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




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!


Chels


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 love...it 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!

Chels


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!

Chels

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 trust...in 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.
Defeat.
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!


Chels

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 : )


Friday, January 27, 2017

Canvas: My Favorite Way to Decorate

Monday marks the 1 month anniversary of the blog's re-launch and I couldn't be more excited! With the help of my friend, Lauren, we've been able to reach over 10,000 views this month! Now that I've told everyone who will read my deepest and darkest secrets, I figured I would share some of my decorating style with ya'all! So, here's a little bit about my style and my taste...

I LOVE canvas pictures and artwork! It's everywhere in my home! I have a floral canvas picture in my entryway, as shown below. I love how it pulls together the side table below it. I've picked out a picture of each of our children to place in a frame. I've also put 3 flowers, 1 for each child in my painted bottle or "vase." I also included the "&" to show that they are all connected. Every time I come into my home, I'm reminded of the people who live with me that fill our house with love.






Canvas pictures of my children are hanging in my playroom, which is the room directly off of my entryway. In my playroom, I used one of my favorite methods of hanging canvas pictures, which is attaching thick twine to each canvas (either by hot glue or small tack) and hanging it off of decorative knobs. My favorite knobs are sold at Hobby Lobby, either at store or online (always buy when they're 50% off or use a 40% off coupon). I love how this room combines all of my children as well as fun colors and an "arrow" theme (I will be sharing more of this room next week).





I also have canvas pictures hanging in my living room. Above the fireplace I have a flowered  canvas painting. I love the way that the paint on the canvas has texture and depth. Next to my stairwell I have a canvas collage of my wedding pictures that my husband made. Above it I've put a beautiful ornate wooden piece. I love mixing canvas pieces with decorative accents.



There are a couple of different ways to make sure that canvas pictures stay straight. At a local craft store, it was recommended that I use Scotch rubber pads (like you use on cabinets) to keep my canvas pictures straight. I used them on some, but was not completely happy with the results (the pictures get crooked often). I would recommend using adhesive putty to keep canvas pictures straight.



I hope this gives everyone some ideas about different ways to use canvas on their walls or at least gives some insight into the personal style of the girl who you've been reading about!

Thanks for reading! "Like" and "Share"

Chels

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Extreme Mommy Guilt

Mommy guilt, we ALL have it. Whether we feel bad about not breast feeding, being too distracted during play time, working too much, not reading them enough books before bed, not making heart shaped sandwiches etc, there is always something to feel bad about. Parenting is hard. Being "on-call" 24/7 is very draining. That compiled with the fact that everyone on social media constantly looks beyond happy and put together (ugh) there is always someone who appears to be doing "it" better. Now, I want you to imagine the "regular" mommy guilt combined with the "OCD/depressed/anxious" mommy guilt. One word: OVERWHELMING.

When I first developed OCD, I was very resistant to accepting the fact that these horrible thoughts were not mine, but instead anxious thoughts. Excuse me! They're in MY brain! I obviously WANT to be thinking them. False. This lesson took me a looong time to learn. Countless therapists would assure and reassure me that even though my brain was thinking horrible things, these thoughts were not the true "me." Remember this, please remember this...anxiety makes you worry and think irrationally. OCD puts those awful thoughts/fears on repeat. OCD thoughts come against your will. I could not control my mind. It never quit. It was like I was running full speed on a treadmill that I could not get off of. It was exhausting. It was all consuming. When I say it was hell, I'm not lying.

For a long time, I felt like I needed to remember each thought so that I could torture myself with guilt over it. If I was going to think horrible things, I was going to make myself pay the price for it. This was a huge mistake. During my OCD I promised myself I would never forgive myself for the horrible things I had thought. I didn't deserve forgiveness. I thought saying the phrase "those aren't my thoughts, but are anxious thoughts" seemed like a cop-out. I wasn't going to blame an illness for my thoughts, I'm an adult and I needed to take responsibility for what was going on in my mind. This, my friends, was flawed thinking.

It took me getting out of the "fog" of OCD to realize those thoughts were not mine. Once I began taking medicine and my thinking slowed down, the thoughts did too. Suddenly, I was only thinking things I WANTED to think, and surprisingly (or not surprisingly) none of those thoughts included hurting anyone. That is when I realized that I needed to forgive myself.

