In sickness and in health…

Today, my husband and I celebrate 10 years as a couple.

…and he’s so sick that we canceled our date tonight. I started out by feeling incredibly disappointed, but seeing him through this very minor illness has caused me to reflect on the ways in which he has seen me through my own illness over the past months.

There’s never a convenient time to be sick, and there’s never a convenient time for someone you love to be sick. When someone you love is dealing with a mental illness, it can often take over their entire life, and yours as well. I know that’s what happened when I was hospitalized recently.

My wonderful husband had his entire world thrown for a loop.

He had to start working from home and relying on our parents to help with the kids. He had to look after our two very young children–filling the roles of both parents–while still working his full-time job.

He had to give me time to work through my OCD and live away from home, all the while working tirelessly to keep the life we built together from falling apart at the seams.

He truly was my rock and the only form of stability our children had for those two long, terrible months.

I cannot ever properly express the gratitude I feel to have such an amazing partner in my corner.

And the most amazing thing of all?

He expects nothing in return.

As a result, I worry that he is neglecting to take care of himself. He tells me he’s fine. His strength amazes me. People tell me I am strong, but I wouldn’t be half as strong without him there to hold me up when I am weak. I feel so protected.

More than anything, however, I feel awed by the way he has lived out our marriage vows each day. Had you told me 10 years ago that I would be loved so deeply, I wouldn’t have believed you. I wouldn’t have believed that someone like me, someone whose brain loves to hate her could actually be with someone who enables her to love herself.

All he wants is me. Me happy, me healthy, me back at my best, sure, but me. I am enough. Through all of the mess and the difficulty that comes with loving someone with OCD, my husband has never complained and never asked for anything more than me.

I don’t know what I did to deserve this wonderful man. I don’t know if I did anything. I’m fairly convinced that he is simply a gift from God. A wonderful gift that I never could have deserved but that was freely given that I might experience God’s love.

I am so blessed. So thankful. So loved.

I am so much better for having been loved by you, darling. Thank you for this beautiful life.

Taking care of myself…

Like most moms I know, I’m really bad at taking care of myself. I feel guilty when I start doing something that’s just for myself because I have these two awesome little people who are so incredibly dependent on me for their needs… 

But that needs to change. 

I need to take care of myself for them. 

One of the less-than-awesome side effects of my medications has been weight gain. Add that to having given birth 5 months ago, being overweight when I got pregnant, and being only 5’5″, I found myself one pound shy of obese.

Obese.

That’s a line I really don’t ever want to cross. 

I don’t want to limit the quality of my life or my children’s lives by being unhealthy, and I want to give them as many good years with me around as I possibly can. To do that I need to get a little creative. 

I’ve got to start finding ways to workout with my kids, eat healthier, and lose weight safely. 

I’ve been afraid of losing weight. 

I’ve been gradually gaining for years, and my main worry is not that I won’t be able to lose the weight, it’s that I’ll become obsessed with losing weight. It’s happened before, and knowing now what I know about my brain, I’m really worried it’s going to happen again. I’m worried I won’t just make healthy tweaks to my diet and add some activity back in. I’m worried I’ll start restricting calories excessively and working out too much because a workout is one of the few things that will shut off my brain. I’m worried that my daughter will grow up with a mother who is too obsessed with weight and that, as a result, she will not have a positive body image. I’m just plain worried. 

Part of me says I’m catastrophizing here. Part of me thinks I’m using this as an excuse not to start.

Part of me thinks there’s a kernel of truth in there…

…and that kernel frightens me. 

So, over the coming weeks, I hope to be honest about this journey towards a healthier me. I hope that sharing the journey keeps me healthy on it. 

Moms, how do you incorporate workouts into your normal routines? Any tricks? 

And now for something a little different…

I’ve been focused on OCD-related posts a lot lately, probably because OCD is a fairly size able chunk of my life, but it’s not all that I am so I’ve decided it’s not all I should blog about.

Today, I want to write about one of my favorite things to do: get out of my house. 

I have two small children, live in Wisconsin, and it’s January. You think I’d be trapped, right? WRONG! I get myself out of the house as much as humanly possible. We’re all happier when we get out. 

