When I was around six or seven, I used to do this thing with my toes in the car. I'd scrunch them up and release with every object we passed; a lamp post, shadow, or even a line in the sidewalk. If we had a particularly long drive, my muscles would cramp. I took years for me to realize that this seemingly simple act would come to be the basis of my adult identity. While it's just one of the many struggles moms with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can understand, because of the rest of the world and it's negative perception of mental illnesses, it's something I've often felt a lot of shame and guilt over.
The Mayo Clinic describes OCD as having, "a pattern of unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions)." The description goes on to say it can "interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress." I can attest to both. Through my teen years, I hadn't accumulated any specific compulsion like I had when I was younger. It wasn't until my adult years — years I spent sorting through and learning to deal with moments of significant trauma — that my obsessions and compulsions re-entered my life. It was a slow-moving storm where patterns in my routine changed over time. I'd pick up a new habit, such as rubbing my knuckles together or counting the seconds that passed between sentences, one at a time, so it felt very normal as I eased into each day.
When I finally rounded up the courage to attend therapy, I found peace in the diagnosis. All those years I felt like such an outcast for making an unknowing spectacle of myself fighting indecision in the grocery store's cereal aisle for an hour, or nervously laughing my way through a holiday party to avoid talking about my need to wipe the counters a certain number of times, were validated. With a diagnosis, it meant I could figure out how to manage the OCD. It didn't have to rule my life like it had in the past, and sometimes, still does.
It's been two years since I restarted therapy; two years since I found answers about why I do the things I do, especially in the way it affects my parenting. On that note, here are some of the struggles only moms with OCD can understand. (Don't worry. I promise I will end this on an even number.)
The Messes Never End, But I Will Clean Them All
I can't help myself. If there's a mess, I will clean it. It doesn't matter if I've just finished cleaning; I'll do it again. Children are miniature tornadoes, so I spend 99 percent of my life chasing after them with a vacuum and/or some sort of cleaning agent. The moment I turn around to admire my spotless handiwork, it's filthy again.
This cycle repeats throughout the course of the day, sun up to sun down, because I don't know how to leave a mess for the end of the day. It's just not in me.
Routines Are Everything You Live For
Anyone who knows me can attest to the undeniable fact that routines are my biggest necessity. I'm not only talking about the structure of our days in general, but a certain series of events that must happen during specific windows of time. If I miss something or things are thrown off, I have an unsettled feeling.
You Can't Fight The Urge To Fix Your Children's Things
I've been known to be a helicopter parent, hovering over things like homework and crafts. It isn't because I don't want them to explore their own intelligence and talents; it's because I can't help the little nagging voice inside my head that tells me to fix it all. I try not to but sometimes, a mom's gotta do what a mom's gotta do.
You May Hoard The Unneccesary
The flip side to having OCD means having a hard time letting go of "things." This can result in hoarding tendencies. Many years back, I worked for a veterinarian and, in the spirit of trying to find homes for stray cats, ended up keeping many of them. It was a real problem. My heart was in the right place but the need to have so many cats is something I still battle with. Same goes for obscure things, like my children's school work. I have boxes of it.
With OCD, it's not as simple as getting rid of things because the end result is suffering from feelings of failure or fear something bad will happen because of it.
Products May Accumulate, But You're OK With It
Much like hoarding, my OCD makes me want to buy hair products and makeup, whether I need them or not. I typically only use 75 percent of each beauty product, before setting it aside to open a new one (and I won't trash the almost gone product).
It's a real problem, as my cabinets and windowsills are lined with lots and lots of products I may never use.
You Might Entice Your Child To Skip Cracks For Your Sake
I don't want to sound superstitious but if there are cracks, yes, I will step over them. If we end on an odd number, we will walk one more step. If we land between two oddly shaped spots of concrete, we will situate so we're on evenly coated land.
My kids think it's a fun game while I'm literally fighting for survival in my brain.
Without Organization By Color, Shape, And Size, You Will Have A Panic Attack
Staying organized as a mom is tough but without it, I don't think I could manage.
You Wash Your Hands More Than Any Human Should
Touch the door, wash my hands. Wipe a nose, wash my hands. Pick up toys, wash my hands. Three times feels off, so I'll wash them three more for good measure. Sure, kids have germs so a lot of this might seem OK, but when I've had to go to the doctor for cortisone to treat my severely dry, cracked skin from al the washing, well, sorry?
You Check Everything Multiple Times, Just To Be Sure
I was raised in a very paranoid household. My mother would check on my brother and I multiple times through the night to be sure we were till alive. I've found myself doing these very things as a mother myself. I also re-check the doors to be sure they're locked, because you can never be too safe. My kids might notice when we're running slightly behind because mom had to check the straightener's OFF switch one last time.
Trying To Explain Yourself To Others Is The Worst
For new people, especially other mothers, my OCD is the hardest thing to understand, and I have a hard time explaining it in a way that can facilitate even a small level of understanding. How do you, really? The answer is, I don't. I just do me and hope whoever I'm with accepts it.
Having OCD as a mother is hard to navigate. My mental health is an ongoing battle, as I continually strive to fit into a society that doesn't quite understand all the tics and obsessions. Luckily, this is all my children know of me. So, even on a bad day, when I've washed my hands raw or spent an hour counting toys, I'm not "different." I'm just mom.