(ICYMI, I wrote a little overview of postpartum OCD here. I talk about the disorder in general: what it is and what common symptoms are. You might want to read that first if you're not familiar with postpartum OCD at all).
Confession: I'm kind of afraid to write this.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not hesitant to write this. I think it needs to be said and the world needs to know (can I get some newsies singing over here?), but it's all a little scary to admit.
This is what many people would call my "crazy," on display for y'all to see. And I'm going to give it to you straight. I don't want to speak in generalizations here. I want to give you a real look into my mind so that you know not only what I've been dealing with, but what other women struggling with this have been dealing with as well.
Because I'm getting so specific, I'm going to go ahead and throw a TRIGGER WARNING here. If you've been suffering from intrusive thoughts, you might not want to read this.
So gosh, doesn't this sound fun? What are we waiting for?
I think it'll be easiest to handle this in a question & answer format, so let's jump on in.
When did you first notice symptoms of PPOCD?
It was right around 2 months postpartum. I began having "intrusive thoughts," things that would pop up in my mind without warning and would be very clear, very strong, and very troubling.
How did you discover you had PPOCD?
I talked to my OBGYN about feeling very "anxious." She referred me to a counselor. I described what I had been experiencing to her, and she immediately brought up PPOCD. She then referred me to another counselor, who came to the same conclusion. Both counselors also said I probably also suffered from GAD (generalized anxiety disorder).
What do your obsessions look like?
I remember the very first "obsession" I had. It was triggered by one of those stories you see on Facebook of an attempted child abduction at a Target. While things like that had always troubled me, this time was different. It not only stuck in my head, it morphed into a very clear picture of the same thing happening to my family. And then that got stuck in my head. And when I say stuck, I mean stuck.
Many of my future obsessions had to do with kidnapping. The details my brain invented, the scenarios it came up with, the paranoia that ensued...you wouldn't believe. This is still the topic that bothers me most; I'm actually going to avoid going into much detail here because it's still very triggering for me.
My other big obsession was war and terrorism. I thought (read: was convinced that) World War 3 was due to start at any time. Every time I heard an airplane overhead, I could picture it dropping a bomb. Every time. My mind produced these fully formed, WWII-esque scenes of men I knew (including and especially my husband) getting drafted, of my kids and I huddled in a bomb shelter, of us having to leave our home for some reason and becoming refugees. In my mind, I knew this was silly. And yet, a very big part of me believed that it wasn't a matter of if these things would happen, but when they would happen. Sometimes I would go an entire day with these very clear images in my head.
I also had the more "typical" intrusive thoughts. I would be sure I'd open the door to where Amelia was sleeping and find her dead. I could picture driving my car off the road. I thought about how easy it would be to drown my kids.
Did your obsessions impact your everyday life?
Yes and no. I wasn't sitting in a corner, balled up and crying, unable to move or function. (P.S. If you're doing that, it's okay...but get some help.) I was able to do pretty much everything I'd always done. However, because these things were always on my mind, my stress levels were off the charts. I was short and impatient. I had many days when I felt like I was "spinning my wheels," even if I didn't have much to do that day. I felt like I wasn't "doing" enough and I felt bad about myself. I also had a really hard time sleeping; being left alone with your thoughts when your thoughts are the enemy...really sucks.
Did you think your obsessions were real?
Thankfully, I've always been able to separate my thoughts from my desires, and also from reality. I've always known that those images are not real, that I don't have to do something extreme to "save" my family.
(Side note: this is more like what postpartum psychosis looks like. Women suffering from this have trouble separating their thoughts from reality, and often have hallucinations. They might believe that these things are happening to their family, that they must kill their kids to save them, that they are possessed, etc. This is why postpartum psychosis is considered a medical emergency. Read more about postpartum psychosis here.)
I also was always aware of my desires. While I could picture harming my kids or myself, I never wanted to. As you can probably imagine, this was definitely comforting.
