parent opinion

'I'm a mum with OCD. I have an obsessive fear someone will hurt my son.'

As parents, we worry about our kids' safety, but for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD like me, parental concern can spiral into intrusive, disturbing thoughts.

It's hard to differentiate between normal and not, particularly for new parents experiencing these feelings for the first time along with the increased anxiety that comes with a new baby. 

OCD is estimated to affect three in 100 people in Australia and is often associated with repetitive behaviours like hand-washing or double-checking locks. The symptoms of OCD vary between each person, but these rituals often come from a fear of what might happen if we don't do them – the obsession part of OCD.   

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition(DSM-5) classifies obsession as “recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or impulses” that “cause marked anxiety or distress.” 

The compulsion is the action taken to ease these things, described as behaviours aimed at “preventing or reducing anxiety or distress.” It can be unclear how these acts connect to the threat, and they are often excessive. For me, checking locks repeatedly is due to an obsessive fear that someone will break into my apartment and hurt my son.  

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Video via Mamamia

One of the most challenging aspects of my OCD is that it's characterised by graphic visualisations of my son in danger. For me, the fear of harm coming to him is a constant and overwhelming presence. 

When he eats, I’m bombarded with images of him choking, struggling to breathe, and me desperately trying to pull food from his throat. These thoughts can make everyday tasks feel like extreme sports. These thoughts can make everyday tasks feel like extreme sports.  

The challenge with these fears is they can be justifiable. Parents of young children understandably worry about choking. However, it's difficult to differentiate between reasonable worries and those related to OCD. For me, clarity came with understanding the impact these fears had on my life and the amount of time I obsessed over them. 

The DSM-5 says OCD is characterised by time-consuming obsessions and compulsions, which require at least one hour each day. I was spending hours obsessing over disasters and planning escape routes. Something wasn’t right.

My son is now two, and I still struggle with OCD. 

Going to the park is a normal part of the day for many people, but for me, it’s a minefield. I imagine my son falling from the playground and cracking his head open or being attacked by an aggressive dog. Even walking around the neighbourhood can be threatening as I obsess over freak accidents, constantly monitoring my surroundings for anything that could harm my son.   


Threats come in various forms. 

At home, it can be the microwave, or a phone plugged into the wall. I’m terrified that if I don’t turn them off at night, they’ll cause an electrical fire, and I won’t be able to escape and save my son. I imagine myself holding him, screaming, and feeling the heat on my skin. So, every night I switch everything off at the wall. It's annoying in the mornings when my phone is dead and the internet is off, but the tiny possibility that my fear might come true is too much for me to risk.  

Learning what triggers me has been a crucial step in managing my OCD. 

My intrusive thoughts are often triggered by things I’ve read or heard, and in a world of social media and push notifications, these can be hard to ignore. Because of this, I’m more cautious about reading a news story, particularly if it involves children, but I must be careful my avoidance doesn’t become excessive for my mental health and my son's. 

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One of the most effective techniques I’ve found to manage my OCD is mindfulness, particularly practices that are quick and easy to do anywhere, anytime. I spend about 30 seconds focusing on each sense and finding five specific things I can see, hear, touch, taste and smell. I also try incorporating this into my routine to promote calm throughout the day.


Another thing I’ve learned is that acting on my compulsions isn’t viable long-term. I may feel better after checking the oven is off for the 10th time, but I’m also validating the fear, allowing it to grow bigger and more out of control. OCD is a cycle that’s hard to break, so each day I push myself to delay my compulsions as much as I can, even if it’s just five minutes. On a good day, that might lead to me forgetting about them altogether.  

Parental anxiety is normal, but debilitating obsessions are not, so if something doesn’t feel right, seek help. GPs can be the first step to mental health care, helping you reach a diagnosis to receive the help you need. Whether you use medication, meditation or cognitive behavioural therapy, seeking a diagnosis can illuminate pathways to managing OCD. 

If you have OCD, consider connecting with others who have it online. Online support groups are a great way to begin to understand and validate your experiences while maintaining a level of anonymity.

To find out more visit the OCD Australia website and connect with people who have been in similar situations via the SANE forums.

If you find yourself needing to talk to someone after reading this story, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or contact Beyond Blue.

Kezia Lubanszky is a writer, editor and captioner from Melbourne. She is mum to one tiny human and one large cat.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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