Invisible Struggles, Invisible Victories

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve had some sort of mental health issue. I don’t know why that was so scary to type. Maybe because when you hear the words “mental health issue” you think of news stories about deranged people doing horrific things to their fellow man. But when I say mental health issues, I mean anxiety. I mean depression. I’m talking about debilitating and overwhelming intrusive thoughts that keep you from enjoying your life because you are frozen in fear.

It wasn’t until my late twenties that I could finally put a name to what I was experiencing: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). 

What Is This? 

Contrary to popular culture’s display of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD is not only continuous hand-washing or intense organization. There are several types of OCD {as well as sub-types} but I’ll just touch on a few, courtesy of OCD UK: checking (example: going back to the front door several time to make sure its locked), contamination (excessive cleaning or washing), symmetry and ordering (desperate need for the organization of objects), intrusive thoughts (thoughts of harm coming to you/loved ones or harming yourself/loved ones), and hoarding.

The majority of my OCD manifests in intrusive thoughts. These thoughts cannot be helped – they pop into your mind and are scary, exhausting, and can make you feel like a terrible person. 

OCD and Motherhood

Before I became a mom, I thought I had a handle on my intrusive thoughts. I would try to “pray it away” or redirect my thinking (which is like saying the word “carrot” fifty times and then trying to not think about carrots). When I was pregnant with my oldest, I was terrified of being a mother. I had always wanted to be a mom, but all I could think about was how I was going to be a loving, caring, nurturing mother to a tiny human while also dealing with intrusive thoughts and anxiety.

Unfortunately, during the first three months of my child’s life, I was too ashamed to ask for help. “What if they take my baby?” I thought. “They’ll think I’m a horrible person.” I hid my fears and anxieties until I knew I couldn’t keep going like this. I talked to my doctor and got medication, which helped, but I still struggled. I kept pressing forward, though, because I knew this sweet little gal depended on me and I was NOT going to let her down.  

The Thief

As my daughter grew, my OCD was primarily focused on her: “Is she okay? Is she still breathing? What about SIDS? Will she be traumatized for life if I leave her with someone to run to Walmart? What if I go to the bathroom and she somehow crawls outside and gets hit by a car or kidnapped?”

Yes. Those were actual thoughts I had when my now six-year-old was a baby. OCD stole so much of my daughter’s childhood from me and several of my son’s first months. I was bound and determined to not let this steal any more of our lives. I decided it was time to see a therapist. It was there that I was blind-sided by the question: “So, how long have you had OCD?”

Victorious 

Therapy helped me realize that I was not alone. Many women experience this, yet it seemed to be such a taboo subject. Maybe we were all scared of what others would say about us. Would they judge? Would they think we were unfit mothers? I began not to care what people thought. I knew there were so many women out there that desperately needed a safe space to talk, and I wanted to be that safe space. I made the choice to be more open about my struggles, ask for help from my village, and research.

I read books, changed some eating habits, and decided I wasn’t going to let this control me anymore. I started getting out of the house with my kids, doing things that used to terrify me: going to story-time at the library, to the park (just the three of us), and even to the mall. While there were still thoughts of: “What if one of the kids runs off from me and someone snatches them up?” or “What if they get out of the stroller and climb on the second-story railing?!”, they didn’t have the same hold they used to. I realized that the more I reacted to these thoughts, the more they had control over me. Even now, I’ll have moments of panic, but I remind myself that I’m actually doing a great job at this “mothering with OCD” thing.

A year ago, the thought of driving my kids to a dentist appointment 30 minutes away through construction zones and talking to people I didn’t know would’ve made me want to cancel the appointment and just stay home. But you know what? I did it.

I did it, despite the thoughts and visions of us getting into a three-car pileup on the Broadway Extension or someone having intense road rage because of my driving and trying to ram into us. When we pulled into the dentist’s parking lot, I couldn’t help but give myself a pat on the back and the promise of celebratory ice cream later. I had done it! I had faced one of my fears and told OCD where to stuff it. I know this will be a battle I fight my entire life. But seeing the strides I have made helps when I have those tough times.

I’ve seen that I can make it through, and I will do it again.  

 

 

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