Dealing with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) ~ "Step on a crack break your mother's back"
|My musings on life and obsessive compulsive disorder.|
Sunday Food for Thought
I write with the human spirit in mind - Christians, Agnostics, Atheists, and Others:
This Sunday, I take a moment to reflect on the eccentricities of me. Please be gracious and ignore any typos or grammatical errors today. I will edit them later after I've had a break from writing. Read on to learn why-
Last week my little ones and myself were baptized. We are four, six, and forty-one. The other members of our family were baptized as infants in the Catholic church long before we met. They stood up for us.
I am not a religious person. I am, however, extremely spiritual.
You might be wondering, Why? Why haven't we been baptized yet. Or why do it at all?
I have some peculiar answers to those questions and I have decided to share the deepest interworkings of my brain on OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I am a recovering Obsessive Compulsive. These days, it has become a popular turn of phrase. So many people joke about it- maybe they joke because they fear it.
I expect Tom Cruise has an opinion on OCD and religion, but I digress.
Most of us can find something about ourselves that is compulsive or even obsessive. It may be embarassing but it is unlikely that it greatly reduces the quality of your life or well-being. My brain on OCD stifled my quality of life in many ways.
For example, as a child I had been an avid reader. I read most of the classics by the fourth grade. I.E. Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Tom Sawyer, Pollyanna, Of Mice and Men, etc. I read the Communist Manifesto in sixth grade, you get the picture.
In college, I became incapable of reading. I could not read the Bible, a text book, a script, or even a newspaper. My life had changed. I sat in class and struggled to stay awake taking explicit notes that I would not be able to study later. I had hoped writing the information down would help my brain retain it for the test.
Before this particular OCD trait afflicted me, I made the Dean's List with a 4.0. I was accepted into the College of Architecture and Planning. My future looked bright.
One day, I woke up with numerous health concerns all of which grew worse with stress. Suddenly, I could no longer read. As I read, the words would mock me and block me from reading any further. A simple word like 'but' was impossible to get past. In my head, the word didn't read correctly and I'd have to read it again until it fit the right pace.
This is difficult to explain. It makes no sense. As I type, I can akin it to my typing issues.
I type a sentence. I type a sentne I type a I type a sen I type a senten I type a sentence. If I catch a typo, I must immediately correct it. I do not erase only to the misspelling. I must erase the entire word or sentence depending on my level of stress. Currently, that level is low. I misspelled level like this levle. I deleted only the last l and completed the word lev- level. Are you with me?
This type of compulsion is frustrating. It slows me down and takes up time, but it does not affect the quality of my life- at this time. If I were to become obessesed with writing this post perfectly and completing it quickly, conceivably I could sit here for hours without eating lunch or dinner or cleaning the house.
Luckily, I have learned to work around these blips in my brain. Sharing the affliction with others helps too. Family and friends can hold me accountable. Jokes work but shame just aggravates the disorder. It's a very fine line.
Remember in grade school when you said, (Yes, I am talking to YOU) "Step on a crack, break your Mother's back?" Did you step on cracks? I remember kids jumping over them on the sidewalk, I remember other kids stomping on the cracks, still others just walked across them without thinking anything of it at all.
What did I do? I struggled. I didn't want people to stare at me. I didn't believe if I stepped on a crack my mother's back would immediately break. I shut my eyes. Sometimes, I held my breath. I had to step over the crack to get to class. I couldn't draw attention to myself.
When people teased me or even just looked at me funny, I turned pomegranate. So, I developed a pace. Walking with my stride paced perfectly I could avoid all pre-planned cracks. If the sidewalk had cracked from the elements I could not avoid jumping or bumping into my neighbor.
As a teenager, I tried switching off my bedroom light and jumping into my bed from across the room before the light went out. Of course, I knew this was impossible. I hoped to avoid walking on the floor in the dark. Apparently, the monsters under my bed stayed idle until the lights were off.
Luckily, I was a smart cookie. I would go to bed early and read until my brother or parents came to bed then I would holler at them, "Can you please turn my light off?" Problem solved.
OCD has nothing to do with intelligence or the ability to tell right from wrong or sanity from insanity.
Intellectually, I knew the act of stepping on a crack would not break my mother's back. Spiritually, I believed God was watching over me. I could pray to save her back.
But there is always that 'What if?' What if a coincidence occured and something bad happened after I stepped on a crack? What if something bad happened if I stepped on my floor in the dark? Perhaps, I'd step on a spider or a mouse? What if I read the word wrong and I failed the test? What if I made a mistake and someone I loved died. What if...
Coincidences are grueling. Oprah says there are no coincidences. Don't tell that to an OCD. The strand of logic is broken. If this = that, then that caused this with no relative cause to rhyme or reason.
In fourth grade, (I've discussed this before) we were given a card to fill out. One of the questions asked for religious affiliation. My parents never went to church, occasionally I went with an Aunt. Distraught over the question I took it home and asked my mother what to say. I didn't want to write n/a. What would people think?
"We're Christians, write that."
"We don't go to church!"
"We believe in Jesus. That makes us Christians."
