How To Beat Postpartum OCD

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postpartum OCD, postpartum obsessive compulsive disorderThere are a lot of scary things in life that I’m happy to say I’ve never experienced. I’ve never been chased by a bear, for instance. Or fallen off a cruise ship. Or accidentally eaten poisonous mushrooms. I have, however, had postpartum OCD and while postpartum OCD is not something most people walk around fearing, I’d argue it’s at least as scary as the things they do fear, if not more so.

I was never more terrified than when I had intrusive thoughts. Having your brain revolt against you with the most Steven King-like scenarios it can dream up is shocking. Until it happens to you, you can’t believe it’s even possible for your brain to go haywire. I was always sure I was in control of my mind, until the day I learned I wasn’t. I’m grateful to say that all these years later, the trauma those intrusive thoughts caused me has faded away. I don’t feel guilty about them. They were a symptom of an illness, and they don’t haunt me any more than a sore throat would haunt me if I ‘d had a cold.

If you’re going through postpartum OCD right now, I understand how completely paralyzed you are with fear. I know I was. My whole world turned upside down, and I felt I didn’t know myself anymore or what I might be capable of. I have walked in your shoes. I’m here to tell you, though, that you will walk right out of those shoes one day and leave them behind.

Until that day comes, I wanted to share two key things with you that I recently saw on the Beyond OCD website that I think are important for you to know:

1. It’s normal to be overwhelmed with doubt when you have OCD.  Fred Penzel, PhD, the author of the article, wrote, “Two of OCD’s main features are doubt and guilt. While it is not understood why this is so, these are considered hallmarks of the disorder.  Unless you understand these, you cannot understand OCD. In the 19th century, OCD was known as the ‘doubting disease.’  OCD can make a sufferer doubt even the most basic things about themselves, others, or the world they live in.  I have seen patients doubt their sexuality, their sanity, their perceptions, whether or not they are responsible for the safety of total strangers, the likelihood that that they will become murderers, etc.  I have even seen patients have doubts about whether they were actually alive or not.  Doubt is one of OCD’s more maddening qualities.  It can override even the keenest intelligence.  It is a doubt that cannot be quenched.  It is doubt raised to the highest power.” I just LOVE this paragraph because it describes perfectly how I felt. The fact that you doubt yourself right now doesn’t mean you should be doubted or deserve to be doubted. It just means you have OCD.

2.  It’s not your fault if you can’t shut off the intrusive thoughts. Penzel explains: “… you cannot refuse to think an obsessive thought. Obsessions are biochemically generated mental events that seem to resemble one’s own real thoughts, but aren’t.  One of my patients used to refer to them as ‘My synthetic thoughts.’  They are as counterfeit bills are to real ones, or as wax fruit is to real fruit.  As biochemical events, they cannot simply be shut off at will.  Studies in thought suppression have shown that the more you try to not think about something, the more you will end up thinking about it paradoxically.” The thing to do is recognize what they are and accept that they are not real and allow yourself to move through them. You don’t have to run and hide from your life or your fears.

Postpartum OCD is a real illness and it requires real treatment. Don’t try to wish it away or pretend it’s not there. It’s there all right, and it needs attention and professional treatment. If you have it, you are likely miserable enough that you are willing to get professional help even if it means telling another person out loud the awful things that have been going through your mind. Penzel notes that the best treatment for OCD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and that medication can also help, though he believes it’s best used in combination with CBT.

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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  1. Thank you so much for this article. I am going through this right now & it is pure hell. I wonder if I will ever be myself again. I know it started right after my son was born but then I was obsessing about him dying. I did not get help & thought it would go away. When he was 18 I started having intrusive thoughts that I was going to do something & it has been completely devastating. The last 3 months have been awful.

  2. Sorry that is supposed to say when he was 18 months I started having the awful intrusive thoughts

  3. Thanks for sharing Katherine. It’s been long time since we have talked. I am still fight this but gaining and overcome more each day. I can’t wait to share my story as a warrior mom one day.

  4. Katherine, I will never forget suffering from PPDOCD.I also will never forget reading your site and getting a burst of temporary sanity because you described exactly what I was going through.I clung to your words. I did get better but I do remember other people saying it was pretty quickly. I kept searching for the people who suffered longer than 1 year, than 2 years. It does happen, but I can say safely now that 4 years plus out of it (and it has probably been about a year), that I have not had intrusive thoughts! It was NOT like I ever suffered the first 6 months…But when stressed, those little intrusive thoughts would pop in occasionally and it was still scary. The difference was I was able to work through them and realized it happened due to tons of stress. I only noticed more recently that during stress, I do not have them! Just wanted to write to those still suffering over a year, IT WILL END!! I honestly had NO hope and it plagued me. There were a few of us who went through a 10-week group for PPD and just cried bc it ended and we were still sick. HANG IN THERE!! And I just have to remind you that although the intrusive thoughts were still there I was functioning highly :)

    • Thank you for your kind words Chrissy!!

      • I’m trying so hard to hang in there. I’ve been going through this for over 6 months now. I feel like I’m never going to get better and enjoy my baby. I’ve started Anti dep 2 weeks ago, and I feel worse. Does this happen, you feel worse before you feel better. I just can’t see myself being me ever again or looking at my baby without disgust. I’m dying inside. I’m so glad I found this website. Xx sorry to be so negative girls. :(

        • I too can wait o b a warrior mum and help others. Because it really is the worst torture than anything I know.

          • Thank you Katherine. I really hope I will get back to the old me one day. I often question what if this is not OCD??? I am constantly doubting everything. Chrissy I am so happy to hear that you overcame this horrible beast. Now that I look back I can see I was suffering from this right after I had my son but I thought it was normal new mom stuff because I was so freaked out of something happening to him. The thoughts of me doing something started when he was 18 months & has turned my world upside down. I hope I can be a warrior mom too. Cass I know exactly how you feel. I’m right there with you wondering if my meds & therapy are helping or not. Then I ask am I an abnormal case that can’t be treated? We have found that I have a lot of mental compulsions & I’m just so scared it is hard to treat. And then like I said before I question is this really OCD? Feel free to e-mail me anytime nicbrady@sbcglobal.net I would never wish this on anyone it is complete torture.

            • If you feel like your treatment plan isn’t working, make that call. Call your doctor and talk about what symptoms you still have and what your concerns are. If you feel like that doctor isn’t able to help you, get a second opinion or try someone else. There are ALWAYS options. Definitely do not give up, Nicole.
              ~ K

            • I know exactly how you feel Nicole. I am going thru the same thing. I question and doubt everything. My daughter is 19 months. I am on zoloft and it helps some but lately it hasn’t been. I like reading other stories from moms because it helps give me hope.

  5. Good piece. I hope it gives hope and encouragement to women suffering this right now. Too often the OCD component isn’t identified in the woman or is lumped in with “depression.” I had the OCD part, along with depression and anxiety, and the intrusive thoughts were the scariest part; one, because of the subject, and two, because I couldn’t control them. It took all my mental power to distract myself from them. But in time, and with treatment, they went away.

    • Hi i hâve juste discovered this site and feel relieved that I’m not going crazy!! I started having intrusive thoughts 3 weeks ago after going back to work after maternity leave, the thought of leaving my 3 month old had always stressed me out as I was afraid that he might be abused by the person I leave him too. Then one day I had an unwanted intrusive thought of me hurting my baby and it devastated me, I thought I was possessed as it made no sense and that these were inner desires I had considering I myself was abused as a child, I know this is not me as they disgust me !!!! please tell me that these awful thoughts eventually go away !!!