You see, people with OCD/anxiety are very sensitive to bad thoughts. They believe in "right" and "wrong" and when they have thoughts/obsessions that go against their beliefs, they are shaken to the core. The very fact that 1 bad thought spiraled me into the depths of despair proves that I have morals. I love hard and I take failure very personally. I was willing to risk my own mental health to protect my kids, the problem was, that wasn't necessary. I did not need to forfeit my sanity to keep my children safe. What I needed was expert care and medication to help me understand my disease and get well.

So, you may wonder, what happened to my guilt? I finally took the advice of the professionals in my life and practiced self-care. In the depths of OCD, I didn't think I deserved to care for myself because I was an awful person. I thought: why does everyone keep worrying about how much sleep I'M getting when there is an obvious crisis going on. I couldn't worry about me because I was completely invested in worrying about my kids 100% of the time. I have now realized that if I don't care for myself, I'm doing my children a huge disservice. For me, self-care meant cutting myself a break. Holding onto all of the guilt and shame over the thoughts was ruining me and ruining my relationships with my children. I would have never been able to recover if I had not decided to forgive myself and let those thoughts go. It was a process. It took time, but now I understand the disease and I know that pushing forward instead of dwelling on "bad thoughts" is something that is so important toward maintaining my mental health.

When I see how much my children love each other, I know I'm doing it right.

All moms, not just ones with OCD/anxiety/depression need to learn to cut themselves a break. We work hard. Parenting is emotionally, physically,  and financially draining. It takes everything I have every day to keep my family going and I still fall short. I still lose my temper or cut bath time short. I still skip a story or don't cuddle as long as they'd like. I'm constantly trying to juggle meeting all of my children's needs while still trying to keep myself and my husband happy. Right now my dishes are dirty and I'm pretty sure the amount of food spilled on the floor during dinner could feed a small country. I don't know the secret to good parenting. I put everything I have into these little people and still find myself constantly apologizing for things that they do. I'm not the perfect mom, but my squad knows they're beyond loved and I will put everything I have into raising these amazing children I've been given.

Love yourselves, mamas!

Ps, I got as far as making a YouTube channel with my name on it before I decided I was too tired to put on make-up and turn on my camera...there's always next week!

Chels

Sunday, January 22, 2017

When Having Another Baby Takes a (GIANT) Leap of Faith

Hey guys! I'm pretty excited about this week because I have a lot to say and I also have some awesome projects going on that I can't wait to show everyone! Today, I want to talk about something that I know every mom who has had a bad postpartum experience worries about: having more children. I think if you've read my posts thus far, you can see how hard I struggled. There was a point where I sold every baby item I owned and swore up and down I would NEVER have another baby. I had seen the dark side of postpartum mental illness and I was NOT about to risk going through that again! Then, you know what happened? I healed.

You may be wondering, what does healing look like? I'm glad you asked! I knew I was healing when...I was able to complain about my children again. I know, so weird, but very true. When I was in the middle of OCD, I never spoke to my children in any sort of raised voice. I was very careful to always control my emotions around them (to ensure I didn't "snap"). I wouldn't say anything bad about them because in my mind, we were so lucky to have made it through another day! Part of my (and many other mom's) OCD was feeling like I couldn't complain about my children, because to me that meant I didn't love them and wished they were gone.

Now, please don't be upset. I don't sit around complaining about my children all the time. I obviously love them, I spent an entire year completely obsessed with them, but sometimes mama's gotta vent! I share my everyday frustrations, but keep my attitude about it light. Waking up to my son quizzing me about Pokémon while the 2 year old is ripping off his diaper and the baby just spit up in my hair is just a Monday for me. I post about it on Facebook and I'm not looking for anything other than another mom to say "been there" and just like that, I'll go and make breakfast that no one likes.

It is so weird, but when I realized I was okay having normal emotions and frustrations again, I also began to long for a third baby. The thought of going through OCD again scared the crap out of me, but I'd always wanted 3 children. Recovering meant me being able to have the strength to try again. Getting better was a journey, I was constantly trying to "rush through" it. I wanted to be better ASAP, but that's not how it worked. It took time, but once I regained my strength and personality, the need to "complete" my family came back.

