Intrusive thoughts during the perinatal period

Some people when they hear the words intrusive thoughts automatically assume that the person experiencing said thoughts is hearing voices. Some people think OCD and others believe intrusive thoughts to be a sign that a person is bad and will act on their thoughts.

With the exception of possible OCD, none of the above tend to be true.

So what are intrusive thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted and or distressing thoughts that are often reoccurring. They are likely to leave the thinker very upset, distressed, disgusted, confused and ashamed.

It is thought that 1 in 5 women and mothers will suffer perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and 57% of those will have experienced intrusive thoughts. Mental health professionals are not entirely sure why more women in the perinatal period experience intrusive thoughts, but it’s believed to be related to a variety of hormonal, environmental, and emotional factors. That said it’s a common symptom of PMADS. Typically, the thoughts that occur in the PP (perinatal period) are fears that surround our children, ‘What if I harm the baby?’ But the thoughts don’t always stop at physical harm and can relate to sexual fears too.

To be clear before you read on, suffering from intrusive thoughts is NOT a reflection on a person’s character, desires or beliefs. The thoughts themselves go against all of our beliefs and natural instincts as mothers and do not align with our values hence the very word for them being ‘intrusive.’ We don’t want these thoughts, we can’t bear them and it’s the very reason we are left feeling as though they are ruining our life.

During pregnancy with my second child I became overwhelmed with intrusive thoughts, some of them too weird and harrowing for me to share —though in some ways I wish I felt I could share them all, then maybe they wouldn’t consume my brain— It got so bad that at just shy of 38 weeks I was hospitalised and my labour was induced, whilst I was medicated for my mental health.

After my son was born and I was again assessed by a psychiatrist, she told me thoughts that are harmful or as mentioned sexual in nature are the most common type of intrusive thoughts during the perinatal period. I asked her why this was, and she gave me a fantastic analogy.

You have this tiny human to care for. It’s your most important job, above any other. The thoughts that you are having are in direct conflict with your own anxieties about what could happen to your child. The thoughts are the very things you want less than anything in the world to happen.

But how do you know I’m not just a psychopath? I asked.

‘Because psychopaths don’t phone me up hysterical about upsetting thoughts, Steph. That’s how I know you pose absolutely no risk to your children.’

At this stage I felt so out of my mind I didn’t know if I posed a risk to my children. I felt like I couldn’t think straight. But Dr Pysch was adamant about this, and though it didn’t ease the thoughts initially it helped me to understand I wasn’t alone and other women and new mothers went through this too. She then went on to say (I feel like this is a big one…) the only person you pose a risk to, is yourself with your judgement about the thoughts.

I found that particular line about judgement really interesting because I realised quite quickly that it WAS the judgement that was keeping me in a cycle of constant fight or flight.

I was overthinking every single thought and if I dared speak out about my thoughts, rather than feel better all I did was worry about other people’s judgement instead. That was until I met the most wonderful community psychiatric nurse. For the purpose of this blog I’m going to refer to him as Neo (He will appreciate the reference.) Neo has changed the way I think about intrusive thoughts, but more importantly the way I feel toward opening up about them.

Maternal OCD is a mental illness that affects women in the perinatal period and includes intrusive and obsessive thoughts followed by compulsions completed in order to relieve some of the discomfort from the thought. Ironically for me, my most intrusive thoughts were about convincing myself I had, or was going to develop severe mental illness (the irony isn’t lost on me) I first believed I was developing psychosis and felt disassociated often, then I believed I was suffering from severe OCD despite not having any compulsions.

When I discussed this with Neo he went through a protocol of having me fill out an OCD assessment and we discovered that yes I have obsessive and at times disturbing thoughts, but I don’t have the compulsions in the same way a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder might. So why did I feel as though talking about my fears meant I was constantly reassurance seeking?

The truth was there may have been an element to seeking reassurance, but for the most part I was doing what I needed to do, engaging in therapy and discussing my fears.

Once I finally opened up and said aloud that one of my biggest fears was I didn’t want to be alone with my baby because I was terrified I would have a psychotic break and murder him whilst he slept, I was not only able to then unpack this thought and see it with clarity for what it was, just a thought. But I also learned that I’m not alone, not even a little bit.

