Look. Look away. Look. Look away. Look. Look away. “If I look I am a pedophile and if I look away I am a bad mother who doesn’t keep her child safe.” says Lynn (name changed) who describes the experience of giving her infant son a bath & the torment she lived in from the birth of her son until he was age 3.
Lynn had experienced bouts of anxiety and described herself as a “worry wort”, but it wasn’t until her son was born that she experienced significant intrusive thoughts and, in turn, would do anything and everything she could do avoid the fear. Lynn had OCD, but was misdiagnosed, criminalized, and made to feel like an outcast in her community.
It started simply enough. Once Lynn’s son was born she had to do what all parents of circumcised boys must do and clean the wound. While cleaning, just as her doctor had instructed, OCD said “why are you doing this? I bet you like it. Why are you doing it instead of your husband? You are a pedophile.” Lynn describes her first intrusive thoughts through tears and wishes that she had the support and guidance to know that many new mothers experience intrusive thoughts (as do all people!). In the middle of rural Arkansas, Lynn felt alone and hopeless in her fear.
Slowly, OCD began to take over Lynn’s life as she avoided everything that triggered anxiety. Her husband was working long hours while she was on maternity leave and, while she was never neglecting her son, she definitely wasn’t engaging with him like she wanted. “No baths unless my someone was there, Close my eyes while I changed his diaper, only hold him facing away from me so his genitals would not be next to me, check to see if I was aroused when I looked at him” Lynn says as she explains her initial compulsions. Soon enough, OCD told her that not only was she a danger to her son but all children. Lynn started to take a very long route to the grocery store so she could bypass a neighborhood playground. She then requested the presence of her husband for all contact with her son and resorted to hiring a babysitter while her husband was at work. “The babysitter was completely unnecessary and I can only imagine what that poor lady thought of me” laughs Lynn. “My son would cry, she and I would both hear it on the monitor, and I would go to him but tell her to come with me.”
At a yearly check up with her OB/GYN Lynn broke down and shared all in the hopes that her doctor would prescribe her medication. Instead, her uninformed doctor (who was clearly incompetent and did not do any research about Lynn’s symptoms, aka Idiot) called Children’s Services. “I’ve never been so scared in my life. I thought dealing with OCD was bad, but the thought of losing my child was a million times worse” says Lynn. Luckily, the service worker, who came to Lynn’s home after the OB/GYN made the report, was fresh out of college. In her last semester, one of her professors showed a brief video on OCD. “When I visited Lynn she was terrified. She kept telling me that she is not a bad person, but just has bad thoughts and this reminded me of the OCD video I watched” explains Allison, the Arkansas-based children’s service social worker. “Lynn didn’t seem like someone who found it pleasurable to think of children this way but, quite the opposite.” Allison began to research and eventually found the International OCD Foundation. Allison then contacted me to discuss Lynn’s case.
Allison was so invested in Lynn’s case and felt as though she was on the right track, despite a well respect physician in the community thinking otherwise. Although I had yet to meet Lynn at this point, after hearing Allison describe her symptoms I felt fairly certain Lynn was experiencing OCD and was no danger to her child. Allison then took the appropriate steps to connect me to Lynn. Lynn undoubtedly had severe OCD and we began weekly sessions 3 weeks later. “I’m still dealing with anger towards my former OB/GYN but, oddly enough, her huge mistake was my saving grace” says Lynn. “If I didn’t go to the doctor that day and spill my guts about everything and if she didn’t make this mistake, there is no telling how long it would have taken me to get a diagnosis and find the right treatment.” The doctor referenced has since received training about OCD.
Allison, the children’s service worker, is now the supervisor of a team of 22 staff for a rural region of Arkansas and makes sure they receive training on OCD yearly. “I teach my staff to think for themselves, research, and seek counsel from senior staff” she explains. “I don’t want anyone with OCD to not get the help they need because the people in our community aren’t trained; that’s not fair”.
Lynn is now the proud mother of 2 wonderful children and, although some days are worse than others, she has created a new relationship with her thoughts and is living life by what she values most….not what OCD says. “I still have some uncomfortable thoughts here and there, but I’ve learned that they simply don’t mean all that much. Treatment was really really tough, but no tougher than living my life according to what OCD wanted day in and day out” urges Lynn.
Lynn’s encourages anyone reading, who is experiencing similar symptoms, to first look at the International OCD Foundation and see if there is a provider in your area. “Don’t let my story keep you from disclosing” she says. “If you find an OCD specialist they will understand your symptoms and have probably treated something similar dozens of times before.”
If Lynn’s story resonates with you, please know that you are not alone. You can refer to the IOCDF via the link in the paragraph above and see if there is an OCD specialist in your area. You can also find hope & accurate information through the The OCD Stories podcast.