My story so far…….
So, I’m a 30-year-old mum of 2 beautiful children, a 4-year-old daughter and a 6-month-old son. I wanted to share my story to help raise awareness and to help others out there that are suffering.
Most people have heard of postnatal depression but no one talks about postnatal anxiety or OCD. I for one had never heard of these postnatal illnesses or how common they actually are. These debilitating mental health illnesses are scary and hard to talk about, especially when you’ve never heard about them before.
The intrusive thoughts are the worst; it’s like being tortured by your own mind. Thoughts so distressing and disturbing they send you into a panic and make you believe you are the worst of people. Those thoughts are scary, hard to talk about and make you feel ashamed that you can even think of these things. Intrusive thoughts, I’d never heard of them, add the OCD, depression and Anxiety and you fall so fast you don’t know where to go. My first intrusive thought was when my baby was 4 weeks old, he had a slight runny nose and that was it. That was the moment my downward spiral began.
From having a runny nose to getting a chest infection to needing a hospital, to needing intensive care and eventually my baby dying. The anxiety and panic were unbearable, I never slept that night with worry. This is how it began, how that one thought spiralled from my baby just having a runny nose which of course never was any more than that.
But this was just the beginning, the intrusive thoughts got worse. From bathing my baby to him accidentally drowning, to me actually drowning him, from changing his nappy to thinking I would touch him inappropriately. They were horrendous, the worst things you could imagine happening to your baby were in my head. For days I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I barely functioned. I was so scared of what was going on in my head and scared to tell people in case they thought I was some crazy monster. The problem is once you have those thoughts, you become obsessed with them. It starts as an innocent thought and quickly turns into an intrusive thought and all these different scenarios come racing through your head. This is where the panic sets in because the thoughts are so horrible, you believe that your an awful person for even thinking these thoughts, you become scared thinking that because you had these horrid thoughts that you may actually do these terrible things. I was so terrified that I would actually harm my children or something bad would happen to them, I went to live between my mum and mother in law. They took care of my 2 children whilst I was so unwell.
Unfortunately, because of these horrid thoughts, I distanced myself from my kids, I was scared that these unthinkable thoughts were going to become a reality and that I could actually harm my children. This made me feel so guilty that I couldn’t look after them and I felt I was missing out on my new baby. By letting other people care for them, I felt like I was protecting them from me. This is something that I really struggled with. I found it so hard to believe that the thoughts were illness driven and I wasn’t actually going to harm my children. It’s hard to understand that they are just thoughts and that they won’t become a reality. I needed and still do at times, constant reassurance that I was not some vile human being that was going to do these disgusting things that kept popping into my head or that it was very unlikely my baby was going to die. I felt so ashamed and embarrassed about what was happening and that I wasn’t managing or happy like other mums. I thought my family deserved a better person, a better mum and that I had failed them by being this way.
I became extremely low with everything that was going on in my head. I started to have dark thoughts that maybe I needed to be ‘put down’ for being such a horrible person with these disgusting thoughts. I felt like I was never going to be normal again and that everyone would hate me. I thought if anyone knew what thoughts were running through my head they wouldn’t want to be anywhere near me and would want me locked up. I only managed to calm down by taking diazepam regularly which just made me so sleepy. I started to Google some of my symptoms and was surprised to find that what was actually happening to me was an illness and I wasn’t the first or only person that had suffered from this terrifying illness.
I plucked up the courage to go the Drs; initially, I told them I was having really bad general anxiety because I was too scared to actually say what was happening in my head. After having a few days of getting worse and realising what my actual illness was I went back.
My mother in law came with me as I was in such a state. Telling my husband, my mum and mother in law who took care of me was one of the hardest things I had to do. Letting them know about the sick thoughts I was having seemed an impossible task without them thinking I was going to harm the children and that I was some kind of monster mum. It was so hard that instead of speaking out loud I showed them the stories and descriptions of the illness I found on Google and said this is what I have. This is where my recovery began and was beginning to feel some kind of hope of getting better. I had started on anti-depressants but knew those first few weeks of getting them in my system we’re going to be hard. I began to see the Perinatal mental health team who have been amazing. They were quick, thorough and have helped me understand my illness better.
Regular meetings with the mental health nurse have been an essential piece to my treatment and recovery. Being able to talk to a neutral person who understands the illness has helped me get through. I also wouldn’t have managed without the amazing people in my life. My husband, Mum and mother in law were my rocks through my toughest and lowest times. Without them, I honestly don’t know how things would have turned out. I have 3 amazing sisters and extended family who all helped out one way or another and wonderful friends. Even my best friend all the way in Australia helped me in more ways then she’ll ever know.
As well as taking medication, I was advised that CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) was the treatment for my illness. I have done a course of CBT a few years ago after suffering from anxiety the past 4 years. CBT so far has been a massive eye-opener for me. To start with we have focused on the intrusive thoughts and OCD. Through the therapy, I have begun to realise that I have suffered from OCD for a long time and did not realise that some of my habits’ and ways are actually not‘normal’. I am still in the early stages of my recovery and know I have a long road ahead of me. I am finally realising that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and there is hope.
To anyone out there who is suffering from any of these terrible illnesses, please realise you are not alone, it is an illness, you are not some horrible disgusting person, read peoples stories (it helped me) and please go and get help.
Things I have Found Helpful:
My GP – at the beginning of my illness, quick, thorough and very understanding
The Perinatal Mental Health Team – Quick referral process from GP to first assessment and just amazing at what they do.
Dot to dots/mindful colouring – distraction and relaxing
Writing – This Piece, 5 grateful things each day and other things I find difficult to say
Head Space App – found a new love for Meditation
Gardening – I have an allotment in my garden (sad I know, but very relaxing, distracting and rewarding)
Maternal OCD website
Post-Partum Progress Website
Reading other Peoples stories – Makes me feel not so lonely or crazy
Taking up running and any exercise