The mind plays tricks on all of us occasionally and thoughts are the perfect segue into us believing we are not good people and therefore convincing us we’re unworthy of the love we so desperately NEED to give ourselves particularly in the early stages postpartum.

If we all talked about our deepest darkest thoughts we might be less bothered by them, but there is so much assumption and stigma attached to thoughts. People believe that if you think something you must feel it. With intrusive thoughts it’s the exact opposite.

The vulnerability of a woman who has just been through childbirth is like no other time in her life, the fear that we feel is immense. I know I personally believed if I told the truth about my thoughts immediately postpartum that my children would be taken away and I would have been sectioned.

You don’t have to open up about every thought in order to dismantle their hold on you though, you can put in to practise strategies and use them for all thoughts that cause you distress.

Neo recommended a book for me to read during the early stages of recovery and it’s called The Happiness Trap and is written by Australian doctor, Russ Harris.

In the pages of the happiness trap Harris provides tools to defuse yourself from negative thoughts and the book itself centres very much on acceptance. It took me a while to come round to the idea that I would ever accept distressing thoughts, but the idea is not to engage with them, just to accept them for what they are, random mental events and words. I won’t say I’m cured, because that would be a lie, but I’m working towards how to better manage intrusive thoughts and not allow them to take over my life.

Dr Russ Harris The Happiness Trap

If you’re suffering from intrusive thoughts in the perinatal period I would urge you to talk to your doctor. I know it’s hard, you may be feeling judged and terrified, but I promise you the road to recovery starts when you learn that you are not alone with these thoughts.

Other organisations that can provide help during the perinatal period are:

Included at the bottom of this page is a link to ‘Buy Me A Coffee’ (or book, in my case) please don’t be put off by this! 
Currently, Divamum makes no money, and whilst I love writing, in order to keep growing I have decided to accept donations.
Just to clarify you are in no way obligated to make a donation and at no point will this become mandatory, it’s just there as an optional extra for anyone who would like to and all information is available via the link.

https://www.buymeacoffee.com/Divamumsteph

Diva Reads #4

Diva reads April

So I’ve been busy this month. Busy doing a lot of reading and not much else, but that’s okay, because it means I get to share my findings with you guys.

I stumbled upon this first author mentioned by accident, and the first book of hers I read was so fantastically tragic and twisty that it made me download a second book, immediately after I’d read the last page of the first.

Lucinda Berry

When She Returned – This book set in modern America has an undercurrent of betrayal throughout, building to a crescendo at the end. It’s so good it had me flicking pages faster than I could blink in a desperate bid to get to the end.

It tells a story of a modern marriage and a completely opposing cult lifestyle that are world apart but intricately linked. There’s no happy ending either, which is a surprising relief because sometimes I get to the end of the book and am met with disappointment at its highly unbelievable ending, but this just adds an additional twist making the turning of that very last page all the more satisfying.

Missing Parts – Another exceptionally twisty read. I’ll admit it didn’t surprise me quite as much as the first but the story was quite different.

This one, about a mum who struggled to bond with her daughter who was then diagnosed as critically ill. It left a bad taste in my mouth, but equally demanded I put myself in the protagonist’s shoes. Full of betrayal and tragedy, this book will keep you on your toes until the very last page.

CL Taylor

Strangers – Cally Taylor is one of my all time favourite writers, I read all 7 of her books in a seriously short space of time and she never disappoints. Strangers is set in my home town of Bristol and that only adds to the relatability for me.

There are three main protagonists in the story, I probably related to Alice the most but each had both endearing qualities as well as misgivings, making them believable. It also wraps up well and for a stand alone book I feel that’s important. I don’t think you’ll ever be disappointed as a thriller fan with a C.L Taylor book and this one is no different.

Belinda Bauer

Black Lands – This was pretty dark. It had a classical murder mystery vibe, set up on Exmoor in typical Moors Murder vibes. The difference being this wasn’t your typical whodunnit. In fact it wasn’t a whodunnit at all. Another thing to set this book aside from your average crime thrillers is, the protagonist is a child. It’s very well written and captivates you from the first page. However the actual storyline was a bit over the top tragic and not much excitement, in my opinion.