It's honestly kind of difficult to explain. While I mentally knew that I was obsessing over things that were extremely unlikely (not to mention out of my control), my feelings did not support those thoughts. I felt very strongly that these things could very easily happen sometime, and that was terrifying. As much as I told myself that it wasn't real, I couldn't really convince myself of it. I needed to do whatever I could to be ready for the worst. Which brings us to...
What do your compulsions look like?
For a long time, I didn't think I had compulsions. I questioned even having OCD, because my compulsions were really not apparent. Looking back, I realize that there were certainly things I felt compelled to do in order to escape or manage my thoughts.
This might sound silly, but I felt compelled to read the news. I think my brain thought that if I could learn absolutely everything about kidnapping, war, or terrorism, I could figure something out that would help me avoid them, or help me handle it when they happened. I honestly didn't want to read these stories -- any of them -- but with the attacks in Paris and San Bernadino happening as I was very much "in the thick of things," there was an endless supply of headlines and no bottom to the rabbit holes I fell into.
This compulsion certainly doesn't fall under the textbook definition of compulsions, but it was something that was definitely triggered by my obsessions, that I didn't want to do, and that I felt pulled toward.
I've also come to notice that I'm a "checker." I'd check to make sure all the kids were in the car, and I'd do it over and over even though I'd already seen all of them there. I'd do a mental check to make sure I wasn't going to use that knife as a weapon. I'd check to make sure all the doors in the house were locked, and I'd sometimes re-lock them -- multiple times.
What does having a compulsion feel like?
Honestly, it's a little strange. Feeling a need to do something you don't want to do, because you think it might help you prepare for something that probably won't happen, and being aware of this whole thought process, is pretty disconcerting.
That being said, I'm going to go ahead and say that my compulsions were pretty mild. While I felt the urge to do them and I felt (temporarily) better after doing them, I never felt out of control when it came to my compulsions. I never threw away all the knives in the house, avoided driving at all costs, or refused to change diapers. I didn't count or clean or wash my hands over and over. My compulsions were mainly mental and "checking."
Like I mentioned in my last post, I've recently read about a study that showed that as many as 30% of people who are considered to have OCD may have no compulsions. Some people call that something else entirely (e.g. anxiety with obsessive thoughts). I think what's most important is to recognize it that it's happening, to figure out how much distress it's causing you, and do what you need to to fix it.
Here is a list of common compulsions in OCD. I also find this list very interesting (although it's from a less reliable source), because the compulsions listed are less typical and sometimes sound even downright normal. This is another great source and it really resonates with me because it talks about research as a possible compulsion.
How did you manage these things while they were happening?
Truthfully, I didn't. At least not on my own. At most, I tried really hard to convince myself that my obsessions weren't real. I also tried mentally preparing for them (If someone pulled out a gun and started shooting people while I was at the mall, what would I do? If our neighborhood was suddenly being bombed, where would I go and what would I take? etc., repeat 1000x). While I recognize that being prepared is a good thing, the mental "preparation" I was doing was really just feeding my obsessions. The pictures became more vivid, the scenarios more realistic, the possibilities stronger.
So really, trying to talk myself out of it didn't work. It became less about managing it and more about living with it, trying to keep it from disrupting my every day tasks and trying to find ways to fall asleep as quickly as possible at night.
How are you doing now?
Great! No really, I'm doing great. While I still have a strong reaction to an "obsessive" type thought every once in a while, I can honestly (and happily) say that it's no longer taking up significant amounts of time in my life.
I still have a lot of "fear," and that's really no fun, but it's much less persistent and much less all-encompassing. I do attribute a lot of it to my postpartum mental health struggles, but I wouldn't put it at a "disorder" level anymore. I'm not exactly happy with how fearful I still am, but I'm working on it.
Phew, are you still with me?!
I was planning on going into more detail about what "getting over it" has looked like, but let's face it, this is already really long! I'll plan on another post soon to talk about what has helped me.
I hope this does more than just open up my brain for all the Internet to see. I hope it opens your eyes a little bit -- whether it's more understanding about what someone else is going through, or a little validation and understanding of what you yourself are going through. Either way, please feel free to reach out with any questions or comments you have.
Thanks for reading, guys.