The Mommy Writer Loses Her Mind

[This post is part of an ongoing series of how I get work done with kids at home.  As always, a disclaimer: I’m not sure anything I say will be useful to you unless you are me, and have my particular kids and circumstances.  But before I had children everyone told me I’d never have time to write, and this is my message of hope: for me, anyway, it’s not true.  Not even a little bit.]

When I had my first child, I had to do edits on my first published novel in the first few weeks of her life.  I remember that I prioritized writing over everything besides the basic biological needs of me and my child.

With the second one, things went somewhat differently.  Part of this was because this time around I have a four year old who needs my attention, so not every napping moment could be spent writing.

But a lot of it was because I basically lost my mind.

With both my kids, I was really worried about post-partum depression.  I have some risk factors, so I watched closely for signs.  But I missed my (quite obvious, in retrospect) symptoms of post-partum OCD, because I was only vaguely aware that’s a thing that exists.

Turns out it does exist, and I have it.

A lot of people thing of OCD as obsessive cleaning or being irrationally bothered by small things.  What gets talked about less are the obsessive thoughts about death and danger and horrible, horrible things every waking moment of the day.  One of the reasons I missed my post-partum OCD was because it felt like normal anxiety.  I worried.  A lot.  Obsessively, all day long.

I checked my child’s breathing about a hundred times a day, because if I didn’t, I was sure he would die.

I never let him sleep in his car seat/infant swing/bouncy seat because if I did, I was sure he would die.

I followed every SIDS guideline, obsessively.  I was sure that if I didn’t, he would die.

Every time I did something normal, like walk up the stairs, I thought about all the horrible things that could happen–like hitting his head on the railing, or dropping him.  I was pretty sure the stairs were going to cause him to die.

Every time I put my kids in the car, I would think about getting in a car accident, and the horrible things that could happen.  These things always happen when you least expect them, so I was sure if I didn’t think about it, my kids would die.

I did a lot of thinking about car seat positioning.  When I only had one, she sat in the middle of the back seat–the safest place in the car.  Now that I have two, they can’t both sit in the middle.  So if I put one on one side and one on the other, I felt like I was choosing which one was going to die when we inevitably got in a car accident.  I thought about this every time I put them in the car.  If I didn’t, I was sure they would die.

I could go on.  It got to the point that I didn’t even want to take care of him anymore, because if someone else had him, I didn’t worry he was going to die.

When I really started to realize something was wrong was when I put that together in my mind.  I thought that by thinking of these things, I could actually prevent bad things from happening to my children.  Like there was some kind of causal link between my thoughts and random, unlikely danger.

That, friends, is craziness.  And I knew it, but I couldn’t make it stop.

At about eight weeks, my anxiety level was so high I was having panic attacks on a daily basis.  I was traumatizing myself with all these thoughts.  And I could not make them stop.  My OB said I probably had anxiety.  He suggested drugs.  The drugs made me sick and I stopped.

And then the OCD latched on to my writing.

I got to the point where I couldn’t write a sentence.  Like literally could not do it.  I didn’t know how to write the right sentence.  I didn’t know how I had ever known how to write the right sentence.  How did words go together?  How would I know what to write?  I knew all the advice.  I had been just writing the words anyway even when they sucked for seventeen years.

But now I couldn’t.  Completely couldn’t.

And that, crazy as it is, was when I knew something had to be done.  I went to my primary care doctor, and got an OCD diagnosis and a different drug, which made me sleep through about a week, but then, about three weeks in, magically fixed my brain.  All the obsessions went away.  Ninety percent of the anxiety went with it.  Now, looking back, I could see that I had OCD with my first child, too, and it never went away, not completely.  I’ve probably always had some of these tendencies, but post-partum hormones ramp it up out of control.

The drugs, though, they are amazing.  I’m back to writing now.  I write with my kid in the bouncy chair, and if he falls asleep, I don’t panic.  I can let him nap without going in four or five times to make sure he’s still breathing.  Fastening a car seat can just be a thing that I do, and not something I have to think about and obsess over.

I’ve always prided myself at being the writer who gets it done, but sometimes you just can’t, and that has to be okay.  Or it’s not okay, but it doesn’t change the facts.  Brains are weird.  Life is crazy.  Sometimes things get in the way and you have to push through and keep at it, but sometimes things get in the way and there’s nothing to be done.

Fortunately, especially with kids, life can also change pretty quickly. What’s impossible one day is possible the next.

And it’s on to another adventure.

3 Responses to “The Mommy Writer Loses Her Mind”

  1. Ashley Swenson Says:

    I am so glad you were able to get things figured out. Post partum issues can be so scary. They are real. I am glad you have been able to get back to writing and not worry about every little thing. I am just so glad you are okay!!!
    Thank you for sharing. I think awareness is so key.

  2. Stacy Says:

    Aw, Janci, I’m so sorry you were struggling with this. It’s awful when you know your thinking is off, but you can’t control it (though my psych said that is how you know you aren’t ACTUALLY crazy, as miserable as it is). I had a lot of crazy thoughts about death with my PPD too, mostly because my kids require so much special care and to me the scariest thing would be not being around to make sure they are safe. I hope you know you can call if you ever need a break. Glad you’re doing better now.

  3. Kathryn Class Says:

    I had very similar thoughts with my first born, way back in 1993. I never thought about OCD being part of post partum depression, but I knew something was wrong with me. my husband and I had talked, before our son was born, about how we were going to be watchful and careful about the signs. I even called the doctor to tell him that I cried when strangers on the phone trying to sell me stuff said goodbye. The nurse told me that it would go away, and it did, eventually. I thought that was the end of it. Now that you have described your thoughts and experience, I totally recognize that in me back when I was a first time parent. Luckily, it didn’t happen with my subsequent children, but you e given me new understanding into why I probably was the way I was. I hardly slept his first year believing that if I didn’t keep an eye on him he would die. I couldn’t sleep with SIDS out there. I had to have constant vigilance. It was a really rough time for everyone. Thanks for sharing. As a mother of a daughter with OCD thinking, I will share this with her when the time is right, so that she can not suffer for long if it should happen her.

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