My husband and I were at a friend’s house for dinner one night when after a stressful, messful eating experience with our kids, I made a very inappropriate comment about how I’m afraid one day I’ll get so frustrated I’ll “go all Andrea Yates” on them. I had crossed the line. With them. But in my mind, thoughts like that had crossed the line unbidden by me many times over.
Having attended a support group, I learned that these were called “intrusive thoughts”. In group, we talk openly and honestly about them. Everything can be said out loud-no matter how scary or silly:
- I was sure my baby was going to fall out of a boat and drown
- I had visions of me putting the baby in the car seat, placing it on top of the car, then seeing it fly off the roof of the car and watching it and my baby smash to smithereens
- Every time I saw a knife on the counter, I saw myself or my baby being cut by it
- Envisioning slapping, shaking, or throwing my child when I couldn’t get him to stop crying
- Thinking about strangers grabbing my baby and running off with it
- Not sleeping because I was sure I was hearing the baby choking
- I was afraid I was going to put my baby in the microwave and turn it on in my sleep
These are plaguing thoughts and scenes that can replay endlessly in our minds. But at group, I found out that I am not the only one that thinks these kinds of “crazy” and “irrational” thoughts. As parents looking out for the safety of our kids, these thoughts are pretty “normal”. But their replaying over and over in our minds, or causing anxiety attacks, panic, and fear stem from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions).
There are many ways to manage intrusive thoughts. If you recognize that you are having them, then you are almost assured safety from actually acting on them. It is less than 1% of people who have these thoughts and don’t realize they are irrational and “not real” that may be experiencing psychosis (Psychosis is a loss of contact with reality, typically including delusions–false ideas about what is taking place or who one is–and hallucinations–seeing or hearing things which aren’t there (Medline Plus).
Untreated cases of psychosis are, unfortunately, the ones that end up on the news and strike fear and shame into the rest of us who experience intrusive thoughts. Some of the saddest stories I’ve heard in group are the ones of a mom who is brave enough to share her intrusive thoughts with a spouse, friend, or family member only to be censured for having those thoughts or no longer allowed to hold their own baby because this uninformed person believes mom is about to hurt baby.
Consider this very sensitive question and the advice given from PsychCentral- “the Internet’s largest and oldest mental health social network created and run by mental health professionals to guarantee reliable, trusted information and support communities to you, for over 12 years.”
Four months ago I became very fixated on Andrea Yates drowning her five children.
by Kristina Randle, LCSW
August 6, 2006
Q. I became obsessed with it and thought about it all the time. It kept me up at night. I began to think that all children were in danger and would have images of my own children being killed. In my head I could feel the fear of the children. It makes me feel physically ill. It subsided over the past few months. I started taking medication and the thoughts went away but I stopped taking the medication because of all the side effects. Now the thoughts have returned again. The thoughts pop into my head at any given time and I can tie anything that comes up in my head to those murders. I have tried everything I can to get rid of these intrusive thoughts. They fill me with such a sense of dread and despair and affect my outlook on life. I have struggled with depression and anxiety since I was 15, but this is something new. I do not want to take medication but I can’t seem to fix this.
A. I am glad that you recognize that this fixation is a problem. I believe that you are going to need medication in combination with professional help to remedy this reoccurring intrusion. I know that you do not want to take the medication because of the side effects. I understand this but you should go back to your doctor and ask if he or she is willing to prescribe you another medication. Keep trying different medications until you find one with side effects that you can live with.
Maybe the medication you are currently taking (that seems to lessen these intrusive thoughts) can be reduced. If reduced, maybe that medication will not produce side effects. It is at least possible that a medication reduction will produce less intense side effects.
Please consider meeting with your doctor about this fixation. Explain to the doctor that you are bothered by the medication side effects and that you wish to lower the dose. Or if you do not like this idea, ask your doctor about trying a different medication. Whatever you decide, please do not let this problem go untreated. Be proactive and seek help for your invasive and scary thoughts. If nothing else, do it for your children. They need a mother who is mentally stable, compliant with her needed medication and able to properly care for her children. Let me know how your medication changes go. Good luck.
I would have to say that medication, talk therapy, support groups, and lots of prayer have helped me take my intrusive thoughts captive and not let them take over my daily thought life. My brain has needed the chemical balance medication provides, the safety of sharing and the healing of an understanding community in support group, the reassurance and education a therapist provides, and the limitless power of the One who created me to help put things back in order.
I still have thoughts creep in every once in a while, but when they do I am able to say, “this is not real, I will not act on this, I will not let this happen, I am in control”, and move my thoughts to a positive place instead. My friend Danielle actually envisions a stop sign in her mind telling the intrusive thoughts to “stop”, then thinks about her “happy place”–which is at a park with her husband and daughter the first time her little one said “duck”. It takes some practice, experimenting, tweaking, honesty, sometimes even silliness or seriously professional help, but you don’t have to be obsessed with intrusive thoughts.