Looking back, I’ve probably had obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) since I was 13 years old. It was mild and manageable when I was younger, so I was never diagnosed. However, as I got older, it worsened. I washed my hands too much—maybe 3 times before they felt clean. Also, I checked the stove 4 times at night to make sure it was really off. I worried too much about germs. I went to the doctor too much. I checked the internet too much. I had a cleaner house than most people, and I was preoccupied with being perfect and not making mistakes. I took responsibility for everyone’s problems. I considered myself a worrier. I worried about things that I knew I shouldn’t worry about and that I knew other people didn’t worry about. But even with these oddities in my personality, I was a happy, optimistic, faithful, and spiritual person. I had 2 babies, experiencing a few days of baby blues with each one, but nothing serious.
It took me almost a year to get pregnant with my 3rd baby, and I also had a miscarriage during that time. During my first and second trimester of the pregnancy, my baby was testing at a high likelihood of having Down Syndrome. By the third trimester, we learned that he did not have Down Syndrome, but shortly after receiving that news, I had a life-threatening asthma attack. In the emergency room, I had 6 breathing treatments in a row. Not only were the treatments not doing much good, they brought my potassium levels down to dangerous levels. I lost feeling in my face, arms, and legs as the medical team pumped me full of potassium. Fortunately, the next day I was able to go home, but I had to be on prednisolone for 3 weeks.
From then on, I had to go to the hospital three times a week to monitor my baby. At 38 weeks, I delivered a healthy baby boy. However, the next day he started having dusky spells where he would choke and silently turn blue. He was admitted to the NICU and diagnosed with sepsis. Through what I can only explain as a miracle, he recovered after 2 days and never had a dusky spell again. We were able to take him home and he was adorable, but he never slept more than an hour at a time and he had colic.
6 months after my son was born, he was doing much better–the colic went away, and he and I started sleeping. I realized that even though all was finally well, I wasn’t able to stop worrying. I rarely had a thought that wasn’t an anxious worry. For instance, I thought my children would die from brain cancer because of x-rays they have had and it would be my fault. I obsessed about diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C that I really had no chance to contract. I obsessed about my spiritual worthiness, worrying that I had made some mistake that would keep me out of heaven one day. I spent hours on the internet making sure my worries weren’t founded in facts. I would seek reassurance from my husband and doctors. But I couldn’t feel better.
Soon the feelings of extreme OCD and anxiousness evolved into depression. I felt hopeless. I felt worthless. I felt guilty. And, for the first time in my life I began having thoughts that the world and my family would be better off without me. This was the point that I knew I needed help.
I went to my local church leader, and I talked to him about my concerns. He assured me that I was spiritually sound, but that I had a medical problem that I needed help with. I saw a therapist and a doctor. I was prescribed first an anti-anxiety medicine, Buspar, but it had no effect. I was then prescribed an anti-depressant, Zoloft, and within a week I was feeling great relief. I took Zoloft for about 9 months, and I finally felt like a normal person. Occasionally I would have an anxious, unreasonable thought, but I was able to put it aside as unreasonable and not think about it. I was in a great place, and I decided that I would like to have another baby.
I didn’t want to be on Zoloft during my pregnancy because of the rare albeit possible health risks to the fetus, so I weaned off with my doctors approval. Within a week of being off Zoloft, I felt my OCD symptoms return. Within a month they were as bad as ever. I was obsessed about my family’s health, I was obsessed with thoughts of contamination, and I got to the point where I didn’t even want to drink water anymore because I was so concerned with the purification process. Along with this, the thoughts of depression, guilt, and worthlessness came back. I went back to my doctor and therapist and went back on Zoloft. Within a few weeks, I was able to receive relief.
I am now coming to terms with the fact that I have a medical disease. Just like diabetes or a heart condition, I have an illness–one where my brain doesn’t make the right chemicals. I’ve had it for a long time, but with my traumatic pregnancy and delivery, it evolved into something more severe. Luckily, I respond very well to treatment. When I am on medicine, I am able to control my disease instead of having it control me. I now realize that I will probably have to be on this medicine for the rest of my life.
I am not sure that having a 4th child is in the cards for me, which I am sad about. But, I also look at the blessings that I do have: a supportive marriage, good doctors, medicine that works, health, and 3 beautiful children. I don’t like being so open about my mental illness. I like people to think that I am more perfect than I am. But, I know how important it is to end the stigma of mental illness, and if I can help someone with my story, then I will share it.