PPD’s less famous twin
Most people have heard of post partum depression. But not as many have heard of post partum anxiety –or post partum OCD, which is a form of anxiety disorder.
After having my son I was diagnosed with post partum depression and post partum anxiety. Not really a big surprise for me. Later I was diagnosed with PTSD, and the doctor who worked with me told me I also had obsessive and compulsive tendencies that stemmed from the PPA and PTSD. She said untreated it could develop into PPOCD, but that we would make sure that didn’t happen. She was my all time favorite therapist and really worked wonders with me.
After months of feeling like I was legitimately a bad person, I finally knew what all those scary thoughts and behaviors really were: obsessions and compulsions. Not my own controlled thoughts, but symptoms of two severe anxiety disorders different from the GAD I had dealt with my whole life.
So the thoughts weren’t my fault. But I still felt so ashamed of them. I didn’t tell anyone the full extent of what plagued my mind. I was scared. Scared of myself and scared of what others would think if they knew my darkest thoughts.
I told people I would think about all the horrible things that could happen to me and my baby. But I didn’t tell them some of the time it was thinking about things I would do to myself and the baby.
I knew I would never act on those obsessive thoughts, but having them is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I truly believed only a terrible person could have those kinds of thoughts. And they were obsessions. They bombarded my mind in the worst moments, leaving me scared to be alone with my baby to the point that I never gave my son a bath without my husband there.
The compulsions were less scary, just kind of strange, so I was able to admit to them more easily. But the obsessions were the real torture. The compulsions simply distracted from the frightening thoughts. They were an outlet of control in a mind lashing out against mental poison.
It wasn’t until I learned how to overcome and rid myself of the obsessions that I truly saw that they were never a part of me, or ever from me.
But I was still ashamed. Who could ever understand something like that? It just sounds evil.
A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a comment on a Facebook thread for a PPD video from a mom who had PPOCD. A mom who also had obsessive thoughts about harming herself and her baby. A mom who had also felt despicable, alone, and so frightened. I read her comment and cried, sharing with my husband for the first time the extent of what my obsessions had been. I realized that more people suffered from PPOCD and PPA than I realized. They just don’t talk about it. Since then I have encountered more and more reports of obsessive thoughts in new moms, thoughts that left them with the sharp guilt that I too am so familiar with.
Though it was hard share with people that I battled PPD, many people understand what that is and why it happens. And that it’s so common. Sharing that I had PPA… that takes a lot more vulnerability. Sharing exactly what obsessive thoughts poisoned my mind for months… well that’s splitting myself wide open. So when I press the “post” button on this article… I may just have an anxiety attack.
But there are other women out there just like me. Women ashamed of what they went through. Ashamed of an exhausting battle they fought. Ashamed of something that should be one of their greatest accomplishments.
There are areas of mental health people don’t mind talking or hearing about. Then there are the the illnesses that are still taboo even now. Illnesses that make people uncomfortable. It is these illnesses that need to break the stigma more than any of the others. People need to know they’re not alone.
Moms with PPA, obsessive and compulsive tendencies, and PPOCD –you are NOT alone. And what you’re going through is not your fault. Those terrifying thoughts –they are not you.
Nothing frightens me more than the risk of having obsessions again when this next baby comes. But now I know PPA and PPOCD exist. Now I know people with anxiety are more prone to obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. So this time, I can get help the moment the thoughts start coming. I sincerely hope more women become aware of these illnesses, so they can seek help at the very first signs as well.
The world of mental health awareness has a long way to go. And I truly believe vulnerability is key to awareness. And that is what motivates me to truly, honestly tell the whole story of my heart. That mom who posted her experience on a public video was truly courageous. Now it’s my turn to step up and be courageous.