to dismiss and often come back again and again.
Intrusive thoughts are more common when we’re stressed – and can lead to great shame. This is because they’re often so different to how we might actually think or feel.
It’s important to know that experiencing intrusive thoughts after having a baby is common. Sometimes it’s a sign of depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Research has shown that in the postnatal period, thoughts are often related to harm coming to your baby. Sometimes they may be around something bad accidentally happening to your baby, but they can also be thoughts of hurting your baby on purpose – even if you find this highly distressing.
More information about intrusive thoughts and how these relate to OCD, visit the COPE website.