I’ve always been described as a worrier. My whole life. For a good 25 years of that life, I didn’t realise that I had OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and no, I didn’t like everything clean and well-organised, because if I liked that, it wouldn’t be OCD it would just me liking everything clean and well-organised. No, I suffered the lesser known version of OCD, Pure-O. Or, as a lot of people call it, intrusive thoughts. Debilitating intrusive thoughts, that would totally paralyse me and would force me in to a lot of unwanted emotions and feelings making me question my character, personality and decision making. You see, for many years, I didn’t know that people also called this type of mental illness the doubting disease. Looking back now at my life, I can see now that OCD has always been there, ready to pounce and many times it has.
My first real memory of anxiety was when I was about 5/6 years old and I was reading my book in bed and I began to feel sleepy. Then I shot up, my brain had just fired a warning to me. It said, ‘don’t go to sleep, you might not wake up’ and so I forced myself to stay awake most of the night. Crippled with anxiety, in the early hours of the morning, I snuck into my mum and dad’s room and whispered in my mum’s ear, ‘will I die if I fall asleep?’ This was the start of my OCD journey.
Now, I won’t go into masses of detail about all my OCD episodes, that would take far too much of your time but the themes included: sexual orientation, health anxiety and harm OCD. I am here, now, to talk about the most excruciating subtype of OCD I’ve ever experienced and that is Post-Natal/Perinatal OCD.
November 2017 – 5am – I take a pregnancy test. Pregnant, it reads, 3-4 weeks. I was elated. This is all I’ve really ever wanting, particularly in the last 2 years. I spent the next 9 months carefully planning everything to do with my baby. And, although, my pregnancy wasn’t straight forwarded I was beyond excited about the future. April 2018 – gender reveal party – it’s a GIRL! Yes, my own little mini-me. This is going to be the best journey ever. Early July 2018 – growth scan, there was my baby in my tummy, all tucked away and happy but next to her, a 17cm cyst, so I’m booked in for a c-section 2 weeks later. July 19th – 8am – going into surgery and the doctor tells me that I’m going to be on epidural for at least a day. 10.10 – baby born, 6lb7oz, lots of hair, beautiful lips and eyes. I cried. It’s the happiest moment of my life. Anyway, 48 hours later (and sustaining 3 grade 3 pressure sores, an incorrect procedure and a bloody awful scar) we get to go home.
For the first two weeks, I so concerned about my daughters health, I believed there would be something wrong with her. As much as the midwives/health visitor/doctors checked, I wouldn’t believe them. Thoughts starting consuming my mind ‘she’s ill’, ‘she’s going to die, ‘what if I can’t do this’ at the time these thoughts were breaking my self-confidence and questioning everything I was doing. What I didn’t realise what the worst was yet to come. 5 weeks old, I’m driving my little girl home and I get a thought ‘what if a car goes in to the back of me and kills my baby?!....What if I didn’t care if that happened?!’ From then on, I suffered the worst bout of harm OCD I can ever imagine, all intrusive thoughts directed to my beautiful daughter.
Sleepless nights, and not the normal ones you should be having when you have a newborn, but, nights when she would be sleeping completely soundly and I would be wide awake dreading the next day thinking ‘what if, what if, what if...?’. I was having a complete identity crisis. I couldn’t look into the future without thinking of myself doing something terrible, I couldn’t look at my daughter without thinking something dreadful happening to her and, worse, me doing something dreadful to her. OCD was taking over my life. I would cry when my partner left for work. I would ask at the door ‘you do trust me, don’t you?’, ‘am I evil?’, ‘you would know in the years we’ve been together if I was capable of doing something awful?’ All questions he answered, providing me the reassurance I was craving, all of which, unknowingly, was making me feel worse and fuelling my OCD.
I would also research online, reading threads on intrusive thoughts about mothers and their babies/children. I refused to leave the house, refuse to clean the house, prepare tea or wash up. I never ever neglected my daughter’s needs, I was perfectly able to take care of her and cuddle her, feed her and change her but was in complete fear when doing it. What I didn’t realise what I was giving into my OCDs compulsions, avoidance and reassurance seeking, all of which were giving attention and significance to my intrusive thoughts, a significance that wasn’t needed. You see, when I would talk to my nearest and dearest about how my mind was functioning they would say ‘thoughts are just thoughts’ but I wouldn’t believe them. Surely, if I was thinking it, I must mean it? No. This is totally wrong. But recovery is not as easy as just thinking ‘thoughts are just thoughts’. Through, my constant online researching on OCD (a compulsion that I am so glad I did’, I came across a story written by a mum who went through exactly the same. I contacted her and another lady, and they helped me through my darkest of days. Finally, I had found someone who understood exactly what I was going through, with no judgment and (to my dismay at the time) wouldn’t succumb to my compulsions. However, I needed more. I needed proper professional help.
Now, almost 10 months later I am almost recovered. I went through the grizzly and exhausting gold standard treatment of OCD, this being Exposure and Response Therapy and I am thoroughly enjoying my time with my daughter. She’s awesome but hard work! I treasure my relationship with her because I had to work for it and she is totally worth it even when she’s being a little madam. And I also know that I am not the only one that has been through, and unfortunately, not the last one to go through this experience. But I want to tell my story to help whoever is struggling with this horrible illness, there is hope. I can see why you are, but don’t be scare to talk or seek help. I was, but now I’m not. I’m not scared to seek help and talk when I need to. Cut those compulsions, expose yourself to your fears, stop searching for the answer to your thoughts...it is never going to come. Live with uncertainty. Live according to your values and beliefs. Look into that mirror and tell yourself you’re a beautiful caring person. Seek professional help from someone who understands your illness. It’s the only way to beat the bully that is OCD.