Postpartum OCD: Getting Help

{This is my third and final post in a series I've been writing about my experiences with Postpartum OCD. Click here to read the first post, which describes the basics of Postpartum OCD, and click here to read the second post, which goes into more detail about what I've experienced personally.}

Hey friends. If you're reading this, you've probably read my other two posts on PPOCD as well, and you might be wondering "Okay, so PPOCD sucks. What do you do about it?"

I'm glad you asked. This post is going to be dedicated to getting help. I'll talk about general advice, but will also tie in my own experiences and stories. I think a lot of this advice holds true for people who are struggling with any kind of mental illness, so even if OCD isn't your thing, you might be able to learn a little something.


The question and answer format seems to help me keep things organized, so I'm sticking with it. 

How did you decide you needed help?

One of the things that held me back from getting help at first was the thought that "everyone deals with this; I'm probably not that bad." And you know, that's true to a certain extent. A lot of people do deal with this; some of them do nothing about it, it goes away on its own over time, and they end up just fine and not permanently scarred. 

But the truth is, it doesn't really matter how "bad" you are compared to others. If it's affecting your happiness, it needs to be taken care of. Period. If you're unhappy, or worried all the time, or afraid all the time, especially about little things (or nothing at all), you should get help. Seriously.

I knew that I was having these really strong fears pop into my head at random times, and that I had very strong reactions to them. In my head, I described it as "anxiety." I decided to bring it up at my 6-week checkup with my OBGYN, just to see what they thought and what my options were.

When I started crying while explaining everything to the nurse, I said "Honestly, I don't even know how bad it is; maybe it's not bad enough to do anything" and she said "Honey, you're in tears. It's bad enough." I was actually grateful for that. It was kind of like, there's no scale for this. We can't take a test and see into your brain and figure out if you meet all the qualifications for treatment. You're sad about it, and that deserves attention.

So what did she suggest?

As I mentioned in my first post, she gave me three options.

The first was to wait it out. I was planning on getting on birth control, which she said can sometimes work mess around with your hormones just enough to get you past the baby blues. She didn't recommend this, since I was in tears on her table.

The second was medication. I was hesitant, but not completely opposed to the idea. I wanted to talk to someone who might be able to say to me, "You know, I think you really need medication. It's not scary and it will help you."

The third was counseling. She said it's usually not a "quick fix" like medication can be, but you avoid the meds and it's usually helpful. I told her I wanted to pursue this option. She gave me a list of office-recommended therapists, along with city support group information, websites, and a personal counselor recommendation.

How was your experience with the counselor?

It was interesting. I went with the personal recommendation from the nurse. I had no idea what to expect from the whole thing. At the beginning of the appointment, I talked to her for about 15 minutes, answering questions and sharing experiences. She brought up postpartum OCD. 

She did a relaxation exercise with me, which was nice but kind of hard to really buy into (I was really wound up, you guys). She also told me that while postpartum OCD was very scary and very intense, medication is extremely helpful in treating it. That was comforting. She then said she could refer me to another woman who was a PMHNP (psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner), who she seemed confident would bridge the gap between counseling and medication for me.

Overall, my experience with this counselor was okay. I actually tried to go back to her for more sessions later, but she was very hard to get a hold of and never responded to my messages. Womp womp.  

How was your experience with the psychiatric nurse?

Short answer: really bad.

Longer answer: I waited in the waiting room for over half an hour. Then I was shown to the exam room (really more like a counseling office -- a couple chairs, a couch, coffee table, etc.), and I waited there for another 45 min. No joke. 

When the NP finally came in, she was hurried and impersonal. I mean, she was obviously running behind on her schedule, but I feel like my appointment really suffered because of it. She was typing the entire time, hardly ever even making eye contact with me. I had to remind her of my name 10 minutes into the appointment (even with her laptop right in front of her...?). I didn't feel like she was listening to me very much at all. She made some recommendations (vitamins, more sleep), but overall, I just felt like a number. 

I left with tears in my eyes (literal), a bad taste in my mouth (figurative), and a prescription for a low dose of Prozac (digital). I never filled the prescription.

Why didn't you take the medication?

