Monday, July 30, 2018

4 Ways to Protect Your Mind in a Triggering World

Our current world is a lot to handle for those who aren't fighting mental illness, but when the weight of today's reality is combined with the additional stress of mental illness, it can be overwhelming. I've never been more scared than when I was struggling with OCD and would see someone act on the same exact obsessions I had been ruminating over. I was in a very fragile mental state. It was next to impossible for me to distinguish between the problems others were having and my own. I didn't see each mental illness as its own separate entity, instead I clumped them all together.

In my mind: "They had a mental illness and so do I, therefore, if they could act on those terrible thoughts, it must mean I could as well."

To me, there was no difference between us. Anyone who was capable of having a scary thought was equally capable of acting on them, especially if they had a mental illness. Wrong. So, so wrong.

Saying that every mental illness is the same is like saying every physical illness is the same. It's completely untrue. Just as every mental illness is different, the severity of it varies too. Having a bruised knee and needing knee replacement surgery are VERY different injuries. Though both involve a knee, the severity of the injuries and the treatment of these injuries will be very different.

I'm often asked how long it took me to heal. I have no problem sharing this information, I was in weekly (or more) therapy for about a year and a half. I also continue to take anxiety medication. My experience is not everyone's though. Not everyone will take that long to heal. Some will take longer. My medication will not work on everyone, there were also some medications that did not work on me. Everyone is different. Every journey is unique. That doesn't mean that one person's journey is "easier" or less important than someone else's, it's just different.

I've put together what I believe are the four most important ways that I was able to protect myself during triggering events and this is the same advice I give to anyone who messages me.



1. Focus on Yourself and Your Story:
This one is very difficult, especially for people who feel the need to constantly research their symptoms. I had postpartum OCD, specifically, I was scared/obsessed with thoughts of hurting my children on purpose. The nature of those thoughts made me very sensitive to stories where children had been hurt by their parent/caretaker. I thought that because other people had acted on my exact fears, it meant I was also capable of that. Nothing could have been further from the truth though. People with OCD do not hurt people, they have a great fear of hurting people, so they begin to have compulsions against the thoughts. I would make sure there were two closed doors between me and my sleeping children so that I didn't hurt them during the night. I would only use knives in the kitchen when they were in a different room from me, etc. I was so scared of hurting them, I went overboard keeping them safe. People who hurt other people or children do not do this. They do not worry about their actions or feel guilty for having scary thoughts. They may very well suffer from a mental illness, but it for darn sure isn't one that is rooted in keeping those they love safe.

If you are currently battling OCD or a different type of mental illness, you need to close out all other stories you've heard that you believe to be similar. Those people are not you. They don't have your same experiences and as identical as you may believe their story is to yours, it is not. You do not have enough strength to obsess over their story and yours. You must put all your energy into healing yourself and making your life a positive one.

2. Make Others Aware of Your Triggers:
I know that someone struggling with harm OCD may be embarrassed or scared to tell others what is going on. I'm not saying you have to tell everyone your exact thoughts or obsessions, I'm just advising you to tell people that certain topics make you uncomfortable. You cannot completely hide from the world around you, but I'm suggesting you make your close circle of friends and family aware of certain topics of conversation that you aren't comfortable being involved in. Being up front about not wanting to talk about dark topics will make it easier for you to relax in social settings and allow you to focus on the great relationships you have in your life.

3. Have a List of Concrete "Truths" About Yourself:
Make a list of non-negotiable facts about you. A list of core values and beliefs that are true to you. This list will help you when you are feeling anxious or feeding into the lies of OCD. OCD and anxiety want to make you question your morality and integrity. They want to make you unsure of who the "true" you is and they want to beat down your soul. Don't let them. Use your "clear" mind to make a list of what is important to you.

For example: you are honest, you care caring, you are loving, you are sincere, you are strong....etc"

You don't need to say these on repeat constantly, but have them in a safe place where you can find them and read them to yourself during times of doubt.

