One of the main reasons I didn’t want to write previously about my postpartum psychosis episode was that I didn’t want to deal with the triggers and intrusive thoughts associated with it. Many people, including myself, get intrusive thoughts confused with hallucinations but they aren’t the same thing. In a formal disclaimer, I’m not a healthcare professional, and these statements are drawn entirely from my personal experiences.
Intrusive thoughts are often scary, horrifying or upsetting thoughts that creep into your head. They’re always unwanted and can be repetitive. They can even trigger a fight or flight response, in some instances.
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Recently, intrusive thoughts caused a major argument between my husband and I.
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I’m going to share a very personal story from my recovery. Shortly after my psychosis episode, I started dreaming about snakes. It happened nearly every single night. The dreams varied wildly but nearly all involved the presence of a snake. So I started to Google (we all know that you should never Google involving health or mental health, but I still did) the meaning of snakes appearing in dreams. I started to convince myself it was an omen or God warning me about a physical or psychological “snake”. Shortly after, my snake dreams seemed to get worse. I told my therapists and psychiatrists, and of course, my husband.
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A few days later my father in law came down to our house and he was singing a rather weird tune. It was a song called Sneaky Snake from 1974. I hated that song from the minute I heard the lyrics. But my husband proceeded to sing it over and over, for weeks. I initially didn’t voice my opinion about the song, because I felt it was harmless. As time passed, I grew agitated that someone was repeatedly using a triggering word in front of me. I felt like it was very inconsiderate. But a second intrusive thought popped up, “was someone or some entity putting them up to distress me?” My therapist and I had been discussing setting healthy boundaries and I stood up for myself. I yelled at my husband and asked him if he was the “sneaky snake” from the song. If you Google the lyrics, it sounds like a sleazy old man making sexual reference, and it’s very triggering to me for other reasons. He promptly stopped and apologized, but it created a very unnecessary argument. The reality was, who would honestly put my father in law and husband up to harass me, and why would they agree? The Devil? I can reason that the notion is pretty far fetched. There are times that you have to just accept an intrusive thought as an unwanted and untrue thought, and move on. There are also times that you can use reasoning (like the above) to remind yourself that it’s just your mind trying to play tricks on you.
I also convinced myself that the FBI or some government agency was after me during my psychosis. I haven’t talked about it much. I have no idea why I thought that. It’s actually not an uncommon psychosis hallucination/delusion/intrusive thought. I actually met another mother who had a similar incident. I convinced myself they were doing all kinds of horrible things to me including having two nurses try to physically harm me during my hospital stay, among others. A good friend would remind me that the idea was ludicrous and most of the things I was hallucinating would be illegal, and that was one of the few ways that they could bring me out (often only temporary). It then changed to someone was trying to murder me and they planned to use my mental illness to cover it up, or they were trying to drive me “mad” enough that I would do it myself. I mean, it was a storyline out of a bad scary movie. I thought text messages from friends and family seemed out of character, and that someone else must be sending them. I even thought someone else was sending Facebook messages to me from my dying and estranged father’s account. I believed things I was reading online and hearing on television and radio were sending me subliminal messages. But I eventually learned what I was experiencing was intrusive thoughts. I had to learn to recognize these ideas as intrusive thoughts before they spiraled into an irrational fear. My therapist once told me that everyone has irrational thoughts, but you have to let them come into your mind and let them quickly go back out.
I hope this post can help someone who is struggling with intrusive thoughts. Please seek professional help and feel free to reach out to me if you have trouble doing so.
In words from the PSI website:
You are not alone.
You are not to blame.
With help, you will be well.
Check out www.postpartum.net for resources and providers online and near you.