Never have I felt the acute sense of fear and shame that OCD can bring to sufferers than I did last month.
They are terrible feelings that I’ve felt in my life, and been lucky enough to have been able to confront and mostly overcome.
The stories and recollections I heard at the Maternal Mental Health event I attended recently took those familiar feelings and elevated them to a whole new level.
As one of only a couple of men in the room, maybe I didn’t ‘get it’ in the same way as many of the audience. Maybe the actual feelings are even worse than I could begin to imagine.
All I can presume is that what these ladies must feel is a cocktail of the terrifying and incredibly frustrating intrusive thoughts I suffered when gripped by OCD; combined with the fears, anxieties and concerns I felt as a new Dad to my two young children … and then multiplied several times!
Talking and opening up about my OCD problems was difficult, awkward and embarrassing (particularly at first and still now to my friends, work colleagues and family)…
…and this was talking about anxieties that pretty much only involved me, my health and my surroundings.
As with all OCD and most anxiety disorders, the fears are almost always unfounded and exaggerated, and certainly in my case, I was well aware that the things I was thinking were almost certainly untrue and at times outright ridiculous!
I was able to talk openly about them to my therapist and tackle them head on.
Was I worried about disclosing and voicing my thoughts? Not really.
I suppose I could have been concerned that when I divulged my fears that I had caused accidents and run people over, resulting in me having to retrace many journeys several times, that someone might have said “well you can’t drive until you are better”.
Or that my door checking and hand washing rituals may have meant that some work or home tasks were taken away from me and given to others.
But what if I needed to disclose the sort of horrifying and disturbing (though equally unfounded and unwanted) thoughts that these ladies have about their children? Would I be labelled as the exact type of person I despised the most and fought hardest not to be? Would my children be taken away from me?
Diana Wilson of http://www.maternalocd.org asked the Maternal Mental Health conference audience, “Do you know what OCD is?” The audience, as one, nodded and, to the best of their knowledge and with the best intentions, said YES.
The silence, ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ and dropped jaws a few minutes later confirmed to me what I’d thought when she asked the question; that there were probably only a few of us in the room with direct experience of the illness, who knew what was coming.
Is it a surprise that mothers find it too scary to talk to their GPs, friends, families and even partners about the details of their (and I repeat) completely unfounded and irrational thoughts when the reaction in a room full of health professionals and knowledgeable people could be of such shock?
OCD’s anxiety compass is always on the move.
From 1960s/70s/80s Cold War driven anxieties of nuclear war, to the late 80s ‘ultimate contamination’ hysteria of HIV/AID.
We then moved onto the media fuelled hype of MRSA, Bird Flu and Swine Flu and now onto the ‘ultimate intrusive thought’ subject stirred up by the current media fixation with the abuse of children.
OCD can mutate and change its focus at will. It smells fear!
At least this explains the random collection of obsessions sufferers end up with I suppose: contamination, checking and driving for example don’t at first seem common themes.
But underneath the veneer of the coping compulsions we employ in an attempt to keep a lid on our anxieties, there is that underlying double act of FEAR and RESPONSIBILITY.
Now base these fears and anxieties around babies and children, not blood, needles, doors, ovens and fires and they become all so much more intense and terrifying… I’d imagine?
A mother with Maternal OCD is not going to hurt her child.
She is no more likely to ever hurt one than any other mum, as she finds the thought so abhorrent as to have her illness focus on the idea that she might.
The truth about this cruel illness needs to be acknowledged, rather than undermined and dismissed.