4. Find a "No Matter What" Friend to Confide in:
I've seen so many posts lately about moms needing their "No Matter What" friend. That friend who you can call at any time and tell anything to. Find that person. Look for them. Search for them. Lean on them. Now, I know that OCD/mental illness can be very isolating, so maybe this "friend" is your therapist, or pastor, or doctor. Maybe it's a stranger on a mental health hotline. Maybe it's me. OCD thrives on fear and silence. It wants fear to keep you quiet. I'm not saying to use constant reassurance as a crutch, because that will never help you defeat OCD. Rather, have someone that you can reach out to when you are very triggered. Let them know that you heard something that rattled you to the core and you just needed to tell someone. Let them be there for you. Let them console you. Then let yourself go back to kicking OCD's a**. (Excuse my language)

There's no "secret pill" to defeating OCD. I didn't wake up one morning to find it was gone (though often wished I did). I didn't follow these rules perfectly. There were days where I felt like I had lost all of my progress. Days where I felt back at square one. Days where I thought the tears would never end. There were times I sat on my couch, paralyzed in fear. I've laid on the floor convinced there was no way I could go on. I've been completely exhausted. Beyond hopeless. Irreparably broken. I've been to the bottom and then some. I promise there is a way out. There are better days ahead. Our reflexes may be to read about others' experiences and base our recovery off of theirs, but it's during those moments we need to really look inside of ourselves and focus on our own truths and paths.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Lies Postpartum OCD Told Me


Sometimes people ask me why I don't share more of my daily life/funny posts on my blog like I do my personal Facebook page. The answer is kind of hard for me to explain. On one hand, I feel like my blog would reach a larger audience if I posted funny things or recorded funny vlogs, but at the same time, that's not my passion. I would LOVE to be a fashion blogger, or just a viral "mommy blogger". I would love for people to giggle at my one liners or line up for my opinion on Tide's newest product, but that's not where my heart is. When I started my blog, I had no idea what I was doing (obviously), and though much of that still holds true, I do feel like my actual writing and content has improved immensely. Many people that read my blog do request to be my Facebook friend (and I always accept), but what I post about on there is slightly different that what I write about in my blog.

It's nothing inappropriate or jaw dropping, it's just different. The things I post about on my daily Facebook page are often related to my children, much like my blog is, but it shows a different side of parenthood. You see, when I was struggling with postpartum OCD, I would have never joked about the everyday struggles of being a mom. When I was scared to be near my kids, my inability to get any privacy from them would not have made me laugh. When I would hear stories of child abuse, I felt like I was so much worse than those people, purely because of my thoughts. I wouldn't have joked about hiding from my kids in the pantry or going on "vacation" at Target. I didn't giggle about wine or coffee. I wasn't wearing t-shirts about my "tribe" or complaining about my husband being my "third child." I was very serious about everything.

I wasn't serious in that any of that stuff would've offended me, it's just that I wasn't in a position where those kind of things were relatable to me. At that point in my life, I was having a crisis. I felt like my life and my family were hanging in the balance and that took away my ability to joke about them. I felt like if I complained about my family, it meant I wished they weren't there. If I admitted parenthood was hard, it meant I regretted doing it. If I didn't cry about a scary thought, it meant I agreed with it. If I didn't feel butterflies when I told my kids I loved them, it meant I was lying.


I was having an identity crisis. I didn't understand what had happened to me. I was scared of what was going on in my brain, which in turn made me tread lightly in all areas of my life. During that time, I felt like a complete fraud. Everything I said and everything I did was empty. With one thought, I completely disregarded everything I had previously believed to be true about myself. Every kind word or action I had ever said or done was forgotten. Every dream of motherhood I had as a child must've been wrong. My belief that I had always been a "pretty good person" was instantly gone.

I felt like in order to be able to become "me" again, I needed to "test" myself to make sure I was still the person I had always been. I would gauge every interaction with my kids no matter how small. When I cried during Easton's vaccination shots, that proved that I loved him. If I had a bad thought about him later that day, it called my love into question. Every move I made, every thing I said was carefully analyzed. I felt so trapped in my own mind. I didn't feel safe reaching out to anyone about my problems until I was sure that I understood them. I was willing to endure countless panic attacks and sleepless nights alone with my problems in order to try figure them out and understand them.

