As time has marched forward, I’ve found myself posting less and less about my mental health, namely the OCD and anxiety that I suffer. What started as one of the primary motivations for this little online space has become less of a focus. And while that’s a good thing in that it reflects how far I’ve come, it doesn’t mean that mental health, in particular post natal mental health, isn’t still something that I’m hugely passionate about.

I’ve written before about how conditions like OCD and anxiety can sometimes fall by the wayside, when it comes to diagnosing and understanding mental health. There has been some amazing work done that sheds so much light on PND, extinguishing much of the stigma and starting conversations around the ‘how’ and ‘why’. As someone who has suffered what I now thing was mild PND, I think this is wonderful. The more focus put on supporting women in the critical post birth period, the better.

Unfortunately, the other conditions that are prevalent in the post natal period aren’t always given as much focus. We’ve all probably heard stories about post natal psychosis as it’s terrifying and awful and often flagged up while we’re in the hospital post birth. OCD and anxiety however aren’t always mentioned, indeed many women, with and without kids, would have no clue as to what these conditions actually entail and the kind of symptoms that usually accompany them.

When I was first diagnosed with OCD (before having a bebe), I was a bit stunned. To me, OCD was all about the compulsions, washing your hands a million times a day or flicking light switches umpteen times before leaving a room. I had no idea about the ‘O’ in OCD. The ‘O’ stands for ‘Obsession’, and thats the particular part of the condition that I’ve experienced. I’m talking random, obsessive thoughts that you’d otherwise dismiss as fleeting and crazy. I struggle to dismiss those thoughts. When I sought treatment, I was convinced that I was somehow capable of physically injuring both myself and other people. I didn’t WANT to injure anyone but a seed had been planted at some stage that, due to stress and by genetic predisposition), began to flower.

Being at home alone was terrifying. Driving alone or with others was horrifying. I never got to a point where I asked my partner to hide things like knives and scissors (a common reaction to these kind of though patterns) but my mind was in a constant state of battle. The irrational, obsessive side vs the ‘normal’ me. I believe most of us have both of these sides in our personality but for some of us, there comes times when the obsessive side begins to overpower the rational side and makes us incapable of dismissing that which upsets and disturbs us, no matter how ‘crazy’ or bizarre it seems.

While I’ve now realised that I have some compulsive behaviours (generally mental ‘rituals’ as opposed to anything physical) it was the obsessions which led me to seek treatment and get my diagnosis. I thought I must have been depressed as I felt so mucked up in the head but after 15 minutes with the psychologist who’d end up being my absolute saviour, I had a new diagnosis. Twenty minutes after that, I knew more about OCD than I’d ever known before and ten minutes after that, I was in no doubt that I’d suffered it for a very long time (to varying degrees).

I managed my OCD, post diagnosis through intensive therapy and medication and I got better. I was able to come off medication and keep myself grounded using the strategies I was taught during my time seeing my psychologist. After Ollie was born, in Jan 2012, I entered a precarious environment. I didn’t realise it at the time but the combination of sleep deprivation, stress, the relinquishing of all my usual routines and the complete annihilation of my perfectionist tendencies put me in a position that could lead to another occurence of the type of OCD I’d experienced once before; uncontrolled, all consuming obsessions.

I think that if a few things had of been different, I may have been able to stay on track. As it happened, I didn’t. I entered into what I now reckon was the hardest 8 or so months of my life. The act I managed to put on, for the outside world, seemed to fool most people. I’d lost my baby weight, managed to leave the house in clean clothes, was sociable and made a bunch of new ‘mummy’ friends easily. Inside however, I was dying.

My obsessive thinking patterns had returned with full force. It’s still not the easiest thing to write BUT it’s got to a point where I feel I need to share what was going on my head, both for myself and for any other mother who may be experiencing what I did and who feels like the worst person on earth. The thought of other women suffering through the symptoms of PPOCD and not knowing what’s happening to them is heartbreaking. I knew I had OCD and knew enough about it to have some idea that what I was experiencing was indeed the same condition but I still was unable to get on top of it.

So these thoughts. They first cropped up late on night (or possibly early in the morning), while I attempted to feed a screaming newborn who didn’t want a thing to do with my boobs. The pain form the blisters I already had from feeding was excruciating and I very clearly remember thinking; ‘I could throw this baby out of the window now.’ I’m sure I’m not the first mother to think that but instead of dismissing this as just a random reaction to exhaustion, stress and pain, I became obsessed with the idea. What happened if I DID do that? Or worse yet, did I really WANT to do it? It was clear to me that I was a complete monster, the worst mother in the world.

The ‘out the window’ scenario soon morphed into the ‘down the stairs’ scenario. We lived up three flights of stairs and I was convinced that I would trip and drop the baby OR worse, purposely hurl my precious bundle down the steps. I used to hold my breath as I climbed up and down, silently congratulating myself on making it without flipping out (as I was sure I must be capable of) and doing something horrendous. Just another piece of evidence to add to the growing ‘I’m a monster’ file.

