**This segment of Mental Health Monday with Punk Rock Saves Lives is about Living with a parent with OCD. There will be several installments of REAL life memories, experiences, and recovery. Be aware these recollections can be triggering.
Since I could remember, I was always taught not to share certain details of my life and upbringing. I never talked about it as a kid, and I remember the first time I told anyone about my Mom's "quirks". I was in a Dairy Queen in Weirton, WV at the age of sixteen and broke down crying telling my high school boyfriend we could not clean the table as my Mom walked outside. These were simple truths of my life, but it was gutting to say them out loud to someone. It took me years to even understand that my life was not normal compared to most, so physically saying it out loud to someone I loved felt shameful. Honestly, I figured that was "too much" for a high school romance.
My mother was diagnosed with Contamination OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) when she was a pre-teen. *If you want to know more this link directs you to a great article about the disorder. It describes a lot about "the rules" I grew up obeying as a child. Reading that article hit me super hard.
Her case was so extreme she missed over a year of high school because she could not be in a public setting. During this time, she would go to a doctor on a weekly basis to go through treatment. My Pap describes it as a therapeutic encounter- she would have to carry a trash can around the room. In the article above from the International OCD Foundation and Dr. Fred Penzel, it states these encounters are small experiments to test patients' theories about the dangers of their contamination. Her doctor's put her on a cocktail of medications and she was finally able to live a normal life until I came into the picture. As you can guess, she was not able to take her medications while she was pregnant with me. During that time her obsessions can back with a vengeance, and she never took medication again to help her disorder.
My first real memories of life are not the same remembrances most people have. I remember my Yiayia and my Pap doing everything they can to make me feel safe and loved. Regardless of all the information I share below, please know these couple things.
1. I do love my mother and I miss her every day. I have so much I wish I could tell her as I am on this road of self discovery of myself and in return her.
2. I am forever thankful for my grandparents. I honestly am not sure I would be here today without them in my life. They are my real life heroes.
My first memories I have of my mother she lived in the basement away from us. I was never allowed in the basement, and honestly I have never been down there in my life to this day. We moved out of my childhood home when I was a teenager, so I never had the chance to explore. I look back and I remember planning sleepovers for when my mom was away. I had to make sure no one told her, and I kept that secret. It was my slice of normalcy. I never really went to other kid's houses so at this point I did not know that was not how sleepovers worked. We would throw her dinner down the stairs so she could eat. Our conversations would start with me opening the basement door and then washing my hands. I would sit in the hallway and talk to her about my day.
There is something with this compulsion where she has two different worlds- one that is dirty and one that is clean. I am still not sure how that worked in our house. She was basically normal outside of the house. We would go out to eat, travel, see movies, go to conventions, and do normal mother/daughter activities. She was accomplished with being a Distinguished Governor of the WV Kiwanis Club and an active Jaycee member. Out in the world, she was pretty remarkable. .
In the house, however, we were in a constant battle zone. Her compulsions did not stop at disrupting her daily routines, but they were heavily mandated on the rest of the house. My Yiayia being the compassionate woman she was, would do anything for her children and grandchildren. We obeyed the house laws to the best of our abilities. If we would forget or mess up it would be a full blow screaming war since we were obviously "attacking her". It would turn into screaming, threatening, and/or using me as leverage. My most traumatic memory of one of these incidents was when I was about 7 or 8. She threatened to kill my grandmother in her sleep unless the house was cleaned. My grandparents would always give in to make it better for me. I still can't handle conflict well because of these vivid memories. I still can picture me sitting my Yiayia as she slept just in case. I was honestly terrified for years something would happen to her. You will come to learn my Yiayia was/is EVERYTHING to me. As I have come to learn, threats of harm are a known symptom of those who have OCD. The lucky part is they typically never act on the threats. It is just part of it, I guess.
These were my foundation of memories. I can go back and think of all the weird requirements of my life. I could never just leave the house and come back in. For me to touch anything in the house, I would have to put everything in the hallway and take a shower. I couldn't close the bathroom door with my hand, it had to be with my foot. I could not do homework unless my belongings were cleaned first. That was our normal. It took me over 10 some years to understand that "our normal" wasn't normal. It took me until a couple of years ago to truly forgive my past, and I am still crazy emotional about it.
I am still learning. As I learn, I am going to bring you all on this journey with me. These were my beginning to mental health and most likely why I have anxiety and the issues I work with everyday. That being said, thank you for staying with me on this journey. I will go in depth about certain aspects of living with my mother and how things have shaped me to this day. I am working on being an open book, so please reach out to me. I am here to help go through anything.
If you have ever had these experiences up above, there are some great resources to look into. Especially if you battle your own compulsive, anxious thoughts.
The International OCD Foundation www.iocdf.org
The Peace of Mind Foundation www.peaceofmind.com
Anxiety Disorders Association of America www.ADAA.org
OCD UK www.ocduk.org
Beyond OCD www.beyondocd.org
Riley’s Wish Foundation www.rileyswish.com