The problem, however, with my endless need to find meaning behind the thoughts, was that there would never be an answer. I will never know why I had a thought about smothering Easton that night in July. I will never understand why my new mommy brain betrayed my heart like that. But what I do know, what is the truth, is that I didn't need to struggle so hard alone. What I do know is that, though the actual thought cannot be explained, my reaction to it can be. That thought made me feel like Easton's life was in danger. That thought activated my anxiety and my need to protect him at any cost. That thought put me into 24/7 "fight or flight" mode.

My need to figure out OCD overshadowed every other thing in my life. I could not see beyond that single thought. I didn't feel safe in my own brain. I feared being stuck in the body that had thoughts like that. I wish I would have understood postpartum mood disorders more before I experienced one. I wish postpartum depression or extreme psychosis were not the only ones I had ever heard of. I wish I would've known that a scary thought does not equal a scary action (or even wanting to commit a scary action). I wish I would have been able to open up more to those around me. I wish I would have known what kind of professionals to reach out to.

I was so busy having an identity crisis that I couldn't focus on anything else, because honestly, nothing else mattered to me at that time. All of these things, these silent struggles, are what my blog is about. I try not to post things that I think would be "triggering" or unhelpful to those who are currently struggling. I know there is some sort of happy medium between my OCD writing and my everyday self that I still need to figure out, but these are some of the reasons that I haven't bridged those two aspects of my life successfully (yet).

Thank you all for being patient as I build this blog and continue sharing my story : )



Chels

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

7 Keys to My Postpartum OCD Recovery


By far, the most common question I'm asked about my OCD is how did I beat it. How did I recover? What methods worked? How long did it take? OCD took me by complete surprise. I never knew that a disorder I had always thought of as a "glorified cleaning disorder" could actually revolve around harm. I didn't know that the severity of my harm obsessions were propelled by my mind's overwhelming need to protect my kids. I didn't understand that the reason I couldn't get the thoughts out of my head was because my brain began to think that without watching out for the thoughts, acting on them was a possibility.

I spent weeks and months suffering in silence. I stayed silent because I was afraid. I stayed silent because I was having an identity crisis. I stayed silent because even though the suffering was unbearable, at least the damage was only in my mind. Only happening to me. I feared that reaching out for help would put my family at risk. I felt that once people saw how dark my thoughts really were, they would take my kids from me. I was afraid I would end up in a hospital against my will. I worried about what my family would think of me and how my extended family would react. I was raised to be a nice (though outrageously outspoken) Christian girl whose thoughts would for sure cause others to question my morality. So I stayed quiet, I stayed quiet to stay safe, but eventually I could no longer stay quiet. I slowly began reaching out to different people, sharing parts of my fears with only those I truly trusted. Each and every step I took toward my recovery was very calculated. I did a lot of research before calling the therapist I decided to begin seeing. I tiptoed around the cause of my anxiety with my doctors. I clammed up when our pediatrician asked if my fears revolved around the kids. I only opened up as much as was completely necessary to begin getting help. I only began opening up because I thought that if I didn't, OCD would somehow kill me.

I don't share the fact that I thought it would kill me lightly. I want to make it clear that I never at any point was suicidal, but I felt that somehow, someway, OCD would kill me (almost as if it was a separate entity from myself). Once I began drowning in the thoughts and the shame, I became utterly hopeless. The depression that followed wasn't just me being "sad". It was an overwhelming feeling that there was no way out of the mess I had made. I felt like I would never be able to stop the thoughts, and even if I did, I would never be able to undo all of the damage they had done. I would never be able to "make it up" to my kids. I would never be able to forgive myself. Depression for me wasn't just crying (though there was much of that), it was a fundamental belief I had that something bad was going to happen and I had no idea how to save myself from it.

For the reasons I've shared above, I'm putting together a list of "keys" for others to use in recovery. I want others to suffer less and for a shorter time than I did. I want others people to know it's okay to reach out. I want my "last resorts" to be other people's first options. I want to take the knowledge I now have looking back and use it to help those who are currently at square 1.