Then came the bath time stuff. Drowning the baby is not an uncommon thought for new mums and I know of quite a few who’ve feared the same thing, for me however, it was more of a ‘I’m going to drown the baby ON PURPOSE’ kind of thing. I don’t think there has ever been a mother who bathed her child as carefully as I did. Generally, I’d try and pass the job off to my husband, my mother, friends who were visiting, anyone really who I felt was more trustworthy than I was.

While these sounds fairly horrendous, there was a fourth school of thoughts that, to my mind, trumped the rest. It’s the school that eventually caused me to go back into intensive therapy and that prompted me to start taking medication again. These particular thoughts are the ones which caused a depth of despair I never thought I could possibly experience. I don’t think I’ve ever been ‘properly’ suicidal, but these thoughts pushed me in that general direction, so horrified was I by them.

It’s hard for me to write down what was going through my head, and while I now know what caused me to think all of the above, i’m still, for lack of a better word, scarred. You see, the thought popped into my head, while changing my son one morning that I might be touching him inappropriately, during his change. Perhaps I was really a child molester who would be capable of molesting my son. My psychologist and I have identified that that particular crime, for me personally, is the most horrendous and heinous of anything capable by adult human beings. It seems, subconsciously, I rank it worse than murder. As is the way with OCD, the condition somehow seized on what it knew of my moral code and exploited it completely.

To say I was paralysed is an understatement. I spent months feeling nauseas, most days I was absolutely consumed with the horror stories in my head. As with all the thought patterns, I ‘could’ be, soon morphed into ‘I must WANT to be.’ I must want to do these awful things to my son. I must be a child molester, a pedophile who should be in jail. I asked my husband a number of times if he thought I should be taken to the police. I thought jail would be the best place for me.

He gently explained that as I hadn’t DONE anything, having me arrested would be difficult. I couldn’t be arrested for thoughts. I wanted to be though. There were days when I wanted to go to sleep and just not wake up until I felt better. There were days when I thought both my son and husband would be much better off If I just left. ‘Ollie wouldn’t remember me,’ I surmised. ‘He’d be so much safer with me gone.’

It wasn’t a great time. I managed to keep things going on the outside though. There was NO WAY IN HELL I would share anything that I was experiencing with anyone, apart from my husband. It must have been agonising for him, seeing the contempt I had for myself. Amazingly, during this time, I somehow managed to give Ollie everything I had. I persisted with breastfeeding, I spent hours reading and cuddling him. We went to libraries and mothers groups and the pool. He was fed, cuddled and loved to within an inch of his life.

Some women are incapable of doing this when they are suffering what I was. They can’t be close to their children due to the fear they are experiencing. Many can’t bring themselves to change a nappy or give their baby a bath as they fear what might happen. Somehow, I still managed to keep on keeping on. I don’t really know how but I did. When I think back to that period of time I worry that Ollie might have somehow realised what was happening, I feared he could see the pain in my face. It seems however that he couldn’t and that all he felt was the good stuff I tried to give him.

So what happened? It took three psychologists, three different medications and a hell of a lot of reading to get me back on track. I finally hit the jackpot with my current psychologist. My first visit reconfirmed my OCD diagnosis and, as hard as it was, I shared my thoughts with her, all of them. The fact that she was not horrified, did not threaten to call DOCS or the police or run screaming from her office yelling ‘demon mother’, was reassuring. The look of understanding she gave me and her soft ‘you poor thing. That sounds really tough,’ put me at ease.

I learnt in the weeks that followed, through my sessions and my own reading that what I was experiencing wasn’t abnormal. It was in fact, a textbook PPOCD symptom. I also learnt that mothers who suffer from PPOCD and have these thoughts are actually the LEAST likely to act on them. I can’t tell you how that statistic made me feel. My psychologist used a variety of techniques and strategies with me and reassured me that the way I was feeling was something I should take solace in. ‘Mothers who want to murder/drown/molest their babies don’t agonise over it,’ she said, ‘they just kind of do it.’ The fact that I was experiencing the levels of disgust, horror and physical repulsion towards my thoughts was an indication of just how far from my moral code they actually were.

It’s taken a hell of a lot of time but I’m in a place now where I can (just) talk about it. I had to relearn a lot about myself. The thing with thoughts is that they have an attached emotional response which our bodies and minds remember. I found, for a long time, even when I was feeling calm, a certain place or even a certain smell could trigger off a feeling of uncomfortableness.

It’s taken a ton of self discovery but I’m now fairly convinced that the root of much of what I experienced stemmed from my inability to trust myself. It sounds like a very basic thing to have caused so much trauma but when it boils down, not being able to trust in my mothering abilities led me down a path that reinforced that I was indeed incapable. ‘Good mothers don’t think like this,’ I used to tell myself. ‘Good mothers don’t experience XYZ.’ Turns out, that’s a lot of crap, and plenty of really sensational mothers experience a whole gauntlet of shit. It doesn’t detract from their ability to be the number one person in their child’s life.

Do I trust myself now? I’m getting there. It’s a slow process and there is a fair bit of scar tissue still hanging around. But I’m at a point where I would say that 85% of me thinks I’m trustworthy (and pretty rad). The other 15% sits on the fence a little and a small bit of it is still too tender to really declare itself each way. I’m happy with this though and know with a bit more work, I’ll be close to 90% before I know it.

