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!


Monday, March 6, 2017

How Could This (OCD) Happen to Me?

I had him on purpose.
I wanted him.
I dreamt of him.
I longed for him.
I counted down until the minute he was born, and he came out perfect.
His eyes a stunning blue.
His skin pale olive.
His lips perfection.
He was calm, easy, sweet.
He smelled like lavender and filled me with love, he made our family feel more complete.
He was mine.

And then came the thought.
The thought shattered me. It took everything I had ever known about myself and made me question it.
All of my energy went into the thought.
Nothing else mattered. I needed a reason, I needed to know why I had a thought about hurting him. Without that knowledge I didn't feel like I could go on or let go. I couldn't let myself be irresponsible with my thoughts, that was too dangerous.

OCD crept up on me when I wasn't looking, or perhaps when I was looking too hard.
It took my deepest thoughts and fears and legitimized them.
It took my soul and ravaged it.
It put my brain into permanent overdrive.
In the mirror I looked the same, but on the inside I felt scared. Terrified.
I would have given anything to escape my own body.

How did OCD know? How did it find me? How did I let this happen?

OCD found my soft spots, it preyed on the fact that my heart and soul belonged to a brand new 7lb 5oz being, and it attacked me using my greatest fears as ammunition.
Each thought that put him in danger was mortifying. Unbearable. Unforgivable.
Each time I tried to outthink or outmaneuver OCD, I got beat.
Each time I thought I was doing my best to find help and recover, I realized that I was 1 step behind and I needed more help than I thought.

I thought that obsessing over the thoughts was the right thing.
I thought that focusing on them kept my children safe.
I thought that if I kept proving to myself they were safe, my mind would actually believe it.
I thought I needed to pay the price for the awful things spinning around in my mind.
What I didn't know, was these thoughts were not mine.

OCD took up space in my mind, it gave me anxious thoughts that were not mine, and it used them to scare me.

Conquering OCD meant removing its power over me.
Removing the fear, the anxiety, the pain.
Refusing to let it torment me, to persuade me, to lie to me.
I needed to build myself back up, to pick up the pieces, to forgive (myself).
I needed to be kind, be safe, be loved.
To conquer OCD, you need to be kind to yourself. Feel safe with yourself. Love yourself.

Write your strengths down, review them, believe them. I'll help you start:
  1. You love deeply. If you didn't, bad thoughts wouldn't bother you.
  2. You are sensitive. Please don't confuse sensitive with weak, sensitive means your heart is big and you are very aware of your feelings and the feelings of those around you.
  3. You are brave. I know you're brave because you found this article, you typed words into a search engine that hurt your soul because you knew that you needed help.
  4. You are strong. You are strong because I've been in your shoes. Anyone who endures OCD, depression, and anxiety is strong beyond words because they are not only dealing with everyday struggles, but they are doing it while struggling on the inside.
  5. You are loved. Your baby loves you, your family loves you...YOU love you! And if you don't, you need to, because you deserve it.
Use this list or make your own. Write down things that are true about you, your character, your life. When OCD tries to lie to you, tell it to back off. You are strong. You are loved. You are amazing.

OCD wasn't something I did. It wasn't something I asked for or deserved. It was a disease brought on by anxiety and fueled by my overwhelming need to keep my children safe. I wasn't bad for having the first thought, and I wasn't bad for not understanding how to fix it. Reaching out for help is hard, but not impossible. Please, be kind to yourself!


Monday, February 27, 2017

The Journey of Healing from OCD

Healing, such a small word for such a huge accomplishment.

Healing starts with a moment. One moment in which you realize that you were able to focus on something other than OCD for just a second. That moment gives you a glimmer of hope. A glimmer of normalcy, a glimmer of what life can be again.

That glimmer drives you, it encourages you.

You keep going, keep fighting, keep wishing, keep searching, keep praying for relief. Full recovery seems elusive, but now it is your journey, your mission. The more you try to rush it, the further away it seems. So you keep doing everything you know to get better. Reach out to friends. Ask family for support. Take medication. Go to therapy.