1. Tell your spouse/significant other/best friend:
Here is your first step toward recovery, let the closest person to you know what is going on. The first step is always the hardest, but it is so important. The people who love you can't help you fix something they don't know you're going through. Telling that first person will help you not feel so alone, it will also aid you in reaching out for more help. Use that person as your "wingman" in finding further help and support.

2. Find a therapist:
There are a couple of different kinds of therapy for OCD. Mine was mostly talk therapy, but there is also Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) where you confront your fears (intrusive thoughts) head on and discontinue your escape response to them. I found my therapist by searching "OCD Specialist (my home state)" and was able to read through different profiles until I found the therapist I felt comfortable reaching out to. This method may work for others, but what I would recommend trying first is calling Postpartum Support International's Warmline at 1-800-944-4773, there you can find information, support, and resources. You can also find them online at www.postpartum.net, here there is a lot more information and stories that can be helpful in answering any questions you may have.

3. Let your friends and family help you:
I'm not saying you need to tell all of these people your life story, but let them help you. Let them make you a meal or babysit your kids. Let them drive the carpool or bring you some tea. Let them be there for you in the way that you would be there for them. Needing help doesn't show weakness, accepting help shows strength. Moms always want to have it all together without "needing" outside help. I'm here to say that I KNOW you can do it without help, but you don't NEED to. There is no award for struggling harder and longer, please give yourself a break and accept all the help.

4. Take medication:
I know, I KNOW. I didn't want to write this, but it was truly a lifesaver for me. I tried essential oils, working out, drinking more water, positive mantras...you name it, I tried it. I finally reached out for medicine because I was desperate for relief and guess what, I got worse! The first medication I was given didn't work, so I tried again to fight without it. Eventually I tried a different medication (actually a couple combined) and I FINALLY had relief. I wish I wouldn't have thought of medication as something that made me "weak" or something that I didn't need. I wish I would have tried a different one sooner. I wish I would have done just about every one of these steps sooner. So please, if you need medication, get some. I needed the medication in order to "quiet" my mind. Without it, I wasn't able to even focus on recovery because I couldn't get my mind to stop buzzing. Once I was on a medication that worked, I was able to get rest and think clearly again. I'm not saying you need to take medicine to recover, but I am saying please don't feel bad about doing it. It doesn't make you weak and there are ones that are safe while pregnant and breastfeeding. Sometimes your body just needs a "reset", that doesn't make you broken, it makes you human.

5. Unplug:
Please, please, please, unplug! Stop Googling. Stop watching the news. Stop looking for answers on Facebook. You. Must. Stop. Within the past two weeks alone I have seen a couple of viral stories about moms and postpartum depression that I'm sure scared a few of you. Right now, I need for you to not focus on them. One of the most important things a therapist ever told me was to "focus on myself." I was so busy letting other people and their stories scare me that I forgot to focus on my story and my family. Recovery takes much longer when you keep hearing, seeing, and reading things that scare you. I spent almost a year barely looking at social media and pretty much only watching HGTV (I heart Chip Gaines). I was protecting my mind from outside influences and it was one of the best decisions I made.

6. Reach out for MORE help if you need it:
By this I mean more professional help. I needed more help. I ended up at an outpatient program for new moms at a hospital in Minnesota. Four days a week for three weeks, I took my son with me to outpatient treatment. I was reluctant to go to outpatient. I was embarrassed. I thought I wasn't the type of person who needed it, but I was. I needed more therapy, more support, more information, I just needed more. I went to The Mother Baby Program at HCMC (in Minnesota), which at the time was 1 of only 4 programs like it in the country. If you just need "more" they can be reached at 612-873-6262, or visit them online at HCMC Mother Baby Program.

7. Be Patient:
This one is the reason I've taken to long to write this post, because I hate that none of these are "overnight" fixes. I feel so helpless when people reach out to me and no matter what I tell them to do, they will also need to be patient and take time to heal. In all, it took me about a year and a half from my "first thought" until I considered myself completely healed. I went through many different "phases" of OCD. My longest phase was the one where I was almost better, but still felt like I had a "monkey on my back." There was always this small remainder of OCD, this feeling that it was always waiting for me to pop back up again. I would say this was about 9 months of my recovery. The "almost there" part of recovery. That was one of the hardest things, I began to come to terms with the fact that I would never truly be better, but even that passed. That small tug in my heart where the fear of OCD was went away. All of it.

