I’m Renee, I’m 33 years old, married to a wonderful man, am the mother of a beautiful two year old daughter, own a sweet little mini fox terroir and a hold a successful career. Underneath this wonderful life though, I live with a significant fear of abandonment, generalised anxiety disorder and OCD. I want to share with you my story which focuses on my recovery and how I live my best life despite having anxiety and OCD.
I grew up in a fairly dysfunctional home, my dad an alcoholic, with undiagnosed mental disorders and my mum who was stuck in a cycle of trying to help and save my father. Most of my childhood memories consist of my dad going on benders for months at a time. Mum would contact different establishments trying to locate him and hide money so he wouldn’t gamble and drink it all away. After he had finished his benders, usually because the money had run out, he would return home and he and my mum would carry on as normal. My father was very physical towards my mum and verbally abusive towards me, my other siblings (all of whom lived out of home) and my mother. Some of my earliest memories are filled with anxiety and panic.
As a result of this childhood, I inherited a fairly sizeable fear of abandonment that would present throughout my life in varying degrees. I sought help throughout my 20s, where I was able to really delve into my anxiety and fear of abandonment. I had therapy for many years but still turned to relationships and other unhelpful methods to help fix what ‘was wrong inside’.
When I reached the age of 27, I met my husband and by this stage, I’d developed techniques where I would lie about things that happened to me in order to seek reassurance from him. By doing so, it would reinforce in my mind that he wouldn’t leave me, which brought my fear of abandonment down to a manageable level.
We were married three years later and shortly after our wedding we went through IVF to conceive our daughter. Throughout my pregnancy, particularly in the last trimester, I started to notice symptoms of OCD (I didn’t know it was that at the time). These thoughts were extremely troubling in my mind and substantially different to what I had experienced with the generalised anxiety.
My first obsession came about the fact that I had lied to my husband about certain things to gain reassurance. It would fuel me with so much anxiety the thought of it. I developed a compulsion around confessing to my husband about anything that I had done in my past that I consider made me ‘not a good person’, including the reassurance lies I had said to him. I would confess, confess and confess until every detail had been clearly articulated. I would get some relief from the confession but shortly after my mind would start to pick apart whether or not I had told him every detail correctly, had I lied more or left out parts of the story. This morphed into a new obsession of telling stories to anyone correctly, with an emphasis on relaying every detail exactly, otherwise I would drown in anxiety.
From there my obsession moved onto my unborn child and that she may be born as a still born baby or be born with red hair. I could not shake the images out of my mind and I would become so overwhelmed with anxiety that I was worried the damage it may have caused my unborn child. I would lay in bed at night and research for hours, how to determine whether your child will have red hair or what to do if you gave birth to a still born baby. My midwife who was caring for me was very worried and suggested I have a caesarean to help eliminate some of my fears around having a still born baby.
Once my daughter was born my intrusive thoughts moved into whether I would sexually molest her, whether I would drown her or accidently stab her with a knife. I became worse with my husband too and started contacting people in my past whom I thought I had done wrong by in some way or another to apologise or seek reassurance from them.
I couldn’t stand my headspace and at times I felt like ending my life. I had some of the darkest days and all the while, I was trying to care for my new born baby. I hid a lot of what I was going on because I thought people would think I was crazy or worse still they may take my baby away from me. I was so sleep deprived from attending to her every two hours and I wasn’t eating very well. The only reason I didn’t end it all was because of my daughter. I could see how much she needed me and I loved her so dearly.
My husband, sister and mother were incredibly supportive and made me get to my local doctor who referred me to a post-natal Phycologist – Barbara, who seriously SAVED MY LIFE!! Barbara suggested I see a postnatal Psychiatrist, where I was officially diagnosed with post-natal OCD and prescribed SSRIs, which I took for about a year.
Barbara introduced me to ACT, ERP and CBT which helped a lot. Initially, we did exposures on compulsions which I considered to be lower end anxiety provoking. Barbara was trying to demonstrate to me by exposing myself to the lower end compulsions and watching those compulsions fall away at how that would translate to some of my bigger compulsions, such as my need to confess. Barbara was so compassionate towards me and helped so much at reducing my anxiety levels by talking things out. It took about six months of therapy, but by the end, my compulsion to confess completely evaporated!
I still struggle with OCD, the themes I suffer with have progressed into other areas, but NONE of it scares me now. I see it all as OCD and I simply just go to my toolkit and pull out tools such as ERP and ACT in order to live my best life.
My husband is a big believer in eating well and exercising which he has always suggested I do as a way to keep on top of my OCD. I try to do cardio in my lunch breaks every day and maintain a fairly healthy lifestyle. I do like sugar though, which is hard to eliminate! I find exercise doesn’t help my OCD but it does help my mental wellbeing generally which keeps me fit and healthy to fight OCD.
The OCD stories podcast has helped me so much, what I really took out of it was being able to effectively implement ACT, which I feel perhaps I wasn’t doing as well previously. There were some interviews where for one reason or another ACT and being compassionate just clicked for me, one which jumps to mind was the interview with Kimberley Quinlan (maybe because she is an Aussie and so am I. I also really enjoyed the episode between Stuart and his girlfriend (now wife) and the information I learnt there about Relationship-OCD. It gave me a lot of clarity in relation to some suffering throughout my 20s. I thank Stuart so much for what you have taught me and the daily strength those podcasts have given me. You are doing an incredible role and please keep going.
To anyone reading this story, who is a new mum and suffering with OCD, there is help out there and you can recover and be the mum you really want to be.
Lots of Love Renee xx