As a first time mother I don't feel envious of celebrity mums.
You know the ones lambasted for making us all feel bad for being back to a size 8 in two weeks whilst putting it all down to breastfeeding. The ones that get papped parading around the park with a different pram for every day of the week or change in nail colour. Or the ones that had the foresight to have their roots and permanent make-up done at 38 weeks so that they look amazing in those first newborn selfies (I look like a post-gig Ronnie Wood in mine).
Instead I'm envious of a woman I saw during a visit to my high street bank recently.
She was standing ahead of me at the counter filling out some forms whilst trying to appease her baby girl who was waving a stuffed elephant. Her clothes were fairly nondescript with a hint of that look I often fashion, the 'I've just about managed to make myself look presentable before I left the house today'. To anyone else she might just blend into the crowd. So what about this woman would be so enviable to me?
As her back was turned for a second her daughter, trying to get her attention threw her stuffed elephant on to the floor. Turning and feigning shock for dramatic effect, she nonchalantly picked up the elephant from the floor and handed it back to her.
A similar act probably carried out every few seconds by teems of mothers all over the world. In that moment I wanted to be her. Because I knew that she is free from the awful, tormenting thoughts that come with post natal OCD.
As someone who's always been a bit of a 'germaphobe', I wasn't at all surprised with the elevated levels of anxiety around germs during my pregnancy. It was after all my first pregnancy and entirely normal to feel focused on the safety of my unborn child. We agreed that it seemed understandable that I panicked when, at 9 weeks pregnant, my husband was hospitalised with a serious infection in his spine and after surgery spent the following months recovering. Nor were we shocked that I found the ambitious renovation project we had to live through for the entirety of my pregnancy a huge strain. There were long periods without a kitchen, floors and sometimes walls. When I should have been nesting we were living in a dusty building site.
When my father passed away unexpectedly at 56, just two weeks before the birth, we expected an enormous level of emotional turmoil. When I'd hobbled to his funeral a day after getting out of the hospital with my daughter, I knew that people expected the post natal depression that we were probably destined to endure.
We waited for a dark cloud to arrive. We'd read about it and armed ourselves with a good understanding. We knew what the signs were and so, we waited. And waited. I checked for the signs. My family observed from a distance. While we all stood waiting for post natal depression to come in the front door, we didn't notice another tormentor sneak in the back. We barely noticed the occasional doing things twice to be extra sure here and there. The double sterilising, the re-washing of baby clothes, the gradual increase in hand washing. The reassurance seeking that we'd done something the right way, that she was ok, that everything was OK!? Alright, we noted the increase in attention I paid to germs, the avoidance of anyone who had a sniffle or knew someone who knew someone who had a cold sore. The fact that I seemed to have an antibacterial wipe constantly attached to my hand, were all marks of a new mum we thought, as apparently did my GP.
I'd taken to motherhood like a duck to water with many days of me being super mum. I loved being a mum, adored my daughter in a way words will never do justice and despite the recent loss of my father was experiencing one of the most incredible times of my life.
Then gradually those things, those little things, quirks, routines, hand-washing, cleaning, tipped the balance and became stricter protocols and necessary rigid procedures that had to be performed just to keep my family and daughter safe. I became exhausted and isolated and slowly but surely any sparkle that was once there, drained away.
On a good day, OCD is annoying, distracting and unnecessarily time consuming. On a bad day it's a brutal, frightening, uncompromising illness which sucks the life from you. For me it latched on to my already higher than average concern about about germs and as a person who has always been prone to anxiety and panic attacks, boosted the powers of my imagination for potential horrific scenarios that could happen to my daughter or family, and led me to have to find solutions or preventions for these.
It can be so difficult for mums to realise that what they're experiencing is OCD. Due to the stigma associated with having a mental illness, they often delay seeking help or simply talking to someone about how they're feeling for fear of being labelled 'mad' or deemed to be an unfit mother. Worse still, when like me they do, despite recent breakthroughs in raising awareness of OCD, many GPs and health professionals may still not recognise the symptoms or even know how to correctly treat it. Unfortunately postnatal OCD is quite often misdiagnosed as being postnatal depression.
I'm not the first mum to suffer from post natal OCD and unfortunately I won't be the last. There needs to be a greater understanding of the illness so that new mums can get access to the right help quickly. If this insidious illness is left unchallenged it has the potential to rob you of some of the most precious time in your life.
Fortunately, there is a highly effective way to treat postnatal OCD which is essentially the same as other aspects of OCD, by using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It's something I'm currently doing. It's early days but I think it's helping.
I've outed myself in an attempt to urge others that are suffering in silence to unburden themselves and seek help. And in doing so my journey back to 'mental wellness' really begins. It's touted to be quite a fight. My opponent is sneaky, cruel and unyielding. But I've never been one to back down to a bully or shy away from a fight.
For more information and advice on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder go to www.ocduk.org