You are a perfectionist following all of the rules put in place for recovery, but why is it taking so long?

Then, when you least expect it, like when you fall in comes. Sweet relief begins to wash over you. The harder days are less hard. The bad days are fewer and farther between. You begin to recognize yourself, the REAL you begins to emerge again.

You slowly begin to build the trust back up with yourself, but you aren't so quick to forgive the brain that betrayed you. The "old you" begins to come back, but it has also transformed.

You are now more wise, more understanding, more aware of yourself and others. You feel deeper and love stronger. Empathy and compassion flow out of you. Every stigma you used to have toward mental illness has become something you now want to help others fight against. You don't take one laugh, one "I love you" or one smile for granted. You've discovered a new side of yourself you never knew existed, a side that might have never been without OCD.

You're different, but very much the same. Laughter comes easily. Beauty can be seen in the littlest things. The darkness that used to rule your life has subsided and you can enjoy the sunshine again. The rollercoaster you've been on for months is over. The uncertainty has disappeared, you now feel safe.

You feel safe with yourself, your children, your life. You can now with full certainty distinguish between the thoughts of OCD and the thoughts are the "true you."

At first you cling to your recovery like a life vest in the ocean. You fear letting go, getting sucked back into the obsessions, the thoughts, the fears. Your new thoughts are calculated and precise. For a while, you may worry that OCD will never truly lose its grip on you, healing takes a huge leap of faith. But I promise, freedom will come. Complete freedom and recovery IS possible.

Recovery from OCD takes time, it doesn't occur overnight. OCD is traumatizing, it takes mental and physical stamina you never knew you had. It takes your mind to agonizing lows and places fear into the most mundane circumstances.

Once you climb out, once recovery is firmly in your grip, you walk. Keep walking and for a while, don't look back. Place distance between yourself and your thoughts, your fears, your obsessions. Enjoy the peace, the love, the serenity. Allow yourself to take a break, a true break. Lay in your bed thoughtless. Play with your children carefree. Laugh so hard it hurts. Enjoy your family. Enjoy your life.

Don't allow OCD to win. Don't let yourself hold a grudge over your journey, learn from it. Learn that these thoughts affected you so much because you love so hard and care so deeply. Learn that you are highly sensitive to right and wrong, and know that it's okay. Learn that you love your children so much, you set up mental and physical barriers to protect them (even if it meant protecting them from you). You sensed danger and you sacrificed your sanity for it, but now you know that you don't have to do that anymore.

You can protect your children in different ways. You can see danger, but don't need to obsess over it. You can have a bad thought, but that doesn't define your character.

OCD wants you to believe you should be small and fear, the truth is you are great and fierce!

Keep fighting mommas, your recovery is in reach!


Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Glimpse Inside My OCD Mind

Happy Thursday! So, I've been a little MIA lately because...parenting is hard! I wasn't depressed or having anxiety/OCD, I was more run down and exhausted. I felt like my kids were being extra naughty and extra ungrateful  and it was soooo tiring. My husband has been home about 1 day a week for 2 months now and it's starting to show. My husband traveling is our family's bread and butter and he's been doing it for 6 years now, but every year there are a couple of difficult months (and this is my first year with all 3 kiddos.) Anyways! I'm feeling much more perky lately which makes it easier for me to write (I don't like writing when I'm not "feeling it" because it doesn't feel genuine to me).

I did do something out of character about a week ago, I watched a seminar about growing my blog through Pinterest! This is exciting for me, but will take some work I haven't found time for yet (I literally don't know how "big time" mommy bloggers do it).

What makes me know I need to keep going is my readers. I've had many people contact me in just the past couple of weeks looking for encouragement through OCD. That is why I'm here. I want people to know they aren't alone. I want them to understand the disease and know that their reaction to it is normal. I want them to know they are stronger than they feel and that this disease can be conquered.