Milwaukee, thankfully, is an incredibly accessible city. I live in the suburbs, but I can get downtown in about 20 minutes and if you’re smart about it, you can find toddler-friendly things to do any day of the week. Here are three of my winter favorites:

1.) The gym. This sounds ridiculous, I know, but the gyms around Milwaukee have figured out what a draw high-quality childcare can be. The one I am a member of will not only change diapers and bottle-feed the babies, but they do small crafts, walk the kids to a story time, and provide a snack. My son LOVES my gym and I love the opportunity to shut my brain off and actually squeeze in an uninterrupted shower.

2.) The Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. This place is AMAZING and an annual family membership is only $75. There are things to climb on, TONS of imaginary play scenarios, and some pretty decent kids programming. ALSO, they have an attached parking structure, so on rainy days I can get my kids there and back without getting wet. This is a HUGE plus. 

If you park in the attached structure, you pay only $4 as a member, and I make sure to buy up a dozen or so passes at a time. I keep them in my car and then I get to use them in that structure during festival season. If you’ve ever been to one of the festivals, you know how expensive parking near the grounds can be. A one-block walk for only $4? Done!

3.) Milwaukee Public Museum is another favorite. My son is currently really into dinosaurs and “bufferflies” so we spend a lot of time on the first floor. The first floor is also where the quiet family room is located. I can’t tell you how nice it was to have a quiet, semi-private place to nurse my son, especially when he was in his “I hate being covered” phase. The room is back next to the women’s bathroom, but men, do not be afraid to take your little ones in there. There is a separate door to the bathroom and you are more than welcome to use it too! Like the children’s museum, there is an attached parking structure, ($5 for members) and we run in to get parking validated for things like jury duty and events at the Bradley Center or Milwaukee Theatre (both short walks away). One of my favorite things about this museum is the way it will continue to meet our needs as our children grow. At first, when bug was a newborn, it was just a place where I could walk around with the stroller, now it’s where he roams around and says “wow!,” as the kids grow, I’ll be able to incorporate lessons–with help from the curators, who put worksheets in the member services office. 

If you’re finding yourself stuck at home and experiencing cabin fever, I encourage you to find ways to get out. With a little bit of planning, it can be easier than you think and I’m sure you’ll be glad you did–if only so your house doesn’t get trashed that day.

Sharing our stories…

In case you missed it, there was an incredibly open piece in The Mirror yesterday. If you haven’t had time to read, it’s about a 23-year-old man named Richard Taylor whose OCD imprisoned him for months–causing him to lose 3.5 stone (roughly 50 pounds, if you’re an American unfamiliar with that unit of measurement) and remain upstairs in his house without venturing outside. I strongly recommend reading it, if only because he’s quite candid about what OCD did to him and the help he received. It’s a short read.

While this story caused little more than a blip in my non-OCD circles, I found it to be incredibly important, and here’s why:

There are people still out there in the dark. People who don’t know why they do the things they do or have the intrusive thoughts they have. They don’t know that there is a name for the torment they are experiencing and perhaps most important, they don’t know there is a life beyond the illness. They haven’t seen examples of people who have gotten treatment and been able to live their lives more fully and peacefully. 

How do I know this? Because not 4 months ago, I was one of those people. I thought I was a monster. I thought I was criminally insane and I was desperately searching for answers. I thought I was an unfit mother. I thought my family would be better off without me. I brainstormed ways I could run away from them, pump, and drop off breastmilk without ever seeing my children because I was so afraid something terrible would happen if I was near them. I was afraid to hold my children, sometimes afraid to even look at my children. I begged God to kill me. I was terrified.

If not for the brave pioneers who first shared their stories and the incredibly talented mental health professionals who worked with me, I would still be in darkness. I know I wouldn’t be able to be the mother my children need or the partner my husband deserves.

We must share our stories. People need to know that they are not their thoughts and that there is a life beyond OCD. 

This is why I blog. People need to know that it is absolutely possible to be a fantastic parent who happens to have OCD. I know this because I am one, and I hope to show the world that. If only so I can inspire someone else in their journey.

