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This post – actually, this story – is more than 20 years in the making.
I’m writing my story as if I were sitting with a girlfriend over a glass of wine, telling her everything about my mental health journey.
It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea but I am so ready to share with the world so that, hopefully, it helps someone feeling lost or afraid.
I haven’t yet shared my mental health illness publicly not because I’m ashamed or embarrassed, but because once it’s out there, there’s no taking it back. And the what-ifs are strong. But I’ll get to that later.
When you look at my life on the Internet, you may see a mom with a few cute kids, a good husband, a nice house, a successful business. Someone who has it all together and seems to have it all.
And I do; I’m blessed and fortunate and have so many things to be thankful for. But there are things that you don’t see, a mental health issue that you wouldn’t expect…
I have OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) – lucky me. I’m one of the 2% of the US population who has OCD, which is a type of anxiety disorder. Specifically, I have what’s called Primarily Obsessional Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, aka Pure O OCD. Which is an amazingly deceptive name, by the way… makes it sound like a club drug or a type of fancy bed sheets.
When you think of OCD, you might think of the stereotypical, washes-their-hands, checks-the-locks, super neat and clean kind of OCD. Which, by the way, is not a GOOD thing to have; people with compulsions (the C in OCD) are performing repetitive behaviors to lessen the anxiety caused by an obsessive thought.
OCD is not a fun personality quirk, it’s not just cleaning a lot, and it’s not an adjective.
I, personally, have the O (obsessive) part of OCD where an intrusive thought (aka an obsession) gets stuck in my brain.
First let’s talk about Pure O OCD and what it means…
WHAT IS AN INTRUSIVE THOUGHT
Basically, an intrusive thought is a thought or idea that pops into your brain – and just won’t leave. Not only are these unwelcome, repetitive thoughts stuck in your head, but they’re disturbing, distressing, and cause an extreme amount of anxiety.
People with OCD fight intrusive thoughts because the content of those thoughts seem alien, unacceptable, and at odds with who they are. The most common (and most disturbing) intrusive thoughts are about safety, religion, death, or sexual orientation.
And then, the more you want to STOP the thought, the more stuck/loud/powerful it becomes. Basically, the effort you use to fight the thought that makes it stick and gives it the power to return (over and over and over).
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT INTRUSIVE, SCARY, or DISTURBING THOUGHTS is this… having a thought doesn’t mean you subconsciously want it to come true.
Another very important thing to know about intrusive thoughts is that they absolutely prey on your most cherished values. Which is what makes them so abhorrent and disturbing – they’re totally at odds with who you are as a person.
Everyone thinks strange things sometimes – most people have a weird thought and they’re able to see that it’s not a reflection of who they are, that the thought doesn’t have a hidden message, red flag, signal or warning.
People with OCD are unable to convince themselves that a weird thought is just a weird thought, nothing more, nothing less. Their intrusive thoughts are perceived to be a reflection of who they are or to have a hidden message, red flag, signal or warning.
MY HISTORY WITH PURE O OCD
My mental health struggles started around the time I hit puberty – hindsight shows me that the chemical imbalances in my brain have always coincided with hormonal changes. So puberty = the start of a terrifying journey for a young teenage girl.
I was very fortunate to grow up in a happy, healthy household with 2 supportive parents. But a stress-free childhood and an upper-middle-class upbringing doesn’t mean someone is immune to mental health issues and chemical imbalances of the brain.
I remember being 12 or 13 when my first intrusive thoughts started. And I was fucking terrified.
As a 12-year-old without access to the internet (hi, it was the days of AOL dial up on a single family computer), I didn’t have a resource to access to figure out what the hell was going on with me.
Honestly, the only exposure I had to mental illness was reading the warning pages for Prozac in People magazine.
I told my mom that I was having such a hard time, I was crying all the time, I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t ever want to be alone, and I refused to shave my legs with a razor for fear that I could (would?) kill myself.
Was I suicidal? No. But was I terrified that I might be? That I would be locked up in a mental institution if I was? YES. A thousand times over.
The idea that I could possibly use a razor to kill myself had such power over me and struck so much fear into my young mind. This intrusive thought about the possibility that I could kill myself… Did that mean that I really wanted to kill myself? No, of course not. But that’s not how someone with OCD’s brain works.
My mom recognized that I needed help and was 100% willing to get me the resources that I so desperately needed.
We started with a counselor and it brings tears to my eyes 20 years later to think about how much my therapist (and my mom) helped me and literally saved my life.
I am so thankful that I had a counselor who was able to correctly diagnose me with OCD and, strangely, having a diagnosis was actually a relief.
The thoughts weren’t a reflection of me as a person. Just my brain functioning improperly.