I know some of you are in the trenches right now thinking "HELLL, NO!" I get that. I just want to show that the option is out there and it's the choice we made. Now, having another baby wasn't just a walk in the park. I had to put precautions in place. I changed medications to make sure I was taking ones that would be safe during pregnancy and throughout breastfeeding. I also kept up with my weekly therapy appointments (which at some point changed to a "need to go" basis). My friends and family also knew to keep their eyes peeled in case anything went wrong.

Since this is a safe space, I'll also share the fact that it kind of sucked going through a pregnancy after such a traumatic prior experience. For a solid year and a half, I felt like everyone in my life was handling me with "kid gloves." I felt like I had to ask for permission to have another baby and people weren't sure that I would be able to handle it. That was hard. That sucked. I felt like my friends weren't as excited when I got pregnant this time because they were scared for me. I literally had to tell them they couldn't share their worries about it with me. I needed them to support me and have faith in  my ability to take control of my mental health if needed.

Ella at Christmas
Well, we all rallied and Ella arrived! She is my miracle. I'm completely speechless over her. Her sweetness is amazing. She has 1 dimple, porcelain skin, and dazzling blue eyes. She fits so perfectly into our family. She was meant to be ours. She completes us. More than that, she has healed me. From the moment I got pregnant, the last remnant I had of OCD was gone. I've been able to cuddle her from the beginning. Everything has honestly gone far better than I could have ever imagined. (I'm not trying to ramble right now, but there's tears rolling down my face at how grateful I am for her.)

Statistically, I was more likely to struggle again postpartum so I definitely kept my eyes peeled, it just never happened. I had high anxiety for about 4 days (not OCD) and I made the appropriate calls right away to get it taken care of. When postpartum anxiety happened to me the first time, I was completely uneducated about it and had no idea what to do. This time I had tons of resources to lean on in case I needed it.

I'm amazingly blessed, but I want to make one more thing clear: I've healed, but I still think weird shit sometimes. I know, *gasp*! So, healing doesn't mean you will never have another bad thought, it means you can file it into the "STFU" department of your brain and let it go. (I'm not trying to use offensive language, but honestly, I got to a point with OCD where I had to get mad at it. Getting mad and making it "back off" was the only way I could conquer it.)

I hope this has given women hope that more babies after postpartum OCD, anxiety, and depression IS possible. It takes work, but by this point you're used to fighting for what's important to you!

Thanks for reading! "Like" and "Share"

Chels

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Take a Chance, Tell a Friend

Hey everyone! So, I'm writing this on Saturday because honestly, this week got away from me! I have mad respect for actual single moms, because I'm lucky enough not to have to work AND parent by myself. Taking care of my 3 minis alone during the week can be draining, but I try to remind myself to enjoy our time together and to "let them be little."

I'm starting to think about redesigning "the blog" to show a little more of my personality/organize my topics. Also, my biggest fans (hey neighbor girls) really think I should look into "vlogging" a little so people who don't know me can hear the voice behind the words. I'm going to try to work on both of those things! In the meantime, I have some super cute crafts that I'm going to start sharing, so keep your eyes peeled!

Now, down to business! Today I want to talk about reaching out to friends and family. When my OCD/anxiety began, I was too embarrassed to even tell my closest friends that I was seeing a therapist, much less WHY. Everyone could tell something was wrong with me, but I tip-toed around what was actually going on because I didn't want to seem "crazy" or "dangerous." I would sit with my friends with a hopeless look on my face, literally seeing no way out of the "hole" I had dug myself into. They couldn't understand what was going on though.

At some point, I decided that it was impossible to hold in what was bothering me. I decided that I was  going to take a chance and risk looking "bad" to the people who were closest to me because I honestly felt like the anxiety and guilt were too much for me to bear alone. Opening up and telling people what was wrong was hard. Very hard. At times it would feel SO GOOD to get something off my chest, but then I would go home and have anxiety for hours worrying about what they were thinking about what I had said. Luckily, I've been blessed with amazing friends. You know what happened when I started telling my friends about my struggles? They supported me. They reassured me that I was going to be okay. They promised me the boys were safe. They didn't understand WHY I needed this reassurance, but they knew that in my mind it was a big deal.

After I started slowly opening up to the people closest to me, I began to realize I wasn't alone. I had so much support from the people in my life. They got used to my fears, and "knew the drill" as far as reassuring me went. My friends have talked to me on the phone for hours, listened to me cry on their couches daily, slept in my BED with me, all because they knew how important it was to help me out when I needed it most.
Some of the girls I leaned on then (and now!)

