Once the initial shock of the first week or two of fatherhood was over, the realities of the new batch of anxieties on the table started to kick in.
Most of my issues up until now had involved me in the most part. Things that I might have done, or that may have happened to me.
My family and friends ‘normalness’ meant that I was not overly concerned about them, as they were big and ugly/sensible enough to look after themselves.
Hand washing now took on a new dimension as it now affected 2 of us; me AND a baby.
New rituals surrounding bottle preparation, food serving and nappy changing added to the already extensive collection of unnecessary washes in my arsenal.
Fortunately I didn’t develop any unwanted need to keep checking the baby when she was sleeping (well no more than any first time parent does anyway).
Being a November birth, I didn’t have to worry about crawling around on playground floors and parks for a few months, but that didn’t stop our house floor becoming an imaginary death-trap.
Any mark, piece of fluff, crumb or, worse of all, red or shiny thing needed to be inspected to within an inch of its life to confirm to me it wasn’t going to miraculously imbed itself in the baby and cause it harm.
Actually picking these things up and disposing of them was its usual traumatic ritual of over inspection. Taking in and out of the bin or hoover to reassure myself it wasn’t some diseased needle, and followed by the subsequent hand washing frenzy.
Shoe removal and inspection also ramped up at this time the living room floor had now become the inevitable playroom/dining table/nappy change area combination.
Any of the blood I was imaginarily treading in on a daily basis would now not solely be being transferred to the place we walked and put our feet while watching the telly, but also to every toy, dummy, bottle and snack that was dropped onto the floor and subsequently entered my little girls’ mouth.
This resulted in much panic from me as I raced about picking things up, checking the floor, washing them off/swapping them and doing all the correctly ordered associated hand wash rituals.
Easy to ‘get away with’ when it was just me and the wife at home, but tricky to mask and police when grandparents, friends and family were visiting as the depth and severity of my condition was still secret to them.
Oddly, what went on during the days I was at work or away from mum and baby didn’t really bother me.
Although I knew that my ‘safety levels’ would be being broken constantly, that didn’t concern me as, with OCD, we KNOW that others are the ones with the correct compass of fear and worry, not the sufferer.
The removal of responsibility making it ‘not my fault’ is a common issue in OCD and is often a blurred and confusing place that is wildly out of touch with the reality of the situation at hand.
Maybe it’s my relative lack of involvement at this early stage (or my good acting/masking) that has not led my over protective activities from influencing my now 6 year old into becoming an over cautious kid?
Some of the more bizarre, extreme (and expensive!) episodes of my illness took place during this time.
As well as the huge ramp up in hand washing and cleaning products being devoured, we could add to that list countless food products and meals, dummies, bottles, a sterilizer and a microwave oven!
The latter two were in a frenzied afternoon during which OCD convinced me that a baby’s bottle had come into contact with some varnish which meant it inevitably needed washing. A sink wash wasn’t sufficient for this in my mind, so a blast in the microwave heated sterilizer was in order…expensive mistake!
Within an hour, and despite huge protests from a desperate wife, I had convinced myself that the £60 sterilizer unit was now poisoned and was going to kill my little girl.
Duly despatched to the wheelie bin, my frantic mind now turned to the microwave which then suffered the same fate.
£200 down the toilet for something most would never even consider worth a mention or even a wash in the sink, yet I had turned into a catastrophic turn of events that was going to rip our hearts out.
It was in the first year or so of my daughters’ life that I accessed my first course of CBT treatment. I was in pretty rough way, off of medication and probably in the worst state of health I’d been in since we moved to our current location.
Looking back, I should probably have gone back to the pills earlier and insisted on fully professional psychological help rather than the enthusiastic, but lacking in experience and specific expertise treatment I received from the local authorities Gateway team.
This CBT was spread across the various strands of OCD I was enduring, but mostly around the contamination side of things from handling needles and syringes, being exposed to photos of blood, home visits during which I was observed and helped through carrying out tasks without hand washes and accompanied walking whilst not checking the floor. Pro-active, good work but a little scattergun and un-focused.
When this CBT, despite being a good experience and giving me foundations for future success didn’t ‘cure’ me, I went back on medication and got a bit better for a while before lapsing again when my daughter was about two.
It was during this time that I let a wider part of my family into knowing the extent of my problems. My parents were supportive as expected but sort of in a ‘you’ll be alright/let’s not talk about it’ kind of way.
My in-laws, who spent a large amount of time with my kid, found out during a particularly uncomfortable episode I was having regarding a meat/blood/shopping/cooking obsession.
This ‘coming out’ certainly made things more comfortable for me.
Rather than thinking that this would enable and encourage compulsions, it had the reverse effect because the lowering of tension, worry and desires to mask my actions actually led to a reduced ‘need’ for them.