My History with Antidepressants
After many (MANY!) hours of counseling and my therapist teaching, reassuring, and just listening to me, we decided that I needed more help in the form of a Psychiatrist (a doctor who can prescribe medication).
At the time – again, no Internet for research for myself as a 13-year-old – I was terrified that going on medication would make me feel like a zombie, not like myself, like a robot with no ability to feel.
But, thankfully, that has never been true for me; SSRI’s have been a very effective way to manage my OCD.
I have been on and off of antidepressants for over half of my life. To name names, I was on Paxil from ages 13ish-18ish, then wasn’t on any medication during college.
After OCD reared it’s ugly head a few months before my wedding in 2010, I started taking a low dose (10mg) of Lexapro and was on that until I was trying to get pregnant for the first time.
OCD during Pregnancy
For most of my pregnancy with Quinn (my oldest), I wasn’t on an antidepressant at all. I felt good, strong, healthy. Until about a month before delivery; all of the sudden, I was TERRIFIED that when the doctors handed me my baby, I would just drop her to the floor. Hi, intrusive thought, why are you even here?
And instead of letting it just be a weird thought – ‘oh, what if I drop her?’ It felt like a thought with meaning, a warning. Imagine that running through your head every waking minute of every single day. It sucks.
Which in turn made me absolutely sick with anxiety, a constant loop of what-ifs running through my mind. I had OCD during my pregnancy.
And, to make it even worse, I couldn’t even tell anyone because I was scared that if I did, and then if something happened, someone would take my baby away from me.
That is SO MUCH to handle for a mom about to have her first baby. It makes me so sad for that young woman, who was about to fall so deeply in love with her first baby, to have dealt with those terrifying thoughts on repeat in the last days of her pregnancy.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), I had dealt with intrusive thoughts before and even though I *knew* that they weren’t a reflection of me, that it was my mind playing tricks on me, it was still terrifying.
Ultimately, after speaking with my OB and our baby’s future Pediatrician, I ended up getting back on Lexapro a couple of weeks prior to delivery because the intrusive thoughts were so debilitating.
I delivered a beautiful baby girl and, thankfully, intrusive thoughts were never an issue for me post-partum after starting back on the Lexapro.
I have to say, that Lexapro is a wonderful drug for my unique brain chemistry (or lack thereof). I took it until I started trying to get pregnant with my second child (Cooper) and ended up not needing it during that pregnancy at all.
My second child was a boy and I have a strong belief that my emotions during pregnancy are affected very differently based on the sex of the baby I’m gestating.
This theory may be completely medically unsound, but it’s been my experience during each of my 3 pregnancies that, although we haven’t found out the sex of the babies, I’ve been able to tell their sex based on my emotional health throughout the pregnancy.
I honestly think that my hormones are very sensitive to change and carrying a baby with extra estrogen or a baby with testosterone absolutely effects my own hormones. But, obvs not a doctor here.
So, today, am I doing ok? Yes. I don’t have intrusive thoughts at this point in my life.
Could one pop into my head and decide to stay? Yep.
Hopefully, I’ll never have one again, but at least now, as an adult, I can recognize if and when I need help.
Am I scared that my kids might have the same mental health issues? Of course.
But I plan on being very open with them about my struggles – mom’s brain doesn’t make enough of a certain chemical which causes her to feel nervous, unable to sleep, etc. in the hopes that if they ever DO have an issue, they know that there are solutions and I’m living proof that a mental illness doesn’t have to define your life.
Will I have to be on medication for the rest of my life? Honestly, I think I will.
When you have OCD, you can’t just stop taking medication if/when you feel better. A daily dose of an SSRI keeps the serotonin in your brain at a steady level and, although SSRIs can be used to treat anxiety, they aren’t an ‘anti-anxiety’ medication that can be used for acute moments of anxiety.
Why wouldn’t we use the power of modern medicine to make our brains function properly? It doesn’t make you weak, or evil, or a bad mom.
Acknowledging that you need help and seeking that help makes you a GOOD MOM.
As a side note – I have taken antidepressants while pregnant with 2 of my 3 children and while breastfeeding all of my 3 children.
When the benefits outweigh the risks, as determined by you or your doctor, go ahead and do what you need to do to be healthy for you and your baby. <– permission from an Internet stranger, which I’ve needed at at least one point of my life.
If you’ve read this and think, ‘I don’t get it, just stop thinking about stuff that causes you anxiety…’
I truly hope you never have to understand because that means you would have to deal with the struggle that is OCD.
And to those of you who are struggling with their own mental health issues, I’m here to tell you that there are solutions that can help you and it is worth the fight.
In an emergency situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
To those of you who have taken the time to read this and now have a better understanding, thank you from the bottom of my heart.