I'm super close to about 12 girls in life, since going through OCD, my friendships have only been strengthened. Going through hard times is the worst, but looking next to you and seeing the people who held you up during the struggle is everything. OCD was awful, but I know each and every person who was with me during that time have become lifelong friends.

I developed OCD about 2 years into living at our first house. I was close with the neighbor girls, but the bond we developed that year has made our relationship unbreakable to this day. I asked my old next door neighbor, Bridget, to write a little bit about my struggle from her point of view. I thought it might be interesting for anyone struggling to see how an outsider saw me struggle.
Some of our old neighbors, Bridget in the middle.


This is what Bridget had to say:

"Watching Chelsea struggle the first few weeks after delivering her second son was hard. Watching her continue to battle herself was confusing, scary, and left me and her other friends feeling helpless. The only thing I could do was continue to reassure her that she wasn’t going to hurt her children, she wasn’t going to go through things alone, and continue to encourage her to ask for help. Did I know what that looked like? No. Did I know where that help was? No. But I knew she needed it.


Almost daily I watched Chelsea haul her two sweet kiddos through my front yard to my front door, all the while tears streaming down her face. She would ask “am I crazy?” My obvious answer was “NO!” Her come back? “Then why am I having these thoughts?” “Why won’t they go away?” “Will I ever be normal again?”

As I watched Chelsea struggle through her journey with postpartum OCD and anxiety, I saw an amazingly strong woman, mother and wife walk through each day like a zombie just trying to make it from one day to the next. I watched a once independent, do-it-yourself mama try to convince herself that she was ok.

As she started her journey through therapy, it wasn’t an overnight fix- it was a LONG journey. She was very distant from her babies. She didn’t want to hold her months-old son in fear that she was going to hurt him. She would walk in the door, I would prepare supper for us and our children and she would proceed to tell me her “thought of the day”. Sometimes it would be a new thought/scenario and some days it would be a repeat of one she had had before. She would continue to ask me if she would really act on those thoughts, desperate for reassurance that they were only thoughts, not something she would ever actually do! She would reassure ME (I think she was actually reassuring herself) that she was doing EVERYTHING she could think of to avoid the negative/intrusive thoughts: pray, read the Bible, avoided ANY sort of violent shows on TV, watched sermons on YouTube…the list goes on.

Now, two years later, I see a mother of THREE beautiful children. A mother that has matured in so many ways and a woman that desires so much to befriend ANYONE who is out there who needs a listening ear. Someone who understands what other mamas are going through. And someone that will support them through the “crazy” thoughts and feelings and help them get the help that they DESERVE!

Postpartum OCD and anxiety is no joke. From the outside looking in, it’s hard to relate to someone going through it if you’ve never dealt with it yourself. But, watching someone you love go through it, and not knowing how to help is painful. As a mother myself, I remember going through a bit of the “baby blues” after my first son was born. It was awful! Looking back at how exhausted I was, how “not myself” I felt. It was something I didn’t even realize was really happening- but reflecting on now, I wish I would have known so much more about it. Never did I realize that I would be walking next to someone dealing with SO MUCH more than I had ever thought was “real-life”.

Chelsea fought through all of this and has come out on the other side so much wiser and someone we can all learn from and lean on in these deep, dark times of need. ANYONE who is struggling or knows someone who is: PLEASE reach out for help. You are NOT alone. There is help. There is HOPE! I’m thankful for Chelsea and the light that she has been to so many already. I am so proud of the steps that she has taken and the energy that she is pouring in to all of us mamas to help us all know that we’re not alone: that there IS someone who will listen to you."


As I read what Bridget wrote the other night, I got tears in my mug of wine. These days I barely ever think about what I was like then. I remember everything, but I'm not stuck in that place anymore. Remembering what it was like and how hard I struggled is tough, but I'm sharing this with all of you to prove a point. Postpartum OCD, anxiety, and depression is hard. It's so important to tell the people around you that love you what is going on. They'll probably surprise you. Instead of thinking your awful or crazy, they'll offer you a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen.

My point today is that if you are struggling with anything, let someone know. If you can't find the words, show them my blog. Share my story. Share Lauren's story. Let your friends and family be there for you.

As always, I hope this is helpful for someone out there!

