Tag Archives: anxious

Postpartum OCD

I wanted to share the reality of postpartum OCD and how it impacts many mothers, and not talked about enough!


What It’s Like To Survive Postpartum OCD

It’s not as well-known as postpartum depression, but for new moms it’s just as debilitating.

TAWS13 VIA GETTY IMAGES

 

Three weeks after Chelsea Elker gave birth to her second baby, she was overwhelmed by a thought that also felt something like an urge: What if she smothered him?

Elker, who was peacefully nursing at the time, had never experienced anything like that when her eldest was born, and was horrified.

From that night on, however, the disturbing thoughts kept coming.

As she buckled her newborn into his car seat, Elker worried: “What if I touch him inappropriately?” As she washed dishes she’d think: “What if I stabbed him?” Elker reassured herself that of course she would never hurt her baby, only to immediately question why, then, she’d even entertain such ideas in the first place.

“It’s hard to explain,” Elker, now 29 and a mother of three, told HuffPost. “I felt like, ‘If I’m thinking it, it obviously means I want to do these things.’”

In the last decade, awareness about postpartum depression has exploded as research has revealed it affects anywhere between 10 and 20 percent of moms. Likewise, knowledge about postpartum anxiety — which could affect up to 17 percent of new moms, according to some estimates — has also begun to spread among women and health care providers. Mothers struggling with anxiety and depression now at least have some kind of name and explanation for the things they are feeling.

For the smaller subset of mothers who have postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder, that kind of broad — or even broadening — recognition of their circumstances simply does not exist. “OCD” has become a watered-down term, an acronym thrown around in conversations about that friend who’s just a bit too fastidious or who is especially germaphobic.

But for mothers tormented by the condition, it signifies something much darker — a cycle of fears and behaviors that grabs hold of them and threatens to upend their sense of who they are in one of the most grueling, vulnerable moments of their lives. And many find it impossible to open up, gripped by fears that someone will take their baby away.

“It became 100 percent of my day and 100 percent of my nights,” Elker said. “I could be having a conversation with you and inside I’m thinking 1,000 different, terrible things.”

CHELSEA ELKER
Elker had been experiencing crippling symptoms of OCD for a few weeks when this picture was taken, though she says you never would have known it looking at her smiling face. 

Inescapable ‘Intrusive Thoughts’

In many ways, OCD — perinatal or otherwise — is simple to identify. Its signature symptoms are intrusive thoughts and fears (i.e. “obsessions”) and often rituals (“compulsions”) aimed at making those thoughts disappear.

Under the DSM-5 — the most recent version of the “bible” of psychiatry — OCD was given its own chapter and moved out from under the broader umbrella of anxiety disorders. There is no diagnostic distinction between OCD that begins during the postpartum period and at other times in a person’s life, though women who have experienced anxiety and OCD in the past are at higher risk of dealing with it again postpartum.

In new moms with OCD, however, the intrusive thoughts that are a hallmark of the disorder tend to center around one thing: their babies. Suddenly, a woman who longed for motherhood may be utterly convinced that something or someone — perhaps even herself — is going to hurt her child in ways she’d never considered before, either deliberately or through carelessness.

“I had a patient who presented at five or six weeks postpartum with her fourth baby, and she had a precipitous onset belief that she couldn’t be near knives,” Dr. Catherine Birndorf, co-founder of The Motherhood Center of New York, a clinic that specializes in perinatal mood disorders, told HuffPost. “She couldn’t be in the kitchen. She had visions of taking a knife and cutting her infant’s throat — and she was absolutely freaked out by these intrusive, violent images. That’s super common in perinatal OCD.”

Moms who experience those thoughts are almost immediately overcome by shame and horror, which is the primary way experts distinguish between OCD and postpartum psychosis, a rare, severe psychiatric emergency in which new moms can absolutely pose a threat to themselves and their babies.

