If you met me at a public event, you'd never know the secret battles I'm fighting every second of every day. In fact, part of my anxiety is the result of constantly maintaining the illusion of being a perfectly "normal" citizen, void of all the diseases that eat away at my insides. I'm not going to give away all my secrets, but of the things every mom with high-functioning OCD needs you to know, it's that I need you to see me without me having been seen. This is me — complex and intricate in even the slightest of ways. You'd just never know it unless I explicity told you.
When I'm in public you won't hear the counting but, yes, I'm always counting. You won't see how subtly my eyes dart in the grocery aisle as my mind stacks up all the files that separate pros and cons for each individual box of cereal. You definitely won't hear how all those thoughts dance over one another until they're all twisted up in knots, leaving me in that exact place for as long as it takes to untangle them. This is how my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) shackles me. I'm not in charge of me — the disorder is in an ironic attempt to regain control in a chaotic world where I have little — but if you see me, you'll think otherwise. It's an internal war with no victors.
Over the years I've learned how to tame my depression, anxiety, and OCD into little chunks of manageable oddities. I'm a master at tugging at loose skin without so much as a flinch, I can count the objects silently between breaths and while discussing the meaning of life with an unsuspecting friend, and I can sweep my floors on commercial breaks in a way that suggests I simply like things tidy. If someone paid close enough attention, though, they'd undoubtably end up asking, "Um, what's wrong with you?"
To be honest, this is my normal. I've had OCD tendencies since childhood when I'd scrunch my toes together between passing objects as I counted. When I didn't do this, I'd feel such guilt; like something terrible might happen to me or someone I love because of my mistake. I've also experienced unwanted, intrusive thoughts that come out of nowhere and haunt me for days. Because there's usually nothing I can do to rid myself of them, I'll become fixated on whatever the thought is until I'm terrified. There's no "thinking positive" or letting any of it go; it's not something I'm capable of.
I've been in different types of therapies and on various medications over the years, but all the times in between (including now), I've learned how to reign it in so I don't make everyone else uncomfortable, even if I'm dying inside. While some of my OCD is characterized as "typical," like the counting and the cleaning, there's so much more beneath the surface. On any given day I spend an irrational amount of time pondering things that may have no real answer or — in my mind — will derail my life completely. With that, here's some things every mom with high-functioning OCD needs you to know, so that next time you see us wavering between cereal boxes at the grocery store, you might be a little more compassionate.
We're Not Always Stereotypical
I get that a lot of my OCD is exactly how it's portrayed in the media. It's such a complicated disorder, though, and I'm even dumbfounded by the characteristics it occasionally takes on. I might count often, but to counter the counting I also have an unexplainable need to tough my face or neck when I have intrusive thoughts. Moms with high-functioning OCD won't always have "warning" signs.
Just Because We Prefer Things A Certain Way Doesn't Make Us "Finicky"
I have an affinity for specific things and will enjoy them around the same time each day. As a result, more than a few people have felt it necessary to say I'm "spoiled" or "finicky." They assume I'm being catered to for no reason other than my apparent "high maintenance" personality.
Listen, I don't drink out of plastic cups not because I prefer glass, but because my brain becomes inundated with brutal scenes in which I've had a plastic cup and suddenly I'm stuck in a past I do not want to relive. It's a trigger, and while you might not understand it, or why, it's real.
We're Dangerously Empathetic
Those of us with the kind of OCD that allows us to still be an active part of society function at an entirely different level of compassion and empathy than the rest of the world. We're often so consumed by news and world events that it can wreck our mental health. We see an image of something disturbing and we remember it forever, often thinking of it when trying to sleep at night. It tortures us and taunts us and leaves us unbelievably exhausted. We feel so much, we're our own worst enemies.
Of course, the "up side" to being so empathetic and vulnerable is our success in creative and philanthropic endeavors. I guess it's the only way we can work out the mess in our minds.
Our Fears Are Rational To Us
I get that my partner can't understand why I have to turn around, miles from home, to re-check whether or not I turned my hair straightener off. I also get why my fear of morbid, typically gruesome scenarios weirds people out. I wish I knew why my brain did these things, honestly.
Our Routines Are Time Consuming
Having OCD (however high-functioning) means some things I have to do for my own peace of mind. The need to complete a task — no matter how long it'll take — is something I'm sure my partner is tired of hearing. It interferes with a lot, including moments when we could be affectionate towards one another. If I'm in the middle of counting the seconds it's taking to sweep the kitchen floor, I can't be interrupted for a hug no matter how badly I need one. Let us do what we need to do to quiet the madness.
Fear Is Our Closest Friend
I live in a near-constant state of fear. While some of it has to do with out political environment, most of it is whatever my brain decides is scary. I might avoid certain roads because of the farm machinery, or stop eating eggs because I had an intrusive thought about the death of a chicken. OCD is so very complicated, but it essentially leads to us giving into the need to do whatever we feel we need to do to keep our fears from becoming reality.
We Can't Always Be Social
I want to go out with people as much as I'm invited (though it's waned over the years), but that's not always possible. Part of my OCD and anxiety means avoiding public situations even when I want to be there. Going out means so many decisions I'm not always prepared to make, putting myself in constant lines of danger with driving and strangers, and then having to work extra hard to hide all my tics that seem to be ever-changing as of late. I can do it, but sometimes I'd rather not.
We Know How Ridiculous We Look
When I'm standing in the grocery aisle for an hour, debating between two boxes of similar cereals, I'm sure some people pass by and can't help but wonder what in the ever-loving hell I'm doing. When I'm at dinner with my partner and something triggers my anxiety, and I begin to tug on my neck with reckless abandon, I know others will see me as strange. I understand how I'm perceived, but this is me. Take it or leave it.
We're Not Seeking Attention
There's always going to be some naysayers who think OCD is made-up, as if those of us living with it are being dramatic or just want attention by doing something unorthodox. If they knew how much harder living this life is, compared to someone without it, maybe they'd have a bit more sympathy instead of condemnation. Do you think we like having people whisper about us when we have to re-trace our steps in order to miss the crack we stepped on? No. The answer is always no.
We Want You To Be Kind
Every mom with high-functioning OCD needs you to know that no matter how "weird" our disorder seems, you don't have to fully understand it to be there for us. We're afraid of being judged for something we have no control over, feel overwhelmed by what our brains are doing to us, and honestly, we only want to feel as "normal" as we actively portray ourselves to the outside world. It's difficult enough navigating OCD day in and day out, so the next time you see someone like me in public, be kind.