Chels






Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Parenting Through Pain

Happy Hump Day ya'all! We're halfway through the week and you know what that means!...it means nothing, we're parents...we always work. 😉 Today I thought I would share some of my parenting advice with you. Parenting is HARD. At times it can feel like people are lining up to tell you you're doing it wrong. Well, guess what, they don't make the rules so please ignore anyone who is trying to get you down. There is no "right" way to parent. As long as your children are getting their basic needs met (food, clothing, shelter, love) the rest is just personal preference. These are some "parenting cliff notes" that I've picked up over the years. I've parented while running scared. I've worried about people judging how I parent. I'm just here to share a little bit of my style and my point of view. We're going to do some bullet points today, because bullet points rock. Here we go!

                       (These people eat dinosaur shaped chicken, I'm pretty sure it's organic).      
  • Breastfeed...or don't! My oldest literally never nursed and guess what, he's awesome (and much better at Legos than me). My middle son nursed exclusively for 6 months and he is also awesome. I nursed my youngest for about 2 weeks, then I was just kind of done. It was making me feel overwhelmed and claustrophobic so I quit. She's also doing amazing and I absolutely refuse to let anyone make me feel bad about my choices. Whatever you choose, own it.
  • Leave your kids in pajamas all day if you want. My current plan with my 4 month old is to have her in pajamas as much as possible (and only ones with zippers, why do button up ones even exist!?) The reason is...I have 3 other people including myself to get out the door in the morning, if just one of us can get a pass by wearing pajamas all day, I'm all for it! (And when Ella wants to dress up, she wears a headband with her pajamas).
  • Let your house be messy (my husband is rolling on the floor laughing right now, that's never been my strong suit.) But seriously, it it's between taking care of yourself and your children or doing the dishes, always choose you and them.
  • "Having the laundry done" can be defined as "having clean clothes in a pile."
  • Pack your schedule as much or as little as you are comfortable with. Supposed to go to a birthday party, but you haven't slept in days? Please don't feel guilty saying "no" sometimes. I'm canceling plans as we speak because we have to head to the doctor instead of Bible study. 
  • Cry in public. (Not that you'll want to, but I've done this many times so I just want everyone to know it's totally okay to not always appear to "have it all together.")
  • Let your kids eat microwavable food. Sometimes my 2 year old tries to eat frozen corndogs for breakfast (I don't think his taste buds work). I GET that there are healthier options and I always supply fruit and vegetables with each meal. Sometimes though, you just need a 60 second meal made of questionable meats.
  • If your kids want you to sleep with them, give in. As a mom who has been through absolute hell mentally, I am forever grateful that I was able to keep my relationships with my kids solid. When they call for me, I come. I want them to need me. I know unintentional co-sleeping isn't for everyone, but I've been in a position where I never thought I'd be able to do it again. I cherish being able to be with them, even if it means getting kicked in the face.
  • Compliment your children endlessly. I'm pretty sure Dr. Phil said it takes 1000 "atta boys" to make up for 1 negative comment. I make sure to constantly tell my children how smart, sweet, loving, beautiful, etc. they are. Everyday I tell me 6 year old how proud I am of him, and his face absolutely lights up every time. I also apologize to them when I'm wrong or I lose my temper. I'm trying to raise strong, confident people, so I focus on building up their self-esteem and self-worth as much as I can.
  • Lastly and MOST importantly, trust YOUR instincts. Parenting is hard. Parenting while fighting a postpartum mental illness is darn near impossible. At the end of the day, you gotta do what you feel is right for your family and your children.
Again, this is a little insight into my parenting style, it isn't for everyone. If nothing else, I'm just trying to point out that I'm obviously not a perfect parent, but I try my best every day. When you're in the trenches fighting for your sanity, sometimes you just gotta do your best even though it isn't how you imagined it would be.

Ps, I also recommend eating candy while locked in the pantry/closet and drinking wine out of coffee mugs.

Thanks for reading!

Chels


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Stolen Time

If you're a mom who has ever experienced any type of postpartum OCD, anxiety, or depression, and you're anything like me, you may feel like you've been "robbed." I get that. I get that so much! You have been robbed of happiness, of freedom, of the time to bond following your child's birth. And that isn't fair.

I was able to have that storybook love you always hear about with my first son, Brayden. I went from being a scared 21 year old with a surprise pregnancy, to a mommy who was completely overwhelmed with love. When I had Brayden, I felt my world stop and my heart explode. Nothing that had happened before him mattered, he was now my life.