For any mothers out there who may be experiencing what I’ve described, please know that you’re not alone. You are not the worst mother to have walked the earth. You are experiencing a medical condition that can be treated and managed effectively. You don’t have to suffer. Speak to your GP, early childhood nurse or someone you trust about what you are feeling, I promise you’ll feel better.

You can also email me at any time: notjustamummy1@gmail.com

 

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14 Comments on A Really Big Post About Mental Health

  1. Jowen
    August 29, 2013 at 8:38 pm (3 years ago)

    Brave, beautiful and amazing. Good work. You are not alone. Much love x

    Reply
    • Not Just A Mummy
      August 29, 2013 at 8:49 pm (3 years ago)

      Thanks Jowen. Not an easy one but an important one I think. Xxx

      Reply
  2. Tegan
    August 29, 2013 at 8:47 pm (3 years ago)

    Oh Naomi, everything you wrote hit so close to home. I am so glad that were able to find a psychologist who makes you feel safe. Having the right kind of support is so important in recovery. One of things, which you touched on, that I am working on with my psychologist at the moment is mindfullness. Within that there is the breakdown of the mind. There is the logical (no grey area, only deals in facts), the emotional (deals with all problems with emotion only, regardless of how ‘crazy’ it may seem) and the overlap of these two is the wise mind. We can’t live in either extreme because while logic helps us to see when our thoughts are irrational, emotional helps with the fight or flight mood.
    Thank you for talking about your experiences. I hope that someone is able to read it and is able to not feel so alone.

    Reply
    • Not Just A Mummy
      August 29, 2013 at 8:59 pm (3 years ago)

      Thank you so much for that lovely feedback Tegan (though I’m sorry that you’ve had a similar experience.. Not something I’d want for anyone!) Mindfullness has been a huge thing throughout my therapy and something I’m still working on (constantly.. It doesn’t come naturally!) I hope you continue to go from strength to strength with your therapist and thanks again for sharing. Xx

      Reply
  3. Tara
    August 29, 2013 at 9:26 pm (3 years ago)

    Wow Nay, that is the most emotional piece of writing, very brave of you and I hope that putting pen to paper helps too. I am in awe of you, seriously- mental health is a very difficult subject and one that many, especially those who are suffering, find difficult as a topic to approach. You will be helping so many people by sharing your experiences. Well done lovely lady xx

    Reply
    • Not Just A Mummy
      August 29, 2013 at 9:30 pm (3 years ago)

      What a lovely thing to say, Tara. Thank you! Writing has always been fabulous as a way of clearing my mind and this post in particular was very cathartic. Thanks again for the lovely, supportive comment.. Means the world to me. Xxx

      Reply
  4. Terri
    August 29, 2013 at 10:47 pm (3 years ago)

    Well done, & so very brave. I have written similar posts that took every bit of courage I had to hit the Publish button. (And some that still sit in Drafts waiting for the day that I can.) It is an amazingly emotional process to speak so freely of such traditionally taboo topics. I think we awesome for doing so & I know I am proud of myself. And I am so proud of you too! Wishing you continued happiness.

    Reply
  5. Jo Bryant
    August 30, 2013 at 5:56 am (3 years ago)

    Naomi,

    This was an incredible read for me. How brave and compassionate of you to share this with the world. Having suffered from depression I know how hard it is to do that very thing. Hiding it from the world and portraying an in control persona is so important, or it was to me. It took a wonderful counselor many years later to finally set me free. So I applaud your frankness with this post and wish you only the best as you go forward in to the future.

    Reply
  6. Bec
    August 30, 2013 at 10:54 am (3 years ago)

    Hi Naomi, thanks so much for your honesty. If only I had read something like this when I had my daughter two years ago. I went through this pretty much exactly as you described and I thought I was insane. I never spoke to anyone about it so it was a very hard year but I did come through it and promised myself I would get help if it happened with my second child. I had no idea that other people were going through the same things and its such a hard topic to bring up with someone who doesn’t really understand what it’s like. Thanks so much for sharing and I am so happy to hear you are doing better. Bec xx

    Reply
  7. John
    August 30, 2013 at 11:34 am (3 years ago)

    WOW Nay.. as your dad I am VERY proud of the article you wrote. The topic is SO important and thank you for sharing your experiences. Mum and I were with you in those dark days and will always be there in the future!! xxxx

    Reply
  8. Jade
    August 30, 2013 at 8:23 pm (3 years ago)

    Wow, beautiful words Nay. You are a brave woman. I wish I had known a bit more about this in those early days of knowing you, it was a hard time for us all but I had no idea how hard it was for you. You always seemed so on top of everything! So glad things are getting better everyday. Much love xxx

    Reply
  9. Bojana
    September 3, 2013 at 4:51 pm (3 years ago)

    Nay this is such an incredible post. No doubt you will be helping someone out there who isn’t sure about asking for help.

    I love so much that your dad is reading your post, you are so lucky to have family who support you!

    Well done on your hard journey, Ollie should be so proud to have such a strong mummy.

    Reply

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