Here I go again, bearing my soul to the world in regard to my experience of living with a mental illness. (My readers: “Well that’s because your nuts!”) But seriously; this is not my favorite thing to do. It makes me extremely self-conscious. I wonder what people will think of me; if they’ll treat me differently after they know these things about me. But the risk is worth it to me if, in my doing so, other’s who share my affliction might some gain hope and encouragement. So here goes:
My kids are all grown. I gave birth to them back in the late seventies and early eighties. Back in those days, natural/medication free childbirth was highly touted as being the safest and healthiest thing you could do for your unborn child. Therefore, I, like so many others in my day, attended Lamaze classes where we learned about using breathing/relaxation techniques while staring at a focal point in order to ride out the pain of the contractions. And its because of that training that I was able to go through the labor of all my pregnancies without using any pain medication. But, I’ll tell you what, it took every bit of concentration that I could muster up to be able to do that. The only way you could tell that I was in pain was that during a contraction I would fall completely silent, my breathing patterns changed and I would only look at my focal point. I couldn’t converse with anyone, or look at anything else or focus on what people were saying. All of my efforts were put into riding out the pain.
I remember the details of the births of my children very clearly. I remember that my water broke at midnight on a Monday with our first child, a daughter, and that she wasn’t born until Wednesday; just about dinner time. It was long and arduous. I had no idea how much longer it would go on or if the level of pain I was feeling. just before she was born, was the worst, or if I hadn’t reached the pinnacle yet. My doctor wouldn’t check my dilation progress for fear of infection as it had been too long since my water broke and therefore I had no idea how close to the finish line I was. I did, however, know it would come before the night ended, either naturally or by C-section. I’d been given that promise from my doctor.
With the second birth, our eldest son, my labor still lasted through one whole night and into late afternoon the next day. The difference was, that this time, I recognized, by my symptoms, when I was nearing the finish line. It was a tough birth. His head was pretty big, he was in distress and my doctor had to use forceps to help him out of the birth canal. It hurt like crazy, but I kept silent, knowing it would be over soon.
I was very ill with Pre-eclampsia for most of my third pregnancy. I was in and out of the hospital, put on bed rest and given anti-seizure medication. My doctor finally induced labor when he felt assured that the baby was full term. They started inducing at seven in the morning. I finally reached full dilation by early evening and spent more than an hour pushing but making no progress. My baby, began showing serious sign of distress and the decision was made for me to stop all pushing and undergo a C-section. I was told, not to push at all, because when I did the babies heart rate would plummet and it would take way too long to come back to normal. My body was shaking uncontrollably as I made every effort to keep all my muscles relaxed over against the enormous amount of pain I was feeling and the incredible urge to push which seemed to want to take over my body against my will. It was only a half hour wait but it seemed like an eternity. Once I reached the operating room, my doctor wanted to give me a general as he was anxious to get the baby out. At that point I was more than happy to oblige, just relieved to get a break from the pain. Our youngest son was a very big baby; nine pounds – fourteen ounces.
So why am I writing about labor pain when this blog is supposed to be about OCD and medication? Well, for starters I have often looked back on my labor pain and compared it to the pain I’ve experienced with my OCD. Those comparison’s have been enormously helpful in regard to my getting over the guilt I’ve had as regarding the medication that I take for my OCD.
The first comparison has to do with the intensity of the pain and how it interferes with daily functioning. When OCD is running the show, the mental pain can be overwhelming. The mind is preoccupied every waking minute with the obsessional theme and the anxiety that accompanies the theme is incredibly intense. It takes an enormous amount of effort to ignore the obsession and to just ride out the pain of the anxiety. But, regardless of the amount of pain we are in, we still have to be able to function. We still have to take care of our responsibilities. We can’t just lie in bed, doing deep breathing and staring at a focal point, although I will confess that there have been days when the pain has been so bad that this is exactly what I’ve done. I couldn’t stay there though, I had to get up and get at it no matter how wretched I felt. It takes a lot of grit to carry on with life when OCD is at it’s worse.