When we decided to get pregnant with Easton, I was a little nervous about being able to love both equally, but I was also sure I would adjust to being a mom of 2 easily. Once the anxiety/OCD kicked in though, I was terrified to even be near Easton. I could not relax around him. My anxiety was working overtime against my instincts. My instinct was to cuddle and kiss Easton, but my anxiety made me want to keep my distance to "protect" him. The pain of not having that "overwhelming" feeling of love with him was unbearable. Would we ever recover from this? Would he resent me for struggling so much? Was I capable of not being fearful around him?

I obviously love all of my children equally, but my journey with each of them has been different. With Brayden, it was natural and easy, like a fairytale. With Easton, I had to work. NOT work to love him, but work to make my mind stop sabotaging our relationship. Building an unbreakable bond with Easton took a lot of conscious effort. Being near him made me scared, so you know what I did? I wore him. I wore that baby in my Baby K'tan for MONTHS. I refused to let my anxiety dictate whether or not my child developed a secure attachment with me. I also breastfed him. For 6 months, he nursed exclusively. I decided that I would not allow my anxiety to stand in the way of our relationship. My approach isn't for everyone, but that's what worked for me. (Ps, I didn't breastfeed Brayden or Ella, so I totally believe whatever works for you and your family is what is best).

My experience with mental illness included a lot of "fake it til you make it" moments. I went through the motions, I did what I was "supposed" to do. Inside though, my mind was either racing (at the beginning) or completely numb. I chose to push through. I chose to seek help for myself and for my children. Yes, they saw me cry, I'm human. They experienced a mommy who was doing her best, even when her best was laying on the floor in tears. But you know what else, they saw a mom with strength. They saw someone who overcame obstacles and learned from them.

OCD did steal about a year of my life, and that sucks. BUT it wasn't for nothing. I've learned so much walking through that hell. I appreciate my children more. I understand how lucky I am to simply be able to lay with them at night and laugh with them. I'm eternally grateful for each moment I get to spend with them.
                              (This picture sums up my children's love for each other and makes me know we are more than "okay.")

So, are you wondering how this affected Easton? It didn't. I lived in so much fear about how this was ruining our relationship. It stung for a couple months when he was about 1 and seemed to be a "daddy's boy." Was that my fault? Did he love my husband more because I failed to bond with him? Nope. He was just being a silly toddler. Easton comes to me countless times a day to suck his thumb and sit on my lap. He is constantly asking me to cuddle with him on the "chouch." He jumps for joy any time I show up after being away from him for an hour or two. Our relationship has been fully restored. You know what else? I don't hold resentment for that "lost time." No, my postpartum experience with Easton was not what I wanted or expected, but we have come out on the other side stronger.

Healing includes letting go of the past. Please, try to hold on to the lessons, but let go of the pain. I know it's hard. I wouldn't wish postpartum OCD on my worst enemy, but I'm also determined to take my lessons from it and use it to make our lives better going forward. When Ella came along and I wasn't anxious, I can honestly say that I was able to appreciate our time together more. I still lay with her for hours "just because I can." It's like, if you've ever had a really sore throat. All you do is long for it to stop hurting, which makes you realize how much you take a throat that doesn't hurt for granted. I have learned not to take my time with my children for granted.

My advice to any mom currently going through any postpartum difficulties is to not be discouraged. I get the disappointment. I understand the need to mourn the loss of that precious time together, but I PROMISE your relationship will be restored. Your baby loves you. Your overwhelming love for your baby is what is making this experience so hard. So please, just keep going, even when it seems impossible.

Thank you everyone for reading!

Chels


Friday, January 13, 2017

Who ya gonna call???

GHOSTBUSTERS! Just kidding, don't call them, they won't take your insurance. So, the blog has been up and running for about a week and a half and the reception has been AMAZING! I want to thank Lauren for taking the plunge with me and sharing the hardest time in her life with thousands of our closest friends. Lauren and I have "known" each other for 2 years now because of OCD and we are both dedicated to helping spread awareness and help other women get healthy again.