“OCD is what we call ‘egodystonic’ in so much as it is upsetting and exhausting to have the thoughts and do the actions you do to try and make yourself feel better,” Birndorf explained. In postpartum psychosis, delusions and hallucinations take over.

Loretta Notareschi, 40, gave birth to her daughter in 2013 and had her first intrusive thoughts — about throwing her down the spiral staircase in her home— while she and her baby were recovering in the hospital. It wasn’t a hallucination or a desire, but it gripped her imagination nonetheless. She told a nurse who reassured her that she was probably just exhausted, but before she was discharged she had to meet with a social worker.

“I was triggered by all kinds of things, especially the spiral staircase or knives,” Notareschi told HuffPost. “Bathtubs. Being in the car. I would think, ‘What if I hurt her with that?’ Or, ‘What if I hurt myself with that?’”

Over time, she began to develop what she thought of as coping mechanisms, though later she learned they were simply the hallmark compulsions of her illness.

“To the OCD mind, they seem like brilliant ways to deal with your anxiety,” Notareschi said, laughing ruefully. “I decided in the first couple of days after my daughter was born that every time I had a scary thought I would have to repeat to myself a certain phrase, which was ‘Baby face, hairbrush, duckie.’ In my mind, it was going to neutralize the thought or magically make it OK.”

LORETTA NOTARESCHI
Notareschi was also in the throes of postpartum OCD when she took this happy-looking photo with her newborn daughter in 2013. 

An Adaptive Behavior … Gone Wrong?

Interestingly, research suggests that some elements of postpartum OCD may be adaptive. A 2013 study of roughly 400 women found that 11 percent of new moms were experiencing some obsessive-compulsive symptoms two weeks after giving birth. Six months later, nearly half of those women still had symptoms, while another 5 percent of moms had developed symptoms at that point.

That study asked if women were having any symptoms of OCD, not if they met the criteria for an actual diagnosis. But it raises the possibility that the prevalence of the disorder is much higher than the 2 percent that is often cited — and raises tricky questions about what’s normal (and what is not) in the minds of new mothers faced with the daunting task of keeping a helpless newborn alive.

“One of the most common obsessions is fear about germs, and some of the most common compulsions are checking behaviors and washing behaviors,” Dr. Dana Gossett, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of San Francisco California and the author of that 2013 study, told HuffPost.

“It’s not crazy to think that if a woman has a newborn, she might want the house to be clean and for people’s hands to be clean,” she continued. “It’s not unreasonable that she would want to check on her baby frequently to make sure he or she is OK. What happens in OCD is that is carried to a point where it is no longer logical or productive.”

And when those thoughts become intrusive and frightening, mothers become understandably fearful to come forward to share what they’re going through — and to be counted.

“We know depression is common. It’s well studied and there’s a lot less stigma now than there was 15 years ago around articulating feelings of sadness,” Gossett said. “Whereas if a mom says, ‘I’m terrified I’m going to burn down the house’ or ‘I’m terrified I’m going to shake my baby to death,’ there’s so much more shame and fear.”

And it is not unreasonable for women to worry that their babies could be taken from them, she added.

“One of the challenges about OCD is that it is less broadly known, so even OBs and pediatricians who are good about screening for depression are going to be less familiar and less comfortable with these diagnoses — and how to make that distinction between psychosis — so women get the help they need,” Gossett said. Postpartum Support International, an advocacy and education group, says that postpartum OCD is the most misunderstood and most commonly misdiagnosed of the perinatal mood disorders.

That is what makes postpartum OCD so heartbreaking. Like so many other mental health issues that crop up during the tumultuous postpartum period, experts say it is highly treatable with some combination of therapy, support, medication and time. But in a culture that demands moms cherish every exhausting moment of raising young children, admitting to frightening obsessions can feel impossible.

“I didn’t want to tell anyone, because all the media tells you with stories about women who hurt their babies is that if you think a thought, you want to act on it,” said Elker, who took more than a year to recover from postpartum OCD through a combination of intensive therapy and medication and has written extensively about her experience.