Other positive things were starting to occur too. Despite being really up and down with my OCD, work was going well and I was promoted to full Lecturer status and grasped the added responsibilities with both hands.
I also somehow managed to fall back in love with the bicycle and exercise.
A lifelong affection for riding had taken a back seat for a couple of years as I couldn’t make myself ride and when I did I’d had a few difficult episodes which had ruined the experience.
A couple of old friendships had also surprisingly rekindled which had helped to reinvigorate my fighting spirit.
All of a sudden it was on! War had commenced and a corner was about to be turned.
I had a kid I was scared to play with, a wife who was running out of patience I was approaching 40 years of age. Things couldn’t continue this way. I HAD TO FIGHT.
After a horrifically troubled weekend culminating in our front room window being smashed by local youths (don’t ask!) and the massive stresses and obsessions this invoked, I dragged my sorry ass back to the doctors and DEMANDED action.
I am fortunate to have a great GP who has a sympathetic and professional attitude and grasp of my anxiety issues and whom I feel very comfortable talking to.
He agreed that further treatment was necessary and was willing to get this into place ASAP. The demanding took place with concern to who would be carrying out this treatment.
The suggestion was that I return to the Gateway team for another stint.
SORRY, NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!
I’d done my homework a bit by now and knew what I needed.
I wanted a psychologist and I wasn’t taking no for an answer.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t rude or aggressive as that’s not getting anyone anywhere. Strong and assertive were more the words that spring to mind. Not easy with our illness I know, so if need be take a strong, informed, and angry looking : ), friend or relative along to fight for you if you think it’ll help.
…and it worked! A week or so later I was being properly assessed for an illness I had already been receiving medication and therapy for for years?? How’s that possible NHS?!
Funnily enough they agreed that I was indeed suffering with the same illness I’d been told I had several years earlier??
This triggered a few weeks wait for a new improved CBT course, with guess what? … a TRAINED PROFESSIONAL! Even then she hadn’t quite finished her training, but as I was her final case study and all my visits and sessions were going to be written up for her thesis and reviewed with her mentor I felt safe that I would be in good hands and that all the correct processes and procedures would be in place.
There’s no magic wand with CBT, and it’s not a ‘one fix wonderfix’ cure, but by making the most of the opportunity it is possible to make significant improvements and to set you on the way to relative ‘normality’ whatever that is. (See my OCD patients guide to CBT blogpost for more on this). https://compulsivflyer.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/ready-willing-and-able-an-ocd-patients-guide-to-cbt/
A second child was always on the cards once the first had arrived. As stated earlier, I chose to continue on my medication at this stage (20mg Paroxetine) so as not to fall backwards.
My more relaxed state allowed this to not trouble me, and it’s only now typing this that I remember it at all.
A 2 ½ year old and a pregnant wife are a fine combination to keep you busy and motivated and the fact I can remember little of any OCD related incidents during this time speaks volumes.
We moved house again just for good measure and a few couple of months after our daughters 3rd birthday we had a bouncing baby boy to bring home.
The improvements I had made and continue to make since that successful CBT course have made the second time fatherhood experience so much more enjoyable.
Monitors? What monitor! We didn’t bother this time. The precision and delicacy with washing and sterilizing was replaced with a more haphazard approach that was more akin to the realities of the ‘dangers’ at hand.
Trips to playgrounds were now not feared, but enjoyed as I got to look at the joy in the kids’ faces rather than the dropped screws on the floor and the dirty marks on the apparatus.
Nappy changing was now, if not embraced, then certainly just a job that needed doing.
Meals out were not a contamination fest of crockery, cutlery and table inspections. They were just the horrible scream-athon endured by parents worldwide : ).
He’s three now and his big sister is nearly seven. And they’re great.
I’m not ‘cured’ but I am a hundred times improved from just a few years ago. I still take medication daily, but I am experimenting with my GP to reduce this.
To be fair it took a while to get around to my current view on medication. If I had a bad back I would take medicine, if I had heart or organ anomalies I would take medicine and if I had diabetes I may well be injecting myself daily.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Why is me rebalancing the chemicals in my brain worse than any of these?
Because of a stigma that means Mental Health is the elephant in the room with regards to our wellbeing?
Well I’m sorry, but I’m not buying into that. Well I’m not sorry at all to tell the truth.
I’m not going to apologise for wanting to be well enough to support and love my family.
I’m not going to apologise for wanting to be well enough to follow my ambitions with running and cycling.
I’m not going to apologise for wanting to be well enough to teach my students and prepare them for their lives and careers.
And I’m not going to apologise for being well enough to write and talk about MY life.
And I hope that if ANYONE takes ANYTHING from my ramblings and that it helps in ANYWAY then that’s terrific.
Steve (JUST A DAD)