Since writing blogs I've found myself divulging private details on fairly public platforms. From not wanting any personal pictures online, I've since posted bikini shots, breastfeeding pictures and even the odd shameless selfies! My passion is health and fitness postpartum, and as such I've covered topics on exercise, nursing and body image but one area I've not yet addressed is the emotional stress of parenting and how exercise helps me combat this.
Any mother will understand just how challenging motherhood can be at times. Of course it's an absolute blessing but non-the-less there are occasions when the exhaustion and responsibility begin to weigh heavy on your shoulders. For most, this can be alleviated by an hour away to refresh and recuperate, however for a small group of mothers it's a stress they just can't escape.
Maternal OCD has until recently received very little research attention, and treatment is still being explored. Often misdiagnosed as postpartum depression, Maternal OCD is very different and currently affects up to 4% of new mothers. That may seem like a relatively low number however, not when you consider that in the current population these statistics show Maternal OCD is affecting over 2.5million women in the United Kingdom alone. I have struggled with mild OCD for many years. I say mild when I should in fact say functioning. I am able to lead a completely normal life and socialise easily however with a compulsion never far from my mind. For others OCD can be far more extreme. An article written in 2013 detailed how Rebecca Lopez, mother of four, struggled with OCD so extreme it meant washing her child after every feed, colour coding baby grows and spending days terrified of others holding the baby, including the father. Other women such as Alison Holmes, mother of two, find that OCD peaks during the pregnancy itself. For me I can relate to it all. Having struggled prior to falling pregnant, during the pregnancy and still now 10 months postpartum, and mild though it may be this in no way makes it any less stressful or frightening.
So what to do?
With treatment still undergoing investigation and an NHS waiting list of months, mothers suffering with Maternal OCD find themselves in Limbo. Usually triggered by feelings of concern for the safely of the child how can you not complete the compulsion. Better safe then sorry. Just In Case! Unfortunately once you've given in to one 'just in case' the next compulsion is a must. If you do it for your family but then a situation occurs in your mind where a friend is targeted, how can you not? Wouldn't that make you a bad friend... so you continue, and with the stigma surrounding OCD still a very big issue in today's society, people are finding themselves isolated and trapped, thus making the OCD worse.
That is how I came to fully appreciate the benefits of exercise.
I have always been a big health and fitness advocate but the depth of why I love to workout I have rarely discussed. Yes there are numerous physical benefits however not only does working-out keep you physically fit, studies have shown that exercise can directly affect a persons mood and subdue anxiety. James Blumenthal, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Duke University undertook a study in 2007 and concluded that exercise was generally comparable to antidepressants for patients with major depressive disorder (Psychosomatic Medicine, 2007). He is quoted as saying "Exercise seems not only important for treating depression, but also in preventing relapse,". So why isn't this more widely known and suggested for sufferers of mental health?
First and foremost I think we need to address the mis-information and confusing media attention surrounding OCD and the 'fashionable' filter that we seem to place over this illness. OCD and other mental disorders such as depression and anxiety are far too freely used as descriptions for a mood or eccentricity. Comments such as 'Oh I'm a little bit OCD' and 'oh that just made me feel so depressed' are in no way helpful to those who really struggle to be taken seriously and find appropriate help.
Secondly I would advise any fellow mothers out there struggling, not to worry. No, this will not disappear overnight but if you are struggling with maternal OCD it does not make you a substandard mother or inadequate parent. This is a process and I see it as a strength exercise. You can achieve your goals and make steps in the right direction. Keep positive, get active and surround yourself with supportive people. Do not be afraid to accept help and most of all know that you are not alone.
Finally, I would suggest talking about it! Since writing articles publicly I have actually found a strange relief in discussing topics I am passionate about. I was hesitant when putting this piece together for fear of being judged and pigeon-holed but I have learnt to accept who I am and realise that by sharing my story I may be able to help others find the strength and courage to come forwards and open up about their thoughts.
I don't expect everyone to identify with this article however if only one person reads this post and feels understood then it's worth it. Maybe not even one person will understand or agree but I felt I needed to try. Just In Case.
Images blogger's own