So Molly is now 2 and like most mums I don’t know where the time has gone. The first year of her life was spent in such an intense anxious bubble, I feel like I was robbed of that precious time with her. I feel cheated, and I can barely remember her as a tiny baby.
When I look back at photos of that time I smile fondly at how adorable she was, but when I look at photos of myself I can see the strain behind my smile and the worry in my eyes. I was constantly on edge, jumping at any little noise on the baby monitor, obsessing over every cough, rash and sniffle, convinced she was going to contract some deadly virus.
I cancelled a much needed drink out with my best mate because Molly had her first cold! On top of all that, I was in a daily battle with the most horrendous intrusive thoughts that were completely out of my control, so beside myself with anxiety and panic that my hair started falling out in clumps.
Fast-forward two years and I am a completely different person.
Actually, not different, just back to being me before the anxiety got a grip.
Absolutely nothing phases me anymore when it comes to Molly (15 ear infections, the hand, foot & mouth virus, croup, urticaria and 3 hospital visits kind of beats the worry out of you).
If there is one thing that motherhood has made me, it is STRONG. As I started to recover from the anxiety, a kind of primal instinct kicked in, a protective urge to protect myself and my baby from harm…there was no way I was going to let anything beat me, especially f***ing mental illness.
I began to get angry…how dare this interfere with me and my baby! You can f**k right off!
How to deal with intrusive thoughts…
Intrusive thoughts (or brain farts as I like to call them now), are the most inappropriate things that pop into your head at the most inappropriate times.
These thoughts, urges and images almost always fall into one of three categories: inappropriate aggressive thoughts, inappropriate sexual thoughts, or blasphemous religious thoughts.
When I was frantically searching for information online, I was looking for actual examples of these thoughts, to compare them to what I was thinking (relating to my baby), and how to get rid of them.
When they first started, I would try desperately to think of something, anything else. I would try to mentally block them with an imaginary brick wall (a completely futile exercise, you have as much chance as wishing the sun won’t rise in the morning).
Distraction works momentarily, i.e. cleaning/cooking/going for a walk. Inevitably though they just return. And the reason they return is that you are reacting to them.
Intrusive thoughts are disturbing, completely out of character and are a symptom of anxiety.
The very fact that you are worried about them and that they are causing you so much distress proves that you would never act on them, and that they mean absolutely nothing.
These thoughts thrive on your fear…the more you give an emotional response, i.e. panic, cry, try to shut them out, the more your brain will perceive this as a threat and create even more of them (what a shit vicious circle that is). So here’s what to do:
- When a thought pops into your head just let it stay there. Say something like ‘oh that was a weird one’!…and carry on with what you were doing
- I found it helpful to imagine the thoughts as little people carrying placards, marching from one side of my brain and out of the other
- Do not interact or try to understand the thought…the content of them is completely irrelevant…remember they are born out of whatever you are anxious about at the time. As above, just say to yourself ‘bloody hell that was a strange one, I should write a book (or a blog)’! If you can find humour in a dire situation then you have won!
- Do not attempt to block the thought out of your mind, or pray that they will go away. I am not an atheist (I was raised a good Catholic girl), but I am here to tell you that praying won’t work. You may as well pray that you will win the lottery. It’s the same for blocking thoughts. If I tell you to not think about a pink elephant, what is the first thing that pops into your head?!
- Face your fear. Hard I know, but it has to be done. My intrusive thoughts were all based around harm coming to my baby, more specifically, me causing the harm. For example, ‘what if I drown her in the bath’? So I began to avoid bathing her, but this was only feeding my fear! I had to force myself to bath her on my own. After the first few times (when I inevitably didn’t drown her), my brain got the message that this wasn’t a threat, which meant I didn’t panic about it anymore, and therefore the thoughts about that particular situation subsided
- Get creative. Most people who experience these horrible thoughts are very creative, intelligent people (they use the same area of the brain), so channel it. I know it’s not easy…I mean how the f**k are you meant to paint/write/sing/dance when you haven’t slept in weeks and you’ve got a screaming baby attached to you? You’ll find the time, and it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. I made a few lovely little picture frames for Little M’s room with some bits and bobs I got from a pound shop! They are actually really nice, and I felt such a sense of accomplishment afterwards (and not one intrusive thought while I was making them)
- Diet/Exercise. Yawn. I know what you’re thinking, because I used to be the same. Why can’t I just drink wine, eat chocolate, and arse about on my phone all day? Everything in moderation! Look, a good diet and a bit of exercise WORKS. Whether you like it or not. Pack in the fruit/veggies, shove an exercise DVD on a few times a week (you don’t need a gym, especially when you’ve got a little one), and you will see a difference, physically and mentally. I have a couple of glasses of vino on a Saturday, it’s my little treat, and I look forward to it!
- Sleep. Whaaaat? I have a tiny baby who hates sleeping, how the hell am I meant to sleep?! I have been there, and it gets easier. They sleep eventually, and you will too. A decent night’s kip is essential for good mental health. My intrusive thoughts were at their worst when I was tired. Even now when one pops into my head it is usually my signal to go to bed!
- This too shall pass. You have probably heard this a few times when reading baby books or mummy websites. As with most things baby related, this is just a phase. Everything will calm down, your panic attacks will be less frequent, and the thoughts will subside. If, like me, you’re looking for a time frame, I was near enough back to normal in about 6-8 weeks (everyone is different though). Stay strong!