Monday, December 4, 2017

What am I Going to Tell My Kids About My Postpartum OCD? The Truth

Recently, in an interview I was asked what I was going to tell my kids about my postpartum OCD experience. How would I explain my (now public) struggle to the people who I care about most, the people who my OCD revolved around, my children. What do you say to someone whom you once feared hurting? How do you explain the thoughts, the fears, the anxiety? Well for me, I'll tell them the truth.

At an appropriate age, I'll show them my writings. I'll share with them my experiences, my thoughts, my heart. I'll explain to them the anxiety, the pain, the anguish. I'll show them that none of this would have ever happened if I didn't care for them. If I didn't love them. If I wouldn't risk everything to save them. I'll recount the minutes, hours, and days of anguish that I spent obsessing over every thought, every word, every action. I'll show them how a single thought of harm toward them caused me to spiral into a dark hole of obsession and fear.

I'll teach them the importance of outside support and self-care. I'll teach my boys to support their wives and significant others as they navigate the waves of new-parenthood. I'll share with my daughter the reality of postpartum motherhood. I'll tell her to have high expectations, because her life will surely be eternally altered from the moment she meets those new eyes, but also to be keenly aware of any thought or feeling that may feel "off" or "wrong". I'll tell her to embrace the journey, but also be open to whatever detours this new road may take.

When I finally tell my children about my postpartum OCD experience, I will do it in a way that takes the darkest, most horrific, most traumatic part of my life and turns it into a life-changing learning experience for them. I want my children to learn from my pain. To grow from my hurt. I want them to understand what can happen and learn how to avoid it in their own lives. I want them to see the unshakable love I have for them and understand that love was never in danger. I was never going to falter from that love. I was never going to give that up. I was never going to risk us, I was never going to risk them.

Postpartum OCD took every aspect of my motherhood and life and called it into question. It made me closely examine myself and my character relentlessly. It stole months of happiness and peace with my children from me. It took the purity of a newborn with his mother and turned it into a nightmare, but it didn't prevail.

I didn't let OCD overtake us. I didn't let it define me. My identity. My motherhood.

There was a point where I was ashamed to tell my best friends that I was seeing a therapist, but now I've shared my story with tens of thousands of people without shame. I'm not ashamed to tell people my deepest thoughts and fears, and when the times comes, my children will also hear my story and my journey.

I hope that my children will be proud of me. I hope that they understand the depths of the pain I went through and recognize how hard it has been to be so open about it. I hope they join me in fighting stigmas about all mental health issues and see me and my story as raw and inspirational. I hope my intrusive thoughts and fears make my children more aware of the feelings of those around them. I want them to recognize a struggling face and make it their mission to help others out. I want them to understand that no one is ever "too broken" or "too far gone." All people have souls and all people matter, I hope my children are able to take whatever impact I make on the world and multiply that by infinity with all of their talents and ambitions.

I'm of the belief that everything happens for a reason. Every single struggle in life contains a greater meaning. Every obstacle has made me stronger. Every setback has grown my character. Postpartum OCD, specifically, gave me an entirely new focus in my life. It took my heart and soul and changed them in ways I could never imagined. It matured me in ways that nothing else ever had. It gave me a perspective on mental illness in a way that I would have never understood without going through it.

So, when the time comes, I will be telling my children all of these things. I'm sure I will be apprehensive about it, but my prayer and earnest belief is that they will understand and be empathetic toward me about it. My goal is not for my children to see me as a perfect being, the goal is for them to see my flaws, but know my heart was and will always be in the right place.

Thank you all so much for reading, I really appreciate all of the messages you send me, it encourages me to keep writing and keep sharing my story.



Chels

Sunday, October 8, 2017

OCD: Harm Was My Obsession, Not My Reality

A week ago, our country was once again reminded of the evil some people have within them. The shooting in Las Vegas is not only heartbreaking for those involved and their families, it is also a reminder of how unfair life can be and how much we should cherish the time we have with our family and friends.