The second comparison has to do with the finish line. When you’re in labor, you know that if you just hang in there, it will all be over with soon. With OCD, you have no idea how long you’re going to be in pain and when it’s been going on for month after month or even years, you wonder how you’ll ever make it through. You may find yourself, like I did, trying to strike up some kind of a bargain with God: “Lord, I don’t know if I can take this anymore. I really need for it to end. If this is going to go on indefinitely, I would rather that you just take me home to heaven. Can I make a trade? If this isn’t going to stop can I trade this mental anguish for a terminal illness? Because at least then, I’ll be able to see the finish line.”
I know that probably sounds incredible, but is it – really? Many people who are suffering with a terminal illness get to the point where they pray for God to take them home and release them from suffering. Mental illness hurts too. It hurts really bad and the suffering can be very prolonged, most especially if a person has bought into this errant notion that to use medication to help alleviate some of the pain of their disorder is a sin or demonstrates a lack of faith.
I remember sitting in my G.P.’s office some eight years ago when I’d been going through a very difficult time with my OCD. I was in a tremendous amount of mental pain. As I sat there, I thought: “I wonder what she’d think of me, if I told her, that at this very moment, I’d rather have my hand smashed with a sledge hammer than to endure one more day of this agony?” I didn’t need to bother going into that description with her because she was insistent that I should go on medication to alleviate some of my suffering. She cared very deeply about the quality of my life and I’m very grateful that she convinced me that it’s more than okay to medicate the pain of my disorder when it’s having such a negative impact on my life.
The medication that I’ve taken for my OCD is indeed a Godsend. It alleviates, some, not all of my mental pain. It allows me to feel strong enough to do the hard work of therapy. It takes the edge off the mental pain to the point where I can function normally. It allows for me to enjoy the simple things of life; things like eating and sleeping, reading a good book, taking a walk or conversing with a friend. What medication does for me, can probably be compared to what it would be like to have a migraine headache every single waking minute of every day or to just have a mild but tolerable headache to the point where I can feel the pain but it’s minor enough that it doesn’t interfere with my ability to function.
OCD is a chronic disorder. It waxes and wanes. When I’ve been doing a good job managing my OCD, using all the right tools, living a healthy lifestyle, getting good sleep, eating right and life isn’t too stressful, I’ve been able to drop my medication down to a lower dosage and even been able to come off it for long periods. The reason I mention these things is that I in no way condone a medication only approach any more than I would condone a diabetic taking insulin shots just so they can eat whatever they please. Managing OCD involves a whole lot more than just shoving a pill down your throat, but that’s not much different than any other chronic illness.
But, having said all that, it just very true that life will often throw a wrench into all our good intentions and even with the healthiest approach to managing it, OCD is still an opportunistic disorder that hits you when you’re down. None of us can go through life without any stress whatsoever and OCD feeds off stress, in the very same way many other chronic illnesses do. Therefore, I’ve just come to expect and accept that my need for medication will change according to the severity of my symptoms.
The reason I chose to write this blog today was to encourage any of you who have been feeling guilty or struggling with the decision in regard using medication as a way to help manage your OCD. I want for you to just be able to let go of all of that. If people criticize you for it, it’s because they really can’t begin to grasp the kind of pain you are in. It doesn’t matter what they think. They aren’t having to live with this disorder and if they did, they’d change their tune in a heartbeat.
Speaking of change; it would seem to me that there’s been a huge change in regard to the level of suffering a woman should have to endure during the labor of childbirth. They have these wonderful things called epidurals now and when my own daughter’s labor got to the level of intensity where I knew she was suffering, I was the one who convinced her to go ahead and let the doctor give her the epidural. Why on earth would I want her to suffer if she didn’t have to? That, in my opinion is just a normal response to wanting to alleviate suffering in another individual.
It would be really awesome though, wouldn’t it, if most of the people we encounter would take on that same attitude as regarding the pain of mental illness. Just imagine how nice it would be if no one ever felt the need to hide the fact that they had a mental illness or that they took medication to help manage it. They wouldn’t have to hide any of that, because they’d know that pretty much everyone would understand and support them. People would just get it that: a. No one chooses to have a mental illness and b. That mental illness causes extreme pain and therefore, it’s just a matter of common sense to try and alleviate that pain and medication is just one very practical way to do just that.
The tide is turning, people are starting to understand and when they “get it”, empathy compassion and support abound. And – this is why I blog about my OCD: I want to be a part of that change.