Rubber Necker – Another Belinda Bauer thriller. She was recommended to me by author C.L Taylor and there’s absolutely no denying she has a talent for writing unusually dark and atypical thrillers. Completely different from backlands Rubber Necker tells the story of a young man with Aspergers who stumbles upon a conspiracy that has tragic consequences.

Tayari Jones

An American Marriage- I cant say too much to give this story away as it’s House 21’s May book club edition. What I will say though, is it really opens your eyes to a poor judicial system, overbearing pride and wavering love. It’s well written informative fiction with several protagonists each with their own endearing and flawed characters.

All of these books were read on Kindle and can be downloaded from your amazon kindle store.

Don’t forget to let me know what you think by emailing me here divamumsteph@hotmail.com

Diva reads #3

So it’s been a while since I’ve written a book review. That’s not to say I haven’t been reading though, because I most definitely have! I’m actually on my 14th book this year already, that’s averaging me at 6 books a month! 

I recently had a weekend in bed unwell. If you read my blogs you’ll know I suffer with a chronic illness and reading can really be a salvation for me as it’s about all I can manage when I’m experiencing a flare up. That, and a little writing where possible. I’m a thriller fan in every sense of the word when it comes to genres. I want to read books that force me to turn pages even when I know I need to sleep! Ones that provoke questions and leave chapters on cliffhangers. It’s very rare for me to veer away from the thriller genre, but whilst I was feeling under par I needed something a little lighter to read, lighter, but just as interesting. I stumbled upon Dawn O’Porter AKA @hotpatooties and what a wonderful writer she is!

I read The Cows in a day, it was so relatable and intriguing, in parts, laugh out loud funny. A true depiction of girl power, resilience and friendship. The Protagonists are exceptionally well portrayed. Tara is a single mum with a sexual appetite and a strong woman stance, who inadvertently becomes tabloid news in the most excruciatingly embarrassing way. Even Stella who is for all intents and purposes a bit unhinged, is relatable in her struggles and it’s a real eye opener turning pages to grief and mental health. It warmed my heart and made me feel like I could take on the world. I loved it so much as soon as it ended I downloaded So Lucky immediately. 
I wasn’t sure the second book was going to have the same effect but it didn’t disappoint and held just as much resonation, albeit in a different way. I related to a lot of Ruby’s parenting struggles and health condition limitations, Beth’s work life balance issues and poor young Lauren with her need to edit everything whilst feeling lonely in an online world full of watchers. It conjured up relatable scenarios with me, and there is not much more you can ask from a good read!

I’m sure I’m late to the party with the Powerhouse Female book catalogue but as mentioned, thrillers are usually my main squeeze to tuck up with at night. Stupid really, for someone who regularly gets nightmares, but I just can’t help it, the ability to pique my interest is found inside the covers of a good domestic noir! 

So it seems only right that I should finish with the absolute rollercoaster thriller by Harriet Tyce that is Blood Orange! It was intensely dark and equally emotional. In wake of the #Metoo movement this book was in parts hard to read. It portrayed women as just that, human beings having sex because they like it. But it showed foibles of men in power succumbing to chauvinism and taking what is not theirs to take. That’s not forgetting the undercurrent of a woman who takes the blame for a crime she didn’t commit. Some lines are morally blurred but they seize to make this book a more compelling read. Contains triggers for DV and sexual assault victims. All of these books can be purchased via your Amazon kindle or any Waterstones bookshop. 

If you read and love the books mentioned I’d love to hear some of your recommendations too. 

You can email me your suggestions at divamumsteph@hotmail.com or follow me on Instagram & Twitter @divamumsteph I’m also on goodreads under the same name. I plan to make #Divareads a monthly occurrence so pop back next time too! 

Recommended Reads #3

I promised to keep them coming.

What have I been reading the last couple of months? LOADS! I’ve been reading loads as usual. On average I get through a book in three nights.