Obviously, these tragedies affect our entire country, but I also want to reach out to those struggling with harm OCD right now. When I was going through OCD, some of the most terrifying and isolating times were when there were news stories about individual people doing horrible things to others. The most triggering news stories were ones that involved mothers and their children, but my mind ran wild and rampant with any sort of violent story. When I would hear stories about abuse, neglect, homicide, literally anything involving harm, I would become overwhelmed with dread that one day that would be me. My OCD was so strong, that I felt like there would never be any way out. I would never heal. In my entire life, I've never been suicidal, but during this time, I was convinced OCD would somehow kill me. It was the most confusing thing I had ever experienced, because my only fear was ME, and I would never hurt my kids or myself, yet I felt like it would kill me. It would somehow take my life. I wouldn't make it out. But I did. We did.

In the "thick" of my OCD, all of my "purposeful" thoughts or any thought that wasn't part of my obsessions, needed to be positive. I would endlessly repeat positive mantras to myself, it was the only way I felt like I could "remind" myself of who I really was, but even my mantras needed to be very specific. For example, in order to get through the day, I couldn't think "this won't be forever." To me, thinking that it wouldn't be forever implied that I wouldn't need to deal with my kids forever, meaning I didn't want them and wanted to get rid of them. Instead, I would tell myself "WE will get through this" (I couldn't even just say "I" would get through it, because that would have meant I was alone, without the kids). To someone who isn't suffering with harm OCD, either of those two statements would probably work as "pep talk" to get themselves through the day, but to me they were night and day different. I would also do little things to "prove" to myself that I loved my kids. If I did certain things for them, that meant I loved them and I wouldn't hurt them. My OCD set in very early in Easton's life, so early, that I hadn't made it to the government center yet to purchase his birth certificate. For a while I thought, "you didn't get his birth certificate yet because you wish he wasn't here" which is when I decided that, obviously, IF I went and got his birth certificate that would mean I wanted him and my OCD would be cured (spoiler alert: I DID get the birth certificate and no, that didn't heal me).

I'm sharing these memories and stories because I know how hard it can be. Seeing someone with a "mental illness" plastered all over the news for a mass shooting, fearing what this means for you. I can picture the wheels in your head turning, "He had a mental illness...I have a mental illness too!" I'm here to lovingly request that you change your thinking. Right.This.Instant. You see, I thought like that. I would constantly look for similarities between myself and whoever was doing awful things instead of recognizing our polarizing differences. My mind was betraying me, every second of every day. My brain was breaking my heart over and over again.

Here's the truth, there are many people who have (a wide variety of different) mental illnesses that are capable of getting so sick that they do hurt people. There are also many people without mental illnesses that make unthinkable choices, unfortunately, we cannot always answer why people do what they do. But in all of this, there is something that is certain: people with OCD don't hurt people. OCD is tied to anxiety. Anxiety takes what you care about most and puts it in the worst case scenario. In my case, I cared so much about my newborn that the second that my brain felt like he was being threatened (by me), it went into overdrive to try to figure out why and began to steadily raise my anxiety in order to keep the baby safe. As long as my anxiety was high, Easton could stay safe. OCD put those fears on repeat. I was a "broken record" of horrible thoughts. The thoughts became so automatic and uncontrollable, I started believing that if I couldn't stop the thoughts, I must want them. If I wanted them, I must agree with them, and if I agree with them, I must be capable of acting on them. None of this, however, was true. Statistically, there was a 0% chance that I would ever hurt my kids (numerous professionals and literature on the subject have assured me of this). Underneath it all, OCD was about the obsession of protecting my kids. When my brain felt they were in danger, it globbed onto those thoughts in order to "figure them out" and find a meaning. However, there was never and will never be a meaning. I thought something weird and horrible. That's it. It was a weird thought that I became obsessed with.

I really feel for people suffering with harm OCD right now. It is the worst feeling in the world to see your biggest fears plastered all over your T.V. and internet. My biggest advice right now, however, would be to look for the differences, not the similarities between yourself and whoever is worrying you. One of my most intrusive thoughts happened after every time my therapist would reassure me that I was okay and my kids would be safe. I would think, "What if she's wrong, what if I prove her and everyone else wrong and hurt someone?" This was always immediately followed by a surge of fear along with the immediate thought of, "What the heck is wrong with you, why would you ever WANT to prove them wrong!?" And THAT my friends, is why OCD is so hard, so crippling, so debilitating. There is a constant tug-of-war with your thoughts and it begins to feel next to impossible to differentiate them from each other. For a solid 4 months, I lived my life on complete "auto-pilot", never doing the things that my mind was saying, but instead relying on my natural instincts to lead me through the darkness.

