According to KidsHealth.org, “An estimated 1% of children in the United States experience OCD, which is characterized by a pattern of rituals and obsessive thinking that generally lasts more than an hour each day, causes a child distress, or interferes with daily activities.”
As a recovering anorexic and OCD patient myself, I never thought one of my children would face the same problems that I had fought so hard to recover from. When my oldest child was diagnosed with mild OCD, I was saddened at first, feeling guilty, but figured this was much like how I had passed asthma on to all four of my children. At least it’s only the one kid, I thought. I was also relieved that I knew how to cope with OCD, having been through it myself and now considering myself recovered.
So imagine my surprise when I found out one of my other children had this condition and to a much greater degree than my oldest had been diagnosed with. For years she had suffered from this condition and I never even recognized the signs of OCD, right in front of my face.
After the fact, we realized that many signs had been there all along. However, she displayed her OCD in different ways than I did so it wasn’t until it became really severe, as she reached pre-teen age, that we knew something wasn’t right.
Some of the signs that we overlooked were use of too much soap and shampoo, long showers and longer than usual time spent in the restroom. She used much more toilet tissue than normal and several times clogged the toilets. We had to nag and yell to get her out of hour-long showers of steamy hot temperatures.
She has always been a hoarder and a collector but as she grew older, we expected her to outgrow some of these “junk collections”. She didn’t want to throw out anything, including items that were obvious trash to the average person such as labels from new clothing, pencil sharpening shavings, and things she had picked up off the ground outside.
When we tried to get her to throw out such items, she would panic. She would throw temper tantrums, sometimes to the point of hardly breathing in panic that something terrible would happen if we threw out this particular item. She was emotionally attached to “junk” and had a difficult time cleaning her room or caring for things that were of actual monetary value.
As she grew older, her obsessions became more apparent. She was terrified of “bad things” happening to people. She was especially afraid of natural disasters, concerned that we would die from a hurricane when we lived too far inland to be affected by a hurricane. She feared bear attacks, neighborhood dogs, bees, colds, staircases- you name it and she found a reason to fear it.
Some signs of OCD that we did not recognize or did not know what to attribute it to but that she had for years included:
• Very high usage of soap, shampoo, paper towels, etc
• Dramatic increase in laundry
• Long amount of time getting ready for bed
• Difficulty getting ready for school- or to go anywhere
• Persistent fear of illness or injury
• Fear of family members’ illness or injury
• Holes made in schoolwork paper from erasing
• Trouble cleaning room- redoing the same things over and over to try to get it “just right”
• Unproductive hours spent doing homework, chores and other activities
• Continuous fear that something bad with happen to her or to someone
We mistook many of the signs of OCD as defiance and it became an annoyance to us. “Why can’t she just clean her room?” we would ask in frustration. When she panicked for hours on end over the bee’s nest outside her room, we thought she was just looking for a reason not to do her homework. The fears and obsessions consumed her night and day as she also had nightmares over many of her fears.
As time went on, we realized this problem was completing inhibiting her ability to lead a normal life. Her obsessions controlled her and so did the guilt that came with her fear. She didn’t want to be a “bad kid”. She didn’t want to fight. She worried that we wouldn’t love her or that we didn’t like her. She worried that her friends didn’t like her. She worried that she wasn’t good enough for her teachers. She would have a meltdown that she’s “going to fail” when she got a B on a report card. She had no ability to accept her accomplishments or praise.
She spent more time planning and prepping to do things than she did actually doing things. At only 10 years old, this condition consumed her. I had been through parenting classes, through behavior therapy, counseling and more. I have read all the books and consider myself close to each of my children but even I had a hard time seeing it.
We told her teachers, the school guidance counselor and even her pediatrician. She was being treated by an asthma and allergy clinic and many of her symptoms were first attributed to this. But then it became apparent that there was something more going on. I felt so blind for not seeing and in a way, responsible that my child had to suffer with this same disorder that had ruled my life for so very long.
Yet at the same time, it was a relief to have a diagnosis. Now our problem had a name. As a former sufferer of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder myself, I had to make sure that I did not allow my own OCD tendencies to rub off on my child. I’ll admit that sometimes I get frustrated with her. Even though I know what she is going through, at times my patience wears thin and I just want her to “get better”.
But it’s a process. Now that we know what the problem is, we are in the process of getting better together. Two OCD people in the same house will sometimes butt heads on certain issues but at the same time, I think it’s brought us closer. No one else can truly understand what she’s going through and she has helped me to understand the importance of not letting OCD creep up in my life ever again.
Together, we will stay in control of our own lives. It’s a journey, but we’re on it together.
KidsHealth.org – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder