It’s been a great week, thank you everyone for all of your support! Please welcome my friend Lauren to the blog today! She’s being so courageous sharing her story with all of us and I want to make sure she feels our support! Please “like”, comment, and share, you guys know the drill! ; )
Hey everyone, I’m not a writer, just a mom who has survived Postpartum OCD and wants to help others!
I have always had anxiety and what I now know was what I call, ‘a touch of OCD’. I was first put on anxiety medicine when I was 18 and just chalked it up to nerves about going away to college. (Major life transitions often bring about or make anxiety worse.) I took myself off the meds and had to be put back on a few times. I would always start feeling better and think that I didn’t need them when I was having a good stretch.
My husband and I met at school. I am pretty sure I was off my medicine when I met him, but I was doing well. After we both finished school, we moved to his hometown so that he could pursue a job opportunity. I started having panic attacks and stomach problems. My doctor thought I needed to go back on my anxiety meds. I was so frustrated because I didn’t understand why I needed to take medicine to feel normal.
At some point in all this (this is probably going on 6 years ago now), I went to an overnight church retreat. At that retreat, I had my first ever intrusive thought. I had a sacrilegious intrusive thought. I don’t even remember exactly what it was but I remember being scared out of my mind and not being able to go back to that church without having a panic attack. I literally switched churches to another one in our diocese. At the time, I didn’t know what an intrusive thought was, let alone that they are common symptoms for people with OCD (or that I had OCD!!!)
Eventually we moved back to my hometown, both started new jobs, and then I lost two grandparents. My maternal grandmother (who I was really close to) died in March and my paternal grandfather died in May. In between their deaths, we found out I was pregnant on April 5th. Needless to say, I was under a lot of stress and in a whirlwind of emotions from the move, new jobs, family losses, and now pregnancy! It was kind of the perfect storm for someone with a history of anxiety.
We were thrilled about the pregnancy. We had been trying so having a baby was definitely something we were excited about. I weaned off my medicine, I mean duh, I’ve seen the scary commercials about what can happen to babies whose moms takes meds while they’re pregnant …no thank you.
Then, about half way through the pregnancy, I was not ok. I started having the intrusive thoughts again, sacrilegious thoughts and thoughts about wanting bad things happening to the people I loved (mainly my husband and the baby). I didn’t know what was going on. I thought I was losing my mind, going crazy, I needed to be locked up. I didn’t tell a soul. I was petrified. I started praying obsessively, compulsively. Then, I started having the intrusive thoughts while I was praying or at church. They were being triggered by religion, my religion that has always been SO important to me. I thought I was some kind of monster. I felt horrible for the thoughts I was having and what was triggering them.
Brian, my husband, started noticing something was off. I couldn’t focus or hold a conversation. I was extremely irritable. I had to repeat or restart my prayers. I was constantly praying. Praying was now my compulsion to fight the obsessive intrusive thoughts, but I had such a hard time praying because it triggered the intrusive thoughts. It was an endless cycle. This consumed me. There were days where I would get to work and I wouldn’t be to start work for an hour or two, just sitting there pretending to work while staring at my computer screen. I was good though at faking it though…faking that I was “ok”, “normal”. No one else knew. Only Brian, because I let him see little parts of it.
(Let me be clear here….this is a disease…it cannot be prayed, exercised, or meditated away….I had a chemical imbalance in my brain that need to be treated with medicine like diabetes is treated with insulin. Many people are often told to pray harder or exercise more or meditate then get worse when those things don’t make it go away or become triggering for them.)
When we went to breastfeeding class at the hospital, the Lactation Consultant mentioned a postpartum adjustment support group. She suggested that moms with a history or anxiety or depression should check out the group. On the way home that night, Brian said I should go to that support group. I said, “I’ll see how I do. If I’m not feeling better in a few weeks, I’ll go.” Not long after, excuse my French, but “shit hit the fan.” I got even worse. The intrusive thoughts were constant. I was literally obsessed. I could barely function. It was all I thought about. If I wasn’t having an intrusive thought, I was thinking about the ones I had had and when the next one would pop up. I would go to work, go to the chapel to pray, and then go to bed. I cried myself to sleep most nights. I tried exercising more to take my mind off of it, but my walks around town did nothing to help me mentally.
Finally, one day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I thought “maybe I’m bipolar.” I Googled what was going on in my head. That’s when I first saw the term intrusive thoughts and OCD. I felt so relieved, like “Ok this is a real thing, other people have this too, other people have gotten through this, I am not crazy, there is hope, I can get help, I can treat this.”
I called the Lactation Consultant and asked her about the support group. She gave me the contact info for her co-facilitator. I emailed her and she wrote back that she had OCD and that her OCD came with intrusive thoughts too. Again, relief, a real person who has also been through this. She suggested I talk to my doctor about getting back on my medicine, get in to see a psychiatrist, start therapy and come to group.
My OB wrote me a script for the same medicine I had just weaned off, over the phone. They didn’t even make me come in to talk. I called my insurance company and got in with the first therapist they said was covered. She was not specialized in perinatal mood disorders. My one and only session with her actually triggered my anxiety even more and made me feel worse. I reached back out to the group leader, now in full panic mode. She gave me the number for her therapist. I called and couldn’t even talk to the receptionist without bawling. She put me on hold and got her right away. She asked me to come in the next day.
It was with them that I learned about what was going on with me….
See, everyone has intrusive (scary) thoughts, “normal” people barely notice them and just ignore them and carry on. For people with OCD, they stick. We obsess over them, they cause debilitating anxiety. The most common types if intrusive thoughts are violent, sexual and blasphemous/sacrilegious. It’s hard to put into words how I felt. OCD attacks what is most sacred to you. For me that is my faith and my loved ones so that’s what my intrusive thoughts were about.
Pregnancy and hormones worsened my anxiety and threw me into the dark scary world of OCD. I soon learned that was not alone, this is VERY common in pregnancy, but no one talks about it. There is so much stigma attached to mental health and women are afraid that if they reach out for help, their babies will be taken away from them.
They told me about the organization called Postpartum Progress. Their website put me in contact with thousands of women who had been through what I was going through. Their explanations and stories on the website were so helpful. I needed to know I wasn’t crazy, wasn’t alone, and would get better.
Through therapy, going to a psychiatrist, the support group, and trying a new medicine, I am much healthier. I still have hard days and now understand that I have always had a little OCD that was worsened while I was pregnant and may always be here, but I can live with it now and manage it.
In May, I had our second baby. I was medicated through the whole pregnancy and had a much better experience. I am on an as needed basis with my therapist and still see my psychiatrist every three months to check in and make any medication adjustments.
I am so thankful for the other women, like Chelsea, who shared their stories. They helped pull me through the hardest thing I have ever dealt with.