“But I didn’t want to hurt them,” she said. “I was so fiercely trying to protect them that I drove myself insane.”

Radio host suffers with OCD

Amazing story written by Trevor Dineen of CBC speaks about his personal struggles with OCD.

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/nowornever/living-with-obsessive-compulsive-disorder-1.4424547/cbc-radio-host-reveals-his-personal-struggle-with-ocd-1.4424557

By Trevor Dineen

When I walk into an airport bathroom, like I did last week on my way to Vancouver, I hear the flushing, running taps and hand dryers. But I also hear something else.

“You have to pump the soap 25 times and then wash your hands 25 times. Don’t miss any numbers. Don’t skip any pumps. Oh and do that whole cycle 25 times and then you can leave.”

Now why on earth would I do all of that?

“Because if you do, you won’t die.”

Welcome to the inside of my brain. I have obsessive compulsive disorder. I’ve had it for over 15 years. And to be honest, it almost took my life.

When I was 22, I basically lost everything because of it. One day my brain decided to start telling me that if I did these small compulsions, I wouldn’t die. So I did, because honestly, I didn’t want to die. But then these small compulsions got bigger and the routines got more complex.

The next thing you know, it was taking me 90 minutes to get in and out of a bathroom. It would take me 75 minutes to get into bed. I’d have to walk around cars 25 times when I got out of them. I had between 200-300 compulsions that took up four to five hours of my day.

I quit my job, dropped out of school, and pulled away from all my friends. I was wasting away, mentally and physically. A year and a half went by and all I did was get worse. Finally my parents found me collapsed and crying on their basement floor. It was Christmas Eve and and I had just finished doing all of my routines and compulsions in front of my entire family and relatives.

It was my rock bottom.

My mother, Carol Dineen, eventually opened up to me about how terrified she and my father were in those moments. “Watching my son deteriorate to the point where we knew if we didn’t get you help, we were going to lose you,” she said. “I knew that in my heart. That’s why it was so important to find you help.”

Trevor Dineen (CBC)Help, in my world, came in the form of Dr. Willows. He’s a psychiatrist at Seven Oaks Hospital in Winnipeg. He’s the one that saved my life.

When I had the chance to revisit him recently, he told me, “You presented with the perfect illness. You came in with everything people say about OCD. Because you had everything. Remarkable obsessions, very time-consuming compulsions and hours upon hours of routines.”

Without him, and the months of cognitive behaviour therapy that he guided me through, I don’t know where I would be today.

But it’s not gone. I still have compulsions. They rear their ugly heads whenever I get stressed or I’m concerned for someone I love. But overall, they’re much more manageable now. I know I’ll always have them. A handful or more will always linger, and I have to be okay with that. It’s just become a part of who I am.

And it’s a part I’m okay talking about. Because at the end of the day, I hate the idea of anyone ever feeling as lonely and as scared as I did. So hopefully, this helps. Even a little bit.


Resources:
Anxiety Canada

Canadian Mental Health Association

OCD Canada

Book Recommendations:
Freedom from Obsessive Compulsive disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty (updated edition), by Jonathan Grayson

The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Washing: The Experience and Treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, by Judith L. Rapoport

When Once Is Not Enough, by Gail Steketee and Kerrin White

Stop Obsessing!: How to Overcome Your Obsessions and Compulsions, by Edna B. Foa, and Reid Wilson

Pain

It is hard to put in words the distress that OCD causes; it is this weight that follows you around everywhere you go. You can’t escape it, and you can’t run away from it. Throughout the day and night these echoes of thoughts, images and sensations are there with you, the story line so vivid and crippling we fall surrender to its demands. All moments are slightly stolen because your there but your OCD is also there with you.

There has been so much I have lost to OCD, so much I fear because of OCD. I try to beat it and overcome it, but there are days where you are overwhelmed. It is important to remember that OCD does not define you, and even though our minds have turned on us we can live with this monster.