"They want to know what church we go to! I go to different churches."
"Just, put Protestant on the line. It will be fine."
"I don't want them to know I'm Protestant!"
"We are not Catholic. We believe in Jesus. You are Protestant."
I didn't exactly understand.
"I haven't been baptized. I'm not Christian."
"You've been baptized."
"Oh, I don't know, but you've been baptized."
"Were you there?" "How come I don't remember?"
"It was a long time ago." "Just drop it. I'll fill out your card."
After that, I went to church as much as I could. I had several offers to be baptized. I wanted to be baptized. I didn't want to be a sinner. I had heard the stories. But I felt my family should be there with me. I was also filled with fear.
I saw kids slammed in the head, and people immersed in creeks, and holy water splashed in faces, and hands hovered over heads... Pastors, Preachers, Priests, Ministers, Reverends. The only thing I didn't see was a Rabbi.
I didn't want to do something so important without my family there.
They weren't coming. People, asking me to persuade them to come, only stressed me out more and kicked in my fears that something bad would happen. I couldn't think about that- it would greatly reduce my quality of life.
Besides, what if I did get baptized and some ironic twist of fate took my life. I know, I know, I know... Christian friends. Nothing to fear. But I had something to fear, losing my family forever.
To believe or not to believe- That IS the question.
OCD was mostly controllable throughout my life; afflictions came and went. If you'd like to learn more about them or share some of your own drop me a note and we'll swap odd stories. firstname.lastname@example.org
In college and after, I did a bunch of Catholic stuff. Marriage classes, counseling, and etc. Not only must you have documentation of baptism but you must be confirmed and generally a member to take part in communion. I'd sit in the pew as everyone filed past me. Singled out as a sinner, oh the humiliation, oh the OCD reactions it would bring.
A twist of fate, a project to design a church, introduced me to the Episcopalian Church. The bridge between Catholics and Protestants. Although I frequented many churches since the initial introduction, this version of Christianity had struck a chord of acceptance in me.
My mother once told me that she did not want to baptize me into a particular religion. It would be my choice and not a label that someone else had imposed.
I grappled with this idea when my children were born. I also feared death. What if they die without being baptized. Do I care? Does it matter?
The twenty-minute ride home from the hospital after their birth was the longest drive of my life and the lowpoint of my OCD. I am surprised that I lived through it without suffering a nervous breakdown.
I guess, I didn't. It was insane. Totally insane... and I did it twice.
I couldn't breathe, I couldn't sit still, I couldn't look out the windows, I couldn't look away from my child, I couldn't live and enjoy the moment. OCD had taken its toll and sheer panic had taken hold. I didn't sleep for four years. I had to make sure the children kept breathing throughout the night. You laugh, you think surely I jest. I can assure you this is no joke.
When the unreligious/unchurched die my mother often says, "Don't worry a preacher was there." "They were baptized before they died." Who is worrying me or you? I suppose it matters somewhere to someone but does it matter to me? I've heard a lot of people say, "Well, it can't hurt." That's true, isn't it?
Forget about me, I wanted to baptized the children. No matter what they decide later on they will be saved as long as they believe in their hearts, right? But, OCD kept blocking me. What if I baptize them and they get killed in a car accident on the way home?
Yeah, yeah, yeah - God and such. BUT what IF?
Oh, the irony. Oh, the dread, how could I live with myself?
Either way, I live in fear. I live in shame. What if they get sick and die before they've been baptized?
Can you feel the stress building? It's been six long years with very little sleep.
At the height of my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I lived with an alcoholic. I attended AA meetings. I took away the best lessons ever, "Let go and let God" and "Live and let Live".
Choose a phrase that best fits you - it works.
I am a recovering Obsessive Compulsive. I lived in a funk. A fog of worry hovered over my life.
I let it go for too long. The biggest fear I had last week, while getting baptized at the age of forty-one, "What would the congregation think of me?" I have become an active member of the church. I was embarassed and ashamed that I had waited for so long.
Irony is to blame but there is something else too -
My family and friends. What if something happens to them before they get the chance? Do I care? Do they? Does it matter? The problem is, I just don't have an answer.
I don't care what you believe or where you go or where you don't go, but I want to go with the people I love and I want them to go with me. Wherever.
I know some people don't like church. I know some people fear it. I know some people feel ashamed. I know some people don't care. I know lots of those people have Jesus in their hearts and lots of them don't but most of them are good people, either way. What I don't know is if any of it matters.
Some people need more. I needed more. A heavy weight has been lifted from my back.
Now, I can not only live and let live but also let go and let God.
If my children choose something different, that's okay.
If they go astray and come back another day, that's okay too.
I no longer have to worry about the What if's. For me, no matter how many cracks I step on, it's in God's hands now. I can't change fate.
Years of habits will take years to break- don't be surprised if you catch me pacing my steps to avoid the cracks.
And what did the congregation say? "Congratulations on your baptisms."
That was that, so simple, so easy, and so many fears washed away with a simple splash.
This Sunday, I breathe easier than last.
What's on your list? Keep moving forward!