Guest Blog Post, Raising Awareness of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
I am excited and honoured to be able to share and support a guest blogger on my website. Who is sharing a personal insight and a unique perspective to raise awareness of a lived experience of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. A new dad with (OCD) becoming a father for the first time and dealing with terrifying intrusive thoughts. Having intrusive thoughts as a new parent is very common, but we don’t talk about it well we didn’t. Maybe this will start more of a conversation and we will learn to talk more about these hidden experiences. Your feedback is welcome and please share you never know who might need to read this.
Having realised I had suffered from OCD throughout most of my life. Nothing prepared me for what I was about to go through.
Living with OCD
My anxiety levels have always been higher than the norm even when nothing, in particular, is bothering me, that guilty feeling when you see a Police Car in your rearview mirror when you know you haven’t committed any crime, the feeling when your boss asks you for a quick chat in his office thinking you’re about to get fired or even worse he found out about the time you played doctors and nurses with you cousin when you were ten years old and it was you dressed as the nurse! I felt like I was constantly waiting for a Jurys verdict; it never got to the point where it smothered me; yes at times very distressing but not life-changing. I was convinced I had HIV for a short period, I was convinced I was Gay and at times, I questioned reality and used to think I was in the Truman Show I think they call this existential OCD. That’s probably my favourite if I had to pick one, I joke of course all are hideous.
All the above constantly changing themes can be someone’s worst nightmare and it can be a debilitating illness which needs so much more exposure. It is getting more coverage but still a long way to go.
Learning about and Understanding OCD
I am not an expert, I have read a lot about OCD, and I have seen several therapists, I diagnosed myself before the GP could, I have done my research and probably read most of the OCD-related books that are available. I am writing this blog for Sarah’s site because when I was at my lowest, I would have liked to read more about OCD from the male point of view, especially from new Dads. Men are good at hiding it and masking over the cracks, the taboo themes can be extremely terrifying for Men to talk about due to the fear of being judged or even socially rejected. If you’re reading this, you are not alone OCD is a doubting disorder it can mimic feelings and make you believe you are a monster it can find false memory to make you think you did something wrong, it wants your constant attention and chases certainty. I wanted certainty and guess what I never got it, you have to get used to living with uncertainty.
The thought of having children never really appealed to me. The overwhelming responsibility of looking after and keeping alive a little human was too much for my overactive Amygdala. However, it wasn’t yet on my or my wife’s radar; it always just faded into the back of my subconscious. In November 2015, my wife announced she was pregnant; I was excited and apprehensive but no more than the average person would have been. It was totally normal feelings to be feeling at that time.
I changed jobs that year and we were looking to move to a bigger house with more space, all of which was bringing my stress levels higher and higher. With the scary 12-week scan looming, I convinced myself the baby would be disabled in some way (again catastrophizing), thankfully all good on the 12-week scan, just the 16-week gender scan, 24-week lack of movement scan, the house buy falling through at last minute and my new job was turning out to be a challenging high-pressure role. I could feel my brain bubbling.
Once we found out we were expecting a baby girl initially, I was happy I always wanted girls. I think around my wife being 24 weeks pregnant, ‘What If’ thoughts started to creep in. As the baby was still six months away from arriving, the thoughts didn’t grip me as much but I could feel my anxiety levels continuing to rise.
We moved house the week the baby was due. Baby, thankfully, was overdue, giving us more time to settle in. My wife had a pretty gruesome labour and after 36 hours, she was red-lighted for an emergency section it was an absolute whirlwind.
I didn’t get to see baby L for at least an hour and walked in and my wife had all wires hanging out of her and was high on Morphine. The midwife handed me my baby and I immediately handed her back. I wasn’t interested.
Weeks rolled by with both of us struggling to adjust and drinking pretty much every night to ease the pain, I wasn’t bonding, and baby L was hard work.
Intrusive thoughts arrive
I think my first OCD thoughts were around harm, harming the baby in some way. They were getting more and more intense as the weeks went on at around eight weeks; my little one was sucking my thumb and this intrusive image flashed up. Wow, that was vivid and not a thought I would have ever brought on myself. I was scared, confused and disgusted. The thoughts continued to ramp up their intensity my imagination has always been wild but was now turning into something Stephen King would be proud of.
