Who are you, and why did you decide to share your story?
I am a 35 year old French woman who has been living in Geneva for the last 12 years. I am the mum of 2 beautiful kids ages 4 & 7.
When was the first time you became aware you were suffering from a mental health/wellness issue?
I have always been quite anxious as far as I can remember but that particular form, the phobia of committing impulsive acts, first revealed itself about 10 years ago. I was in my kitchen preparing dinner with my husband and all of a sudden, the thought hit me “what if I killed my husband”. I didn’t want to, absolutely not, but all of sudden I was attacked by intrusive thoughts, all going around the theme of “what if I became crazy”, “what if suddenly hit him with a knife”.
What were you feeling/what did you experience that made you aware of it?
I was so scared of my own thoughts, I was (I still am) in a beautiful relationship so why could I think that? I was pretty scared of myself, my first idea was to hide the knives and to try to numb my brain by watching funny movies/doing sports. Eventually I talked to my GP about my anxiety and he referred me to a psychiatrist. I did a cognitive based-therapy (CBT, also sometimes called cognitive behavioural therapy) and it really helped, for 7 years I had almost no symptoms.
However, during a trip abroad with my family after one night of no sleep, I completely fell down an infernal spiral: what if I hurt my kids? The thought kept coming back, I tried to fight it, and it came back harder. Very quickly I lost appetite and wasn’t able to get any food or any sleep.
Thousands of kilometers away from home, I did the only smart thing I could do: I called my psychiatrist (that I hadn’t seen for a while), explained the situation and he prescribed me anti-anxiety medication and sleeping pills so that I could continue the trip. I stayed on holiday, hiding my fears, as I was worried about scaring my husband, though I did try to explain to him that somehow I knew I would never hurt anyone.
We came back home and the infernal spiral continued, I reached the first stage of depression.
Can you talk a bit about how this mental health issue impacted your life, both personally and professionally?
At that stage nothing was normal in my life any more, I was terrified, sad, unable to function normally… I was terrified to be left alone with my kids, in case I became crazy, so I asked my mum to come spend time with us (she also suffers from a very similar OCD, as it turns out it seems to be hereditary, but it did allow me to confide in her).
I tried to continue working because I needed some normalcy in my life but I was totally useless at the office. My husband was sad and worried for me without understanding what was really happening to me.
What did you do about it?
When I came back from our overseas trip, I started seeing my psychiatrist twice a week, our first goal was to allow me to sleep fairly normally. I tried many sleeping pills, lots of xanax (an anti-anxiety medication), and when I finally started to sleep a bit more normally, we started the proper medication for OCD: SSRI. This class of drugs are “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors” which are designed to increase your levels of serotonin, a key mood stabilizing hormone.
SSRIs are usually prescribed for depression but they actually work very well for OCD. At that stage, which I describe as the peak of the “crisis”, I felt like nothing else other than medicine could have helped, without risking further damage to my health. (I had lost 4 kg in 2 weeks which is 8% of my weight, and also clinically dangerous).
I also found a lot of support from my brother who had suffered from a very similar episode a couple of years before. I spoke to him a lot about my fears, my doubts, and thanks to his own experience, I knew it was possible to overcome the disease.
When when I started to feel a little better, I started to practice yoga very regularly, 2 to 3 times a week and tried to meditate once or twice a day to help relieve the anxiety and have more control over the intrusive thoughts .
How do you feel now? How did taking those steps make you feel, and have they helped?
Today, I feel good, happy and confident. I have completed my CBT with my psychiatrist, meaning that I understand my fears, why they come and how to not let them take over my life.
I still take SSRI medication, maybe I could try stopping but I discussed with my GP and apparently COVID times are not a great time to stop that type of treatment as the atmosphere of the overall population is quite anxious and anxiety inducing. So I will reconsider stopping it in a few months but it is not a priority for me (any more), I do live very well with them and don’t experience any side-effects.
I do not practice yoga as regularly as I’d like to as I like practising in person and COVID makes that difficult. However I still meditate regularly and I generally take time for myself, to do things that make me happy or just that give me time to be calm (go for a walk, read a book)
Do you have any lessons learned with regards to mental health that you can share?
Absolutely! Speak up! Start with your GP or another healthcare professional you trust if you do not have a psychiatrist. It is really hard to get out of intrusive thoughts on your own, very hard.
Do not be ashamed, you are not alone.
How to get in touch?
If you’d really like to speak with the author of this blog post to discuss your own experience, please contact me and I will put you in touch.