“Then one day, the echo of sobs from months long past bounces back. We hear the sorrow, grief, loss, and pain, and it’s almost too much to revisit. My God, what do we do with this wayward emotion we thought long gone?“
If this is your first visit to my blog, welcome and let me explain its focus. Harm OCD is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder where one has a recurrent fear that they might harm themselves or others. These are not bad, violent, or crazy people. These are just people who have a door stuck open inside their brains, and the same thought keeps walking through on a terrifying loop. Unfortunately, willpower or logic won’t fix it; you need to find an experienced therapist.
It’s been about 9 months since my teenage daughter experienced a Harm OCD break down—the kind where I find her on the floor, curled into a ball, shaking, crying, telling me the images in her head won’t stop. Nine months since a serious bout of Harm OCD has wrapped its dark embrace around her and tried to suck the joy out of every moment, whisper in her ear and tell her the images she sees in her head might be true. After much trial and error, we found a great therapist with decades of experience treating Harm OCD, and I’ve seen my daughter come back from the brink of despair. She’s able to get out more, laugh more, sleep better, and in short, enjoy her life again. Until one day…
“Today feels weird,” she says as she crosses her arms on the kitchen table and lays her head down across them.
At her words I get a panicky feeling in my stomach and try to trace it to its source: I’m nervous.
“Are you feeling okay?”
She props her chin on her arms. “Yeah, I don’t know.” She sighs.
Oh. God. My heart starts pounding. It can’t be happening again. Everybody is entitled to a bad day. She’s on the right track. Calm down.
It all comes rushing back. The years of finding her wailing, terrified. Asking me if she deserves to live despite the horrific things she imagines herself doing. Years of this sweet, compassionate, kind-hearted soul looking up at me with tear-stained cheeks, begging me to tell her she’s not a murderer. Years of knowing a mother’s love, as powerful a force as it is, cannot get inside her skull and fix this. I tell myself the same thing I’ve told her many times. Breathe—everything is going to be okay.
“Hmm, yeah,” I say. “We all have days like that sometimes. I was feeling a little meh earlier too.”
It’s a fine line, really. No one wants to be dismissive of someone in therapy. At the same time, if we launch into our fears—Should we call your therapist? What kind of thoughts are you having? I thought you were okay?—we may place a burden on someone to start caretaking our feelings. God knows a person with OCD, especially an empathetic soul like my daughter, has a keen eye for other people’s feelings.
She yawns, gets up, walks into the kitchen, and makes a bowl of soup. Life.
Breathe. Everything is going to be okay.
And it is. She’s still moving forward. It was just a tough day, and it did pass. But I realize what a mark OCD leaves on us. As it’s happening, we are so busy putting one foot in front of the other, coping, surviving, there’s no time to stop and process. Then one day, the echo of sobs from months long past bounces back. We hear the sorrow, grief, loss, and pain, and it’s almost too much to revisit. It squeezes our chest and demands our attention. My God, what do we do with this wayward emotion we thought long gone?
The OCD Walk Georgia is coming up, and we’ve been asked to think about why we will walk. There are so many ways to answer this question, but one answer is, I walk because even when I think this battle is over, it ain’t over. I don’t know that one is ever cured of OCD. We learn to manage it. I walk because somewhere someone is looking for the answers that I was when I found my daughter sobbing and asking me if she deserved to live. They are still looking for the answers that I was when Harm OCD hit me at the age of 13, and I had no idea what it was either. I walk because there’s still research to be done, education needed.
I walk because an ungrieved trauma needs somewhere to go.