One thing I strive to do is explain OCD to those who may not understand it as well as share personal aspects of my struggle so that people going through it realize they aren't alone. I'm pretty sure our OCD minds all work in pretty much the same way. We all experience a lot of the same thoughts, fears, and thought patterns. Today I'm going to share HOW my mind was working during my OCD.

  • I was always thinking "if we can just make it to ____ we'll be okay." If we could just make it 10 more minutes until my husband got home, I would have proven to myself I wasn't dangerous and we would be okay. If we could just make it to next weekend, I would let the thoughts go and we would be okay. If we made it to next month, everything would be okay. I kept setting dates and once the time would come, I'd set a new date because I couldn't stop thinking. I couldn't stop obsessing. I couldn't stop.
  • I put my thoughts in a hierarchy. I was constantly asking my husband, therapists, friends "is this the WORST thought I've had?" OR "Is this the WORST thought anyone has ever had?" I was always convinced mine was the worst. My mind came up with the scariest things. I was broken, I was awful.
  • My obsessions would rotate. One week thoughts of physically hurting my children would torment me, but the sexual ones wouldn't. The next week it would flip. The sexual ones would bother me and the hurting thoughts wouldn't. This went back and forth countless times for months.
  • I thought that if I kept thinking about harming my kids it meant somehow that I was planning it. Like, "What if I hurt them tonight before my husband gets home.", "Oh my gosh! I set a time, that means I'm PLANNING something!", "I can't stop thinking about it now, does this mean I'm going to do it?" Cue excessive crying and hyperventilating.
  • I thought that if I did or looked at my children a certain way then it meant I wanted to act on my thoughts. If I wiped them one more time while changing their diaper than ended up being necessary, I was being creepy. If I wanted them to sleep in my bed, I was being creepy. If I touched their neck, it meant I wanted to strangle them. If I looked at them while holding a knife, it meant I wanted to hurt them. I read into EVERYTHING. I overanalyzed every movement, every thought, every moment.
  • I checked and rechecked thoughts constantly. I didn't want to forget a thought or have a reaction to one that wasn't appropriate.
  • I felt like I needed to disagree with every thought. This became constant as my anxiety heightened. I was constantly thinking bad things, then immediately following them with "good" thoughts or "true" thoughts. If I didn't combat the thoughts, it meant I agreed with them.
  • I couldn't understand how my husband so easily complained about stuff the kids did. I would never have complained about them, I didn't deserve to.
These are some of the thought patterns I had, sometimes it's hard for me to remember everything since it's been a couple of years now, but I'm trying to remember for the sake of those suffering right now. I know right now you feel like your on a rollercoaster in your mind that you can't get off of, I just want to share my thoughts and my struggles so you don't feel alone. I also want to reiterate this, I'm not like this anymore. I've come completely full circle. I still remember that time, but the obsessiveness and anxiety surrounding it is gone. You can get well! You WILL get well, just reach out for help!

Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

I'm A Great Mom, A Stranger at Target Told Me So

I took my 3 amazing children to Target the other night. It was almost bedtime, but we needed diapers and formula so it was a trip that had to happen. If you are under the impression that people were stopping me in my tracks to compliment my put-together, well-behaved children, you will be sorely disappointed. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't even put this trip into our top 5 worst-ever, but that doesn't mean it was pretty.

My 6 year old is an ASKER, he asks for everything. Things he wants. Things he needs. Things that he doesn't know the name of. Presents he wants to buy for random classmates. Clothes that are too small. Things we already own. Anything that's a cool shape or color. Anything. Once he stops crying about my refusal to buy one thing, we've walked far enough for him to want something else.

My 2 year old is a completely different story. He's an OPENER. The opener is dangerous because they open things before you even realize they're no longer strapped into the cart. I buy more opened/partially eaten food items than sealed ones. I used to get anxiety over the amount of "trash" I needed to pay for at the beginning of each check-out session, but now I have bigger things to worry about, like if Easton has escaped to the parking lot while I was blinking.

