I have my first guest author today! I am so excited! A very good friend of mine from high school was willing to share her experience in living with OCD. This is one of the things I hoped for when starting this blog–that it would inspire others to share their stories as well. Here is her story.
It was a winter day ten years ago. I found myself in a therapist’s office for the first time, terrified that I was going to harm my one-year old son. The appointment had been set up by my bishop, in whom I had confided in recently. The bishop explained that while he didn’t think my son was in any danger, he thought an appointment would bring me some peace of mind.
I filled out a questionnaire and sat nervously. The therapist had the results quickly.
“You have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, otherwise known as OCD.”
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Tears of relief immediately flooded my eyes. I was not a horrible person. There was not a wicked, impulsive person that could leap out at any time, ready to harm my son. All of the lengths I had gone to as I tried to protect my little family had an explanation. The explanation was that I had a mental illness.
Many people joke about having OCD. As they rearrange pictures, they will say “Oh, my OCD is coming out.” As they like to have things in their home “just so”, they will say “Oh, I’m a little OCD about that.” For people who genuinely have OCD, their lives are filled with anxiety. They do not simply like to have things “just so”, it is an actual mental necessity.
People may wonder if I was like the character Adrian Monk, of the TV show “Monk.” Detective Monk had to count poles, refused to shake hands with others and had a completely sterile house. My reality is far from Monk’s. I am a less-than ideal housekeeper. I don’t like hugs as a personal preference, but I don’t mind shaking hands or using something that has been touched by someone else. I don’t obsessively count sidewalk tiles or poles lining the street. There are others with OCD who do these things, but those were not my struggles.
Everyone’s triggers for mental illness are different, as Tacy has mentioned on this blog. Sometimes there is no trigger at all. For me, my OCD was heightened by pregnancy, and a lot of my obsessions related to my new responsibilities as a mother. I worried constantly about my little son’s safety. Before he even came, I would walk the 900 square foot basement apartment, checking for all hazards that could harm us. Every night, I would go up the stairs to lock the entry door. Walk down the stairs. Take a right into the kitchen. Unplug the appliances (fire hazard or electric shock). Hide all knives and scissors. Continue into the bedrooms. Lock all windows. Remove all tripping hazards from the floor. Cycle complete, right?
No. I would immediately think, “What if I missed something? I don’t want the one thing I missed to be what kills us.” Then I would do that exact cycle again. Movement for movement. Twelve times. I would have done it all night long, but I had decided that twelve was an appropriate number. I could go to sleep, still nervous, but able to rest.
When my little son came, my contamination obsession began. He was born at the beginning of RSV season, and the doctors do a fabulous job instilling fear into their patients about the dangers of RSV. Not only did I keep my young son away from church, most stores, and family members with a sniffle for six months, but I had to keep my hands really clean for him. Wouldn’t it be awful if I was the one to get him sick? I washed my hands constantly and used hand sanitizer. My hands grew red and dry. Even my friends began to notice my hands, though they didn’t know about any of my other struggles.
I would worry constantly about food poisoning. I would call up my supportive Mother constantly, asking “I bought this a week ago. Is it still good?” I threw out an entire pot of Mac ‘n’ Cheese that I had deemed unfit.
While the diagnosis lifted a huge weight, my OCD still reigned supreme in our home. We moved to another state within a year of my diagnosis. I had another baby. I was less terrified of this quiet, sweet little girl, but I still set out to protect both of my little ones. I roamed my new home twelve times a night, following a pattern of compulsions to “protect” my little ones. I felt horror when I used sharp objects around them. I washed my hands less, but still over-analyzed our food. Whenever I read an article of another mother hurting her children, I would become convinced I was just as capable of the same harm. When crimes were reported on the news, I would instantly question my whereabouts. “Jessica, where were you at 1:23am last night?” Of course, I was in my bed a city away, but my OCD nearly had me calling to police to confess of the crime I had never committed!
These are just a few examples of many fears that dominated several years of my motherhood. Precious years with my babies that I will never have back. I was blessed to find an effective therapy, which I will discuss in my next post. Please know that if you are living in a constant state of fear, you are not harboring a dark person inside of you. If you find yourself having to complete certain routines or rituals to prevent harm, there is a better way to calm yourself. You are NOT your fears.