Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The stuff that no one talks about

This post has been a long time coming. It's been in the back of my mind for months. Recently I realized that I was ready to make it happen. Ready to be insanely vulnerable with some of the hardest parts of my life. So with that said, here goes nothing...or everything.

I struggle with OCD. Although I was only diagnosed this year, I am pretty sure I have struggled with it since I was a child. Like most people I thought in order to have OCD you had to be scared of germs. You know, one of those people that washes there hands constantly or has a spotless house. While some people who struggle with OCD do have the fear of germs and contamination, it's not the only type and also goes far beyond that.

Before I really get into this it's best if you just temporarily forget about the portrayal of OCD  as you have seen on tv because really it's not anywhere near as glamorous. Also I know plenty of people say that they are "OCD" because they are neat freaks or particular about certain things. These are quirks or personality traits, super far from actually suffering from OCD, which is a mental disorder.

First off, OCD manifests in a lot of different ways. What I am sharing is just my experience, which like always is not everyone’s experience. Also, this is a very hard thing for me to share and talk about so if you have anything negative to say or any judgements, please keep them to yourself. Thanks.

Looking back now I could go on and on about other times in my life where I really struggled with OCD stuff, but what I am going to talk about today is what started shortly after I got pregnant.

Like most newly pregnant women, I was both ecstatic and scared to death. As most of you who know me or read my blog know, I was extremely sick my entire pregnancy. I stared throwing up just 5 weeks in and didn't stop until the day my daughter was born. Since I was pretty much in survival mode my entire pregnancy, I didn't realize how much my struggle with OCD played a part until way after the fact.

I had an overwhelming fear of miscarrying and losing my daughter. While this is a common fear of most pregnant woman, the level which is affected me was nothing close to normal. I was convinced that if I did anything "wrong" or if things weren't done in a certain way, my daughter would die.

Early in my first trimester my husband would give me my prenatal vitamins because I was too sick and tired to really do it myself. This turned into a must do, as in if John wasn't the one to hand me my vitamins, I would have a miscarriage. There were days later in the pregnancy where I would get up and get the bottle and then hand them to John so he could hand them back to me. Ridiculous? Yes. But this is how OCD works. You develop rituals in order to calm the anxiety and make sure the "bad things" don't come true. Of course, the more you do the compulsive behavior, the more it is reinforced, which just makes the OCD stronger.

My entire pregnancy was full of things like this; needing to drink the exact amount of water every night even though I wasn't thirsty, eating the exact same foods etc. A major component of OCD is reassurance seeking and this was really present for me during my pregnancy. I was constantly convinced that Grace wasn't ok, so I was constantly looking for reassurance anywhere I could. I would spend hours scouring the internet trying to confirm that the pain I was having or the brief lack of movement wasn't something serious. I spent tons and tons of time calling the doctor for every little thing and constantly wanted to hear my babies heart rate. Side note: My constant trips to the ER and doctors office were because I was so sick physically and usually needed fluids, however they only reinforced my compulsive checking to make sure everything was ok. One thing about reassurance seeking in OCD is that no matter what the answer is it isn't enough, so the cycle of asking and checking continues. Your anxiety increases and you start asking the same questions more. Until the day that I delivered a healthy little girl, I did not believe that she was ok.

Fast forward to about 2-3 weeks after Grace was born and I was a mess. Out of what felt like no where I had this horrible fear that something was going to happen to Grace, even worse I felt like I was going to be the cause of it. Some days it was so bad my husband had to take care of Grace because I was scared to touch her. I thought I was going to drop her or that she would choke to death while I was feeding her and those were the mild thoughts. These intrusive thoughts got worse and worse and I slipped into a really bad depression. I can't even begin to describe to you how hard it is to think horrible thoughts about your baby daughter, who you would do anything to keep safe. I really thought I had lost my mind and on many occasions I told John that I needed to be hospitalized.

Although I talked about this stuff with my husband, I was way too ashamed to share them with anyone else. I felt like a horrible mother and thought that others would think the same, or worse, take my child away from me.

One day out of sheer desperation I started scouring the internet to try and figure out what was wrong with me. It was then that I came across an article with the title "Post-partum OCD". That was it. There was no doubt that this was what I was struggling with but I was so entrenched in it, I was still scared to talk about it or get help.

A few months after Grace was born I decided to pay a visit to my old therapist. Although I shared some of my fears, which by this point where so bad I didn't want to leave the house and didn't let anyone other then me or my husband touch Grace, I was pretty vague about how bad it really was. She reassured me that I was a great capable mother and that she wasn't worried about my daughters health at all. When I rattled off all of the bad things I thought would happen, she simply replied, "well if those happen, then you will call 911". To this day, that was been some of the best advice I was given. You see OCD likes to make you feel incapable. It helps you continue to stay entrenched and do the compulsions.

Eventually John had to go back to work and friends and family had to go back to their lives. It was just me and Grace. Each day I was alone with her, I became more confident in my ability to take care of her and be a great mother. The intrusive thoughts were still there, but through enough exposure I began to believe that I wouldn't act on them. I will say I knew all along in my heart that I didn't really believe that I could or would hurt my daughter, but the brain is very powerful and OCD is resilient.

And then we moved. Although the move went smoothly and it was a much better place to live, I began to struggle a lot. Everything had to be done a certain way. I developed very elaborate rituals that consumed my life. I honestly believed that if I didn't do all of these things, something would happen to both Grace and John. At the same time I was very fed up with this. There were times where I was praying Grace would take a nap so I could organize the pantry or wash her bottles in a very specific way and order. I was spending so much time trying to control the anxiety and stop the thoughts, that I was moving further and further away from the things I valued. It was then that I finally realized I needed help.

In September I was referred to someone who specializes in OCD. It was only then that I realized how much and long I had been suffering. Shortly after she referred me to an intensive program that was highly ranked and helped treat OCD. This program was one of the hardest things I have ever done. The best way to treat OCD is exposure therapy; expose you to the things you fear and not let you do the compulsions. Or basically teach you that the thoughts/anxiety can't hurt you and that you can handle them.

To this day I still struggle and I still see a therapist who specializes in OCD. However this disorder isn't my whole life any more. The thoughts come and go, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but they no longer derail my entire day. I am learning my triggers and other ways to cope with the anxiety and distress.

The biggest thing is I am no longer ashamed of the fact that I struggle with OCD. Nor am I ashamed to talk about the post par-tum stuff.  I really believe that if we talked about this stuff a lot more we'd all be so much better off. I share my story because not only is it cathartic to me but because I hope to remind other people, especially mothers who struggle with OCD, that they are not alone. Nor are they bad mothers. There is help out there and everyone deserves it. My daughter is now 8 months old and I am finally enjoying the fun part of being a mother and am soaking up every second of it thanks to the amazing support I have received and my hard work. You can get here too, I truly believe that.