I know I've said this before, but these are just the things that helped me personally. I tried a lot of things that didn't work and each of these steps took me longer than necessary because I either didn't know what to do or I was too scared to do it. I'm not telling anyone what to do, but I'm here to say that whatever you do, own it. Own your recovery. Don't let the fear of being "found out" overshadow your path to recovery. This isn't a cute blog post about "easy" steps to recovery, each one of these steps are difficult, but they are also all achievable if you put your mind to it! Thanks for reading : )



Chels


Monday, January 15, 2018

Mother's Intuition Interrupted- How OCD Made Me Question My "Sixth Sense"

Mother's Intuition.
A Sixth Sense.
A Gut Feeling.

An inexplicable feeling you have when you know something is wrong, very wrong, and you need to keep your children safe from it.

The ability to sense danger even when there is no rational reasoning behind it.

A gift you expect a "good" mother to have perfected.

Something that can be hard to admit when it is temporarily miscalculating.

Something that will correct itself with time. With patience. With grace.

My first OCD thought was powerful, it paralyzed me. The amount of anxiety the thought of smothering my baby gave me was interpreted by my postpartum brain as an urge. The heart-stopping idea that I had an urge to smother my baby tore me apart. It broke me. It made me question my mother's intuition. My ability to keep my children safe from danger. My core beliefs, my heart.

I suddenly didn't trust myself. More than that, I became convinced something bad was going to happen. I felt it in my gut. It consumed me. It consumed all of my thoughts, my time, my life. My intuition had never been wrong before, so there was no way it was wrong now. It took me months to come to terms with the fact that my "intuition" was off. My inability to reconcile this with myself hindered my healing. I didn't think it was possible that I had spent so much time fighting something that wasn't real. It was real in the sense that to me it was real, but the actual threat (of myself) wasn't real.

I was never a threat. I was never a danger to my children. But I thought that the strength of the thoughts combined with the relentlessness of them made them real. It made the thoughts a real threat- to me. It made me believe my children were in real danger. I felt like I was in the passenger's seat in my own brain, with no real power over what I thought. The only power I retained was in my actions and the belief that somehow, someway, we would overcome this together.

I went into auto-pilot. I did and said things that I thought the "real" me would say and do. It was torture to carry on like this while the thoughts were constant, but it was almost scarier when I got on medication and felt nothing at all. I wasn't having the thoughts as much, and when I did I didn't react. I wasn't sad or happy, I was just there. I kept "playing" the part of me. Being loving. Being kind. Being strong. But I was still broken inside. For months I feared that the fact that the medicine kept me from reacting to the thoughts would somehow translate into me agreeing with them. I also feared that my brain would begin to agree with them as the months I spent with them went on.

I spent my time chasing freedom. Relief. Respite. But also deep down believing that I would never be free. I slowly came to terms with the fact that life would go on, but my brain would always be broken. I still couldn't fully accept that all of my fears and worries centered around something that was never at risk of happening.

Perhaps my stubborness to admit I could ever be wrong about my intuition made full recovery longer and harder. Realizing that my "gut feeling" that something was about to go horribly wrong (even though it is something I would never want to happen) wasn't real was very humbling. It made me second guess myself and my instincts even after I fully recovered.

It took me months to trust my instincts again. It took time for me to gain back the confidence I had before. It was something that I slowly was able to believe in again.

Postpartum OCD put my entire life into question. I analyzed every thought, every movement, every reaction for months. I examined myself inside and out. I felt unsafe in my own body. I felt scared to be in my own head. I had to relearn how to trust myself. How to love myself. How to feel safe.

