Please don’t touch, I CARE too much (A dads tale)
A reasonable amount of research has been done looking into the links between OCD, Motherhood and Post Natal Depression.
I can only imagine some of the feelings and anxieties a cocktail of these three hugely challenging life events could bring.
There are some great minds looking into these cases, with far more knowledge, expertise and experience than me so I’ll leave it to them to comment on that particular subject.
Something I can look at with a fair degree of knowledge and experience however is being a DAD with OCD.
Whether this can develop post natal, I’m not too sure, although the stresses, strains and exposure to potential trigger issues would incline me to think it could.
What I can do is look at the way my OCD affected our decisions to have children, the choices we made once committed to going down this journey, the problems that have arisen and how we have overcome them and how I now look at things moving forward as a family.
First a little background information.
Bar a few little things that I can look back on now, I was pretty much OCD-free until my early 30s. I would certainly not have been diagnosed as a sufferer, and was in no need of any form of treatment as I led a relatively care free happy and full life.
My OCD developed and took a grip of me in about 2002-3 following the coinciding of two emotionally challenging relationship breakups and two fairly serious bike related injuries, one of which led to me being off work for a summer and the other a year later that not only left me needing to take six months off work, but that also meant that I couldn’t go back to my trade as a builder afterwards as a result of the injuries severity.
During my convalescence from the second of these accidents was when I met/re-met my now wife whom I had known for a long time, but not seen for several years.
This was at the time that my OCD was just starting to bite.
A few years passed during which my mental health seriously declined, yet somehow I managed to forge a new career in education, moved sixty miles from the ‘anxiety ridden’ place we had been living and got married.
Simply moving and getting a new job are never going to be enough to defeat something as overpowering as OCD, so we kind of struggled on until a combination of medication and therapy got me to an almost acceptable level of living.
Now the idea of starting a family had always been on the table as my wife was always determined to have children.
It had mostly been just a background thought for me up until this point, as although I knew this was coming, the other things going on in my life and mind were keeping me plenty busy enough!
Once it was decided we were going to start trying for kids though, there was no going back and I vowed to give it as much effort and energy as I could to make myself well enough to be the best dad I could.
At the time of our decision to have kids, I had been taking SSRI medication for a number of years to help with my attempts at recovery and to ‘knock the edge’ off of my anxieties.
With the limited level of information you are given as a patient I had no idea of any possible effects of taking medication whilst conceiving.
Worries; irrational OCD ones or genuine cautious ones (who knows), of certain medicines effects on babies meant I was determined to stop my meds for a few months leading into this.
I did this, and kept myself med-free for the first year or so of my daughter’s life until having a relapse and needing to get on them again.
For my second child I was much more relaxed about the situation and didn’t stop taking them at all. I didn’t look into the issue, but figured that people are abusing their bodies with a hell of a lot worse substances such as alcohol and drugs than by me taking a mild dose of medicine, and that me being a healthy and capable Dad was more of a genuine concern.
This has seemingly been a good decision, as my involvement, effectiveness and enjoyment as a parent have been vastly improved second time around.
Not having had a break in my care has also been beneficial as it has, along with a successful course of CBT, helped me recover enough that my behaviour would now probably not be diagnosed as OCD driven and I am now starting to slowly decrease my medication doses.
Not something that’s easy to write or talk about for many, myself included.
Anyone who suffers with contamination OCD (solely or as part of their ‘package’) will have a pretty strong view or even fear of what is essentially something that is not only necessary for our species to survive, but should also be one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable parts of a couple’s relationship.
It’s a crying shame that at the same time as thousands of virtual strangers can be drunkenly ‘knobbing’ away without a moments thoughts to the consequences, two loving caring people can be kept from even touching each other by a crappy illness one of them is unfortunate enough to have.
Needless to say, if contamination anxieties are the dominating thoughts in your mind ALL DAY EVERY DAY, then acts which involve hands, mouths, genitals and worst of all bodily fluids are going to provoke some pretty unpleasant, uncomfortable and at times terrifying feelings.
