Pure O – My Lived Experience – Part II
Pure O- Still Undiagnosed: Road to Hell Part 2
My second acute episode of OCD was in February or March 2012, a little over seven years after my first. I still had no clue that I was suffering from OCD because the therapist I saw in 2005 was not trained in cognitive behavior therapy and she never gave me a diagnosis. By 2012, I had pretty much accepted the fact that my head would constantly be filled with a litany of worries. It was my ‘normal’ state and I believed that others suffered in the same way.
In March 2012, I was halfway through my maternity leave. My first child was 2.5 years old and her brother was 8 months old. From three weeks old to about 8 months old, my son cried every day from about 6pm to midnight. Nonstop crying. He would then sleep for short periods of time (1 to 2 hours) only to start crying again for anywhere between 15 minutes to two hours. It was also a stressful time because we relocated temporarily to live with my in-laws. In a bid to make partner at his law firm, my husband was working extremely long hours and also committed a significant amount of our savings. The combination of exhaustion and stress proved unmanageable.
I started to fear that I would die imminently. I started to check my pulse multiple times a day, sometimes as often as 10 times an hour to make sure that my heartbeat did not indicate any sign of cardiac malfunction. I also invested a lot of time, effort and money into our earthquake kit. By March, I would only walk on streets where I could see other people to make sure that someone could take care of my kids in case I suddenly collapsed and died. I was terrified that my kids wouldn’t know how much I loved them and that they would forget me after I died. On my walks, I would draft letters to them in my head. I thought about making videos too, but decided that actually writing the letters or making the videos would seal my fate.
One night, I nursed my son and, as I was putting him back in his crib, my left arm started to feel numb. I phoned my sister who is medically trained. She tried to convince me that it was only a pinched nerve but I did not believe her. I left the house in a cab and went to the hospital. I was convinced that I was experiencing the first symptoms of a heart attack.
The physician whom I saw in the ER laughed when I mentioned my self-diagnosis. He simply sent me home saying that I should come back to see him if the numbness was still present two days later to investigate the possibility of a degenerative disease. I was certain that the doctor had misdiagnosed me.
I went to see my family physician a few days later for a scheduled follow-up on another medical issue. I mentioned that I went to the ER because of symptoms I interpreted as signs of a heart attack. She also laughed at me and dismissed my concerns saying that there would be no reason for a young and healthy woman like me to have a heart attack.
Since no one was willing to address my concerns and symptoms, I was left alone. At home, my fear of germs worsened. Cooking raw meat required many utensils that I washed thoroughly before putting in the dishwasher. I did not purchase certain produce. I threw away food that I thought had a weird smell despite being well within their shelf life. I no longer left the house without aspirin. Our medical kit was filled with new bottles of various over the counter medicines I would need in order to save my children. I didn’t talk about my worries with anyone.
During the second week of April, my husband and I took the kids to Maui. I had put all my hopes in the trip, hoping that it would fix my anxiety the same way it had worked seven years earlier. I totally ignored that the circumstances where completely different as we now had two children in tow. I was still not sleeping more than four or five, restless, interrupted hours a night. On one of the first days in Hawaii, I read an article about a mom who died of a heart attack while vacationing in Mexico. I knew it was a coincidence, but I took it as one more sign that I was going to fall ill and die.
I moved on to thinking that I should kill myself while the kids were still young so they would not remember or miss me when they grew up. That made me really upset. I started to plan all the things I would have to tell them and leave as memories to make sure that they would feel loved throughout the years. I even thought that I should help my husband find the woman who would become the new Mom.
At the time, there was a lot of media coverage of the case of a cardiologist who killed his two children after a bad breakup with their mom. As I was reading the story, I wondered what would make someone kill their own children. The guy had tried to commit suicide after his crimes and I remembered other stories in which a parent had first killed their children before committing suicide. I was able to convince myself for a while that I would never do that. People who do that kind of thing are sick, very sick, and I was not depressed. That is, until one evening two days before the end of our trip. I started to cry for no ‘good’ reason other than the sadness caused by all the nasty and involuntary thoughts I had in my head. And then, it hit me: I was crying uncontrollably and therefore I was depressed. And as such, it became a possibility that I would kill my children if I ever decided to commit suicide. I didn’t sleep a single hour during the remainder of the trip, terrified and convinced that I would somehow hurt my children.
Throughout the Hawaiian vacation, I had exchanged dozens of text messages with my sister. She picked up that I was not doing well and made me promise right before our flight home that I would not do anything stupid and that I would instead ask for help. I cried the whole flight back home. I was saying goodbye to my kids, whom I was sure I would never see again. I cuddled and kissed them. I told them that I loved them more than anything in the world and that I was going to report myself to prevent them from being harmed. It was awful. I NEVER, EVER wanted to injure them.
We landed late in the evening and we went home right away. I made them their favorite dinner because they had not eaten much during the trip. I then bathed them, nursed the little guy and put them both to bed. I did it with all my heart and all the patience in the world for the last time ever, or so I thought.
I considered taking a hotel room for the night so that I could sleep without becoming a danger to others. If I were alone, there would be no chance that I would wake up and do things to others that I really did not want to do. In the worst case, I could have injured myself, but I could not have cared less about that. As long as my children were safe, I did not care.
I tried phoning a few help lines but they did not seem to understand my symptoms. “Yes, I am sure that I am not experiencing a heart attack and no, I do not want to commit suicide”. I was ‘only’ afraid that I would hurt the kids or myself against my will. So I did the best thing I knew, which was to say my final goodbye to the family and drive myself to the hospital to ‘confess my sins’; I was convinced I was a danger to them. In my mind, the doctors were going to call the police, have me locked up forever, and I would never see my kids again.
Against all my expectations, neither the nurse nor the doctor seemed upset by my story. In fact, the doctor wanted to give me a sleeping pill and send me home. He thought that I could easily see my family physician the next day to tackle ‘my problem’. He finally accepted my pleas and allowed me sleep in the ER until I could see a psychiatrist the next day.
For the first time in 72 hours, I finally slept.
*Emmy is a mother of two amazing children aged 4 and 6. She is a volunteer Board Member for Anxiety Canada and agreed to share her experience with OCD to increase awareness about this disorder and to encourage others who suffer in silence to seek help because they need and deserve to get treatment.