The struggle is real and ongoing; it is hard to explain how your mind can become your biggest hurdle in life. The dark lens of OCD alters reality, and forces us to want to maintain control.

It is so scary to take risks, and to feel brave enough to trust yourself and that this is just OCD. For me my OCD has manifested in a few different forms, but the best way to describe it is imagine watching a horror film over and over again in your mind, but this isn’t any normal horror film all the characters in this story are the people you love and care dearest for. You can’t do anything to stop it, and are forced to be subjected to this torture. The people you would do anything for you would sacrifice anything for you have to live with being bombarded by never ending thoughts and ideas that you can’t protect them and if you don’t engage in certain behaviour they won’t be safe. Even when you are told this is a disorder this is what the disorder does a part of you still is afraid that what if it isn’t? What if they are wrong and there is real danger? You have to ask yourself has what I have been doing worked so far? Am I happy? Maybe I should take the chance that nothing bad will happen and this is just OCD, and every doubt I have is also OCD? It is so hard to take that leap of faith but it is worth a shot to try, I still every morning have that struggle between doubt vs taking a risk. The days when I chose risk always turn out more fulfilling but it is hard to remember that when doubt feels so strong.

I have decided that life will be filled with challenges, uncertainties and pain. But along the twists and turns there will be these beautiful moments, connections and experiences that make it all worth it. We can either let OCD rob us of those moments or accept that it is going to be painful and filled with uncertainty but it is better then letting OCD win.

“In order to write about life first you must live it” – Ernest Hemingway

 

 

Politician Who Missed Work Because of OCD

https://themighty.com/2018/01/state-representative-justin-simmons-ocd/

Politician Who Missed Work to Secretly Treat His Mental Illness Releases Touching Video


 

Simmons explained that in early 2016, he experienced a significant “flare up” of OCD symptoms, and chose to enter residential treatment. This was the second time he had entered treatment for his OCD, the first being his senior year of high school. He said during his time in treatment in 2016, he focused on re-learning tools to control the effects of OCD.

“That treatment helped me to leave full and successful life for more than a decade, graduating college, serving in the House of Representatives, starting a family and more,” he said.

Politicians aren’t typically known for being open about their mental health, and few have. One notable example is Patrick Kennedy, a former Congressman from Rhode Island who wrote about his personal experience with mental illness and addiction in his book, “A Common Struggle.” Still, Simmons told The Mighty, OCD wasn’t easy for him to talk about in such a public way — and he contemplated for several months before releasing the video.

“It’s a very personal issue,” he said in the video. “It’s also an illness most people don’t understand. They think OCD is what they see on TV or in the movies. For some people, it is. But in many cases, it isn’t. It’s an anxiety issue. For example, for me, it sometimes causes me to withdraw, even from family and friends.”

But he also brought up how living with OCD has been a positive thing — and that he hopes to bring more awareness to the issue going forward. “My OCD isn’t something that stops me, it isn’t something that stops millions of other people inflicted with it,” he said. “It isn’t something that stops me from working hard for you and leading a full life with my family and friends. I’ve worked successfully for years while addressing it and will continue to do so in the future.”

No matter what side of the political aisle you’re on, we hope more politicians — and more people from every workforce — feel comfortable coming forward about their mental health struggles. No one is immune to struggling with a mental illness, and even leaders and people in power deserve to take time off for mental health treatment without shame.

Simmons said the reaction to the video has been overwhelmingly positive, and for other people contemplating opening up about their mental health to an employer, his advice is this:

My suggestion would be take your mental health seriously. Make it the number one priory in your life. If you work for a good employer, they’ll understand. I wish I could tell you most employers will be understanding, but I can’t. All I can say is take your mental health seriously. It’s the most important thing in your life.