I was nervous about medication from the beginning (which is the reason I didn't get it from my OBGYN in the first place). I'm not exactly sure why...except that it was this new, scary thing that I didn't know much about. I didn't know how I would react to it, if it would really help, if it would make things worse, etc. 

What I really wanted was someone who listened to my entire story, really thought I needed the medication, could answer all my questions and calm all my fears about it, and would really just convince me that this was the right thing to do. Since my experience with the NP was so bad...I didn't get what I was looking for. I was honestly already in this vulnerable place, and that whole thing just left me feeling a little scarred. I was not in a place where I was willing to take the risk when I felt like I didn't have anyone reliable telling me it was going to be okay. Does that make sense?

Looking back on it now, I regret not taking the medication, but I'll address that a little more later.

So...what did you do?

I decided to give it time. It had already been several months (I saw my OBGYN in October and the counselor in November, but the NP couldn't get me in until January), and the birth control I was on seemed to be changing things at least a little. I read some books I thought might help, tried to exercise a little more, focused on taking care of myself and not getting stressed out.

Did it work? Maybe a little. I wasn't having entire days affected by my obsessions anymore. But I still had them, and they still caused me a lot of fear. I wasn't sleeping very well, was pretty impatient with my kids, felt generally unproductive, and was nervous in public places. If something went wrong with my day, it sent me into a downward spiral that was hard to break free from. It was all pretty exhausting.

I toyed with the idea of going back to counseling, many times. I found a couple promising options and called to try to set up appointments, but had to leave messages and never heard back (seriously, what is with these people?). 

After several months with only minor improvements, though, I decided enough was enough. Dallin and I decided that whatever investment we needed to make was worth it. I was going to fix it. I found a counselor who seemed to be highly recommended, was close to home, and had online bookings. Done and done.

Long story short: this counselor has been great. In fact, I've been seeing her just about every week for a couple months now.

What is counseling like?

Honestly, it's not really what I expected. I expected to be given a laundry list of things to try to "fix" everything -- mental exercises, thought processes, deliberate things to do that would help fix my thoughts.

The reality is, though, it's been largely about giving me new frameworks to understand my brain and my feelings. I guess it's kind of hard to explain, but it's been incredibly helpful. I feel more capable of handling the bad stuff, more able to enjoy the good stuff, more willing to get to the heart of things and admit how I really feel about something. A counseling session leaves me feeling very vulnerable, but it also gives me a lot of clarity and makes me feel empowered.

In the name of being open, counseling is also expensive. We don't have any kind of mental health coverage so we're paying for it all out of pocket. I hate spending money, so this is a tough pill to swallow. It's been worth it though. Totally worth it. I would recommend it to anyone who can possibly find a way to swing it.

Would you do anything differently?

Yes. Looking back, I would have done a few things differently.

First, I would have talked to my doctor more about medication. I would have sucked it up and asked all the questions and found out what I could about it. And I would have tried it.

I would have worked harder at finding a counselor, sooner. That might be easy to say now that I've found one I like, but seeing the difference it has made has made me see just how important it is, and makes me think about how I could have stopped suffering sooner.

I also would have talked to my husband more. He's always been incredibly supportive of me, and super patient with all these problems, but I often felt embarrassed or ashamed about really opening up to him. I should have worked to be open and honest with him, and let him help me (I'm sure he would have talked me into both the medication and a counselor months ago).

What advice do you have to someone who is struggling with postpartum mental health problems?

Don't do it alone. Don't sit around waiting for it to get better. Do something. Talk to someone. Invest time and money in yourself. It is worth it. YOU ARE WORTH IT.  

Other people have been there. Your problems are hard, but they can be fixed. I know your thoughts seem like they must be crazier than anyone else's thoughts, but they're not. You are so not alone. You can do it. 


And I guess that's it! Thanks for reading these posts. It means a lot to me to have support and encouragement for sharing something that is honestly pretty hard to share. 

If I had to say one more thing, it would be this: mental health, postpartum or otherwise, is a real thing. It really affects your happiness. It really affects your ability to function and think clearly. Please don't write it off. Please don't judge other people -- or yourself -- for having difficulty with it. Please don't be afraid to face it and fix it. And when you're ready, speak up. You never know who you'll help.

Have a great day, my friends!