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!


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. 

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