Lest I forget

“It sauntered up to me that night and hissed, ‘Hey, babe, it’s been a while. Miss ya, girl!’ Wink. ‘I’ll keep you safe. Always have, right?’ OCD is that awful, worthless boyfriend we’ve watched our friends make one mistake after another with while we yell at the movie screen that is their life, ‘Don’t fall for it! He’s no good!'”

It had been many years since I’d had an OCD flareup this bad. For me, my intrusive thoughts had been at their worst around the age of 13 and then again after my first daughter was born, when I was 30. Though I’ve dealt with it on and off over the years since then, it had never been as tormenting as this most recent episode: a reminder of why I keep talking and writing about it.

My ex-husband had told me he was picking up my 9-year-old from school that day. He’s not forgetful, especially with his kids, yet I laid in bed that night panicking, thinking, What if he forgot to pick her up and some psychopath abducted her, and we each think the other parent picked her up and meanwhile this whole time she’s been abducted? The OCD started in at that point, and all manner of scary scenarios took root.

Over the years, I’ve gotten good at sitting with the uncomfortableness that OCD brings. But, oh boy, does it ever know how to get our attention. It sauntered up to me that night and hissed, “Hey, babe, it’s been a while. Miss ya, girl!” Wink. “I’ll keep you safe. Always have, right?” OCD is that awful, worthless boyfriend we’ve watched our friends make one mistake after another with while we yell at the movie screen that is their life, “Don’t fall for it! He’s no good!” Hey, it could be a good-for-nothing girlfriend: not picking on the guys here.

But, did I fall for it?

Well…yeah, a little. I didn’t call my ex to verify my daughter was with him because it was 1:00 a.m.—OCD loves for me to prove my love and devotion by missing sleep over it. Bad boyfriend analogy again, right? What I did was go upstairs to my oldest daughter’s room and ask if she saw her little sister while she was at her dad’s house for dinner—little sis spent the night; big sis did not. Well, the eldest wasn’t up late gaming as usual. She was asleep. So, I feigned not knowing that she was asleep the moment I opened the door. Gimme a break—my youngest might have been abducted!

“Oh, uh, I didn’t realize you were already asleep,” I said. “You’re usually still awake.”

“Huh, what?”

“Did you see your sister while you were at your dad’s house this evening?”

Recovering her senses, she said, “Yup, I even have proof. We made a funny video.” She offered proof because she knew what was up with my anxious behavior. She had just finished a yearlong series of ERP (exposure and response prevention) therapy for severe intrusive thoughts.

“Oh, okay. If you’ve seen her, that’s fine.”

Luckily, I could get to sleep with one confirmation. I remember a day when that would not have sufficed. Not at all.

The next day…I was thoroughly busted! My daughter has a check-in with her psychologist every 6 weeks to make sure she is still doing well. From the other room, I heard her ratting me out over telehealth.

Damn it! Are you kidding me?

“Did you tell her she should sit with the uncomfortableness?” the therapist asked. I could hear the smile in her voice.

I was always the one reminding my eldest daughter of all the tenets of ERP over the past year.

Yeah, yeah, the teacher has become the student and all that good stuff. Maybe I’ve gotten a little cocky over the years. At any rate, I don’t resent a little reminder. It keeps me humble. It keeps me mindful of how painful OCD is.

May we always remember…


Keep moving forward.

Therapy’s End?

“What if it returned?…I didn’t think I should be running from that possibility anymore than an OCD sufferer should be running from an intrusive thought.”

I was having a nice, relaxing evening until my young adult daughter walked into the living room and said this: “Dr. Yong thinks I can discontinue therapy now.”

If this were a cartoon, this would have been the point where steam shot out of my ears or my head exploded, but here in the real world I quietly panicked inside while trying to work out a non-confrontational answer that conveyed gentle concern without being a total nag and certainly without giving away the fact that I flat-out disagreed.

“So not even once a month?” I asked.

“Nope. I have it under control. We just don’t have that much to talk about anymore.”

But should I disagree? I trust her therapist. The woman is amazing! Also, I’m the mom, but this isn’t my therapy. My daughter isn’t even a minor anymore. I’ve also suffered with Harm OCD, and I know firsthand that it absolutely can reach a point where it no longer rules one’s life. So why was I so scared?

Stay with it. Breathe. What are you really feeling?

The path to finding a good therapist was so long and fraught with false starts. For years, I felt alone as a parent struggling to help my child. I was barely hanging on, hoping she could just hang on one more day, one more week until the appointment with the next therapist. We went through a couple before finally finding one with the expertise to deal with Harm OCD. When we finally found this godsend, this ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention)-certified, OCD-confronting angel from heaven with decades of experience in dragging that Harm OCD beast out into the light like a vampire screeching under the sun, I didn’t want to let go. I wanted to hang on like the grim death that tormented the worst of my intrusive thoughts!

