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Stephanie on postpartum OCD and intrusive “What if?” thoughts

stephanie with baby-intrusive thoughts

Content warning: Discussion of postpartum depression, birth trauma, domestic abuse or other tough topics ahead. If you or someone you know is struggling with a postpartum mental health challenge, including postpartum depression or anxiety, call 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (tel:18009435746)—The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline This free, confidential service provides access to trained counselors and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, Spanish, and more than 60 other languages. They can offer support and information related to before, during, and after pregnancy.

My name is Stephanie. I am 32 years old, wife to an amazingly supportive husband and mama to the sweetest and feistiest little boy. For the last 18 months, I’ve been dealing with extremely debilitating postpartum depression and anxiety. It reached an all time high eight months ago. I had the worst intrusive thoughts that I had ever experienced, literally pulling me into the deepest and darkest hole—sucking the life out of me to the point where I could feel myself spiraling and losing myself more and more everyday. The only thing keeping me from a place of no return was my little boy—my sweet innocent baby who needed his mama more than anything.

It was as if I was living an out of body experience. I had no control over my thoughts that would constantly replay over and over in my head—thoughts so loud and so clear as if someone was screaming them to me. These thoughts of fear, of death and leaving my child motherless. Thoughts of impending doom and worst-case scenarios. Thoughts of every illness imaginable taking my life. Day after day terrified of all the “what if’s.”

What if something happened to me while I was caring for my baby? Would he be OK to survive on his own until his father got home to find me lifeless on the floor with a baby who had figured out how to open his baby gate and fallen down the stairs so was now crying hysterically for his mother who no longer could comfort him?

What if something happened to me while I was driving with the baby in the car? If at the wheel, I fell ill and we ended up in an accident. Would my baby survive or succumb to this accident and we would end up leaving my husband without a wife and a child?

All these “what if’s” becoming louder and louder and more and more detailed to the point where I can’t find the courage in me to go out without my husband. I cannot fathom the thought to take my son out for a walk around the block, or get into a car to go run errands alone with my son for fear of the “what if.” These thoughts going from thoughts to full blown fears.

These fears that keep resonating in my head—vivid pictures flashing in my mind. They almost feel real. They haunt every minute of every day. I fear falling asleep and not waking up. I fear every second from the time my husband leaves for work until the time he gets back home. My fear of death that keeps me from living. A fear so strong that now has me afraid of life itself. A fear of the future and the unknown that comes with it.

Of course having to deal with these demons created demons in my marriage. Since the only thing I could manage or “control” and really the only thing I had energy for was caring for my son. The rest of my energy was trying to get out of my own head and push these thoughts out. This in turn would lead to frequent panic and anxiety attacks, constant mood swings, fights with my husband or just keeping to myself and avoiding him all together.

It was easier to just keep to myself and live like roommates than to actually include him in my pain and suffering. How could I possibly tell him about these thoughts? How could I possibly tell him that I was terrified, every second of every day? How could I possibly say these thoughts out loud? Wouldn’t it be like speaking it into existence or something? I thought that by keeping it to myself, I would avoid burdening him with all of this. And, by acknowledging it, wouldn’t this confirm I was weak, unstable, an unfit mom, an unfit wife? Wouldn’t this show vulnerability?

As days turned into weeks and weeks into months, it became harder and harder for me to cope. It became extremely debilitating and I was no longer able to hide that there was something clearly wrong with me. It began affecting my work. It clearly affected my relationship with my husband. My mother could sense something was off whenever we spoke over the phone or on FaceTime. It was also beginning to affect my health.

Related: Spotting postpartum depression can be difficult. Here’s why you should enlist your partner’s help

When it finally became clear to me this was not a way to live nor was it the way I wanted to live, I knew I needed to ask for help. The first person I ran to was my husband. I needed his support more than anything. I needed comfort in knowing I wasn’t crazy or losing my mind. I needed comfort in knowing he still loved me despite what I was going through. I needed comfort in knowing everything was going to be alright.

I think things started to slowly change for the better once I was able to ask for help. At that moment, I was acknowledging that I had a problem and I was finally comfortable enough to discuss what was going on in my head. By being honest with myself about what was going on, I was able to find the support and comfort I needed all along. By asking for help and being vulnerable, I was able to find inner strength I didn’t know I had. Asking for help was the best thing I could’ve done. Not only for me, but for my family. Asking for help not only confirmed that yes, I have a problem, but it also confirmed that there is a light outside of the tunnel.

When I finally found a therapist that could evaluate and diagnose the problem, it was the validation I needed. I have an issue but there’s a name for it and now I’m seeking the treatment to help me get better.

I have OCD and severe anxiety. I now know my triggers and I know what I need to do to work on myself. I’ve learned coping techniques that help me on a daily basis overcome these fears and thoughts. I still have bad days, panic attacks and intrusive thoughts and that’s ok. I am working on not allowing my OCD or my anxiety to control every aspect of my life. I am in control of what’s controllable and relinquishing control of what I can’t control. I am learning to face my fears head on so they no longer control my every move or thoughts.