Have you forgotten Ella (6 mos) was on this trip? Yes, me too. She's literally the one with the most needs and she stayed completely silent throughout all of the chaos. She also does an amazing job of holding all of the crap that doesn't fit anywhere else in the cart.

So we're at Target checking out and I'm feeling optimistic, but as soon as I start piling wrappers on the conveyer belt to buy, Easton starts trying to open all of the candy next to the register. "Stop it!" I hiss with a smile on my face. He laughs and starts running, weaving in and out of aisles. Meanwhile, I'm trying to get the heck out of Dodge, so I send Brayden off to round up Easton. Big mistake. Now he's being chased while running into strangers and opening food I don't want to pay for. This has become a game. An awesome, annoying game.

(I would like to take this opportunity to propose a petition. My petition is to get Target to start playing background music in their stores. I've been personally been dealing with child meltdowns for over 6 years now and just sometimes I wish their shrieks would be slightly muffled by some random elevator music.)

Anyways, here we are. My children are chasing each other while stealing and I'm sweating because I can't find my credit card, because I stuck it somewhere special that I "wouldn't forget it" and then couldn't find it (it was in my pocket). I finished my purchase and put the children back in the giant cart they always make me push (with the 2 extra seats, but no extra space for purchases). I'm on my hundredth "you aren't going to get your Lunchable!" when the lady behind me (who had been quietly laughing to herself the whole time) speaks up, "you're a great mom" she tells me. She has 3 kids at home and understands the struggle. The struggle is REAL.

There are only 3 reasons that parents would say parenting isn't "that" hard:
1. They're lying.
2. They have a child who is 1 day old.
3. They have a multitude of nannies.

Parenting is hard, I don't care who you are. That lady probably wasn't super impressed with me or my kids that night, but she understood it. She understood the importance of lifting others up when they are struggling. She saw through the exhaustion and frustration and wildness. She understood us. I wake up every day and put everything I have into parenting. I push through until the kids go to bed, then I sit on the couch too exhausted to change the channel away from cartoons. We are parents, we are all part of a club that is equally fulfilling and draining. Sometimes it's nice to hear a stranger laugh at your kids while they're being naughty, then tell you you're awesome because they "get it."

I lose my temper. I cry. I feel weak. I disappoint myself. Despite all of those shortcomings, my kids love me. They tell me I'm the most amazing mommy. They cuddle and hug me even if I snapped at them. They forgive me of my mistakes. So here we are, it's another day and I'm sure my kids will spill about 20 gallons of water on my new laminate floor and I'll raise my voice just a little while telling them  for the 100th time to get dressed, but at the end of the day everything will be okay because we are a family and always will be.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

What I Wish Others Knew About Postpatum Mental Illness

It can be so easy to gloss over the terms of mental illness without understanding the deeper feelings behind them. You can hear someone say "my anxiety is through the roof" or "this OCD is exhausting" or "I wish I wasn't so depressed" without truly grasping how all-consuming these illnesses are. Without personal experience, I can honestly say I would never have understood the gravity of these terms or the life-changing effect they have on people.

For me, anxiety meant:
Losing the ability to eat, my tense stomach wouldn't allow it.
Having a permanent "weight" on my chest.
Being unable to sleep, my anxious mind was always at work.
Always being in "crisis" mode.
Worrying constantly, this world is such a dangerous place.
Panic about the possibility of panicking.
Actually panicking.
Each minute feeling like an eternity.
Parenting seeming impossible.
Relief was unattainable.

For me, OCD meant:
Constant horrifying thoughts.
The inability to distinguish which thoughts were caused by me and which came from anxiety.
All-consuming fear.
Mental exhaustion.
Physical exhaustion.
The loss of myself.
The need to hide things I found threatening.
Analyzing all interactions with my children.
Needing constant "outside" reassurance.
Never allowing myself to become frustrated with my children.
Becoming a shell of myself.
Having zero confidence in my abilities, character, or integrity.