It's said that you will never be given more than you can handle, and postpartum OCD challenged my strength in every way possible. Though I would never say I'm "grateful" for the experience, I have learned invaluable lessons from it. I learned the lengths a mother will go through to protect her children. I learned that mental illness is just as important (and debilitating) as physical illness. I learned that sometimes I need to accept less than perfection from myself. I learned that I can be wrong, and admit it. I learned that the human mind and body are resilient. I learned that without hard times, the good are harder to appreciate. Most of all, I've learned that, as is true for many things in life, time heals. My heart has healed. My body has healed. My brain has healed. And perhaps more relieving than the others, my "Mother's Intuition" is in tact and as sharp as ever. Keep fighting, mamas!

-Chels

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Shameless: My Struggles Don't Define My Character

As I've opened up more about my postpartum OCD over the past year, I've received a ton of support, both within my own circles and from people who know me only through my writing. I keep sharing because I recognize the need, I understand the struggle, and I've lived through the fear. Unfortunately, recently when I saw one of my articles shared on Yahoo! I received some negative comments from people who don't know me or my heart. Honestly, my first thought was, "Am I about to become famous!?" Because as we all know, online haters and success seem to (unfortunately) go hand in hand. People who were writing were trying to knock me down, to portray my illness as "fake" and to label me a "millennial snowflake." Luckily for me, I'm confident in who I am and what my story is that I didn't let that affect me. It did change me a little though, it made me want to speak louder, to share more. It has made me shameless.


When people experience "scary thoughts" or become lost in OCD, they begin to pull back. They pull back from friends and family, they hide behind smiles or lose themselves in tears. Their greatest fears are now completely taking over their entire mind, and the fear of those thoughts becoming a reality keeps them from reaching out for help. Reaching out for help was almost as scary to me as the thoughts themselves. The fact that my entire illness revolved around the fear of hurting my kids made it hard for me to figure out who to trust. What if I told someone and they called child services on me? What if my friends began to see me differently, as some sort of dangerous monster instead of a woman who was scared to death? What if my kids began to distance themselves from me because they didn't understand my anxiety and eventual depression? The fear of those around me knowing the "truth" about me was one of the largest burdens I carried. I would often think, "no one would love me if they knew what was going on in my head." These were my true feelings, thoughts, and fears. These are the reasons that I first began to write. I wanted to give people information about OCD, I wanted them to understand that it was a disease brought on by anxiety. I wanted to make sure they understood that the paralyzing fear they were experiencing was not because they wanted to hurt anyone, but rather it was their body trying to protect everyone. 

Never in my life have I considered myself a "snowflake." I've been through quite a few hard times and feel that I can pretty much handle anything life throws at me. The fact that I know myself so well means that when I see others judging my story, I accept that their ignorance cannot be changed, but those also aren't the people I write for, so it truly doesn't matter.

I write for the new mom scared to wake up with the baby alone in the middle of the night.

I write for the woman rushing through the preschool drop off so that she can cry in her car alone.

I write for the dad that wants nothing more than to protect his children, but keeps having thoughts of hurting them, therefore distancing them from himself.

I write so that people won't suffer in silence longer than necessary because they are convinced they are now dangerous and evil.

I write so that other people have something to show their families to help them understand their illness.

I write because I spent months scouring the internet to try to find someone like me who had made it through this illness and moved on.

I write to give families hope of having more children even after going through a difficult postpartum period previously.

I write because I want my children to see the love I have for them and also see my strength.

I was once scared to tell my best friend that I was going to see a therapist, but now I'm shameless. I have no shame in my story. I have no shame that I struggled hard and long. It doesn't bother me that I went to therapy for years or that I still take medication for anxiety. Having shame about my experience would just continue to give it power, which it no longer has over me. I spent months inspecting myself for character flaws, intent on proving that I was a terrible person. I never found any proof to support that though. I found a woman who cared so deeply for her children that she would go to outlandish lengths to keep them safe. I found a mom who sometimes covered her feelings with sarcasm and laughter, but was secretly very sensitive. Through postpartum OCD, I discovered my true calling in life. I found a meaningful way to help people. My New Year's resolution is to delve deeper into that calling. I want to expand the reach of my writing in any way possible so that any parent who is struggling alone will feel safe reaching out. 


Monday, December 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Chels

Sunday, October 8, 2017

OCD: Harm Was My Obsession, Not My Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much Love!



Chels