So, I’ll end with some marching orders: If someone’s story has inspired you, pay it forward and be an inspiration to someone else. If you’re not ready to share your story yet, share that story that inspired you. Maybe it will help someone else.
Love and peace to all,

Kate
P.S. I’ve “met” Rich in the Twitterverse and find him to be an entirely lovely, honest, and encouraging individual. Occasionally, I’ll post about a struggle I’m having and/or a ritual I really want to perform and he takes the time to remind me that I am stronger than OCD. If you’re not already following him– look him up @richtaylormusic or follow his blog.

Intrusive Thoughts: Horror Movies in my Mind

I feel like I could have written so much of this. Postpartum intrusive thoughts are the worst.

The Butterfly Mother

movie reel 2

My experience of postnatal depression was largely rooted in intense anxiety.  This is the second of three posts about the worst of my anxiety-induced symptoms (insomnia, intrusive thoughts and derealisation/depersonalisation) and how I managed or overcame each of them.  


*Please note this post contains reference to disturbing intrusive thoughts that may be triggering for some, please proceed with caution* 
 
This is the hardest post I’ve written so far. Generally, I’ve found writing this blog to be very therapeutic. I’ve found it quite easy to be honest about the symptoms and thoughts I’ve struggled with, some would maybe say too honest! But this is more difficult; this is about awful, frightening, unwanted thoughts that plagued my mind for many months. Violent images would assault my brain at regular intervals and leave me questioning who I am.  
 
But I feel I must speak out about this. It’s a symptom of anxiety that…

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Dear Pediatrician, please be careful with your “careful.”

(Last week I brought my daughter to the pediatrician for her checkup. Yesterday, I brought my son. Our pediatrician is a professor of pediatric medicine–cause neurotic mama wanted the very BEST for her kids–and so we get different residents at the beginning of our appointment. Then, our pediatrician, who I love, comes in. This letter is to them collectively, and not to anyone in particular, based on an amalgamation of my recent experiences)

Dear Pediatric Resident,

Remember how I told you I have OCD at the beginning of the appointment? I wasn’t telling you because I am some great advocate for mental health (though some day I hope to be…), and I wasn’t telling you because I like to make small talk about my disorder. I was telling you because I hope, one day, knowing this fact will shape the way you deal with me and my children. I hope it will shape the way you deal with any other parent who has OCD. 

I know that a great deal of your job involves catering to the lowest common denominator. I know that you need to go over everything possible, not only because you’re still learning, but also because parents make mistakes. There are parents who are either willfully or unwittingly neglectful–in ways that can put their children at risk.

I want to begin by thanking you. I know you chose this job and ask these questions because you genuinely care about children. You genuinely care about my children and their well-being. Thank you for being another lifeguard for my babies. Thank you for your diligence. Thank you for making sure they grow up to be happy, healthy, and secure.

Now, having assured you of my gratitude, I want to offer what I hope is some helpful criticism.

Please be careful about saying “be careful” to someone like me.

I know that not all parents are careful. I know you need to say this because you don’t know going in if a parent is careful or not. I know most parents who hear “be careful” either need to hear that or don’t need to hear it and are secure enough in their parenting to smile good-naturedly and give themselves a mental pat on the back.

I,  however, am not that parent.

When I had to stop breastfeeding   (something I agonized over), and you told me to be careful about how we mixed the formula, I know you were just making sure I actually read the formula canister to get the ratio right, but OCD took that and ran with it. I measured bottles more carefully than I did solutions in chemistry class. I poured out and remeasured bottles over and over again. I wasted more formula than I care to admit because I was terrified I had an air pocket in the scoop, or I was worri d I miscounted the number of scoops I put in, or I just plain didn’t trust that I had measured properly the first (or second…or third) time.

When you told me to be careful about putting loose blankets in the crib with my newborn son, you had no way of knowing that two years later, I’d still be terrified of letting my son have a blanket in the crib and would be buying the biggest sleep sacks on the planet, but I am and I do.

When you told me to be careful when it comes to properly buckling my children in their car seats, you had no way of knowing that would one day lead to me frequently pulling off to the side of the road to double- and triple-check, but it did.