For me, depression meant:
Literal hopelessness.
Feeling buried in a hole, unable to climb out.
Holding feelings in until I no longer could.
Sobbing. Not crying, wailing.
Absolute numbness.
I had no idea what was to come, he has been amazing from day 1 though : )

One of my biggest struggles was finding the right way to express myself. Frustration turned into anger. Misunderstanding turned into resentment. Words of encouragement fell on deaf ears. The longer I struggled, the more I believed I would never heal.

Postpartum anxiety, OCD, and depression are so hard to explain and almost impossible to understand. Having your brain turn against you during what is supposed to be an amazing time in life is confusing and disappointing. Everyone experiences mental illness differently, but these are just some of the feelings I had that I didn't know how to voice until after my struggle had ended (yes, I promise it can end.)

Take care of yourselves, mamas!


Monday, January 30, 2017

A Letter to the OCD Momma

To the mom who suffers OCD in silence: I see you.
To the mom who spends all of her "me" time crying into her pillow: I get it.
To the mom whose eyes dart across the room, wondering who is worrying about her sanity: I feel your pain.
To the mom who fears holding her child: You're okay.
To the mom who fears not bonding with her child: It will come.
To the mom who's hungry, but can't eat: I've been there.
To the mom whose greatest fears are stuck on repeat in her brain: I know, it's hell.
To the mom who feels trapped in her own mind: You will escape.
To the mom who mourns her former self: You will be restored.

Right now you may feel helpless, alone, and misunderstood.

You might look in the mirror and not recognize the woman in the reflection. You've always been strong, self-sufficient, and courageous, but now you find yourself needing reassurance for every move you make. The fear is real. The emotions are real. The way out seems impossible.

You obsess over having "the thoughts."
You obsess over not having "the thoughts."
You cry when the thoughts upset you.
You cry more when they don't.
You wonder where these thoughts came from and fear what they could mean.
You long for a clear mind, something you never before considered to be a gift.

You've become robotic. You don't act how you feel, you act how you think you should. You smile is empty. Your eyes heavy. Your face is still, but your mind is racing. Your body is withering away. Your once strong spirit is begging for shelter. Shelter from the thoughts and anxiety. Shelter from the chaos. Shelter from yourself.

You're running. Endlessly running. Your mind is running. Your body is running. Staying in one place is the enemy. An empty schedule invites the thoughts. Being alone is not your "safe space". You have no sanctuary.

Why are you like this? How did you get here? What did you do wrong?

You are like this because you love hard. You got here because you are selfless and protective. You did NOTHING wrong.

From the depths of despair, there is hope. OCD feels like an Everest you were never trained to climb. You will fight this until you don't feel like you can go on and then you will fight some more. You will find inner strength you never knew you had and discover parts of yourself you didn't know existed.

OCD can feel like an identity crisis. Your mind has turned against you and you feel completely betrayed. I'm here to say: It's okay.

It's okay to cry, hard and long.
It's okay to mourn for time lost.
It's okay to feel defeated, though you swear you won't give up.
It's okay to fake being "okay" long before you feel it.
I'm here to tell you everything will be okay. Maybe not now, but eventually.

Eventually the fears will fade. The obsessions will lose their grip on you. Your mind will rest and you will relax in the serenity of silence. On the other side you will be stronger. You will be sensitive and understanding. Empathy will be your greatest strength.

On  the other side, there is joy and there is peace of mind. On the other side you will understand yourself far more than you could have ever imagined. The fear will have left you, but the lessons remain. On the other side of it:

You will know what true strength is.
You will have fought for yourself and those you love.
You will be able to enjoy your life and your family.
You will forgive yourself.
You will have overcome unimaginable obstacles.
You will be grateful for the little things.
You will enjoy simply being.
You will be able to help others through their struggle.

OCD is like the world's greatest test of character and I promise, you are acing it.
When I was finally able to enjoy my family again : )