The Challenge

The importance of challenging ourselves, even when anxiety is at its worst. We all know that feeling, of an intrusive thought coming in you try to get ignore it but it just gets louder and louder and louder, like an alarm clock that wont turn off. You try your best to not listen to the alarm, but eventually you snap and want to break the alarm clock to stop the incessant beeping. Unfortunately, you can’t just turn off thoughts, or break them and the more you try not listening to them the worse they get. The solution to these thoughts seems backwards, but welcoming and accepting the thoughts actually helps relieve the anxiety being felt.

For example:

Say you have a thought that something terrible is going to happen, you keep playing scenarios out in your head the plot always ends in a horrible terrible outcome. You become so engrossed that your heart starts to beat so fast, you begin to tremble, maybe you carry out compulsions to try and relive your anxiety and before you know it you are having a full fledged panic attack. You try so hard to ignore the thoughts, you might pray, cry or beg them to stop but they just become worse and worse, until you are on the floor trembling in fear. Eventually the panic attack subsides, and your anxiety calms down, until the next intrusive thought enters and the cycle starts up all over again. Now let’s go over this same exact situation but try a different approach, the intrusive thought comes in but this time you allow it in, you even welcome it in, this time you acknowledge its presence and you do not react. The key thing here is not reacting, no matter how intense, no matter how awful the outcome your mind is presenting you. You DON’T react, it might seem so scary, but being brave and allowing yourself to feel the anxiety come on and not fight it will prove to your brain that there is nothing to actually be afraid of. Overtime the more we react to a thought, the more our brain becomes hardwired to think that we need to be afraid of that thought, and the more that thought pops up starting a never ending cycle of fear and anxiety. The moment we decide to let go, and not be afraid of our thoughts, and allow them to be present without reacting no matter how painful resisting the urge of wanting to just completely give in and freak out (like breaking the alarm clock) is worth enduring the temporary pain for the long term benefits. This will help reverse the ingrained fear response. How to do this? It is much easier said then done, the suffocation and intense fear can be so consuming it sounds terrifying to have to sit alone and welcome the anxiety in, but the less you react the quicker the thought gets bored and leaves – you are not providing any energy to fuel the thought. Lets go back to the analogy of an alarm clock, the alarm clock is beeping this time you welcome the alarm clock in, you don’t react and you even accept the uncertainty of not knowing if the alarm clock will ever stop beeping. You are not resisting it and you are not trying to ignore it, you simply are okay with having the alarm noise apart of your life. Overtime you have become so comfortable with having the noise in the background it gets quieter and quieter, you even forget it is there at times. That is the goal with intrusive thoughts, you have to accept the uncertainty and be okay no matter how intense or horrible the thoughts & feelings being presented to you are, even if your mind tells you that you are wrong to be okay with the thought because something BAD is going to happen!!! Try your hardest to resist the urge to react, think about all the times you have been through this and nothing bad ever happened, take that risk even just once, it will be worth it. Think about all the time you gave in to its demands and the time and energy and pain it has caused you, and again NOTHING bad happened….anxiety is a monster and it may never go away but you can learn to coexist with horrible a roommate.

 

 

 

Letting Go

I have been having a bad month of anxiety & OCD, I feel like I have completely relapsed and the intrusive thoughts have become so intense that I am back to square one. My intrusive thoughts have caused me so much grief and sadness that all my tools I have learned have somehow slipped my consciousness and I have been in the belly of the beast.

At times I feel in control, and other times I feel completely overwhelmed by anxiety and worry. I thought to myself if this continues I don’t think I can function properly, and the urge to want to just stay in my room indefinitely provides me with comfort. As if quarantining myself would somehow lead to me being free of anxiety.

I forgot that I have dealt with this monster many time before, and the idea of  a quick fix or a “cure” just does not exist. I forgot that in order for this to become easier and better I have to force myself to face it head on and push myself through hard work. I forget that I now have to incorporate this into everyday life, it has to become a lifestyle change. Just like going to the gym is hard work, I have to exercise my mind and implement all my tools that I have learned.

The thoughts become so loud, that it can become self consuming the key is to not have any judgment NO MATTER how intense and unpleasant the thoughts may be. It is the balance between accepting the discomfort and loving the self that will ultimately free the grip of anxiety.