I’ve now read all of C.L Taylor’s books and am patiently awaiting her 7th release. My favourites are definitely ‘The Missing’ ‘The Escape’ and ‘The Accident’ I liked ‘Sleep’ as I really related to the characters particularly Anna, but I found Christine’s role a bit far fetched and that kind of ruined it for me a bit. ‘The Accident’ is my most recent favourite and I could relate to Sue as both, a girl in a relationship with a narcissist and a mother, it definitely kept me guessing and I understood her battle with mental health also.

Some other good reads are ‘Watching You’ by Lisa Jewell, set in my home town of Bristol. A good twisty thriller written in a traditional English style, which you don’t come across often anymore and so it makes pleasant reading. Lisa is a powerful story teller and her thrillers always have a great protagonist.

Another of my new favourite Authors is ‘Mark North’ his first book ‘Hold My Hand’ is set between Bath and Oxford and that was what drew me in, having been born and bred in Bath I like books I can relate to in terms of geographical memory. I like to read about streets I’ve walked, I find it helps me connect. His second book ‘Keep Her Close’ is all Oxford based but equally as good. His Protagonist Josie Myers is a good strong female lead and I’m intrigued to see where her story goes in the next instalment. I do find a lot of Crime Thrillers & Cop Saga’s do tend to be samey but if it’s a genre you enjoy I would recommend this writer.

Another author who’s work I admire and I’m currently reading a book of his is Mark Edwards. Im almost at the end of ‘Follow You Home’ I love the way Mark manages to convince you of some supernatural activity before dropping the obvious explanation, making you question your own sanity for a moment or two. He did a similar thing with ‘In Her Shadow’ and I really enjoyed reading that too. Follow you home is dark and gripping making you look at the world at its worst but in an addictive and compelling way that will keep the pages turning until the very last.

Recommended reads #2

My last recommended reads proved popular and useful to some of you, so I thought, hey, I’ll do that again.

Goodreads says I’m on book 15 of my 50 books this year challenge, but that’s an out and out lie. I just haven’t added them all, think I’m definitely closer to 30. After all, I’ve just finished my second CL Taylor book this week and am about to start my third! She is KILLING IT!

If you haven’t checked her out yet you absolutely need to immediately! I read The Fear last week and loved it. The strong stand against paedophelia and the ever present link between predators and their victims was really brought to life in this book. Definitely not a light ’round the pool’ read, but then I am a thriller lover. Main character Lou is both unhinged and likeable, making it easy to follow and equally captivating.

I’ve since just finished The Missing, much like my own WIP manuscript, this book is set in my (now) home city of Bristol and that only makes it all the more relatable. A tale of a mother’s anguish as her son is missing and their family secrets are revealed. South Bristol vibes throughout, the leading protagonist could easily be your best friend, auntie, mum or neighbour. Honest and gritty, this again, not for you if you don’t like graphic realism. However if you’re a thriller fan and love the psychological pull of drama, get involved. You won’t regret it.

Prior to starting on my CL Taylor binge, and after patiently awaiting its arrival; I read Victoria Selman’s second novel Ziba Mackenzie Book Two: Nothing to Lose. I have to regretfully say it didn’t blow my mind like the first book. As often with sequels characters become predictable and I personally found Ziba particularly annoying in this book. She’s known for her quirkiness and love of abbreviations, but when she abbreviated ‘my house gets cold often’ to MHGCO I almost stopped reading. She also repeats her favourites often like BFO A.k.a Blind fucking obvious. Just a little irritating if I’m giving it an honest critique.

Whilst the storyline still has a perfect thriller ideal, it kind of gets a bit jumbled towards the end, with two huge dramas weakly intertwining. Leaving you, or in my case me (the reader) feeling a bit anti climaxed and frustrated. I think I could be at fault here as a reader too, as I just get irritated by over the top personalities (irony isn’t lost on me) but maybe when book three comes out I’ll give Ziba a final chance. Third time lucky and all that!

Whilst I’m binging books till my literary heart is content, I’ve been neglecting my own work and writer’s block is a concrete embedded chicane in my peripheral vision at the moment. I need to get back in the zone, even the blogs are some how land sliding away from the top of my to do list. So if you’re reading this, please…. send motivation.

A big thanks to one of my besties, sending me a boost this morning and a much needed kick up the ass to carry on. I now have a self imposed January 2020 deadline for finishing Book1. Watch this space.