What if it returned?

What if she started melting down again and asking me if she deserved to live? As I thought back on those days, nausea hit me in waves.

The kneejerk answer to my questions might be, “You can’t be pessimistic like that.” But I didn’t think I should be running from that possibility anymore than an OCD sufferer should be running from an intrusive thought. What if it does recur?

Well, we know what feeds the beast. We know what starves it. And most of all, we know where to find good help.

I took a deep breath and said to her, “This is great! And if you ever need Dr. Yong in the future, you know where to find her.”

Yeah. We’ll be okay.

And the great news is…you can be, too.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, You’re Actually Not “So OCD.” What OCD Really Is.

This post was written by Obsessively Anxious. They graciously gave their permission to repost this excellent, thoughtful, thorough overview of what OCD is and is not. A must read for anyone seeking understanding about this misunderstood disorder.

The Obsessively Anxious

I’ve learned a (comparative) tremendous amount about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder since my diagnosis, which was roughly 2 years ago. I’ve learned the most information in the last 6 months from research and self discovery.

Most of the information I know, was gathered on my own, due to the professionals I’ve encountered not being adequately educated, trained, and/or experienced with OCD. That’s been the hardest part, truth be told. Figuring this out on my own, because everyone of my mental health professionals until very recently, really botched things up.

Learning what I have, has made me realize how ignorant the masses are. That includes many others than suffer with OCD, who may not realize it because of inadequately trained professionals.

I had symptoms of Scrupulosity (Religious OCD) when I was a teenager in the late 90’s. Had a properly trained mental health care professional recognized the symptoms, or had there been…

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Encouraging Carley

“Somedays we’re encouraging Carley. Somedays we are Carley. There’s a strength in vulnerability that has no substitute or equal. Gosh, I really hate it when that vulnerability overwhelms me, but I highly recommend it.”

“Love to you, Carley” (not her real name).

“You’ve got this.”

“I believe in you. You can do this.”

“ERP is tough, but you are tougher.” The messages poured in as tears coursed down Carley’s face.

The OCD conference I attended was virtual this year, and I wondered if the experience, the closeness, could be the same when we are separated by miles, by screens. And yet, if we had all been sitting in a meeting room instead, only the people next to her could have leaned over and said something kind. In the virtual room, though, people from all over mobilized and recognized her haunted look. It was recognizable because they’d seen it on the faces of their children, brothers, sisters, and maybe in the mirror.

OCD has sharp talons, and it was having a go at Carley.

“It’s been a really hard year,” she typed out as more encouragement popped up in the chat box.

It sure has. It has brought out some deep divisions as well but look how humanity can circle around someone who is hurting. That’s reality too.

One aspect I’ve thought of since that conference is this: Carley could have turned off her camera and hid her tears, but she didn’t. I consider this an act of courage. Perhaps she needed a chance to let those feelings show, and God knows, we all need an opportunity to practice caring.

To be honest, my own vulnerability can make me downright angry. My husband, another writer, can attest to this. I was halfway through writing my memoir about living with my daughter’s and my own struggle with Harm OCD, when I walked into the kitchen one morning and said to him, “Why do you get to write fiction while I have to write about OCD? Why do you get to keep all your armor on, while I have to walk around naked?”

He looked up from the pan of eggs, turned to me with spatula in hand and said, “What?”

The half confused, half should-I-be-prepared-to-defend-myself-look on his face let me know that I should elaborate. “Well, you know. When I was writing fiction, it wasn’t so personal. This book makes me feel exposed, and I don’t like it.”

“Oh, yeah.” He nodded. “I get it. It’s important though. Somebody needs to hear it.”

And he’s right. Sometimes my emotions get the better of me, though, and I do cry. It isn’t an act of bravery but something that sneaks up on me, blindsides me. I was at the Atlanta Writers Conference last weekend when a friend asked me what my book was about. I explained Harm OCD and how horrible it was to feel that for the very first time since becoming a mother, I had been afraid that I couldn’t help my daughter. Tears assaulted me to the point that I had to stop speaking.

Damn it!

But here’s the thing about that conversation: someone else now understands Harm OCD. We had a really great talk about mental health, and I didn’t have to explain to another mama what it was like to feel helpless when trying to help your child. OCD or not, mamas tend to “get it.” She talked about being able to relate to that feeling. Somedays we’re encouraging Carley. Somedays we are Carley.

I’ve said it before, but it always bears repeating—there’s a strength in vulnerability that has no substitute or equal.

Gosh, I really hate it when that vulnerability overwhelms me, but I highly recommend it.

Echoes of Traumas Past

“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.

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