So please, if any recent events are triggering you or scaring you, reach out to someone. Bad people aren't scared of being bad. Evil people don't have a terrible thought, then spend the next year in therapy and on medication because of it. People don't just "snap." Things don't just happen out of the blue. Please don't let people who have done horrible things keep winning and scare you, they aren't you. Focus on your life, your family, your story, your healing.

Much Love!



Chels

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

My Best Friend's Husband Has Brain Cancer

Three years ago this week, my postpartum depression became so out of control that my neighbors intervened and insisted that I get outpatient treatment. I know this, not because I'm good at keeping track of dates, but because that is the same week my neighbor's husband got diagnosed with a grade 3 Astrocytoma brain tumor.

In 2012, we bought our first house. On the day that we moved in, the people 2 houses down moved into their house too. Eventually, us and the house in between us became really close. The first two summers were awesome and carefree, but the second autumn is when our relationships went from close neighbors who enjoyed bonfires and grilling cheddar dogs and turned us into lifelong friends.

                       (Eric with his 3 daughters while wearing "Optune" which he wore 23 hours a day for 18 months)

Sara texted me the morning of my interview with The Mother Baby Program, she was supposed to be watching my oldest son that day as well as during the 3 week period I would be attending the program. She said she was sorry that she couldn't watch Brayden anymore, but Eric had a brain tumor. I called her a few times, but we never spoke that day. Her family of 5 had suddenly been thrown into a nightmare that is hard to comprehend. Her strong, smart husband who was the sole breadwinner for them and their 3 small girls had just been given a diagnosis that would take anyone's breath away.
                                                          (Eric and Sara after his first surgery)

8 days after Eric found out he had a the brain tumor, it was surgically removed. They didn't find out exactly what it was right away, but eventually they were told that it was stage 3 brain cancer. They had removed most of it and he would go through chemo and radiation to try and get rid of the remainder of it. For months we watched as the entire Utes family banded together to support Eric. We watched as they stayed strong for their girls and showed each other the true meaning of love. We watched as Eric (amazingly) returned to work pretty quickly after surgery. We saw the kindness of friends and strangers as meals and money were donated to help the family. We saw some of the best in people during the most unfair of life's circumstances.

We watched a strong man in his early 30s get diagnosed with a disease that swept us all off our feet. I saw my friend stay strong for her family, while at times silently struggling inside. I saw my neighbors cry, fearing the unknown. I saw myself, so wrapped up in my illness, not really able to help my friend like I wish I could have.

I've told my (old) neighbors many times since then that I fully believe we lived next to each other for those specific 4 years for a reason. I believe that God put us together because he knew we would need each other during those years. I don't know how I would have survived without Bridget and Sara during that time, and I hope they would say the same thing about me. There were times where we just stood in silence watching our kids play. There were moments where things "felt" normal, even though we knew that our normal had now changed.

                                                                 (3 months after diagnosis)

We all ended up moving away for different reasons last summer, but we all still live within 15 minutes of each other. Sara and I talk every day. Though Eric is currently healthy, he will now have MRI's every 3 months for the rest of his life. He also still goes through difficulties I cannot fathom. He's had some seizures and other setbacks that have been hard for their family. Throughout it all though, they have stayed so strong and positive, many people would never guess how much they have gone through. The Utes are "the people you want to be friends with." Their family looks picture perfect. Their daughters are breathtakingly beautiful, but also unbelievably smart. Even though their family has been through so much, Sara still feels guilty every time they can't help out when they said they would or feels bad if she has a bad day.

Sometimes, I wish that Eric and Sara could see themselves like me and my family see them. They are kind beyond words, unconditionally selfless, laugh until you pee funny, never give up kind of people. The relief that they get each time Eric has a clean MRI is always eventually overshadowed by the fact that statistics say it will most likely reoccur-and at a higher grade. People with Eric's diagnosis have a prognosis of living about 3-5 years after being diagnosed. Even when they get "good" news, their new reality is that this is something that they will (likely) be dealing with forever. Please keep this family in your thoughts and prayers, from the bottom of my heart, they are the most amazing people I know.

