As a child, I had many behaviors that I felt were normal. I needed to feel balanced on both sides. This meant that whatever was done on one side needed to be repeated on the other. I couldn’t step on cracks too many times with the same foot. I became very rigid about my schoolwork and if I made a mistake, I needed to completely restart whatever I was doing - erasing wasn’t good enough. When riding in the car, I needed to perform specific rituals when passing trees or telephone poles. These were all very normal to me because I didn’t know any differently.
Along with the behaviors, I was also haunted by intrusive thoughts of something terrible happening to people I cared about. I would lie in bed imagining what would happen if someone broke in and murdered my mother while she sat awake downstairs. I made plans of action if our car were to ever run off the top of the bridge that we had to cross regularly. I made sure to find out where the brake pedal was in the car in case someone shot my mother in the head while we were driving. While I lived with both these obsessions and compulsions for most of my life, they always kind of lingered in the background and didn’t cause me too much unmanageability day to day.
Until I had my son.
At first, I was overwhelmed with the love and happiness of welcoming him into the world. I marveled at his tiny hands and feet and breathed in his smell as he slept. By about three or four months, I noticed that I was unable to watch certain shows or movies because my reactions to them became so intense. By five months, the thoughts started.
Out of the blue I would envision my son dying in graphic detail. The bridge I would cross with him on walks suddenly became a guessing game of whether I could save him if someone threw him over or if the impact alone would kill him. I imagined him getting hit by a car. I saw him getting crushed with weights when I brought him to the gym. These thoughts would cause me panic and anxiety since they would pop up out of nowhere.
I hadn’t seen my therapist since he was born, and I quickly made an appointment. I also suffer from depression and have been sober since 2010, so I’m well aware of my need to pay attention to my mental health. After seeing my therapist, she diagnosed me with obsessive compulsive disorder based on my history and these new symptoms. I also learned that just like depression and anxiety can manifest postpartum, so can OCD, which is talked about even less.
What also surprised me is that while I do have some of the physical compulsions, my OCD weighs heavier on intrusive thoughts. I’m currently learning ways to deal with these thoughts as they arise by repeatedly telling myself that they are only thoughts and with each repetition, it gets a little better. Obsessive compulsive disorder is generally a chronic mental illness, and although I’ve suffered with a mild form of it since childhood, this recent experience with it quickly became something that I knew I needed help with.
Any parent wants to protect their child, but there is a difference between planning for the worst and the more pathological symptoms that I was experiencing. Make sure to check in with yourself and seek help if you need it.
Author credit: Erin Bahadur
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