Journalist Jennifer Sizeland, 37, lives in Manchester with her partner and two-year-old son. She used to work in television but left it after his birth to become a writer. Here, she shares how she manages it ocd But Christmas,
The festive season can be exciting, but there are ways you can make it less anxiety-inducing. While my son’s happiness is the most important thing, I know I have to take care of myself too.
“You can’t have kids until you’ve sorted out your mental health issues,” a friend of mine said bluntly during a trip to the country a few years ago. I told her about my OCD diagnosis later in life when I was 30. I had no choice but to agree, even though I didn’t feel good about the subtext that I was too ‘messed up’ to have kids. Everyone else was allowed to.
Fast forward to now, and I’m 37 and living in Manchester with my long-term partner and our two-year-old son. So yes, I arrived in a much better place, but in common with many women who become mothers, his arrival severely tested my mental health. Now, big events like Christmas and birthdays threaten to overwhelm me like never before.
Although I know the phrase ‘I’m a little OCD’ gets thrown around, I’m not sure people understand how scary it really is to be ruled by intrusive thoughts.
When I was 30, I had the same thoughts as my friend, but the idea that I would have to delay motherhood until I was ‘mentally well’ made me feel like This will never happen.
At the time, I was working in a high-pressure role as a broadcast assistant in a TV news gallery, ensuring that bulletins ran on schedule. Job stress was a major cause of my anxiety which made my OCD symptoms the worst they have ever been.
I had to travel four hours on public transport every weekday and couldn’t get out of bed on weekends. The shifts were long, and between being at work and traveling there, I honestly felt trapped in my own life. So, eventually I had to accept that my friend was right and that I could not bring a child into my world when I was in such a bad state mentally.
growing up with ocd
While I know the phrase ‘I’m a little OCD’ is easily promoted around, I’m not sure how many people understand how scary it really is to be ruled by intrusive thoughts and compulsions. I always say that OCD is a shape-changer, every time a thought or compulsion loses its power over you, another one comes in its place to achieve the same effect.
As a child, I wouldn’t eat any food I touched with my fingers. When I was twenty, I had a terrible fear of knives and I threw away all my sharp knives because I couldn’t stand being in the same room with them. There have been times when I have not been able to eat because swallowing would have meant that I was agreeing to something bad happening.
I’ve always been open about my mental health problems, even as a teenager when I suffered from depression.
I’ve always been open about my mental health problems, even as a teenager when I was depressed and some of my friends treated me weird for being open about it. One of those friends told me to try meditation to ‘get over it’, so I’m relieved that conversations about mental health are now much more nuanced and understood than they used to be.
I’ve known my partner since I lived with him at university, so he’s always been supportive of my struggles and I know it’s been hard for him sometimes.
After my son was born, the anxiety and OCD took a few days to go away. I went into a state of panic because I didn’t know what my life would be like now. I was scared of her drowning and I would avoid going into the bathroom with her even if the bathtub was empty because my fear was so strong.
I was five months pregnant when we brought the house, so I didn’t know the field very well and the burden quickly took over because suddenly I had no time for myself, as well as the need to earn money. The capacity was also very limited. Needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to Christmas at all when I felt like this.
In my late twenties, I started to really hate Christmas because of the change in routine, traveling, trying to finish all my work, securing a new freelance job for the next year, buying gifts on a budget, and not being able to meet someone. Also, not having time for work, these things were a cause of great concern. Family arguments and lack of quiet time alone didn’t help either.
When I was 29, I had a flat tire and it was not replaced properly so the new one got ruined and then I lost power due to the washing machine leaking. My partner was already down south with his family so I had to deal with it all alone on Christmas Eve. My heart was racing and I was desperate for someone to tell me I didn’t need to celebrate and to be allowed to stay home.
One Christmas my nerves were rising and I was desperate for someone to tell me that I didn’t need to celebrate and that I could stay home.
When I was finally diagnosed with OCD at age 30, it began to make sense why I hated this ‘most wonderful time of the year’ so much.
I spent one Christmas in Sri Lanka and it was such a relief to escape the stress and administration of Christmas, because the truth was I didn’t have the time or energy to put into it.
making your own christmas
We would also go away every New Year as it was one of the few breaks from our relentless work schedules as my partner also worked in TV. However, I knew that once I had my son, everything would change, because it would all be about him, not about us.
Now I have set more boundaries to prevent myself from becoming anxious and overwhelmed.
When we celebrated our first Christmas Day with our four-month-old baby, we ordered a sushi platter and stayed home, something I would totally recommend. We watched a Christmas movie and didn’t have to worry about traveling anywhere or cooking, which made life a lot easier.
Now that he’s older, I see family the same way as before, but I’ve put in place more boundaries to keep myself from becoming anxious and overwhelmed, both of which make my OCD worse. My partner is also everything to them as he is willing to do anything to make Christmas go more smoothly.
keep calm on christmas
Of course, feelings of anxiety or stress are not limited to having OCD as Christmas can be an overwhelming time for many parents. So I’ve made these changes to my celebration preparations and on the day itself to better manage or prevent feelings of overwhelm:
I allow myself to be alone for an hour after my son goes to sleep so that I don’t feel obligated to ‘perform for the family’ because I find that very tiring.
I keep my son’s routine as similar as possible, enjoying the festive fun but not letting the Christmas inertia set in when people start to get bored and frustrated.
I plan and pack my gifts in advance because it makes budgeting easier and gives me a chance to check them off the list.
I hold little ‘Christmas parties’ with my friends, where we spend a few hours doing something silly or fun, like escape room, before returning home to our family duties.
I only ask for cheap gifts because I can’t afford to buy expensive gifts for anyone and as a freelancer the festive season is a time of financial anxiety for me. It is also important not to assume that people want a lot of gifts at Christmas, especially children because sometimes they can become overwhelmed with all the gifts they receive.
If I allow myself enough time, I can include my son in meal preparation or cleaning like packing away groceries or loading the dishwasher.
I make a packing list of all the things I take with me during a trip to avoid the stress of forgetting something my son might need.
I plan to do some things on my own, like go for a walk for 30 minutes so I can enjoy some time without any responsibilities.
I do ‘tag-team parenting’ with my partner so that one of us takes care of the cooking, packing or running errands while the other takes care of the child.
I’m forgiving myself if I feel anxious or overwhelmed. It’s impossible to manage every emotion and not everything can be planned in advance, so I accept it if it happens instead of judging myself.
My approach to Christmas now is that the changes I’ve made have mostly affected me, so I figure as long as they get to see my son, the family is generally happy. The perk of being a parent is that during the festive season the focus is on your child, not you!
Although it’s not easy being a parent with a mental illness, it is still very possible to create lasting Christmas memories for your children without stressing yourself out unnecessarily at the end of the year. Motherhood with OCD can be painful, but I find parenting to be healing because I accept the imperfection, vulnerability, and unprocessed emotions it reveals in me as an opportunity to let go and I I try my best to take it.
#mom #OCD #handle #burden #Christmas
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