How Motherhood Helped My Battle With OCD
“Doubts are more cruel than the worst of truths” ~Moliere
I live with a burden that no one in my life truly understands. I feel its presence when I wake up each morning; and it lingers with me every sleepless night as I lay in bed, listening for sounds in the silence – concocting ridiculous scenarios of despair in my head. The days are no better; just masked by the chaos of my new life as a mother. I question everything. I create worst-case scenarios in normal situations and cling to them and the emotional and physical feelings that accompany them as though they are really happening. I live in these scenarios. I absorb myself in them until my mind cannot backtrack to the reality of the moment.
I have obsessive compulsive disorder.
I suppose I’ve always had it – buried deep inside me – inching its way out through the years, one tiny step at a time. I imagine that something triggered me to recite lists of loved ones’ names in my head so as not to jinx their well-being when I was little. Although, to this day, I have no idea what it was. Subconscious stress from my parent’s divorce, perhaps? That always seemed to be too easy of a scape goat to me.
As I got older, the name reciting stopped, but my fear of germs grew… and grew… and grew… Thoughts of bacteria and disease sitting in every nook and cranny of my world sent me into a downward spiral of panic multiple times a day.
I had always been able to keep it to myself, only occasionally letting a ridiculous thought slip through my lips in a vulnerable state.
Then, in 2006, my husband and I moved across the country. Our cat got sick. And it hit me… hard.
I’m not a “crazy cat lady”… and even if I was, I wouldn’t be ashamed of it. But my love for Gizmo is rooted much deeper than most peoples’ love for their pets. Gizmo was the only part of my past I brought with me as we ventured through this new journey in our lives. We took him out of his element just like I was taken out of mine. He was my calm in a scary, unfamiliar place. He was my comfort as I took a leap of faith in my life and my relationship. He was the first living being I was ever solely responsible for.
When he got sick, it rocked my world. He nearly died. It all happened in the time span of one week. $7000 and a life-saving surgery later, and I was changed… forever.
His surgery gave us a second chance with him, but it also left him with a lifetime of supplements, medications and ongoing infections. It’s all very manageable, but extremely stressful at times.
I felt helpless. I felt like I failed him. In my mind, it absolutely had to be my fault. My OCD kicked in full force after that, creating obscure reasons as to why this happened… everything I did, everything I didn’t do…
I began to question everything.
I began to obsess over his every move. Every decision I made- everything I did- was all centered around my obsessive thoughts about his illness. I became manipulative over the people in my life. If I felt like something they were doing was going to affect his health in some way, I found a way to sway them from it… always lying – giving every reason BUT the simple truth: that I was afraid for Gizmo.
The OCD had found a weakness in me… in my heart… in my maternal instinct. It ate me alive.
I became someone I didn’t recognize. I couldn’t do anything without second-guessing, worrying, stressing and retracing my steps to “clean it up.”
I washed my hands every five minutes…after I touched a plate…after I touched a doorknob…after I touched my hair. I was so worried that I would touch something and then touch Gizmo and somehow it would cause a flare up of infection.
I knew this was all crazy. I knew it was unjustified. But I still couldn’t stop myself.
Then, I learned I was pregnant with my son. My biggest fear was that my OCD would pull out every nagging pregnancy insecurity inside of me and make life even more unbearable. But something changed in me.
The more exhausted and sick I became during my pregnancy, the less my OCD consumed me. I just physically couldn’t let it. I was too tired. I had to let my husband do things for me…even if I it meant he was going to touch something and not wash his hands. And I couldn’t get up to wash my own hands 80 times a day. And guess what? Nothing changed. Gizmo lived through it. And I was happier.
During the first year or so of our son’s life, I felt it creeping back into my head… it would start out as a thought… a question… then it would grow. As he got older, I had to force myself to eat my thoughts…to bury them deep inside my head and let him be a little boy. He was going to get dirty. He was going to eat food off of the floor. He was going to be exposed to things. He was going to expose Gizmo to things. And they were both going to be OK.
Right around his 2nd birthday, and a few months before the birth of our daughter, we had the amazing opportunity to travel across the country once more and move back home. This move changed everything for us. Our kids have been given the opportunity to grow up around their extended family, and I have been forced to push this monster even further out of my life.
When we lived in California, we only had a handful of close friends around us. I was able to live in a bubble and got completely consumed in keeping that bubble sterile. When we moved back to Pennsylvania, that bubble burst. We now constantly have family and friends in and out of our home on a daily basis. I can no longer control every element in my life and my home. And it is the most exhilarating feeling ever.
I’m not saying I don’t still have my moments. I don’t think OCD ever really goes away. But I’ve learned how to maintain it and use it for good. I let it drive me to rid the true toxins out of my life, instead of the made-up ones. I refuse to let this monster that has controlled my life constrain my children’s. Some days are so hectic, that it’s almost easy. Other days, not so much. But I know they will have their own demons to battle in life, and I will not force them to battle mine.
My biggest fear was that motherhood would bring my OCD to a completely different level. But it has actually given me the strength to tame it and control it in a way I never thought I could.
Photo credit: With A Red Bird On My Shoulder
Trackback from your site.
Danielle is a Pittsburgh native who has been warming her “black and gold” blood in sunny Northern California for the past 6 years. On any given day, you can find her arranging ridiculous photo shoots of her one-year-old son Graeme and cat Gizmo, or working on any one of her 27,000 writing projects. She enjoys daydreaming about becoming a famous actress and starting a handful of different businesses with her husband over glasses of wine in the evenings. Someday, she hopes to travel the country in an RV with her family… but she needs to sell that novel first. You can follow her journeys through her blog With A Red Bird On My Shoulder