Anxiety exists regardless if it is invited in, and my fundamental flaw in my current approach is that I have re-entered the cycle of wishing and praying that my anxiety could just vanish. The notion of that is counterintuitive to my growth, because it assumes anxiety is capable of vanishing everyone has anxiety it is part of being a human being. The sooner I accept that as truth the less power anxiety has. The sooner I embrace anxiety, and stop going to war with myself the sooner I can feel a beautiful inner balance.

Discipline is so important when dealing with anxiety, the discipline to know that it is just anxiety, and the discipline to proactively use tools such as meditation, journals, mindfulness etc. will ultimately create an automatic thought response to counteract anxiety.

Going back to the example of the gym, at the beginning the idea of going to the gym can be so daunting,  especially if you have not gone in years.  The first few weeks seem excruciating, and many people quit never to come back because of the intensity and emotional obstacles they face. But if you stick through it eventually you’ve created a habit and your routine automatically incorporates going to the gym as a natural part of your day. You also start to feel better, enjoy it and even desire to go. This is the same idea for anxiety, the beginning will be so much work, and extremely uncomfortable and intense but eventually it will become an automatic part of your natural life.  A big lesson I learned is during good times I have to keep putting the effort in, just because I feel amazing does not mean I can just revert back to not working hard, that was my downfall this time and I have now been able to catch it. It is easy to slip back into old ways of thinking especially when things have settled down. The motivation for change decreases as the intensity of suffering decreases.

Consistently working on being present and mindful will create a beautiful inner happiness that glows and circulates throughout the entire body. The simple yet complicated practice of letting go…without fear or ruminating.

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing OCD Podcast!

I came across a beautiful couple Julie and Andy, who both dedicate time out of their life to host a podcast around OCD and Anxiety. This has been a wonderful resource for many people, and makes you realize that other people are also going through what you are. The stories of the guests will leave you inspired and encouraged. I really love their podcasts, not only do they interview people who personally are suffering with anxiety, but they speak with professionals and loved ones of sufferers giving a broader understanding of the disorder.

The link to the podcast is:

http://coldflyer.com/

 

Video Journal

 

I suffer with anxiety and to elaborate more I suffer with OCD. In my previous blogs I speak about what OCD is, how it impacts someone, and what tools may help to combat the crippling anxiety. This week has been a tough week for me, I was experiencing a big spike in my anxiety, once the anxiety passed after a few days I was able to recalibrate and ground myself again. In this moment I wanted to create a reference point for myself for when my anxiety spikes again. I thought about how I was going to capture my ideas, and really communicate to myself in a rational way. I decided I was going to make a private video journal, in this video I would speak to my future self. I found this extremely effective because now I have a moment in time where I can refer back to and guide myself through my anxiety. Seeing myself so grounded and resilient to anxiety is truly empowering and has snapped me out of anxiously thinking. In the video I talk about my past few days of being suffocated by anxiety, I then move on to explain why it is so important to just accept the thoughts for what they are and not allow myself to label or “argue” with my anxiety. I go on to say how important it is to realize that I will never know anything with complete certainty, I wont even know what will happen 5 minutes from now. This was important for me to capture because a huge aspect of anxiety is the “what if” this happens and constantly wanting 100% certainty that it will not happen. Once that certainty is achieved at a level that my anxiety is content, it moves on to another subject matter and there in lies the vicious cycle of anxiety and obsessively wanting to achieve reassurance. In the video journal I remind myself of all the tools I have to tackle my anxiety, and I also address what anxiety is and why I am actually the one in the drivers seat not my anxiety. When anxiety takes over essentially “I” as the driver become the passenger, and it becomes very difficult to reassume the position of driver in these moments. I would highly recommend creating a video journal as a guide to help during times of anxiety provoking situations. It not only helps with combating anxiety, but it also is a great catalogue of showcasing personal growth.