I suppose it makes the most sense to start this blog by talking about how I came to find out my daughter has OCD. The funny thing is, it’s kinda similar to how I found out that I had it.
In my case, I was 21, living in Montreal, Canada doing volunteer work and found myself obsessing over a bad dream about my boyfriend who lived abroad at the time. In the dream, we both got on two separate planes and flew away from each other. I was terrified and felt that it was a message that he had died and I simply hadn’t heard about it.
Don’t ask me why I came to that conclusion or put so much weight on a dream – it’s not normal for me to do that – but I spent an entire day fretting, crying, over this. Couldn’t think or talk about anything else. At last, a few phone calls were made and my boyfriend’s safety was confirmed.
It was still a few months before someone suggested I might have OCD. I wasn’t checking locked doors, I wasn’t cleaning obsessively or quadruple-checking that the oven was off before I left the apartment. I was quadruple-checking my own brain instead. I was in a constant state of doubt and worry. What if I was wrong? What if I misread a situation? What if I wasn’t as good a person as I believed? What if what if what if what if what if???
It was exhausting. And I was so relieved when someone figured out what it was because I certainly had no clue.
Similar story for my daughter. I realized that she had OCD about 2-3 years ago. We had recently visited my dad in Idaho. A few months after our return, she came to me very distressed and said something had happened during the trip and she thought she did something wrong and she was so terrified about it that she couldn’t tell me.
It took hours of coaxing to get it out of her.
What terrible thing happened, you likely wonder? What on earth did she do?? I don’t know about you, but I was pretty terrified to hear the answer.
Well, her answer was that they had been at the park and heard an ambulance. She joked to my dad that the ambulance was coming to take him away.
That was it.
And it wasn’t that she thought the joke was mean, she just kept thinking about how awful it was to be hurt and carried away in an ambulance (her little brother had been hurt recently and had to go to the hospital).
We had a good talk and she finally felt better. But not two hours later, she came back to me, equally distressed, and said she thought of something else that she thought was bad. Same story. Coaxed her for ages and she finally told me she had made a joke about Ascher (her little brother) breaking his arm.
I don’t think most people would recognize this as OCD. But having dealt with it most of my life, I knew the signs. Recurring obsessions over seemingly insignificant things that can’t be dispelled with simple logic – I knew it all too well.
We worked on a few things based on what I’d learned in years of therapy. I bought her a pair of crutches for her American Girl doll – which she did NOT like. I made her talk about hospitals and what happens at hospitals. For a long time she got upset about any jokes about fires (my husband and I would tell Ascher we had to get home to put out a fire sometimes when he was stubborn about leaving the park) or anyone getting hurt at all.
It was probably a year before she moved on and actually played with the crutches for the first time.
And it was a tough year for me because I was so angry at myself for passing it on. And frustrated at how difficult it was to manage sometimes. Whenever she was off her schedule due to school breaks or vacations, she would start coming to me with “I feel like I did something bad.”
And even more difficult is that we’ve deliberately raised our children without religion to avoid this “good” and “bad” self-judgement both my husband and I grew up with. We don’t want our kids living with constant guilt.
But getting past the self-blame and into treatments and strategies that work have been part of this journey for us. And bringing my daughter under my wing and finally starting to teach her what this is and how to fight it so we can do it together has been the catalyst for our biggest strides as of late.