The obvious/easy option is of course abstinence.
Effective enough, but not a great course of action for budding parents or those hoping for a long, happy and fulfilling relationship.
Mine and I’m sure many others compromise was, for a few years, to sanitise the situation as best practical.
It must be said though that prolonged hand washing sessions before and after, the application of plasters to any cuts or abrasions on the hands, in depth condom inspections and immediate showering are not the finest aphrodisiac in the world!
Small price one thinks at the time though, compared to years of irrational thoughts that you have somehow been infected by, or worse infected your loved one with, a killer disease.
Now take the condom out of the equation and watch the anxieties and fear levels ramp up drastically.
This led to the next inevitable reassurance/avoidance incident … THE BLOOD TESTS!!
This had been something that I had equally wanted and feared for a LONG time.
Dating back some fifteen years to the first scary (and in this case genuine) contamination issue I can remember, involving a nose piercing being knocked out and made to bleed and being replaced with a mates earring.
This and every genuine, exaggerated or imagined contamination incident since, be they medical, injury, work based, tattoo and piercing related or from my once ‘normal’ love life, was on my mind when I broached the subject of blood tests with the wife.
I say TEST(S), as one wasn’t going to be enough to satisfy Mr OCD. Both of us were going to need them. Not the easiest thing to suggest to a partner of many years who you share a life and a trust with.
A week or so later we are sat somewhere about as uncomfortable as is possible with this illness … the CLINIC!
Home of the ‘promiscuous, dirty, needle sharing, bareback riding types’ you are the exact polar opposite of (well that’s what your mind tells you anyway).
Even sitting on a chair or using a pen here is massively disturbing.
This is a place that is fully loaded with anxiety triggers for my OCD obsessions. Fear of contamination from touching ‘dirty’ doors/chairs/pens etc. fear of being overheard saying something (even if I don’t say it), limited opportunities to return to rooms to check floors and chairs for ‘bad things’ and then the big N … NEEDLES!
You’ve got to love the irony of fearing the very test that gives you the answers to some of your longest lasting fears.
Not just dreading the results, as many would, but also the process and venue involved.
Just how ridiculous do you feel asking a nurse if she is being hygienic, if the needles are new and how they are disposed of?
Any physical discomfort or pain is at this point overpowered to the point of irrelevance.
A few days later we get a couple of text messages giving us the all-clear. TEXT MESSAGES!! Don’t they realise that won’t do!
Could it have been sent to the wrong number?..er no, my names on it.
Shall I phone to check it’s for ALL potential illnesses?..er no, that’s what I asked for, and they are professionals who are not quite as barmy as me.
Three years I kept that text message on my phone until the phone died and I had to live without the knowledge that it was there.
Did that cause some drastic relapse? Of course not! OCD doesn’t work that logically.
With all obvious obstacles now removed, a few months later we found ourselves in proud possession of a pregnant tummy.
We timed this wonderfully to coincide with a house purchase and a job promotion for me just to add some more fun and anxiety.
NCT classes were attended to prepare us for parenthood and write a pointless birth plan that went out the window the moment inducement was required.
Bit of a result for me really, I’m not sure I’d have survived a water birth in a ‘contaminated’ pool or second hand bouncy ball to bend over!
For my wonderful wife’s dignity I’ll spare all details of childbirth stories and just say it was long, painful looking and tiring for all concerned. Oh, and midwives in general are superstars and there aren’t enough of them.
As for OCD levels during this, well they seemed to take a backseat in this case in the face of overwhelming competition from love and awe.
The only thing I can remember is a bit of panic that babies might get mixed up after our little girl was taken to a room of other babies for a few hours. Thank goodness for birthmarks.
I even managed to drive home from the hospital alone in the middle of the night without resorting to countless of my driving related compulsions.
Part 2 to follow soon