Postnatal OCD – My story
I was aware of postnatal depression. It is in fact something that is more widely talked about nowadays. So when my health visitor asked how I was doing after the birth of my son, I responded that I was fine. I was tired but not feeling depressed.
This was true until five weeks later, when things started to change. Completely unrelated to my birth I developed sepsis. Thankfully my partner was aware of the symptoms and took me to hospital straight away. After this I started to feel more pressure from myself to be well, but I wasn’t really recovering. I started having other odd symptoms such as stomach ache. After visiting the GP, I was rushed to hospital, where it was found that my gallbladder had been causing all the trouble. A few days later I had emergency surgery to have it removed.
Postnatal OCD symptoms
My body was recovering but as the days turned into weeks and with a house move as well, things started to spiral. My fears were about leaving the door unlocked. However when I tried to rationalise these thoughts, my thoughts turned to leaving the cooker on. And when I tried to rationalise these, they then turned to thoughts of self-harm.
What scared me was how quickly my thoughts had escalated, from fairly manageable if unpleasant ones to worrying that I would harm myself or my baby. The smallest things would set me off, such as the sound of a new electronic toy, or the sounds of my sons cry, which would force me to abandon the room due to my fear that I could touch a knife.
I spoke to my partner about what was happening because I had become acutely aware that I could no longer tell whether these thoughts, were just thoughts. I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t going to act on them. It got to the point where I no longer wanted to touch or look after my son and if anything I thought he would be happier without me.
I spent two months in hospital on my own and then as health professionals realised I wasn’t better when I returned home, I then spent six weeks in a Mother and Baby Unit. This was the best and worst experience while trying to recover. The best because it led me to being well enough to be discharged and being able to rebuild my life. The worst because it pushed me really hard while I was there. I had to work through my situation everyday. I made a quick if slightly surprising recovery at the unit, however I know I would not have improved so, if I had not had my son with me.
Intrusive OCD pretends to be your friend, but it ends up being an extremely controlling one. It makes you feel safe at the beginning, but you quickly realise it starts to dominate your life. So talk to someone; a friend, a partner, whoever you feel you can trust. OCD keeps you isolated and paranoid, and that’s how it likes it. I nicknamed my OCD ‘Trish’.
You are not the only one
OCD or OCD traits, are actually very common, with a large proportion of people experiencing some sort of symptom at some point in their lives. OCD can make you feel and think some pretty terrible things, but professionals who have dealt with OCD have heard it all.
I remember in therapy, unburdening one of my deepest darkest fears and yet the therapist wasn’t shocked. In fact they didn’t call social services or even the police. They told me how awful it must have felt to be overwhelmed by such nasty thoughts all this time. I broke down and this was the beginning of my recovery.
Don’t try and do everything
Even without surgery, having a baby is a huge life change. So make sure you don’t try and manage everything yourself and do ask for help. Ask friends and family if they want to do some washing for you, take the dog for a walk, or perhaps make some food. On the other hand, keep unhelpful friends and family away.
Take everyday as it comes
This is perhaps easier said than done. Recovery is not a straight line and even with medication, you might find your symptoms ebbing and flowing.
When someone asked me what it was like to have intrusive OCD, I said when it was bad it was like having someone shouting at me all the time. That’s pretty hard to ignore and pretty tiring too. But with time, my better days did get more and my bad days less often.
Structure your day
This doesn’t mean you have to be doing something every single hour of the day as a baby is pretty time consuming. But it’s important to keep your mind focused. I found high intensity exercise was best but even just getting out at least once a day was really beneficial.
Sarah is a mum in Surrey. Whilst in recovery, Sarah decided to tell her story, to help and inspire others. She has spoken on BBC radio Surrey and is currently a peer support worker within the NHS.