Next weekend, our family will be participating in the BT5K (Brain Tumor 5K)in the Twin Cities (MN) on the "Utes Crew." It would mean the world to us if as many people as possible donate and participate in this cause. Please consider visiting http://hope.abta.org and supporting brain cancer research. You can also "follow" Eric's story by "liking" Eric's Updates on Facebook. Thank you so much for reading!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Postpartum Depression Isn't Shattered Glass, It's a Puzzle Whose Pieces Will Fit Back Together

Shattered.
Broken.
Lost.

That's how I felt, that's what I had become. Postpartum depression wasn't just being sad. The anxiety I developed didn't revolve around small fears. OCD didn't present itself in a funny way. It was raw, all of it.

The overwhelming sadness I felt took my breath away. At times I thought would never be able to inhale deeply again. The anxiety was crippling. Small fears I had never even recognized suddenly became unscalable mountains. The obsessiveness attached to my fears was beyond my control. I couldn't stop the thoughts. My need to obsess over the thoughts and search for meaning behind them became automatic and unrelenting.

I didn't have a "safe space." When your mind is sick, there isn't anywhere to run. There's no refuge from the storm. There's no quiet place to assess and recharge. There's only deafening thoughts. Constant chaos. Debilitating fear.

I felt broken. Shattered. Ruined.

There was no escape. I felt like nothing could ever fix me. I physically couldn't stop the thoughts, so how would I ever overcome them?

I was so scared. What if the only way to stop the thoughts was to act on them? At one point, the only way I could calm down enough to go to sleep was to tell myself I would hurt myself before I ever hurt my kids. That isn't a healthy way to think or behave, but it's where I was. It was my reality.

I wasn't shattered though, I was just an incomplete puzzle. I had to seek out the pieces and help that I needed in order to be whole again. Recovery was a lot of trial and error. I tried things that didn't work and became discouraged. I found things that did work and had hope. I became impatient with recovery and backslid. I saw how far I'd come and vowed to keep going.

When my life hit the fan, I was brought to my knees. I would have given anything to make it stop, but the exact thing that I felt would somehow kill me gave me an amazing amount of strength once I overcame it. Not only did postpartum depression not shatter me, it made me better. The thing that I didn't believe I would ever recover from is the very thing that made me a better person today. I wasn't a bad person before, but the amount I have grown and changed since experiencing it is only something that would have happened if I went through it.

Without the dark times, it is hard to see the brightness of the good times. If I hadn't suffered so long and hard, I would have never understood others who do. I couldn't have developed the compassion for those with mental illness unless I had experienced it. I would never have believed so strongly in breaking down stigmas attached to mental illness and medications/therapy needed to treat people with them.

Before postpartum depression, I thought I "wasn't the type of person" who would ever need therapy. I was fine. I didn't need medication, I had a brain with complete control over my thoughts and emotions. None of that was true though. We are all flawed. Everyone has their own "Everest" in life. There are all things we don't think we are strong enough to overcome, only to come out the other side with greater understanding and the courage to help others.

To those that much is given, much is expected. I have been given the gift of healing from postpartum depression. I promised myself and God that if I made it through, I would help others. It took more work than I ever realized and greater faith than I knew I had, but I did come out the other side. I want other people to see how far my rock bottom was, not to discourage them, but to show how completely hopeless I was (and how far I've come).

I don't want others to let postpartum depression, anxiety, and OCD shatter them. All is not lost. There is help and hope. Once you heal and the puzzle is complete, you will see that the new, complete person you've become outshines the person that you were before.

Chels

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The 1 Thing I Needed in Order to Let Go of My OCD

My OCD.
My mental illness.
My disorder.
My greatest enemy.
My constant companion.

How could I let go of the thoughts? They were dangerous, out of control.
I needed to control them, I needed to continue having them in order to make sure my kids were okay. At first, I kind of had the thoughts knowingly, consciously. I would read blogs and find new fears. I began to develop the fears of other women I read about. The fact that bad things still gave me anxiety meant, in a twisted way, that I would be okay. If the thoughts still scared me, I wasn't psychotic. Eventually however, I had the thoughts automatically, it was completely out of my control.

Every minute of the day was consumed with thoughts and worry. I had gone from never having a threatening thought in my life, to having them constantly...about my children.

I was scared. Terrified. Within 1 month I had completely forgotten my former self.

