Imagine you’re at home, alone in the dark, watching a horror movie. You get so scared you quickly turn off the TV, but all of a sudden the screen turns itself back on with the most horrible parts of the movie, and you can’t switch it off.
Even if you close your eyes, you can still hear all the sound effects… and it’s almost as vivid in your mind as when you are watching it. It plays over and over and over, for days on end. Eventually your mind forgets about it, because it has remembered another horror movie that you watched months ago, and the process starts over again.
That’s what living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is for me, except the horror movies are real life fears and worries.
About 18 months ago (Jan, 2016) I was diagnosed with OCD and it was by far the biggest relief I’ve felt for a long time. OCD is an anxiety disorder, and something that I’ve always deep down known I’ve had, but I was more likely to joke about it rather than actually contemplate it. Because anxiety seems to be so common these days and very different for every person, I always believed that for me it was just the strict, highly-strung household that I grew up in (and probably a bit of my own control freak-ness), that gave birth to it.
It wasn’t until I met my husband James (in 2010), that I began to realise just how much it affected my life and consequently my relationships. I remember bringing James home to meet my family for the first time. We were driving to my parents house (an hour away) and were running late due to traffic.
My dad was ringing me flat out to see where we were, and because of my heightened anxiety and stress (and the horrible argument I would inevitably walk into for being late) I lied and told my parents we were 10 minutes away, instead of the actual 30 minutes.
To most people this might sound bizarre, but for me, the crippling fear of being late, yelled at, and ruining the whole evening, was all my fault. Of course because we were late, an argument broke out and my dad refused to eat with us (it was only 30 minutes late!), and I ended up in tears trying to explain to James how the anxiety was not just coming from me.
My whole family had it.. and this is how it showed its ugly self on a regular basis. And that’s just a casual family dinner! You can imagine what it was like for weddings, engagement parties, birthdays, family holidays, and school events: absolute DISASTERS most of the time. We always joke that anxiety is palpable when you walk into a room of my family members. I do love them dearly, but dayyuummm can we get stressed!
After James had been to a few family functions and got a grasp on the crazy family dynamics, he started to really challenge me on my behaviour and my coping mechanisms. This was something I had never experienced. After leaving my parents house that night, James turned to me and said, “Em, we need to talk about your anxiety and your family”. I remember tearing up, and for the first time, allowing some one in to see all of the pain I had experienced as a child and now as a young adult. Having someone to talk to about it, gave me some relief from my own thoughts and the physical pain that it caused me when I was anxious or stressed.
James and I were married in 2013 and we had 2 incredible little boys in 2014 and 2015 – Xavier and Thomas. It wasn’t until I had Tommy that I started suspecting something was up. It was as simple as making a cup of tea and being terrified I’d drop hot water on Tommy as he crawled at my feet, or Xavier running around outside and onto the road that had huge trucks travelling on it all day. They were just every day risk assessments that any mum would make, but my brain seemed to catastrophise them to such an extent that I would be absolutely overwhelmed by the anxieties and couldn’t think straight.
I just couldn’t stop having these paralysing thoughts (remember the horror movie analogy?) that something terrible was going to happen to my children. The thoughts and worries sound so insanely far fetched and unlikely to the average person – but to me they were true and real and my brain would tell me they were absolutely going to happen, and I would forever be responsible for not looking after my children. Crazy, I know, but very real in my mind! It got so bad that I didn’t even want to fly home to see my family on the Sunshine Coast because I was convinced the plane would crash.
For a long time I didn’t tell my husband, but one night I was trying to fall asleep and every time I closed my eyes, my mind would start playing over the scene of something terrible happening. I started losing my breath and sweating profusely, so I walked into the lounge room and asked James if he could sit with me and talk me through it. It was then that I explained it all to him: all the thoughts, fears, pain, and anxiety that had been getting worse and worse by the day.
LISTEN: Lily Bailey on what it’s like living with OCD on Mia Freedman’s No Filter (post continues after audio…)
I explained that I thought it might be OCD (I had actually watched a program on the SBS about it a few weeks prior) and he replied that I should probably make an appointment with the GP… but not before making a joke and saying, “yeah, of course you have OCD, have you seen how clean this house is?” (FYI: that’s a VERY stereotypical view of OCD and very often not the actual case).
I’m not an expert, but I know OCD can appear in people in a number of different ways, often through compulsive ‘checking’ or cleaning or sexualised thoughts, for example. I feel blessed that I don’t suffer from any of these and truly believe that anyone who does is fighting a much bigger battle than me.
So from there I began seeing an absolutely brilliant clinical psychologist who actually specialised in OCD, as well as taking medication to help with the thoughts and (sometimes) uncontrollable anxiety. My anxiety has increased a lot in the past five years, mainly because of having children and all of the hormones that are associated with that, and the OCD is showing itself every day.
The medication was working fantastically and I had been feeling so much better, until I fell pregnant with Lucy, and the medication was no longer an option because of the risk to the baby. Of course I was filled with the utmost joy and excitement of being pregnant again and having another baby, but I did wish I could take the medication for my OCD. For the last 18 months or so I’ve had to work extra hard to control my anxiety and the thought patterns that lead to me not even leaving the house some days.
With this comes a whole new sacrifice that I need to make for my children. But I must admit, I would much rather go through both the physical pain and suffering that comes with pregnancy and childbirth ten times over, then have to deal with OCD on a daily basis. But it definitely helps having the support of James, who is such a strong and consistent foundation for our family.
I know I’ll continue to battle with OCD for maybe the rest of my life, but I really do believe it is my cross to bear…and hey, we all have our things right? Maybe this is mine.
This post originally appeared on This Fruitful Life and was republished here with full permission.
LISTEN: You can listen to Mia’s full interview with Lily below…