Since this is a safe space, I want to share with you all a little bit about my week. I got a "bee in my bonnet" because I read another postpartum depression article from a very popular "mommy blog" in which the writer specifically pointed out she didn't have "harming" thoughts, but some women do. She then urged women with those thoughts to quickly bring their children to a safe place and go to a hospital to get help. Umm, the "fear" approach is not helpful. Since I feel very "mama bear" over women who are scared to get help, let me explain my issue with this.

Women who have thoughts about harming their children that are fueled by anxiety develop OCD. Their brain (body) is having an extreme reaction to a thought that they feel threatened by. All people have scary/inappropriate thoughts (yes, I'm implying that people who point out they've never had a "harming" thought probably have, they were just able to dismiss it because they realized the thought was not a true threat.) Women with OCD are very scared by their thoughts and DO NOT hurt their children. I've done much research on this, though you can never say never, the chance of an OCD mom hurting her children is pretty much 0. (Anxious girls, don't let yourself think you could be the "exception" to that rule. You aren't.)

"But some women DO hurt their children." ...Turn off the news, mamas! There are rare (and highly publicized) incidents where mothers do hurt their children. These are examples of postpartum psychosis. These women are experiencing something other than reality and do need help, just like the rest of us. Women who hurt their children during psychosis do not realize their thoughts are bad, therefore the thought won't give them anxiety. (If right now you're worried about if the "bad" thought gives you anxiety, it does. You're reading this blog because you're worrying about it.)

I hope you can all now see my issue. A mom who has anxiety that is told to "put the kids in a safe place and run to the hospital" will probably close off more and never tell a soul. That's why I'm here, I'm going to point you in the right direction! Girls, I'm NOT saying you don't need to reach out for help, you most certainly do. You don't need to do it in FEAR though. Please, please don't be scared. I get it. I've been there. You don't need help because you're dangerous, you need help because you DESERVE to be well and your child(ren) deserve a mommy who is healthy!

                                                  The boy who changed it all, Easton, 2.5 years old : )

Why is this SO important to me? Because last night I slept in my 2 year old's bed and woke up with my face in his hands. Two years ago I could not even be in the same room with him without fearing him. Being with him now soothes me. Seeing his sweetness is healing. I was convinced I would never be better. I didn't know how, but I was sure this would kill me. It didn't. I clawed my way out of the pit. I fought for me. I fought for us. I'm going to help you fight too!

So, I've spent the week doing research, dialing digits, and taking names. If you are in Minnesota, you can call the Pregnancy and Postpartum Support Minnesota helpline number at  612-787-7776 or email at ppsmhelpline@gmail.com. To get in contact with the Mother Baby program at HCMC that I went to, you can call 612-873-MAMA (6262). You can also call to speak with a Mother-Baby staff member for support or other resources, this is the Mother-Baby HopeLine at 612-873-HOPE (4673). I also want to add, my insurance did completely cover the Mother Baby Program (though I would have paid any amount out of pocket by that point).

Postpartum Support International's helpline is available nationwide at 1-800-944-4773. I would also say to click around on their website, there's lots of great information and resources on there. 

Both PPSM and PSI will talk to you and put you in touch with professionals who UNDERSTAND what you're going through (many of them have personal experience). I personally contacted both of these organizations and made sure that the volunteers who are helping you find help understand OCD, scary thoughts, etc. I would never send people to find help where they would be misunderstood. My mission is to help women reach out. If you've been following along, you saw that both Lauren and I reached out for help and our children were never taken away. I understand the fear. If you have anxiety and OCD and you are living in fear, please let someone help you.

Once you find some options for help, I would recommend researching each therapist online so that you can pick one that you think would be the best "fit" for you. I  found my therapist because her story was relatable to mine and I felt like I had found someone who would "get it."

Some therapists will be able to refer you to a psychiatrist or primary care doctor that you can talk to about medication. Sometimes you are able to find ones who work together, which is super nice. I ended up getting medication from a psychiatrist because I never really had a developed relationship with my doctor, but if you have an awesome doctor that you trust, I'd say stick with them for medication. Psychiatry appointments can take a while to get, so you may even want to make an appointment with one, then get medicine to "hold you over" from a primary care doctor until you can be seen.  

I'm hoping this information is helpful. Once again, thank you everyone for taking the time to read about my story, my struggle and my thoughts. Please comment/message with any questions, etc. The goal here is support, which is the first step in self-care when you are struggling.

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LOVE!

Chels

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Guest Post: Lauren's Story


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.