What did I used to think about?
How did I used to act?
Did I really I love motherhood?
What if this was permanent?

I hung onto the thoughts for a long time, or rather, I hung on to the anxiety that propelled them. For months, I felt the need to keep worrying about the thoughts. It felt like some sort of moral requirement that I needed to spend the rest of my life remembering and repaying for the thoughts. For me, thought=action. I saw no difference. If I could think it, I obviously was capable of doing it. More than that, if I could think it, I wanted to do it.

I couldn't figure out how it was possible to have completely zero control over my thoughts. If I kept thinking about something, I must want to, there was no other answer.

Therapists told me over and over that analyzing the thoughts only furthered my illness, but I just couldn't seem to let go of it all.

In order for me to let go of  OCD, I needed to know that the thoughts weren't the real me. Until I became completely convinced that they were 100% a symptom of a disease, I (felt) that I couldn't risk letting them go.

Letting them go meant letting them do what they wanted, without reaction. I had to let them say what they wanted without letting myself get beat down by them. I needed to take my power back from them. When I thought something awful about my kids, I wanted to fight it. I wanted to fight the thought, find the cause of it, then make myself pay an emotional price for having it. But to overcome it, I had to stop.

In order to conquer it, you have to understand that it is all based on a lie. Anxiety lies to you, it finds threats in the mundane. OCD turns these lies into obsessions. The obsessiveness is exhausting. The exhaustion eats away at rationality. The sadness it causes dims the soul.

So, you may be asking, how does someone let their OCD go? Set it free.

I understand that "setting it free" sounds simple, but feels impossible. I get it. It's like saying "dunking a basketball is simple, just jump high." Letting go of anxiety and OCD takes dedication and determination. Some days you won't feel strong enough, that's okay. Other days you will feel like you can conquer the world, that's awesome. Though emotions differ from day to day, one thing needs to stay the same: your goal.

The goal is wellness, not perfection. No one is perfect, everyone has good and bad days. Recovery doesn't happen overnight, but that doesn't mean it is unachievable. The same energy that once went in to deciphering and dissecting the thoughts now needs to go into self-care and rebuilding self-esteem.

In order to recover, I needed to start believing in myself again. I needed to believe what my friends and family were telling me. I needed to stop fearing the future and take control of my present. I needed to rediscover myself and trust in me again.

OCD and anxiety lie. The thoughts they put in my head weren't the true "me" and they aren't true for others who suffer either. We aren't a collection of sinister people who are flying under the radar, putting those in our presence in danger. We are highly sensitive individuals who gave a bad thought too much power. That's it, I promise.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Happy Birthday to the Baby I Fought For

Three years ago on June 23, I was celebrating the birth of my second son, Easton. He's been perfection since the start, his eyes sparkle and he is an amazing blend of his daddy and I. We were smitten, over the moon, but once the OCD set in my single greatest fear was this: how will our relationship ever recover?

What if he hates me for my disease?
What if he can't forgive the thoughts?
What if I can't?
What if I refuse to?

The fear became all-consuming. There was a fight on all fronts, the battle in my mind was unbearable, but almost equally as painful was the constant feeling of disappointing my boys. Physically, I didn't miss a moment of their lives, but emotionally I was distant. The distance felt like miles, the months I kept them at arm's length seemed infinite. One of my first questions in therapy was: is he going to hate me?

Hate. Will he HATE me?
He grew inside of me.
For 9 months I was his cocoon, his home.
I now feared that I had crossed some invisible line of trust that he would never be able to forgive.
I thought that no matter what I did, I had already ruined me.
I'd ruined us.
But then my therapist told me something I've taken with me to this day, she said that if anything, our connection would be stronger.

Stronger. I didn't think that was possible. I felt like the lowest of low. It felt like I was secretly hurting my kids, so I had to constantly make up for it. I thought that the more often I had a scary thought, the more likely it was for me to act on it. I thought the longer it took me to recover, the greater chance it reflected my true character. How could he ever be closer to me even after everything that had happened?

About 3 months into my postpartum OCD journey, I truly felt like I had weaved myself into some sort of web that I would never be able to get out of. I was at the bottom a well and there was no rope long enough to pull me out with. I was thrashing in the water, grasping for breath. I was hopeless.

