What do you do when you are a bit of an generally anxious, risk assessor and you suddenly are gripped with the fear that the risk to your children that you need to try and navigate or mitigate could be you? 

That, after a lot of therapy, is quite an easy sentence to tap out on a keyboard.  That doesn’t mean though that I’m not still haunted by those very real fears and the spiral of dark intrusive thoughts brought about in my hormonal post natal brain.  It’s because I remember it so well that I want to write this, in case it helps someone else, anyone else, because when you’re in that place and you’re scared to talk and scared to reach out, you are looking for any glimpse of hope you can get.  

You know those films and books where “the goodie” meets an evil force which can bring about their greatest fear so they have to face it?  It’s not a bad plot line, we all have deep fears that we’d rather not face so we have methods of avoidance - don’t go to see snakes at the zoo, don’t jump out of an aeroplane, don’t walk down dark alleys in dodgy neighbourhoods.  

We all have deep fears that we’d rather not face so we have methods of avoidance.

My greatest fear, as I lay in my bed, at home, in a very sleep deprived state after a traumatic time in hospital, gazing at my brand new, perfect, much longed for, second daughter was that anything could happen to take her away.  I knew I would do anything to protect her.  Then a thought flashed through my head, “what if you killed her?” Even now, writing that brings back the dread.  I would give anything to have never had had that moment, to in effect erase the spiral of months of fear and doubt that followed that moment.  

I felt weak, tired, overwhelmed and quite frankly lost, I lost who I was, I felt I didn’t know myself or trust myself, what did this mean? and how could I, the person primarily responsible for keeping this beautiful, perfect thing safe and well, protect her from me if that was what I needed to do?  There were lots of things I considered, you know, how to take myself out of this equation to keep my most precious girls safe and i’m sure you can work out what those are and even though you don’t know me I hope you have an idea of how very, very desperate those times were. 

Now, I know a few things now I didn’t know then and I’m going to summarise them for you in case you don’t know them either….

  1. Most people, have thoughts of some sort like this, unwanted, intrusive thoughts, they don’t talk about it and they may not even remember but I think the statistic is around 94% from studies that have been done.  But, here is the thing, most people can just dismiss them with no further thought, or even an acknowledgement that that’s an odd thought but let’s move along.  
  2. The more attention / analysis you give to any thought the more your brain (the bit that deals with anxiety specifically) thinks this is a problem you need to solve and so will keep sending it back to you, over and over and over again. The more you react to it, the more adrenaline you produce, the more your brain is absolutely sure this is essentially a very real threat to you and it will keep on sending the same thought. It’s trying to help, it’s pretty primitive that bit of your brain, it would be best off still just trying to save you from saber toothed tigers.   
  3. Believe me, you cannot out reason / research / reassure this thought, the more time you spend on it you are essentially just feeding it. Don’t try to fight it, resistance is futile, let it come, notice it, breathe, let it go.  You can tell it to F-off, or you can even thank it (because it does think it’s trying to help you) but it IS safe to let it pass because…. 
  4. Your thoughts are not you they don’t mean anything. I’ll say it again.  Your thoughts are not you they don’t mean anything.  The do not represent the inner you in some mystical way, they are just thoughts.  They are like clouds floating through the sky of your mind and you are safe to let. them. pass.  
  5. Lastly, if you react to a thought you have with dread, fear etc.. it is called a egodystonic thought.  This is a fancy word but was so important to my recovery.  An egodystonic thought is one that does not agree / fit with who you are as a person, your morals, your soul, your life.  It doesn’t belong, that’s why it’s causing you to react the way you are with anxiety and fear.  
An egodystonic thought is one that does not agree / fit with who you are as a person

I think if I had known this stuff in advance or even in the early days after that first thought I would not have fallen into the anxiety spiral that I did.  But I didn’t know and it isn’t spoken about and it is terrifying, looking online is potentially triggering for more thoughts, more fear.  Telling my GP and my health visitor was the scariest thing I’ve done but I talked, I told close family and I encountered people who knew exactly what was happening to me and people who had no idea.  It shouldn’t be luck of the draw, health professionals need educating and mothers need supporting.  

I had 6 months of the very best care from an incredible psychiatrist privately, I would say though, you don’t need to see a psychiatrist to deal with this issue (a counselling psychologist specialising in CBT or exposure and response prevention therapy is recommended).  

However, I am very thorough and stubborn and absolutely wanted to make sure I was seeing someone who could definitively tell me that not only what was going on and how to get better but also whether I was the sort of person who was ever likely to hurt anyone ever, because it was such a real fear in my mind.  Some people out there hurt people, I used to read the Daily Mail I knew what horrors were out there and I just needed to understand how any people in society turn out like that and to make sure I wasn’t one nor was I likely to become one.  So I now understand my brain, a lot and society much better and he sort of pieced me back together.   

I didn’t just have therapy, I did meditation, I exercised, I ate better, slept better, stopped drinking, had reiki, tried yoga, read everything I could about the brain, went back to church and reconnected with my faith.  I worked harder than I ever had, because this was the most important thing I ever had to do, for my kids. So now I’m here, to tell the tale and to share my story because if it only helps one person, that’ll do for me.

Written by Rebecca Hanford

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