I Was Diagnosed with Postpartum OCD
Updated: May 23, 2018
I don’t want to tell you all about this. I don’t want everyone to know about the mistakes I’ve made in this process. But the whole problem these days is that folks don’t talk enough about their stuff, so everyone goes through their stuff alone. I have to be the change I want to see, right? May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I’m a mental health professional, so let’s just talk about it.
Back in March I got so fed up with my own behavior that I went to a therapist (not my first). I described my situation, she asked me questions, and I got the diagnosis of Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. More specifically, she told me it was “OCD-lite”, a mild form, because the problem behavior was only happening at work. I won’t go into details (unless you ask), but my obsession was contaminating my daughter with other kids' germs, and my compulsions were sanitizing myself and my work spaces. You can imagine how difficult these things can be working in schools during flu season.
I didn’t even know that PPOCD was a thing. I’ve heard of Postpartum Depression (which also isn’t talked about enough), but I had definitely never heard of any postpartum anxiety disorders. And yet, a growing body of research is showing that postpartum anxiety (OCD falls under the anxiety umbrella) is common, and may be even more common than PPD.
This therapist recommended for me a particular form of treatment (Exposure Response Prevention), but she isn’t trained in it and couldn’t offer it to me in good conscience. She also didn’t know off hand of anyone to refer me to locally. She did reach out to colleagues to find me a referral, though, so I give her credit for doing the best she could. At any rate, I walked out of that office with a label but no next step. There isn’t anyone close to home who specializes in that treatment, and my new-working-mom status makes scheduling things an hour away challenging, so I opted to just try and work through this on my own. NOTE: I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS.
What helped me was a combination of my own ERP (again -- I do not advocate for trying to self-treat) and a lot of prayer about anxiety. These helped me a lot in the couple weeks right after that therapy appointment, and have continued to help since. I do still have the occasional “flare-up” of anxiety about contaminating my daughter, but I try to catch myself early in the compulsion stage and change the thinking, change the behavior.
Just a note here -- I will forever be more empathetic for people who have OCD with regard to germs and cleaning, because it’s extremely hard to discern normal, healthy cleaning/hygiene from when you’ve gone too far. There’s such a fine line between what I’m supposed to do (ie. keeping my pumping area sanitized) with what is obsessive (jumping out of my seat and my heart racing because a student moved to touch my computer).
I can’t tell you that I have a catchy ending to this story. I don’t have much advice for you. But I do think we all need to talk more about our stuff so that no mama has to go through her stuff alone. If you need help, get it. If you need prayer, ask for it. If you need to talk, reach out to somebody. But let’s not suffer in silence in anymore. Let’s be the village--not just for our babies, but for ourselves too.