But slowly, ever so slowly, I clawed my way out.

Every parent fights for their child. Every parent has different experiences with each baby, but for me, I feel like Easton is truly the baby I fought for.

I've had 3 babies:

Brayden was my first born and he made me a mother. He opened my eyes to caring about another human more than myself. He taught me to be nurturing and safe, he gave my heart a new softness it hadn't had before.

Easton rocked my world. Caring for him scared me. Touching him made me want to jump out of my skin. My heart raced when I knew we would be alone, I could not relax around him. The fear I felt completely overshadowed my ability to feel the closeness to him that I longed for. Anxiety spent months lying to me and scaring me to death, but we persevered. I was eventually able to decipher my anxious thoughts from my real ones. I was able to calm down and believe that the OCD really was my mind malfunctioning in a constant attempt to keep Easton safe.

Easton was the baby I fought for. I fought for every cuddle and kiss. Every laugh and snuggle. I fought for him to love me and trust me. I put myself through hell in order to keep him safe. I cried more tears than should be allotted in a lifetime and discovered parts of myself that I had never known existed. OCD felt like an identity crisis. I felt like a stranger within my own body. I felt out of place in my own mind, like an unwelcomed guest that didn't know where to put their bags. But eventually, everything clicked.

Easton has the ability to put everyone at ease. His mischievous smile and innocent eyes make it impossible not to love him. I'm sure this is true for a lot of moms, but Easton was my biggest therapy. He healed me. When I was losing my mind in guilt and anguish, he was growing, thriving. In spite of my struggles, I was able to continue raising my children and loving them. I know I would have made it through OCD no matter what baby it was with, but I truly feel like God gave me Easton to conquer this struggle together.

After Easton came Ella. Ella was my redemption baby. She was the one who I got pregnant with even though I didn't have full trust back within myself. Having her was a leap of faith, something that I swore to myself at one point would never happen. When Ella was born, I was like a watchman, searching for problems. Waiting to lose my mind, but I didn't. I was stable. I was secure in my character. I knew the lies that anxiety and depression wanted me to believe and was able to combat them before they made a nest in my brain. Everything that had happened with my previous baby was something that I knew to look out for and properly fight against.

Easton's birthday isn't about me, it's about the birth of an amazing boy, but it will always mark a time in my life where a major crisis occurred. The war in my mind following Easton's birth felt very life or death. The realness of the fear is something that I had never experienced before and honestly, could never have understood without having been through it.

Each of my children are a blessing, we each have a special bond, but Easton has changed the trajectory of my life. My perspective on love and relationships has changed. My ability to have empathy for others has expanded in a way that I wouldn't have expected. My perception of people with mental health issues has transformed. The way I view the use of medications has shifted. Almost every aspect of my womanhood and motherhood has changed because of postpartum OCD. It was an exhausting tug of war that happened exclusively in my mind, but created a lifetime's worth of change within me. I'm stronger than I knew. I'm softer than I was.

I hate postpartum OCD, anxiety, and depression with every fiber of my being, which is why it is so important for me to help other woman with it. It isn't fair. It isn't easy. It isn't your fault. But it IS something you can overcome.

So, 3 weeks late, happy birthday, Easton. I love and cherish you. I'm blessed to have been given you to get me through that dark time. I'm eternally grateful for the mommy you have helped me become.


Chels

Thursday, June 1, 2017

5 Small Comforts Amidst the Chaos of Postpartum OCD

Happy Spring (Summer?)
I completely understand how frustrating it may be to follow a blogger who is MIA, and I'm sorry. January-May are the months every year where my family is in "survival mode." My husband is home an average of 1 day a week and this was my first year with all 3. First, I want to say that, although my husband and I are exhausted, this year has been amazing! When I first started writing again I was scared...actually, terrified. I wanted to document my journey past OCD, but was also kind of fearful of it coming back. What if I turned into that girl again. What if I struggled. What if I backslid.

I didn't.

Recently I was telling a friend of mine how much I love Ella (my 9 month old). I couldn't believe how freely I've enjoyed her, because it was the exact opposite of my postpartum experience with my second child. My friend said "you're smitten." Smitten. Yes, I'm EXACTLY that. I've treaded lightly and kept my eyes open for trouble, but it never showed up. I've stayed on medication and am in contact with my therapist. If I were to run into trouble, I would have the tools at my fingertips to get better quickly.