When you told me to be careful and screen myself for postpartum depression, you had no way of knowing that I would eventually convince myself not only that I had it but that it made me unsafe and that I should be taken away from my children, but I did convince myself of that and went running for the nearest inpatient facility, (where, by the way I was told I didn’t have postpartum depression or psychosis, merely OCD, and I was just obsessing over what I thought the scariest thing in the world was).

So, I say to you, if a parent explains they have OCD, be careful with your “careful.” You don’t know how much time they might spend ruminating and obsessing over it. Your important guidance may slowly drive them a little mad.

Love,

that one neurotic mom.

 

I have OCD, please don’t touch my baby…

For those of you who haven’t read this blog before, when I say I have OCD, I don’t mean that I think organization is super cool (though I do, because it is…) I mean that I experience intrusive, unwanted, and anxiety-producing thoughts about any number of things.

The thought of harm coming to those I love or care about is a huge trigger for me. The thought of harm coming to the children I love more than myself? It’s sometimes debilitating.

So what does this have to do with touching an adorable baby?

EVERYTHING.

You think you won’t harm my sweet baby by just touching her. After all, you’re just touching those tiny little hands, not her face or anything…

WRONG. 

You are touching the hands she will put in her mouth, and I (erroneously) believe that you will get her sick. Not just sick, deathly ill. I know this belief is irrational. I know the actual chances of you giving her more than a sniffle are minuscule, but I cannot help the primal, visceral fear that you and your germs are putting my beloved child at risk.

An example…

When my oldest was a newborn, I took him to the Jesuit retirement home to meet the priest who presided over my wedding. Those old priests, boy did they love seeing a precious new baby…

(I can’t blame them, I make cute kids.)

Then, one of them went to touch my son. I didn’t stop him–the Irish Catholic girl could never be rude to a priest–and then he coughed. 

Long story short, I spent the next week in agony. I prayed to God to keep my baby safe. God, please–I was trying to do something nice–please don’t punish my baby for this–I’m so sorry for being so stupid, please spare him.

Some people will chalk that up to being a first-time mom, and at the time, I did, but the thing is it’s not new mom jitters, it’s OCD. How do I know? It’s not any better with baby #2. (Well, it’s getting better as I go through treatment, but without professional psychiatric help, I would be just as bad as I’ve always been).

Any time someone I don’t know touches my children I wonder if they’re vaccinated. I wonder if they’re an asymptomatic carrier of some horrible disease. I wonder if this is the big terrible thing I didn’t protect my child from.
Then, I spend whatever I think the incubation period is in wait with Schroedinger’s baby. It’s awful.

So please, please don’t touch my baby.

Or do, and make me deal with the exposure…

But whether you touch her or not, know that you touching her is hard for me. Please respect that.

Resolutions 

It’s officially 2016, and thank goodness because 2015, while full of some wonderful things (birth of the ladybug, seeing bug turn into a real person, and finally getting an answer for why I’ve always had these intrusive thoughts…) it’s also been a pretty rough half year or so (Transient Ischemic Attack–basically a mini stroke–and all the follow ups that entailed, running–completely terrified–into inpatient hospitalization, and having to be away from my family for almost two months while I got better were rough)

That said, I’m hopeful for 2016. Here are some resolutions–no–commitments I would like to make to myself for this year:

1.) continue openly and honestly sharing my triumphs and struggles here and with those I love

2.) start sharing things about the rest of my life… While this blog was started for me to have a place to talk about my OCD, OCD is not all I am and I have more to share with the world. I’m hardly an expert on anything, but I know I can add to the conversation on other topics as well. (Parenting, Milwaukee, Catholicism, organization/house stuff…)

3.) Continue working on exposures and working on my banned behaviors. Put in the work towards getting better so that my kids have the best version of me possible, because I’m a pretty awesome mom when I’m my best self.

4.) Branch out in my cooking. I’ve decided to try one new recipe or meal a week. I’m calling it my #foodie52. I’ll try to remember to share that here as well. 

5.) Spend more time with other adults, including my husband. We finally found a sitter we really love, and for Christmas we decided to skip gifts and put the money we would’ve spent aside for our date night fund. I can’t wait.

What commitments are the rest of you making to yourself in 2016? Would you like a buddy to help hold you accountable? Let me know…