As the thoughts became more poignant, I started thinking about the future and looking for certainty. What if this happens, what if that happens, what if I end up doing this? I never really had urges in the present. I now know this can also be very scary when suffering from OCD along with groinal responses, and my OCD was undoubtedly more focused on the ‘What If’.
I started to break down; I could feel it, not actually knowing what was really happening. I googled and found a lot of similarities with HARM OCD, it reached boiling point when one weekend, everywhere I looked, an intrusive thought popped up, or OCD was making me find something intrusive to think about, usually around my child but it wasn’t exclusive just to that.
I had a work trip on a Monday morning; my mind was racing on Sunday night; I broke down to my wife and let out as much as I could; she was confused and scared but also passionate and reassuring me… I was petrified. I barely slept that night when I did. I woke up in a panic-like state, heart racing and the fear of impending doom. I nearly didn’t travel and maybe I shouldn’t have, but I did. Scared and alone, I headed to the airport.
My colleague met me at the airport, I was holding it together, but deep down, I was not with it I would describe myself as frozen. I just wanted to sit there and google my symptoms to find the answers but you won’t find them on forums etc.; the only thing I managed to do was search enough until I realised it was OCD, but of course, OCD will tell you that it’s not OCD and that you are this monster/predator and that you’ve just been hiding it, that’s its favourite trick.
I went to meetings, drank too much alcohol to try and help the pain, and it did to be fair I was a lot more rational and calmer but I knew that this couldn’t continue. I woke up at 4 am the next day, heart pounding, thoughts racing in a foreign country; my wife was asking me how I was feeling. I had to lie a little and say I was coping. She had an 8-week-old to look after she didn’t need to be over-worrying about me. I wasn’t coping; in fact, this was rock bottom. The shame around these thoughts and even the terminologies scared me. Pure Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or POCD is terrifying if you google it, but one of the most common OCD themes. I was worried sick even thinking how I’d tell people I had POCD in fear of being judged or outcasted, or even my wife and child leaving me.
I called in sick and lay in my room for hours and hours staring at the walls, googling everything OCD related, sent down rabbit holes I seriously could be a world champion at googling, I spoke to someone at The Linden Method, a bit of a scam but they initially helped me understand what I was going through. I rang the Samaritans at one point there was literally no one else. It got to around 2 pm when I thought, ‘fuck it’ if I am this person, OCD is telling me I am, then what can I do? it was only then I had a few hours of calm and release, and I went into the office and finished off a few more meetings before I headed home.
I drank my way home; my colleague then could tell I wasn’t myself as I have never been a big beer drinker, but I was downing pints like I was on a stag doo.
I arrived home and hugged my wife for the longest time I think I have ever held her, I said that if I wasn’t right in the morning, I would be going to see my GP, and she understood. I woke in the morning and held that baby, harm OCD kicked in I started to panic and broke down. I called my GP and was sent to see a temp practitioner who was about as helpful as a chocolate fireguard when it came to OCD. I basically had to explain to her what OCD was. The only positive thing that came out of that visit was diazepam and sertraline. I decided to stay with my mum and dad to help give my wife some space with the baby, probably classes as avoidance but at the time. I think it was the right thing.
I spent the weekend there, and my mum gave me bundles of reassurance which, as we know, is not good for OCD as it only brings temporary relief and makes OCD come back even more aggressive, but at the time, in a state of terror and panic, I think it was what I needed to hear. I got in contact with an OCD Therapist, I didn’t know much about her but it seemed like she knew a bit about OCD from her details online, and I was pretty desperate. The GP said there was a 6-month waiting list which was far too long.
I spoke with a lovely private therapist, and she knew exactly what I was going through I cried on the phone to her, trying to explain everything in such detail, and we arranged a session for a few days later.
I headed back home scared and confused and not knowing how home life would be going forward, my wife was supportive, and we tried to carry on as normal. I went to see the lovely therapist I took my wife so that she understood a little bit more about what I was going through. I felt calmer after my first session. We went through the CBT framework, letting thoughts just be there and carrying on, I think a little old-fashioned but it helped. We did some mindfulness but let me tell you this when you’re in the grips of an aggressive OCD period, it will cut through mindfulness like a knife through butter. I think when everything is a little calmer, mindfulness can work great for a busy mind and is really helpful to have in your daily structure but it didn’t work at all for me in the early days.