Since this is a safe place and honesty is my policy, my blog doesn't "look" like I want it to. It's like I have things to say, but I haven't yet found the time to make my blog my own, which is something I'm going to focus on before the new year (see how I put a nice long timeline on that ; )). My page will become beautiful and professional, but for now what is most important to me is to have these words written down. Women who need support don't care about what font I use, but they do need somewhere to go for reassurance and encouragement and that's what I'm aiming to accomplish right now.

When I was suffering through OCD and was in the "thick of it" I spent about 95% of my time on Google looking for symptoms, stories, and reassurance. I needed to find someone who had been in my shoes. I needed to know that they had every single symptom that I did, and I needed to know that they had ended up okay. I would sometimes find specific articles or websites that would explain so perfectly what I was going through that I would regularly look them up to calm myself down. The relatability of the words would bring me to tears. Knowing I wasn't alone was comforting.

I regularly get messages from women who are struggling. I'm not a professional, but I'm a woman who has been through something hard and can encourage others who are currently struggling. Many people who contact me have the same questions, so I thought it might be helpful to write out some things about my experience that may be helpful to hear or look at when struggling.

1. When people say "please, reach out for help" or "you must get help" they aren't saying it to scare you or imply that you are dangerous. You deserve help and peace. You deserve to be happy and healthy. You do need to get help, I NEEDED to get help, not because I was a danger to myself or my children, but because I didn't need to struggle. I didn't need to feel isolated and scared. My children needed their fun, vibrant mommy back instead of the shell I had become. So, YES, please get help. It is so important to get help and be diagnosed properly, I would recommend connecting with Postpartum Support International (1.800.944.4773) in order to be matched with skilled professional in your area. Yes, I had scary thoughts. Yes, I got help. No, my children were never taken from me, not for a second.

2. The content of your (intrusive) thoughts have nothing to do with how much you love your baby (babies). When getting help, professionals aren't necessarily looking at the content of the specific thoughts, it is your reaction to them. If you have a scary thought and are terrified by it, you are not psychotic. Having physical reactions (sweating, crying, weight loss, etc) are all possible reactions to scary thoughts. If you are seeing a professional who understands OCD (especially if they're one that I went to haha) they've heard EVERYTHING, I promise : ). Thinking about hurting someone is NOT the same as wanting to hurt them or actually hurting them. The obsessiveness sets in when you try to figure out why you had the thought. You are so disturbed by it that you must examine the thought or examine your entire life to decide whether you agree with the thought or not. OCD forces you to agonize over thoughts that don't deserve it. If you are worrying about hurting someone, it means you love them, please don't dig deeper for meaning, there will never be one.

3. You will not just "snap" someday. People with OCD are very careful with their actions. They drive themselves crazy, but their actions are very calculated. I knew every inch of every movement that I made for over a year, analyzing each move for whether I had touched or done something in a way that I perceived to be dangerous. You will not snap or act out, if anything, when I was suffering I was more gentle and accommodating to my children because I felt that I had to "make up for" all of the terrible things I was constantly thinking.

4. Being unable to stop the thoughts will never translate into you agreeing with them. Ever. I used to think that if I couldn't stop the thoughts, at some point I would begin agreeing with them. I also feared that at some point I would get so fed up with having them that I would act on them as a last resort. Neither of those did or would ever happen. Intrusive thoughts are against everything the sufferer's soul believes in. You are a good person, which is why this affecting you to your core. The repetitiveness of the thoughts will never translate into you believing in them, you will also never become so beat down by them that you will listen to them. This illness is HARD. Intense. Overwhelming. I promise, you can overcome it!

5. Instead of looking for any similarities between yourself and any story you have ever heard of someone hurting another person, look for differences. Or don't look at all. You are not them, you are on your own journey, please focus on that. It can be so easy to be distracted by what someone else did who may "seem" to be on the same journey as you, but they aren't you. You have control over yourself and your destiny, please focus on making the life for you and your children as good as possible.

I hope some of these things are encouraging for women who are currently struggling. These were things that I needed to hear when I was having a hard time, I hope that this article is one that can be looked at during hard times when reassurance is needed.

Thanks for reading!

Chels