In 2015, after the birth of her second baby, Ema-Lee Rowe went to the kitchen to fix a cup of tea. It wasn’t a relaxing break from the hectic schedule of raising two small children, however, but a moment that left her in the grip of fear.
As Rowe writes on This Fruitful Life, she couldn’t stop worrying that she was going to spill hot water on the baby who was crawling on the floor by her feet:
I just couldn’t stop having these paralysing (sic) thoughts… that something terrible was going to happen to my children.
The Australian mother of two, who has always suffered from anxiety, attributed her feelings to a “strict, highly-strung” upbringing and a tendency to need control.
A few years earlier, Rowe was bringing home a boyfriend to meet her family for the first time but the fear of her parents’ reaction for running late left her in a state of panic:
To most people this might sound bizarre, but for me, the crippling fear of being late, yelled at, and ruining the whole evening, was all my fault. Of course because we were late, an argument broke out and my dad refused to eat with us (it was only 30 minutes late!), and I ended up in tears trying to explain to James how the anxiety was not just coming from me.
Rowe confessed to her boyfriend at the time about the persistent stress and anxiety she felt around her family but years later, although married to James and the mother of two young boys, Rowe could no longer keep her anxiety in check.
It was so bad she couldn’t even fly to visit family because she was convinced the plane would crash.
Her anxiety was like watching the scary scenes of a movie on repeat:
Imagine you’re at home, alone in the dark, watching a horror movie. You get so scared you quickly turn off the TV, but all of a sudden the screen turns itself back on with the most horrible parts of the movie, and you can’t switch it off.
Even if you close your eyes, you can still hear all the sound effects… and it’s almost as vivid in your mind as when you are watching it. It plays over and over and over, for days on end. Eventually your mind forgets about it, because it has remembered another horror movie that you watched months ago, and the process starts over again.
It wasn’t until one night while laying in bed that she lost her breath over the thought of something horrible happening:
The thoughts and worries sound so insanely far fetched and unlikely to the average person – but to me they were true and real and my brain would tell me they were absolutely going to happen, and I would forever be responsible for not looking after my children.
Sweating and barely able to breathe, Rowe admitted to her husband just how bad her anxiety and fear had become:
It was then that I explained it all to him: all the thoughts, fears, pain, and anxiety that had been getting worse and worse by the day.
Rowe claimed she thought she might be suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a condition linked to anxiety. After seeing a clinical psychologist, Rowe was diagnosed with OCD, calling it the “biggest relief”:
[It’s] something that I’ve always deep down known I’ve had, but I was more likely to joke about it rather than actually contemplate it.
Her doctor prescribed medication which helped with the churning thoughts and anxiety but Rowe’s third pregnancy forced her to stop taking it.
As a result, Rowe has had to work extra hard to keep her fears and worries at bay:
With this comes a whole new sacrifice that I need to make for my children. But I must admit, I would much rather go through both the physical pain and suffering that comes with pregnancy and childbirth ten times over, then have to deal with OCD on a daily basis.”
While Rowe knows her OCD is something she will always have to deal with it’s easier knowing she’s not alone. As she explains: “But it definitely helps having the support of James, who is such a strong and consistent foundation for our family.”