Things went back to some sort of normality. For a brief period, I didn’t feel OCD was present, but no doubt in my mind I was doing mental compulsions, drinking too much, which is probably avoidance and not really being present in the moment. The positive thing about having a newborn is the constant Exposure, exposure response prevention (ERP) is like kryptonite to OCD. OCD loves avoidance and tries to keep you safe and away from the ‘What If’ threats, well luckily, I had to face my fears full on, and you know what? After around six months and as my little girl started to smile, I felt the bond grow day by day and OCD around my little girl had faded….but it wanted attention elsewhere.
My work life was not going great, I was clashing with my colleague and business was not good enough, so I started to lose interest and just sat in front of my laptop in a freeze-like state day in and day out. I was physically present but mentally lost in a black hole of rumination; the feelings of shame, guilt and depression were creeping back in. OCD thoughts had shifted from my little girl as I read an article online about a school shooting OCD latched onto that like a leech sucking the life out of me. ‘What if’ I had a gun? I could shoot up a school or go on a mass murder spree. That was it hooked in again. My wife and the baby went on holiday and I just lay in bed all week staring at the ceiling topping myself up with some spare diazepam I had left over. The worse thing I could do was just lie there and ruminate. I didn’t tell my wife whilst she was away, I didn’t want to worry her or ruin her holiday, so I waited until she came home. She said she could tell something wasn’t right as my palms were all sweaty and I looked pale.
That was November 2016, the last major relapse I had where the thoughts consumed me into almost a paralysed state. I’ve had minor relapses and spikes where they have grabbed me for a few days. At one point, I remember reading about the Jimmy Saville case and thought, ‘ What if I am like him’ ‘What if I secretly want to be like him’ ‘What if I am an imposter and this isn’t the real me’. Can you see a theme here,’ What if’?
I have learnt that every single person is capable of committing a terrible act humans have for centuries killed and hurt each other in some shape or form. We are all fallible humans; Good people do bad things, and bad people can do good things. I read more about the Stoics; their rational philosophical views helped me understand humans a little more. When you zoom out and look at the universe a floating rock in an infinite galaxy, we are pretty irrelevant and as the Stoics say, Memento Mori ‘ Remember you must Die’ helps you try to live in the moment.
I still have ups and downs, low days and better days, Sarah has helped me understand more about my past and why I have such an active Amygdala, she is also extremely compassionate. I hope if you’re struggling and you stumble across this blog, know that OCD is the doubting disorder it will make you question everything and, as mentioned, mimic symptoms related to your fear. As I say, I am certainly not an expert; this is just my own experience and hopefully can help others relate, especially Men and new fathers. My little girl is my absolute world; I look at her and want to cry because I am so proud, she is my best friend, and I am very lucky, and also, I have a 6-month-old girl, OCD has played very little part in her arrival. Take OCD for the ride, and wear it like an uncomfortable pair of trousers.
Things that have helped me
- Find a good OCD therapist that understands OCD.
- Talk to someone you trust; I know themes can be scary but you’ll be surprised that maybe that friend has them thoughts too.
- Take OCD for the ride in whatever you’re doing or planning, do not put it off or cancel due to OCD.
- Read but stay away from Forums and Google.
- Exposures, your therapist is best qualified to support you with this, but you can do your own. For me, it was simple things like looking after the baby on my own, bath her etc. It’s so important you make exposure a part of your routine.
- Make getting better a priority.
- Write. If you have a creative mind like me, blogs like this can really help.
- If you’re unhappy in your work life, then change jobs. This can feed OCD.
- Deal with Uncertainty you cannot control certainty.
- Support – OCD action
Social media accounts I recommend
- Jog On – Bella Mackie
- Because we are bad – Lilly Bailey
- The Compassionate Mind – Paul Gilbert
- Self Help for your Nerves – Claire Weakes
- Break free from OCD
Please reach out to Sarah if you’d like to talk or ask me for advice. I am an open book; I will not judge and trust me, whatever Intrusive thoughts you may have/had, I can guarantee I have had worse.